Last month my French teacher/neighbor had her farewell party and there she introduced me to her friend. Lena was from Germany and before Cikarang she and her family lived in KL for several years. As we chatted she asked me if I knew any German, because Maud told her that I speak other languages than English. I said yes, I had been studying it since I was a kid because my mother insisted me to. As we started to speak in German, she asked me if I had spent time talking with native speakers. I told her that I spent a couple of days in my uncle’s home in Heidelberg five years ago, and that’s about it. She was very surprised because she happened to go to the University of Heidelberg and she knew the area where my uncle is living with his family. Out of so many cities and so many universities in Germany, it was a pleasant coincidence to meet someone new who happened to know where I had been. Then we started talking about Heidelberg’s old town, her apartment, which was located very close to the university in the downtown, and the grandeur and gorgeous H & M store right around the city square’s corner. Women can easily bond through shopping and the experience of doing so, ha-ha.
When I first went backpacking to South Korea in 2004, the hotel which I had booked through email was closed on the day I arrived. Back then I didn’t know booking.com, so I went there with faith that everything would go well. I didn’t have any credit card either, so I brought quite a lot of cash for emergency situation. It was my first backpacking experience and a very nerve-wrecking one. I got into a taxi, which was much cheaper than in Japan, and told the driver to go to the nearest tourist information center. I relied heavily on my Lonely Planet’s guide to South Korea and a few Korean phrases it included. The taxi driver took me instead to a police station where nobody could speak English there. Back then, internet was scarce and I didn’t have any Google translator with me. I was so frustrated that I just asked them how to go to YMCA, because the hostel was mentioned in the book. It’s so funny that even though they didn’t speak any English, they could spell ABC in English. A police car took me from Namdaemun area to Itaewon area. It’s indeed an amusing experience for a first-time backpacker. In YMCA I stayed in a room with six bunk beds and spent two days there before I headed to Daegu and then Busan. The hostel had a common kitchen and one night when I was making a spicy ramen, I got into a conversation with an African-American man who just arrived in the city.
He : Where are you from?
Me : Indonesia, currently living in Tokyo.
He : Really? I’m actually on my way there to visit a friend. I decided to explore Seoul for a couple of days before flying to Tokyo.
Me : That’s nice. Maybe I know your friend (jokingly said. The fact is, it’s quite impossible to know other foreigners in Tokyo if we don’t share some common backgrounds. Not forget to mention that Tokyo is humongous)
He : Do you go to church?
Me : Yes, why?
He : My friend joins a choir in Tokyo Baptist Church. Her name is Tracy and she’s also African-American.
Me : (dumbfounded) I sing in soprano section with Tracy.
Then we both rolled out with laughter. Out of so many cities and so many hostels in South Korea, I happened to meet a friend of my friend who was on his way to see her, ha-ha.
Five years ago we went to London for the 2012 Olympics and stayed at my college friend’s place for a week. Since we already had the UK visa, we decided to fly to Edinburgh a couple of months after that. We liked collecting Hard Rock Café t-shirts for their good quality of fabric and unusual designs, so the night before we flew back to Switzerland my husband told me to go to HRC to buy some t-shirts for our family. We stayed in Edinburgh for five days and the weather there had been crazy; heavy rain then bright sun all of a sudden. On our last day there we hiked to Arthur’s Seat and our 3-year old daughter was too exhausted to take another bus. So I went to HRC alone and my family went back to the hotel. The café was quite empty that night so a shopkeeper came to help me picking out designs and sizes.
He : Where are you from?
Me : Indonesia, currently living in Switzerland.
He : Cool.
Me : Are you from around here? You speak differently.
He : As the matter of fact I came from London. I just started university here.
Me : Really? From which part of London are you? We went there for the Olympics last July.
He : (waved his hand) You probably never heard of it; it’s quite far from the city center and the tourist attractions.
Me : (made a random guess because the name suddenly crossed my mind) Peckham?
He : (gasped) How did you know?
Me : (shrugged) I was just guessing, but it’s such a nice coincidence that you’re from Peckham as I stayed there for one week at a friend’s house.
He : Wow, such a nice coincidence!
Me : No offense, you don’t actually fit the demographic of Peckham residents.
He : (grinned at me) None taken, I know it’s rare to see a white guy coming from Peckham.
Me : (laughed) Exactly, everyone is multicolored there expect for the policemen, I suppose. On the day we arrived, a police officer approached us because he saw my husband taking out his Ipad from his backpack. The officer told us that it’s not safe to do so in Peckham.
He : It is not. Peckham is sadly still an area with one of the highest crime rates in London.
Out of so many cities in the UK and so many HRC shops, I ran into someone who came from an area where I stayed during my visit to London.
All my life I have experienced these kinds of pleasant coincidences and they gave me warm feelings. The world is indeed a small place and I could get connected to someone suddenly, instantly, even though I come from halfway across the world from them. The key to be experiencing all these is to travel a lot and to muster up courage to speak with new people. There is no other way.
Remembering this encourages me to browse the internet for our next travel destination. Where shall we go from here?