Category: Travel

Doing The Right Thing Isn’t Taxi-ng, Part 2

| Rome, Italy | Kind Strangers, Transportation, Travel

(My friend and I — both poor college students — are visiting another friend at her summer job on a youth camping site near a small village, about one hour from Rome. The plan is to spend her two days off together at the camp, and the rest of the time she will go back to work and we will take day-trips to Rome while staying at the camp for free. For this we have to take a shuttle bus to a small train station outside of the village, and a train from there to Rome. On our second day, we miss our planned train back to the village, and arrive two hours late. It is now 11:30 pm and the camp shuttle bus has stopped. Since the village is so small, there are no taxis at the train station, just a bus once an hour that goes to the village. We decide to wait for said bus and try to find a taxi in town to take us to the camp. That’d probably make our trip two hours longer and far more expensive than planned, but it seems the only way. While we are sitting on the pathway in the dark, somewhat abandoned station, another passenger from our train tries to chat with us. He’s an elderly Italian man, and we both speak only the standard tourist sentences in Italian. The whole conversation is a weird mix of Italian, English, German and gestures.)

Old Man: “You go to [Village]? Not seen you in Hotel yet.”

Friend: “Oh, no, we need to go to [Camp]. No shuttle bus, so we need a taxi from village.”

Old Man: “Camp? You are kids from [Holiday Group my friend works for]? You look old. Run away?” *laughs*

Me: *also laughing* “No, visiting a worker at camp. We’re university students.”

Old Man: “Students can afford taxis? Italian students can’t!”

Me: “It’s the only way. No shuttle bus today, and we need to go home.”

(After this short chat, the man takes out his cell-phone and has a conversation with someone in rapid Italian, before turning back to us.)

Old Man: “Okay, my friend come and drive you.”

Friend: “What?”

Old Man: “My friend, has taxi. Not working this evening but is taxi. So he can come and take you to camp.”

Me: “Really? Did you wake him up?”

Old Man: *laughing* “No, he only watch TV. I say to him, the kids need help; get your a** over here!”

(He said that in perfect American movie English. Not 10 minutes later, his friend arrived with his taxi. They discussed something again in Italian, and the old man told us the fare will be 15€. The driver took us to the camp, a 30 minute drive, and — in the same English+Italian — says he’ll go back and pick up the old man to go home afterwards. We were so surprised about the old man’s help that we felt like we didn’t thank him enough, so we gave the driver a large bag of sweets we had bought in Rome to share on their way home. Our friend at the camp later told us that since the camp is off the beaten path and it was so late, a regular taxi ride would’ve cost us at least 30-40€. I can only say thank you to the old Italian man who barely understood us nor we him, but realised there were two kids in trouble and helped us so tremendously.)

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Doing The Right Thing Isn’t Taxi-ng

The Land Of The Rising Stress

, | Japan | Kind Strangers, Transportation, Travel

In university I get the opportunity to spend a semester teaching English in rural Japan. A Japanese woman who did her master’s studies at my university had opened her own English school, and every year she took on a student from my program as her way of paying it forward.

I am excited to go, but it means flying from Chicago to Tokyo Narita, the international airport, catching a train to Tokyo Haneda, the domestic airport, flying to another airport in the south of Japan, then catching another train to the small town, all on my own. My supervisor won’t be meeting me until I make it all the way to my final destination. Since I’ll be in Japan for four and a half months, my suitcase is huge and I can’t lift it on my own.

My first flight goes well; I even manage to sleep a little. I speak Japanese moderately well, since that’s what I am studying in uni, but reading is much harder, especially when tired. Luckily most of the signs in Tokyo also have English translations, and I am able to catch the connecting train to Haneda, where I have about four hours before my next flight. I get checked in and find my gate, but I am so tired I can’t help curling up to nap and hope that no one messes with my bags, which I pull as close to me as I can.

Several people do wake me, but only to make sure I am not missing my flight! Every time a new boarding is called at that gate or the one next to it, someone comes to wake me and politely ask if this is my flight. It is a different person every time, and I am so touched that all of them are concerned about the young foreigner obviously traveling on her own.

I make my second flight to southern Japan, where everything is much more rural and English much more rare. By the time I land and am trying to find my train, I have been awake for about twenty hours, there is a thirteen hour time difference, and I am completely exhausted and losing my grasp on Japanese. I finally figure out where I need to go, but the platform is up a double flight of stairs and I can’t find an elevator anywhere.

