When I first arrived in Asia after my two months stint in Europe, friends asked me the famed “How was Europe?” question.
Each time, I pick a different answer and each time, I am found wanting. The lack of precision and my need to find the correct answer has been frustrating but finally (and perhaps) I am able to give a half-decent answer to the solo Europe experience. Here goes.
We live in a world that’s more or less round. We know the population amount to 7 billion but the billion only signifies 000000000 and essentially, we do not grasp the tangibles of this figure. Earth is crowded, but we do not feel it. Stories revolve around us, but we do not hear it. We cross path with another being all the time but we do not see them. Humans have this knack of magnifying their lives and refocus all that there is onto themselves – the rest fades away. While I am alone halfway across the globe, this is essentially stripped off me. I am a nobody in a foreign land. If I were kidnapped, nobody would know bar my family and loved ones back home. My skin is yellow. My hair is black. My eyes are a muted brown and I speak languages that the local sometimes. Amidst the lackluster appeal of all these factors, I trudged through city after city, town after town – searching for the beauty that encapsulates Europe while I feel increasingly invisible and silenced.
Of course, at times I break out of this euphoria. My reveries are interrupted. My delight in being alone and at times, feeling that averse loneliness gets broken into. You see, I have lost count of strangers coming up to me for small talks, for little favors, for helps that are purely altruistic – and then i remember, we are first and foremost humans and despite it being a mad world with a ridiculous rat race, we, at the very least still have our humanity intact.
In London, I helped a pair of Chinese couples well into their 60s with their luggage from St Pancras to King’s Cross; helped them buy a pair of return tickets to Cambridge. They couldn’t speak a word of English and yet with all smiles and wonder, they soak in the London air with pure delight. They passed me credit card after credit card when it keeps getting rejected by the automated machine and I wondered where was their fear located, if they weren’t at all afraid that I would steal their money instead of assisting them purely? We exchanged e-mails and took a photo together at the end – I continued on with my journey.
In Munich, I helped another younger Chinese couple exchange their ticket to Venice which was dated wrongly with the ticketmaster. In Verona, I helped a lady to her destination with my Iphone’s Google Map; she had been lost for half an hour. In Fussen, I helped mediate the communication between the host and an elderly couple (again, from China!) while we laughed amidst our incapability to fully understand one another. In Venice, I helped a mother with her pram as we maneuvered up and down the bridges that link the canal while the father guided two other young daughters along. In Rome, I gave my map to an American because he was lost and couldn’t figure out the way to some elusive restaurant and in Madrid, I discussed the best way to head to Santiago Bernabéu Stadium as we were both confused by directional guides.
These are the things that remain fresh in my mind. They are the persistent reminders which shows that despite the cultural, language and ethnic differences we have, perhaps, at this juncture of our civilization, we are beginning to think and act like a global village. We have begin to transcend the different colored-passports and ideologies of a nation and start to act like people first. Help is a word used loosely and minimally in today’s world and yet, the impact of helping far exceeds our expectation and should be practiced wherever and whenever. Whether you have a belief system or not, the universe works in mysterious ways. If we believe in good and the goodness of man, we will have goodness in our lives and hearts as well. Maybe it’s the law of attraction at work here, maybe it’s just God – I do not have a conclusive argument on this, and honestly, it doesn’t even matter because at the end of the day, it is the little things that remain and it is those little things that prompt us to be better in all regards.