It was a dull rainy morning, uncharacteristic of the sunny Nelson that I have heard so much about. My bus was scheduled for 7.55am and at 8.15am, there was still no sign of it. A slight panic bubbled within me, and I thought frantically, if I had missed the bus. More than once, I looked over the itinerary, and saw unmistakably that I was at the correct bus stop, at the correct time. People around me carried on with their daily lives, undisturbed by the drizzle, or the panicked-looking intruder standing at the bus stop with her bulging orange duffel.
I suddenly missed my usual morning routine in Singapore.
At 8.30am, the Naked Bus pulled into the bus stop, and the driver hurried down to verify my details, adding in an apology for the delay. I was more than relieved that the bus came, and bounded onto the bus after throwing down my trusty duffel in the luggage compartment. “Pin!” A voice greeted me as I hopped onto the bus. I thought I heard wrongly. Surely there wouldn’t be somebody I knew over here in New Zealand. I looked around, and all I saw was a sea of blurred faces.
Ignoring the voice, I headed towards the nearest empty seat. “Pin!!” The voice rang again, and this time, I was certain someone was calling out to me. “Oh my god, M! What are you doing here?!” My look of bewilderment quickly dissovled into excitement upon seeing a familiar face.
Talk about fate.
Three days ago, I was on my way to Nelson, trying to stay awake after an early-morning ferry ride. We were at a short rest stop when M struck a small chat with me. Turns out, she was visiting her granny in Nelson, and quite coincidentally, we were alighting at the same stop. She asked where I was staying, and I told her hesitantly, I am not quite sure of the exact location. For a moment, she seemed worried for me, especially after hearing that I was on a solo backpacking trip. We alighted shortly after, and to my surprise, she offered to send me over to where I was staying. My first reaction, perhaps somehow ingrained in me, was to kindly reject her offer. She insisted, and I took it up after going back and forth a little.
I was grateful for her offer. I had absolutely no idea how long it will take to walk to the address that was written on my flimsy piece of paper. “No worries, my granny loves meeting new people!” Surprised is an understatement. And this is on top of all the kindness that I have received in NZ. Never in my entire life in Singapore, have I seen a stranger so willingly talk to another stranger, and even offering a ride! I wonder how would any stranger at home would react if I were to strike up a conversation out of nowhere.
M dropped me off, and saved her number in my phone. “Call if there is anything!” I nodded and bade her goodbye, knowing we will probably never cross paths again.
So imagine how stunned I was to see her on the same bus heading towards Kaikoura.
“M! I thought you were staying with in Nelson for a little more?” I shifted into the seat next to her, and greeted her with a huge grin. “I was, but I have to head to Christchurch to meet my family before my vacation ends!” I listened as she recounted her stay at her Granny’s, and all the childhood friends she got to meet. She proceeded to lament about leaving her phone at her Granny’s and asked if I could help her pick out a phone later at the rest stop. It was weird, but somehow, I felt like I was talking to someone I knew for a long time.
How is it that someone could open up so readily to a stranger? To be honest, I am sure if I was in Singapore, there was no way someone would bother talking to me if I asked them “how was your day”. Was this the kind of warmth that cities are rapidly losing? I thought hard about it even when I returned home. Perhaps, everything seemed more beautiful because I was abroad. Perhaps, everything felt like a new experience because I made it out to be.
But just perhaps, help and friendliness came my way because I made the change first. I was more pro-active to say hellos, more welcoming to talk to anyone sitting next to me, and more willing to greet them with smiles. In contrast, I acted like the whole world was against me back home. Ear plugs as my lethal weapon, the smartphone screen as my armor, protecting me against the rest of the “commuting enemies”.
We reached Kaikoura after a stunning ride alongside the Pacific Ocean. M was proceeding on to Christchurch on another bus, and we made plans to meet there two days later. “Have fun in Kaikoura, and see you soon! Give me a text when you are in Christchurch!”
When I reminisce about NZ, this brief meeting still manages to make me feel all happy inside. It is indeed the people you meet, that makes the travel experience unique. But similarly, here at home, I now believe that if you are willing to be a little kinder, a little more approachable, people will receive you differently too. I like to think that there are no “better countries” in this world, for a reaction from someone all depends on how you treat them in the first place. Meeting strangers in a foreign country can be an unforgettable experience, but so can it be when you meet them in your own country.
Did I say I missed my usual rountine?
Not anymore. I look forward to making new “friends” everyday. The hawker uncle, the morning cleaning auntie, and even passer-by who accidentally knocked into me.
Screw rountines. Unexpected changes are far more interesting, even here at home!