The Kindness of Strangers

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OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet

Like many people, I get a kick out of traveling. I love experiencing myself in an entirely new context. In a new world, surrounded by unfamiliar people and customs, I always discover unknown strengths and often hidden prejudices lying in my subconscious. Both equally important in character development. The thing I get the most buzz from is discovering the differences and similarities between people living so far apart in various pockets of the world.

During the summer of 2014, I spent a month living and working in a small village in Bali, Indonesia. Having spent the majority of my life living in England it was a huge change for me. I stayed in a small village in Denpasar – the capital and most populous city in Bali. I found it a very nurturing village where everyone seemed intrinsically connected and filled with humility. I witnessed people sharing whatever food they had available and helping passers by whenever they could. There was no street lights in this village so people would leave there outside light in their home overnight so people could visibly walk the streets during the darkened hours.  It was a very community orientated place.

My temporary neighbours didn’t appear to have a great deal of wealth and lived minimalistic yet happy lives. To be honest, this was one was one of the main reasons I decided to go to Indonesia in the first place. I wanted a piece of the action.

I was clearly entering this village as an outsider. As a 6 foot 3 inches pasty Englishman with a body of stick insect, I stuck out like a sore thumb in Indonesia. However despite my obvious foreign status, I was never met with anything but warmth from the people I interacted with. I’d walk alone at night and bikes would stop to ask if I was okay and where I was going, etc. I became a novelty, no one had ever seen anyone so tall! Children would stop and stare wide-eyed at the giant white man. People would follow me down the street everyday asking me questions as I walked to my local hole-in-the-wall for dinner and would wait outside till I finished. I am not going to lie, I rather enjoyed the unwarranted local attention. I like to imagine folk tales were written about me when I left about the mythical time the giant stick creature frequented the village with the ability to reflect the sun and had a laughable weakness for spicy food. It will be past down from generation to generation and songs will be sung. A man can dream.

During my time in Indonesia I decided to rent a moped to explore the island. One night during my first week there, I was practicing on the bike in the back streets, precariously circling some rice fields around where I lived. It was around 11pm and this old man came out of this home and stopped me. Probably just in time as I hadn’t yet mastered the brakes and was getting slightly too close to comfort to the rice paddies.

I was preparing myself for some vitriolic comments about how awful I was at driving a bike, or how loud I was being, or why I was practicing so late next to his home. But no, he started asking me questions about where I was from and what I was doing!

He had a perfectly round hairless face. He looked like a winkled ping-pong ball with an amiable smile. He invited me into his home and before I could give my cued up British response of politely declining, he had already ushered my bike into in garage and started escorting me through his door.

Now, whenever I get to this point in the story with my friends and family I normally get a reaction that goes something like this: ‘You went into a strangers home?! In a foreign country?! What were you thinking?!’ I realise this is a natural and rational response as the old guy could have been anyone! Although at the time it didn’t feel like an unnerving situation, I still approached the invitation into his home with some trepidation. However that soon dissipated at he started introducing me to his elated looking family.

He didn’t have the best English speaking skills, but he was certainly putting to use the phrases he did know. “Here is my home! Look at my wife! Wave to my child! Play with my dog!” he said completely free from irony. “Have some tea!”

“No thank you, I’m not thirsty”

*Hands me some tea*

“Have some food!”

“No thank you, I’ve just ate”

*Hands me some rice*

I kindly accepted the offerings but I really didn’t want them.

I had only been in Bali a few days so the only Balinese phrases I had picked up at this point were “No spice please!”, “Why did you put spice on?!” and “Where is the toilet?” (all equally useful phrases if you ever travel to Indonesia). So we communicated in pidgin English and convivial sign language for about 10 minutes as I patted his dog and waved to his child.

Once I had gone through all the universal gestures for ‘yummy’ and said my thank-yous, I got on my bike and wobbled away. And that was it! It was a brief but pleasant interaction with a stranger. There was no hidden intentions or malice behind his deed. I will forever remember that old man for his generous hospitality and his horrible looking tea.

The point of the story is this – it is very difficult to imagine anything like this happening in the Western world. England is currently doing it’s best to kick out as many foreign people as possible never mind inviting them in for some tea and introducing them to the wife and kids at 11 o’clock at night.

There has been research to suggest that the Western mind differs from the Eastern mind and is more oriented towards the self, rather than humanity. Which is something I noticed a lot during my month in Indonesia. I’m not suggesting that all Westerners are trapped on a prism of ego, or that all Indonesian people openly invited me in for tea. And I am not saying that I am going to start inviting strangers into my home at night. It would just be nice to live in a future where the kindness of strangers wasn’t such a rare and confusing experience. Ever since interacting with that ping-pong headed old man I am striving to become a more open and trusting person in an attempt to make this future happen in my life.