Seeing no other choice, I start hauling my bags up the stairs, one step at a time. I have not only my huge suitcase, but also a backpack and a shoulder bag with my laptop. I make it up to the first landing and then trip, falling over my suitcase and only barely keeping my laptop from hitting the concrete. I am so tired and stressed that I just sit down on the step and start crying.

Out of nowhere, an older Japanese man in a full suit and tie stops and bends over me, asking if I am all right. I manage to get across that I need to get up the stairs, but I can’t do it by myself. Without further word, he leans over and lifts my giant suitcase, despite me protesting that it is very heavy. He carries it up the rest of the stairs for me while I follow, pouring out thanks. I manage to pull 1000Yen out of my wallet and try to give it to him, but he refuses, makes sure I have ahold of my suitcase again, and disappears into the crowd.

It seems like no big deal, but I was so tired at the end of a very long trip, and I’ll never forget the kindness that was paid to me. I had so many amazing interactions with people during my months in Japan, but that kind soul right at the start of my trip will always be the clearest in my mind. Arigatou gozaimasu, kind stranger!

The Magic Of Friendship

| GA, USA | Geeks Rule, Travel

(I’m chatting online with a good friend whom I’ve only met in person once, although we do communicate daily. She’s been telling me about a recent trip to Orlando, Florida and how much she loved it and wants to go back. We are both huge Harry Potter fans.)

Friend: “So, I might have to take a week-long vacation in February because I’ll have four weeks-ish of time saved by then and it’s use it or lose it come April 1st. So I was thinking… of taking you to Hogwarts for a few days. What do you say? I’m 95% sure I can bankroll the whole thing.”

Me: “That sounds awesome, actually.”

(At first I think our plotting is more wishful thinking than reality. With the high cost of a week-long vacation I think it’s too much for my friend to afford. But as we discuss the logistics of such an adventure I realize she’s completely serious. Before I know it everything’s booked.)

Friend: “I’ll buy you your [interactive] wand, too.”

(I make sure to thank my friend profusely. I’ve been unemployed for several years (despite efforts to find work) so I don’t have much cash for expensive trips. If not for her massive generosity in “kidnapping” me I’d likely never get to visit Hogwarts.)

A Couple Of Couple Encounters

| Italy | Awesome, Travel

After working in hospitality for over ten years, you can believe me that I have seen a lot, but this takes definitely the cake.

At this time I am 20 years old and working as a waitress in a hotel in northern Italy. I am always assigned the same section of the restaurant and as most guests were on half board, I usually serve the same guests for one or two weeks, at least for both breakfast and dinner. One elderly, German couple stood out the most: always polite, always ready to joke with me, and just generally pleasing.

However, I only work there for one year and then leave.

Five years later, I move to Dubai to work at the front desk in a five-star resort and after a couple of months, low and behold, I notice an elderly couple that seems familiar. Yes, you guessed it, it was the same couple from the place I used to work back then, and they still recognized me! They brought me German chocolate and passed by every evening for two weeks to chat. The husband even brought his slippers from his room, showing me that he had “stolen” them from my previous hotel, and we had a laugh.

Another two years pass by and I am on vacation at home, in Italy, when one day my mother decides she would like to visit her parents, who live in Germany. We drive to Germany very early in the morning and when we arrive, my grandparents decide to invite us all for lunch in a nearby city. While walking through the city centre, I see an elderly couple from behind and start smiling, because they remind me of the elderly couple I knew. Well, they turn around and I must have made a rather startled sound, because they look at me and just stand there, shocked. My mother gets really worried and asks what happened while I and the elderly couple are just staring at each other.

I explain the situation, and we hug and take pictures — the husband saying that he has to take pictures, otherwise no one is going to believe this — and my parents and my grandparents can not stop laughing.

I have not seen them since, but I am sure that in a couple of years, we will meet again!

Little Old Ladies, Big Old Heart

, | Japan | Kind Strangers, Non-Dialogue, Travel

I had to go to immigration to renew my visa as I’m a foreigner living in Japan. Once I reach the bus stop a little old lady is there. She asks me something but I don’t understand. Next thing I know she is offering me wrapped candies. I refuse, politely. Suddenly she is putting her hand, and the candies, into my jacket pocket. Okay, lady, arigato.

Later I stop at a restaurant for lunch. In Japan, sometimes you are expected to pour water for yourself. The little old lady seated next me gets up to get herself some water but offers the cup to me instead.

Thank you, little old ladies, for your kindness towards a foreigner.

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