The Kindness of Strangers

People are wonderful, they really are. The city life can make you doubt this sometimes. We’re all bundled together, forced to wear the suits and skirts, we walk past each other blank faced and thinking only of coffee. We forget the simple wonderful feeling that comes with connecting with someone, enjoying someone’s company, and someone’s stories.

Backpacking can really bring this home to you again. You’re alone in a hostel in the middle of Thailand. Only a pack of cards and a few unknown Germans. At first, it seems like it’s going to be the loneliest night, but a few rounds of Slovakian Rummy later, and you’re hearing some of the greatest travel tales you’ve ever heard.

Today’s little thought is about the kindness of strangers. Those moments while travelling, when someone you don’t know helps you, for no reason other than kindness, and knowing that, if the situation were reversed, that’s how they would want you to react.

My friends in la Albufera
My friends in la Albufera by rabataller

As I’ve mentioned before, hostels are a friendly place. You can sit down next to most people and start a conversation. Or, when you’re sitting alone, someone will come and speak to you. I remember one night I sat on my hostel bed in a bit of worry. The friends I had made and been around for the past few weeks had all left. I found myself alone, and confused as to what to do next. Before I could even begin to think about it, my door opened, and two guys entered my room, both by the name of Dave.

They sat down by my bed, introductions were made, and for the rest of the day, we talked. We ate dinner together, discussed their lives, their travels, laughed hysterically and toasted almost everything we could think of toasting. I never even found out their last names, all I know is, by the end of that day I had remembered what travelling was about again. Random strangers feeling like your best friends, people you never met helping you out in a tough situation, or just helping you have the most amazing day. People make the dullest day beautiful.

So here are a few further tales of kindness. Please feel free to add your own in the comments below, share a smile and a story of kindness.

Companions in life / Compañeros en la vida
Companions in life / Compañeros en la vida by victor_nuno

*****

Jet lag will make you feel stranger and dirtier that you ever thought possible. You fly into a heat drenched airport, on only 3 hours of sleep and a cramp in your neck that makes you feel like you just exited a Metallica concert. You grab your backpack and head for the local bus stop, and wonder why everything is written in such a strange squiggly language.

This is how I felt when I rocked up in Seoul, South Korea. For some strange reason in my mind, Korea was cold. Don’t know why I thought that, because it’s not. It’s really not. So in my jumper and jeans, with my life in my bag and a headache that tiger balm couldn’t solve, I attempted to get to my guesthouse.

I failed. I’ll be the first to admit. I got off at the stop I was sure was mine. I walked around the streets, I went back, I looked for signs, I tried all I could, but with no luck. I was lost in Seoul. Accepting defeat, I went into a 7-11 to ask for directions. The clerk stared back blankly as I tried my best to mime the words ‘Could you give me directions, please?’ I pointed at my printed map and gave her an English smile.

She took the crumbled paper from my hand and noticed a phone number for where I was staying. She smiled, gave them a call, and slowly and carefully said, that very soon, someone would come to get me. I would have hugged her, except I had heard Koreans aren’t big on hugs. So instead just beamed and thanked her. Soon after, as she promised, the guesthouse owner arrived, and whisked me away to my home away from home. This was my first introduction to South Korea.

The next day, feeling much more alive thanks to showers and coffee, I found myself once again wandering the street of Seoul. In wonderful Asian style, it suddenly went from boiling heat and bright sunshine, to a downpour that would have drowned a small Pokémon. I stood at a sidewalk quite amused. I can’t help it, I love the rain (I’m English, what do you expect?).

Suddenly, a man walks up to me, and hands me an umbrella. In broken English he says he is meeting his mother at the subway, I can use it until then. I thank him kindly and walk down the street with him. We share conversation about the city and his life there, the reasons I am here, and the best places to eat. At the subway his mother awaits, and a pass the figurative torch to her, bow kindly at my new friend, and wander through the city with such a grin and a simple thought in my mind “I love Asian people”

********

I awoke one morning in Port St John, a beautiful tropical village in South Africa. I had spent the previous day in a hammock, overlooking the beach and having John, the broadly smiling barman, make me custom cocktails. While this was a wonderful way to spend the day, I felt I needed something a little more from my time today.

