I like to connect with people by sharing the humor I see, while Ivan uses his smile and laugh to draw people in. Perhaps it’s because we stand out in a crowd, that we always seem to make random connections with people.
I mentioned to Ivan that many Taiwanese wear a ring on their pinky finger like Canadian engineers, including me.1 Ivan then focused on the hands of two girls near us on the bus. The girls were startled by his staring so I tried to explain. This created even more confusion because they didn’t understand English. Someone nearby offered to translate. She didn’t want to lose her space in the crowded bus, so without moving closer to the girls, she shouted in Chinese down the bus. Everyone heard but whether it made sense to any of them remains a puzzle. We struck up a conversation with our translator, Beatrice and exchanged LINE IDs. Beatrice later referred us to a scuba dive master in Kenting, and invited us to other activities.
Another bus, another day, a girl seated across from us shyly established eye contact. We naturally smiled back. She offered us a pair of tickets to join her at a music concert that evening. Unfortunately, we already committed to dinner with a Meetup group so we couldn’t accept. We keep in touch with Ling on LINE, though, and she sends us information about music and performances that we wouldn’t otherwise hear about since they’re posted only in Chinese newspapers.
We met Betty in a coffee shop. She immediately offered to show us around Taichung and her hometown, Changua. We feel like part of Betty’s family as she has taken us twice to enjoy holiday dinners with her entire family. There is nothing like experiencing a town from a local’s perspective! We also traveled with her family as a party of eight to nearby LuGang, well-known for its myriad food delicacies. With this large crowd, we were able to sample many different foods in between photographing all the dishes, snapping group selfies and asking a lot of questions about so many things we didn’t recognize.
On a climb to see the sunset in Hengshun we met a girl whom we asked to recommend the best restaurant in town. We found the crowded restaurant that she wrote in Chinese for us (by asking everyone on the street). It served the famous Taiwanese dumplings and soup. We jokingly asked the people seated next to us where they were going for dessert. Suprisingly, they turned out to be tourists from China and had hired a guide who was going to take them to three other restaurants before having dessert. In true Wedding Crasher form, (not in search of Ms. Right but in search of the best food in town), we announced that we were following them. The four of them welcomed us to join them . . . (they could hardly refuse). We sampled many dishes all over town that evening with our new friends until it was time for them to turn in and for us to look for a massage and a nightcap.
Vince, a pediatrician at the Cheng Ching Hospital greeted us in a coffee shop and asked what we were doing in Taichung if we weren’t English teachers. He was surprised that we had not traveled to the east yet so we quipped that we would go with him the next time he went to the coast. He right away countered with an offer to take us to the mountains that weekend. We visited some lovely gardens and then brought us to hot springs high in the mountains where we luxuriated and gazed at the cliffs as the sun was setting, from within our private hot tub cantilevered over the gorge. It was an enchanted evening.
Perhaps our most convoluted meeting originated with Elizabeth and Phillip, whom we met on our cruise from LA to Osaka. Originally from Taiwan, they now live in California. They were not in Taiwan when we got here so they passed us the contact information for their friend Elena. Elena lived in Kaoshiung so she offered her hospitality whenever we come to visit her city and recommended us to call her friend, Angel who lives near us in Taichung. Angel conferred with her sister, Monica, to see how they could help us in Taiwan. Monica decided that it was best to meet her friend, Alice, who speaks English. Alice lives in Florida but is visiting in Taichung for a few months. We couldn’t break this long chain of connections . . . we got in touch with Alice, the 6th person in this referral chain. Alice introduced us to the perfect Taiwanese cultural experience. She brought us to a respected Chinese calligrapher with whom we spent a lovely afternoon copying Chinese characters with traditional ink and brush. While we worked, he poured tea, displayed his prized bonsai beside us, proudly showed us his collection of ancient tools of the art and presented us with our own Chinese brush at the end of our lesson.
These are just some of the ‘connections with strangers’ that we regularly make and it’s really why we travel.