One of the great rewards of travel is the privilege of interacting with people who are completely different from you in more ways than is often apparent. Such interactions facilitate opening up of your mind and broadening of your perspectives about people and nations. These perspectives can be positive or negative, depending on the type of interactions that you have. I had one very positive experience while I was working in China during a short stint in the country.
It was the peak of winter, and I was working in Dalian, a port city located in north-eastern China. My work involved me working out of a main office in the city center, and regularly visiting a port office near the city’s coast. Since it was very cold and windy at the port office, I had to select my clothing accordingly for days when I worked out of the port office. My choice for the cold weather was either a pair of thick jeans or my dark brown corduroy pants. The port office was a small one, with about 8-10 locals working labor intensive jobs. None of them spoke any English at all, and I had to completely rely on another colleague of mine, who spoke English and would also visit the port from the main office.
One afternoon, as I was working at the port office, my English speaking colleague came up to me and said that one of the local workers had a message for me. A middle aged lady worker basically offered to sew my torn pants. One of my corduroy pants were a bit old and worn out. They had started to tear from the bottom near the ankles. The tear wasn’t big enough to stick out visibly or cause any problems, but it was a sizeable tear nonetheless. The kind lady had spotted the tear which no one else seemed to have noticed. The only way she could communicate with me was through my colleague, and she took the initiative to do just that.
Normally, we tend to associate kindness with courtesy. For example, you get on a bus or train and someone offers their seat to you. In this case, social norms or etiquette expect you to do that. If you are a younger/fitter person and do not offer your seat to an older aged person, then its almost as if people frown upon you. But what happened in China was very different. There was no social norm, no compulsion of any kind for the lady worker at Dalian port to help me. No one had asked her to sew my pants, she just did it out of complete kindness. I was a bit embarrassed about my torn clothing, but at the same time I felt so pleasantly surprised by the wonderful gesture. Of course, I gave her my corduroys the next day and she returned them in a couple of days, all patched up. I gave her some Chinese snacks which I had bought earlier from the supermarket as a token of my appreciation. She refused to accept it initially, but then I had to insist. Moments like these make travel such a rewarding experience.