I greeted the hostel owner, sat down for a coffee and a chat, and asked her what I could do today. She looked into the distance and thought for a few moments.

‘Do you like Horse riding?’ she asked with a patented smirk.

‘I’ve never been, but I’m guessing I do’ I replied.

She scuttled to the back, and a few minutes later returned with news that a local man called ‘John’ (Which was his name to us, for we could not make Afrikaans sounds) was going to be waiting on the other side of the beach with a few horses, he’d take me, and whoever else wanted to come, around the local area. I grabbed my things, and got a lift from some Dutch guys, also intrigued by the idea.

I spent the day on the back of ‘Jojo’, one of John’s horses, seeing the forest around the town, racing along the beach, and learning al about the history of Port St John. After a few hours, John led us to his home, where his wife was waiting. She had prepared a meal for us all, which we ate happily, and learned more about their life.

It was simply one of the most spectacular days I have ever had. The sights I saw, the history I learned, the friendship I felt. We all agreed to give John some money for this brilliant day, even though he initially refused. This wasn’t a business. This was a man who was willing to take random strangers around his town, share his food, and meet new people. A man willing to invite total strangers into his house, feed them, and welcome them, because that is exactly what he would expect anyone else to do for him

******

A Few days after the wonderful Port St John day, and many packs of instant Noodles later, I entered into the dreaded phase of any trip. A sickness; the flu to be exact. I won’t go into too much detail, but sufficed to say, it was coming out of both ends. I laid in bed for 2 days, wishing my mum was there to bring me a milky cheese toasty. Shivering and shaking and wishing I was anywhere but a hostel in Cinsta during this time.

Eventually the illness subsided enough for me be alert and notice anything that was happening. As I came too from the delirium, I noticed a small package by my bed. Packed together nicely in a basket, were paracetamol, lemsips, a cooling towel, some tissues, and many other medical apparel.

Confused by the gift I looked around, trying to work out exactly what had occurred. A Canadian girl in my dorm looked over ‘Oh you’re awake’ she smiled brightly. ‘Do you feel any better?’

‘Yes, thank you…do you know where all this came from?’ I asked politely in between coughs

‘Yeah, we collected them together for you, you sounded really bad through the night, so everyone chipped in a few meds’.

Maybe I was still mildly delirious, but I was so utterly touched by the beauty of this. A group of people who did not know each other, came together to make sure another stranger got through his illness. Utterly wonderful.

*****

In a hostel in Melbourne, I made many a friend. Nights of Drinking, days of exploring, many fun times were had. Two others in this wonderful place, had found romance and love with each other, decided to make it official, and get married.

When the day had begun, the couple had expected to venture to the Botanical gardens, where their friend, who would say a few words, and marry them (While drunk he had discovered an online application to become a registrar). With little fuss or event.

But I couldn’t let that happen. This was supposed to be the most beautiful day of their life. They needed to remember this. And if there was nowhere more perfect to help with my mission, than a hostel full of summertime travellers in Australia.

I rounded up friends, colleges, fellow hostellers, made cards, bought flowers, got friends to make a cake, and started the plan.

When the bride finally arrived at the Botanical gardens, she had a juggler walking her down the aisle. She had 30 people humming the wedding march with waiting confetti. She had a photographer for the day, and she had many friends there to cheer when they said “I Do.”

The reception back at the hostel was a goon filled wonderful night. Messages from everyone at the hostel were collected and given as a gift, and a day of wonderful magic fulfilled.

While I know this tale isn’t about a stranger, seeing as I done it, I feel it is a story about the willingness of travellers to be nice to someone they hardly know. To try to make a day special for a stranger. Be it birthday, anniversary or wedding day, we’re simply always ready for a story.

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Marku Shelton

Marku has been meandering around this fair globe for many years, the more he see's, the more he wants to see, he would describe himself constantly intrigued. He believes life is nothing but the stories we tell, and aims to find a story on any shore he can.
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