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19 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

    1. And thank you for watching some of my videos! It won’t let me reply on Youtube for some reason but I love the south of America. I have been to Tennessee a few times and the aquarium is always a highlight of the trips!

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      1. You’re welcome:) I love the south too, although I don’t really think of myself as the southern type or have an accent, even though I’ve been born and bread here, (Born and lived in Florida til I was five, then moved to Georgia.)
        We love going to Tennessee, but my mom HATES driving in Atalanta, so we don’t go as much. Besides, I think the Tennessee Aquarium is better than the Georgia Aquarium. Oh and you forgot to put the butterfly room in your video! That’s my favorite exhibit.Think I also have a friend that works there. I loved walking across the bridge and the fountain and merry-go-round (it’s the place with the statue in a circle) was one of my favorite places up there as a kid, along with the Children’s Discover Museum. And did you know that the grass hill showed at 00:47 is a great cardboard sliding hill in the fall. And I’ve totally giving that dog a high five tons of times!
        I sometimes wish I could travel more. The farthest I’ve been was New Jersey, and going into New York for a day, this summer.
        Next time you’re in my state you should come over to our neck of the woods in Calhoun or Rome to see some true South back roads and small towns. And there’s a really yummy bakery in Rome. Anyway, sorry for rambling, I guess that’s what happens when you talk to a writer like me…

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        1. Ah yeah the butterfly room was great! And yeah the driving in Atlanta is something to be experienced.
          New Jersey is further than a lot of people have travelled! Don’t worry, if you really want it you will definitely get the opportunity to travel one day. I hope you enjoy New York this summer 🙂

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  1. A really interesting post. I think the idea of ‘stranger danger’ is ingrained into western (or perhaps, just British?) culture. We tend to view all approaches from strangers as suspicious, often including friendly, well-meaning ones. I’m not sure it’s likely to change in the near future.

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  2. Lovely post!
    Thank you for dropping by my site with your warmth and for following, too. 🙂

    Your thoughtful post reminded me of a wonderful trip to Germany (and a little of the Czech Republic) with friends some years ago, where so much of our trip was made more memorable by “the kindness of strangers” who were helping us at different moments all along the trip. Indeed, travel is indeed a beautiful thing that opens our minds and hearts.

    Do take care and keep writing, too 🙂

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  3. If ever you go to Papua New Guinea, same kindness and hospitality – you will be literally adopted into the families. 🙂 Your last paragraph is true. Australia I find is one of the worse places I have been to/lived in, for showing hospitality. I have travelled to 62 countries. I come from a culture where people are so warm and I live in one (my father’s) where people can be so cold. Bali is lovely. Try Vietnam next. I am so happy for you that you can experience more than the western culture – there is more..much more in people’s hearts.

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  4. There are pockets of kindness around. I do think you’re right, though, the western way of looking at life is much more toward self. I’m on board with helping you to make the future a more kind world. I hope to be a part of that movement with my blog. Your writing is well done. I believe I made the right choice in following you! If you’re ever in Central Florida, look me up! 🙂

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  5. I think it all goes back to the saying “pay it forward”. Don’t wait for someone else to step up first -just do it – a small random act of kindness without expecting anything in return from anyone. It’s easy to ge5 so wrapped up in life that you forget to do this once in a while. Its amazing how people will respond to this small doing. Some of the best times in my life were when i volunteered (sometimes recruited) to help out someone/thing in need of someone to help, with no offer of any type of payment. (ie: scout leader, little league sports, our local school -even teaching arm chair aerobics for a month at a assissted living facility). I received ten fold what i gave to them. It never ceases to amaze me how good it felt doing volunteer work, but that same benefit can come from simply offering a shopping cart to the person who happens to walk up slightly behind you. Feels right!

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  6. I totally agree. Developing countries put us to shame with their interest and overall kindness and helpfulness. When I first went to Asia, I went “solo” for half a year and everyone at home in England, were just so concerned about my safety and if I would be lonely. As if!
    I never got a moment’s peace LOL! I met travellers right left and centre. I had locals rushing to take photos of me (although I’m not a 6 ft tall giant such as yourself) 🙂 and I ended up teaching a group of Indian housewives nursery rhymes in a Delhi beauty salon! I had to do all the physical actions parts too LOL!

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