I want to share a fun memory. I lived on an island of the Yangtze river for 6 months in 2012. The little island is called Yangzhong, which translated literally means middle of the Yangtze river. Anyway, everyday I would pass this underground shopping complex, but for some reason I didn’t go in for a while. Eventually, probably when I realized there were fun things to look at in there, I went in and had the time of my life just looking at all the vendors and booths. The woman in the pictures above was always sitting on the steps outside. She sold these traditional handmade baby shoes for pennies. The first time I saw her I was fascinated by her. I couldn’t really imagine myself sitting outside all day every day as a 70 year old. At that time I didn’t speak any Chinese beyond simple greetings, but it’s easy to make friends anywhere with a smile. This woman and I became best friends. Every evening I would come sit by her and drum up a little business because of my skin color, but mostly we would just chat. She would ask me questions that I never understood and I would tell her about my day and show her pictures of my family. We often brought snacks to enjoy together while we were hanging out. Eventually the day came for me to return to America. I said goodbye to her, but I don’t think she understood. I never thought I would see her again. What were the odds of me ever visiting this tiny island again?
Flash forward to 2015.
A teaching opportunity came available in Yangzhong and I jumped at the chance. I had spent the past 2 years in Taiwan and learning Chinese. My first day back in the city I jumped on a bus and came to see this woman whose name I didn’t know. Guess what, I found her! It was as if no time had passed. She was sitting on the steps selling her shoes as usual. When I approached her I said, “Grandma, do you remember me?”. She looked up, smiled, and said “long time no see. Where did you run off to?” And just like that we were best friends again. I asked what I should call her and she looked at me like I was crazy and said “Grandma, of course.” I told her about my time in Taiwan and adventures from the past couple years and asked about her life. As it turns out she is Miao minority, which means she belongs to the very small population of Hmong living in China. She told me all about her kids and grandkids. It was so nice to actually be able to communicate with her.
I tell this story for a few reasons. One, it’s just cute. But more importantly, to illustrate the fact that it is possible to truly be friends with the people we meet traveling. We don’t just have to be strangers passing through. These are the little stories and relationships that are hard to describe, but make for the fondest memories.