Taiwan is a special place to me. Not for the political tension it has with China. But rather because it’s where I learned to entrust complete strangers in a foreign land.
During our stay, we’d gone to Taroko Gorge. It sits quite a ways from Taipei, and we’d taken a train to get there. I’d gotten separated from my group of friends but recognized the face of someone in our tour group. She spoke in broken English.
“Don’t worry. I get you home,” she said with a smile. “I speak Mandarin!”
This was good. I didn’t. And the train’s conductor only spoke in this strange gibberish I understood was a foreign language.
But wait, who is this woman and why is she being so kind to me? Is she really going to get me home or take me for a ride and leave me robbed and beaten? Who’s to tell when you’re a young white American in a completely foreign land.
As we got to talking, she told me she was visiting Taiwan on business from Singapore. She showed me pictures of her family: an adorable little 1-year-old Chinese baby, and a less adorable but still (I admit) handsom older Chinese man she’d taken as her husband.
“I want to see the world,” she told me. “That gorge was really something, wasn’t it!?”
I could see the humanity in her. The kindness. The compassion. She was a mother. A wife. A successful businesswoman. Maybe foreign people aren’t so bad after all.
“I’m from a small town in Indiana,” I explained, beginning to open up. “But I live in the Philippines now. My friends and I came up here to see the sights.”
“That’s so cool! Have you be to Taipei 101?”
“Yeah! We went the day we arrived. This is our second day, na.”
The train eventually got to the outskirts of Taipei.
“What hotel you stay?”
I told her, and she told me mine was the next stop for me to get off. She was staying deeper in the city center, but would let me know when I needed to exit. We continued talking, sharing our lives, our hopes for the future. Eventually my stop came. As I got up to leave, she handed me her business card.
“If you need, just call!” She smiled ear to ear.
I thanked her and as I exited the train I found my friends again. As I told my friends about this woman, one of them snatched the card from my hand and called her right away to thank her for her kindness. We met up later in our trip for lunch. We still keep in touch from time to time on Facebook.
Kindness has a way to change a person, especially in times of desperation. And for this young traveler, it’s a change I’ll hold dear for a lifetime.