In my previous post, I talked about people who have chosen the “less-trodden path.” The scene that struck me the most in the featured article was the reason why the mother who decided to bring her family off the grid. She said that the “final straw for city living” was “her dismay at going to pick up her kids from daycare and watching the parents dart around, not looking each other in the eye” leading her to say that “There was no bloody community in that kindergarten, you couldn’t even get eye-contact with each other. There was no soul, no warmth”.
That scene made me want to write about talking to and connecting with strangers. At this time when safety is a primary concern when dealing with people we do not know, it seems illogical to suggest for people to talk to strangers. However, although we need to exercise caution, this should not be a hard and fast rule in certain circumstances.
When I visited a museum last month, I happened to meet a young museum employee named Alexandre, a soft-spoken, serious-looking young man who seemed like a college student, while I was looking around the last set of exhibit before exiting the museum. I learned that he has been working in the museum for a few months, that he’s Indonesian although he was born in Paris, and lived all his life in France. He shared that he has visited Indonesia twice and although, he lived in France, in his heart, he’s still Indonesian. I thanked him for his time and bid goodbye. He thanked me as well and smiled.
In Koh Samui, Thailand, during my short stay there for a meeting, I chatted with a hotel attendant, a slim, agile woman with a shy smile. She was visibly pregnant. I learned that she’s from Sri Lanka and has been working in Thailand for many years. I wished her a safe delivery and left her a thank you note (for always keeping my room spick-and-span) before I left.
Flashback to three years ago, when I was still assigned in the Manila Office, and when I commuted for two hours each to and from work, I stopped by a mall to rest on one of the benches after a really tiring day. Seated on the other bench was a 70+ year old lolo and after exchanging a smile, we started to converse. He talked about how he still works because he’d feel weak if he would not. He commented how easy it was before (pertaining to the previous decades) to buy a house in Manila but it has become so complicated, the worsening of the traffic situation in Manila, his wife, and children. He even shared his dismay that one of his daughters loves marathons and still does not want to get married although she is already 36 years old. That made me laugh a little. I told him not to worry too much and that his daughter may marry when she wants to and when she meets the person she loves. I bid goodbye after a few minutes and he thanked me for the time.
In another instance, I was at the airport waiting for a flight some years ago. I happened to sit beside a fellow Filipina in the waiting area. She was in her early 50s and a household service worker. I am not too sure now about the details of the trip, but what I recalled was how she insisted to treat me to a snack. She mentioned that she felt sad about leaving again, that she has two kids, and a husband who stays in the Philippines. I don’t recall how the conversation took a more confidential tone (as I did not interrogate her and would not ask someone such question) but she said she’s having an affair abroad and that helps her cope with the loneliness, but added that she would try to end it. I noted the sad tone of her voice and her determination to continue to work despite the hardship. I wished her luck and told her to take care.
For more recent conversations, I have met a few elderly people here in Paris at parks and grocery stores. I met an elegant French lady named Helene, a soft-spoken Spanish grandpa who has lived in France for many years, even a friendly, chatty French lady who recommended a great-tasting butter as we were both surveying the contents of the fridge in a grocery store. After her recommendation, she even pointed to me her unit across the street and told me I could visit her If I have the time. I thanked her for the invitation (but I wasn’t able to visit).
I feel that in this digital world, people long for real connections aside from those hi’s and hello’s and how are you’s received in their mobile phones and social media accounts.
I have more stories to tell. However, let me share my thoughts about these conversations. I feel that in this digital world, people long for real connections aside from those hi’s and hello’s and how are you’s received in their mobile phones and social media accounts. Also, I think that sometimes, people tell their concerns and stories to strangers because they are not judged at once but listened to intently. Furthermore, I noticed that people almost always say thank you after conversations (aside from goodbye). Is it because exerting effort to strike up conversations with people outside one’s work or obligations has become a rarity and a precious gift?
I would like to reiterate though that we must still ensure our safety at all times, even when we genuinely want to talk with people we are not familiar with. I do not want to tell bad stories of people whose lives and personal security were endangered because of talking to strangers. (There are many horrible stories if you search online). But what I can share are three instances when the stranger lied or was obviously trying to deceive.
One, there was a young guy (like a college student) in a waiting shed near the university wearing a sporty attire who looked like he came from the gym and appearing visibly worried. He said his money and phone were lost and he couldn’t come home. I helped of course, but I learned later on that it’s his modus operandi.
In another case, I encountered an old woman (wearing a simple dress, with short, white hair, probably in her early 70s) looking lost in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), a posh business and residential center in the Philippines. It was around 9 in the evening and I had just come from an English class. She said she got lost and that she had to go to the bus terminal in Cubao (in Quezon City in the Philippines). She added that she’s there to look for a job in the establishments so she could earn her fare.
I told her I was on my way to the main road (EDSA) and that she could come with me and I could get her a ride to Cubao. She declined. I could not help but give her some cash although I felt she was lying (BGC is far from the main busy thoroughfare; she could not have gotten there on foot on her own) and before I crossed the street, I watched her disappear from my view, mingling into the crowd again.
Lastly, in my 20s, during one bus ride in Manila, I could not forget the time was when an insistent lady (wearing jeans, a blouse with spaghetti straps, with her hair tied in a ponytail and wearing makeup) tried convincing me about a job offer. She said that with her help, I would earn well, that I need not work long hours, that I could even travel if I wanted to, and that all I needed was to get in touch with her. It was a strange job offer and one I had to firmly decline. Whew!
To everyone, be part of the thread that binds people together, but do take care of yourselves. 🙂