“It’s the people that you meet eeeeaaach day” – Sesame Street

18 03 2012

I don’t remember who sang this song, I think it may have been Ernie.  And possibly Bert was harmonising?

One of the best things about travelling are the people who move in and out of your life along the way, not all of them people that you will remember fondly, but people that you will remember for one reason or another.  People that have touched your life for the briefest of moments and then are gone….forever!

From Vietnam, the smiling street seller who let Roger shoulder his business is etched on my memory as the happiest and helpful Vietnamese person I met, but also a person who has the toughest job I’ve ever encountered – pounding the pavements day in day out, from sunrise to sunset, in ridiculous temperatures carrying huge amounts of weight.  But still he smiles.  There is something to be learned from this man.

The old and small taxi driver who maneuvered us through the mad and insane traffic both to and from our hostel in Saigon is a hero in my book and worthy of a guest spot on Top Gear.  Not once did he swear, frown, shake his fist or bump into another car, scooter, bike or pedestrian.  Nor did he seem to mind me laughing like a maniac out the window at the traffic around me.

Roger with some people from our tour of the Mekong Delta

Then there was Tiger, our Mekong Delta tour guide who knew how to say “I love you” in thirteen different languages.  I’m not sure his wife would appreciate hearing him brag about that!  He was a character who on the one hand provided light comic entertainment, but then on the other poured with patriotism for his country which he acknowledged had been struggling for years.  He spoke with enthusiasm of new developments around Ho Chi Minh city, but he also showed despair for the people living in poverty along the delta edges who would be moved on from their shanties by the next big development. And where else could they go exactly?

On the Coconut Canals, Vietnam

On the same tour, I won’t forget the young Thai girl who deduced that I was from Rome because I was wearing an Italia cap. She had never met an Italian before, so I was her new BFF and she literally clung to my arm all day!  And I mean ALL DAY!  Poor girl, after the eleventh photograph with her I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t Italian, so instead I started adding extra vowels onto-a the-a end-a of-a everything-a!

My new Thai BFF is in purple, the man on the left is her Uncle. The bloke topless is Russian. Everywhere we went in SEAsia, Russians were getting their kit off.

Meanwhile, Roger had struck up his own friendship with two Japanese boys because one of them had the same camera as him and was wearing a Bell & Ross watch that Roger also liked.  They spoke excellent English and left him their email address at the end of the tour.  A contact he has since been in touch with.

From Bangkok, our first tour to Ayutthaya was extraordinary.  No-one really spoke to anyone else, it was weird!  Lunchtime was very very quiet, like those old Western movies where the guy on the horse rides into town.  A hush falls over everything and all you can hear is the clip-clop of his horse’s hooves.  In this case it was the click-clack of chopsticks.  And it was that uncomfortable quiet all day!

It was very different the next day on our Adventure Tour.  During the hotel pick-ups in the morning we met a Canadian called Gordon who was a weather expert of sorts, some kind of flood forecaster.  We spent only half an hour in his company before being divided into tour groups at HQ.   However we met up with him on the bus trip back to Bangkok at the end of the day.  An Australian couple from New South Wales also joined us.  She worked for Nestle and following my “Ode to Milo”, we spent an hour enlightening our Canadian friend as to what the product was, the numerous ways it could be consumed and why Antipodeans worshipped the crumbly substance.

We shot the breeze, sharing our day’s experiences and learning about each other – our lives, our travel experiences and poking fun at each other’s cultures.  We laughed loudly, joked badly and enjoyed each other’s company for the duration of the three hour drive back to Bangkok.  To say we got along like a house on fire would be an understatement.  And then we climbed out of the bus at our hotel and they were gone.  Forever.

How families and workers travel around Bangkok

Life is amazing like that isn’t it?  That in such a short space of time you can connect with people that you have never met, and then as quickly as they arrive they are gone from your life again, leaving a lasting impression.  Is it these types of people who are our soul-mates, whom by some cosmic force we are thrown together with to enjoy their company for a moment in time?  Deep Kir.  Real deep.

From Phuket, we remember every freak, geek, sleaze, Russian and weirdo we came into contact with.  But the receptionists at Patong Beach who happily posed for photographs with a small white owl are definitely worth a mention.  They probably thought we were crazy!  We also fondly remember the kind and friendly hotel manageress at Surintra Resort who ironed Roger’s wedding shirt and pants that had been rolled up in his backpack for ten days.

Travelling makes you reflect on how small the world is and how inter-connected we all actually are, passing in and out of each other’s lives for a fleeting moment, sometimes for longer, and in doing so having an impact on a stranger’s life.

Think about the people you encountered today: the young girl on the checkout at Countdown that you smiled at and said hello – or did you slam your goods down in frustration because you had to park too far away from the door?  The pedestrian that you waited for to cross the street – or from the luxury of your car did you instead cut in front of them?

Ellen Degeneres closes her show every day with the same line. “Be kind to each other.”  Such simple advice.  Ya know I think she could really be onto something there.