Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Oh The Places You'll Go (And the People You'll Meet!)

One of my favorite things about traveling is the people I meet along the way. In fact, the main impetus for our Asia trip was to meet up with a few people we haven’t seen in quite a long time. Here’s my people stories (money stories included!):
  • Ms Tamura is the lady I went to see in Japan. No matter what, I decided that this was my year to visit her. You see, I have never met her before but we have been writing to each other for over twenty years and after a number of times of intending to go to Japan (but never making it) and after realizing that she is in her mid 80s I figured it was now or quite possibly never. It’s kind of a weird story how we started writing to each other. When I was an exchange student in Japan more than 25 years ago, I went with my host father to his night job of teaching English at a nurse’s school. I met the director of the school who was a very nice lady and we started writing to each other when I came back to the states. A few years later I got a letter from Ms Tamura, the new director of the school, stating that Ms Sasaki had passed away. We have been writing back and forth ever since. I appreciate that she has put up with my lousy (and impolite!) Japanese for so many years and that she always has interesting things to tell me in her letters. On this trip I was so happy to meet her finally. We got together with my old host family, who acted as interpreters since my spoken Japanese is worse than my written Japanese, and went to meet her twice during my stay. She is just as amazing in person as I thought she would be. Apparently she is/was quite the rebel as she used to drive a Harley and now drives a “big car” (I didn’t find out the exact make of the car but big cars aren’t all that common in Japan). She was going to be a nun but changed her mind, has traveled extensively, and really reminds me of my grandmother. I wanted to take her home with me! Money story: when I was leaving, we exchanged gifts. I gave her a few simple things and she gave me what I assume was a very expensive pearl and diamond necklace judging by the sudden intake of breath by my group and their shocked expression. They kept exclaiming that it was a treasure. I was shocked too. Lesson: you never know when you will be given an amazing gift (but it seems to be much more likely to happen when you travel).
  • When I first planned my trip to Japan, I figured I would meet up with my host sister Kiyo from way back when and then I would be on my way to visit other people. I was astounded that not only did she meet me at the airport when I arrived but she never left my side for the entire time I was in Japan! We have kept in touch over the years and write back and forth quite often but her dedication to making my trip a success was above and beyond anything I expected. Not only was she my guide and translator, but she would not let me pay for a single thing during my stay (I literally mean not a SINGLE thing!) I withdrew a couple of hundred dollars when I arrived at the airport thinking I would hit the bank the next day when I got a better idea of my expenses and that money was still in my wallet the day I left (I subsequently gave it to her kids when I left as a gift). She literally paid for everything—meals, water, multiple—expensive—bus, train, and airline tickets, and when we went to southern Japan to meet up with her parents and Ms Tamura, her parents then paid for a resort we spent the night at and food for every meal! They all insisted that since I was their guest, I couldn’t pay for anything. Again, I was super shocked at the generosity and hospitality that I received there. I felt kind of bad that the costs were so many and from my calculations, so high (I am guessing it totaled around $1500) but apparently her husband is a well-paid engineer at the largest cell company in Japan (it says he has a doctorate in engineering on his business card and they own a big, brand new house in the middle of Tokyo). Even her two kids were generous to a fault. Holy cow. Again I was stunned. Money lesson: same as above, sometimes the financial blessings just rain down on you when you least expect it. She also mentioned how much I did for her and her friends the couple of times they came to the states but I really can’t remember doing that much for them so the corollary may be to treat your guests amazingly well and your good deeds will come back to you at a later date.
  • I met up with my sister in law unexpectedly in the Philippines. We didn’t even know she was there as she lives in New York and hadn’t mentioned traveling anywhere this fall. She knows I don’t eat much Filipino food and asked what I had been eating during my stay. I told her Shakeys and fried chicken and rice then I asked her if there were any Indian restaurants in the area because I had noticed quite a few Indians walking by on the street. She said she didn’t know of any but would ask around. A couple of days later a lady called me and said she was a friend of my sister in law and said she would like to bring me some Indian food. I said fine, thinking my SIL had picked it up at a restaurant and was having it delivered to me which would have been very nice in and of itself. So the lady arrived with a homemade, six course Indian meal and I nearly fell off my chair! Not only that but she stayed and ate with me and explained that the meal was a special vegetarian meal made by her sister in law in honor of the death day of the lady’s husband (apparently in her religion, on the anniversary of someone’s death, the family makes food and gives it away to other family members and friends to honor the person who had died). Not only that but it turned out the lady is a fairly well-known artist from India who was now living in the Philippines. We talked about art and religion and spirituality and family and travel and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours together. Money lesson: same as the other two…you never know when people will go out of their way to do amazing things for you. I am definitely going to pay this forward because it was one of the most unexpected and nicest things a stranger has ever done for me!
Note: the top picture is Kiyo, Ms Tamura, and Kiyo's parents.  The second picture is Ms Balchand.


  1. Wow... I'm sitting here with goosebumps at the complete & selfless generosity & love you were shown by complete strangers!! Amazing stories, thanks so much for sharing! We should all be more like this!! :)

  2. What fantastic adventures you have had. It is quite heart warming to read of the kindness of strangers.