Apr 13, 2013

Kindness of Strangers Part 1

Just to break the monotony of hospital life, I decided to write a little about the kindness of strangers I've encountered throughout my travels abroad, just to remind me that some, if not most people out there are good in nature and isn't trying to blow up a train with 600 people as happened recently.

Bordeaux, France - 2008
In the summer of 2008 I spent one month in Bordeaux under the care of the Nocart family. Under a bilateral agreement between the Taiwanese and French Medical Students' Association, a local medical student will provide lodging for me while I leave a sum for a Frenchmen in exchange to Taiwan. It so happens the medical student hosting me is traveling in Taiwan when I'm there and we never actually met. I'm completely under the care of his mum, Claudie, and brother, Alexandre. In short, they were complete strangers to me.
Things started to go wrong at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. My Paris-bound flight was delayed for 2 hours awaiting the arrival of 20 passengers from Jakarta. We were an hour late into Charles de Gaulle and the queue for the TGV was horrible from all the morning arrivals. Three hours after arrival, I manage to get a ticket to Bordeaux, but the train was 2 hours later than my intended arrival. I tried calling my host but it went into voicemail (it was 7 am local time). Unable to speak a single word of French and wresting my baggage through Gare du Nord, I gave up and jumped on the southbound train seconds before it departs.
On arrival at Bordeaux, nobody is waiting for me. After 15 minutes in the empty station, jet lagged and tired, I went to the Tabac and brought my first and only French phone card. Just as I started dialling the number, a petit but energetic lady jabbed my back.
"You? Sim?"
And so I was saved from living on the streets in Bordeaux.

We went home, had a sandwich, and through broken English and hand gestures she said she needed to go to work. The house was then completely mine. I fell into a 16-hour slumber and woke up at 8 am the second day ready to go to work.
When I come home later that day, the key into my apartment isn't working. I tried slotting it in from various angles but it just wouldn't work. Just as I picked up enough courage to go talk to someone (in French), a hunky, moustached Frenchman approached me and shook my hands.
"Hi, Sim! It's so nice to meet you!"
You can imagine I'm more than startled. Do the French have the ability to tell your name from your face?
"Oh, we saw you fell asleep when we came back yesterday. I am Alex, Nicolas' brother."
And so began our friendship celebrating its fifth year this July.

Part 2 to continue...