When I travel, I get to see incredible sights. I get to experience history and breathe the air of brand new places. But I’ve found that some of the things I remember the most are the interactions I have with complete strangers.
Why is this important? And why am I talking about it on a writing blog?
There are memories that change you. Memories that are so important that you cling onto them with your entire being. Maybe you still tear up when you talk about them. Maybe they’re things you know you’ll never forget.
Whatever the case, these are the memories that influence the stories we tell. We want other people to experience these impactful memories in a totally new way, interwoven into fantastical stories.
And, as insignificant as it may sound, one of the greatest examples of human kindness I’ve ever witnessed has to do with a long queue for a bathroom and some toilet paper.
The year was 2016, and I was in Taiwan. It was a place I’d never thought about going – I was, instead, totally obsessed with Europe – but when one of my favourite college professors announced she was taking a music-centred trip to her home country, I was intrigued. The thought of a brand new place to explore, an entirely new country, was just too compelling for me to ignore. At that point, I’d never been out of the U.S.
That was how I found myself across the world from home on a small island that I probably hadn’t thought about more than once or twice in my entire life. It was a sweltering summer day in June, but, being from Florida, I could handle it. I’d already been in Taiwan for a little under a week, but that had been in Taipei, the giant capital city. The rest of our trip consisted of a bus tour all the way around the island – and outside of Taipei, it was as rural as you can get.
I’m actually not sure where my group was exactly, but I do know it was an old train station, as I recall walking across the train tracks. There was a little town around it where we went exploring and had a bite to eat.
There was a single bathroom in the whole town, as in one stall, so you can just imagine how long the line was. I stood there reluctantly, knowing that it was now or never. I certainly didn’t want to be holding it on the bus.
At one point in line, a Taiwanese woman standing just behind me got my attention. She had a young daughter who clung to her legs and looked up at me fearfully.
“Hot day today!” she said in English.
I chuckled. “Yeah, it is! I’m kinda used to it, though.”
“Where are you from?”
It was a question I’d heard many times at that point; many of the students in my group and I seemed to be the only people in the country with white skin, so we drew lots of attention. “Florida,” I said, “in the United States.”
The woman looked shocked. “Wow! You’ve come a long way!”
“Yeah; this place is beautiful, though! I love it here!” I wished that I knew more Chinese so that I could truly try and explain to her just how much I loved her country after only being there for a week or so.
Though it was a slow process, we were able to have somewhat of a conversation. Her daughter joined in at one point, giving me a huge grin. I had finally been accepted as a not-scary-stranger.
“Do you have toilet paper?” the woman suddenly asked as we drew ever nearer to the bathroom.
I wasn’t sure how to respond. “Uh…no?”
She pointed to the bathroom. “No toilet paper in there. Most places out here don’t have it.” She held up one of those little travel packs of tissues. “I carry this around.”
My heart sank. I was only a few people away from getting into the bathroom, and I certainly didn’t want to go grab some napkins somewhere and then get back at the end of the line.
The woman dug around in her purse as I became the next person in line for the bathroom. She frowned, then took a tissue from her travel pack and extended the rest of the package to me.
“Oh! Thank you!” I took a tissue out, feeling absolutely relieved, and tried to hand back the pack.
“No, no, you keep it!” she said insistently. “I can get more.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, please, take it! And welcome to Taiwan!”
My turn for the bathroom was up, so I muttered a quick “goodbye” and “xiè xiè” before hurrying into the little stall. I waved at the woman and her daughter again as I exited the bathroom, and then I never saw them again. But I used that entire package of tissues throughout my trip in Taiwan; it proved to be invaluable! And afterwards, I kept the wrapper and I still have it to this day, a reminder of that kind, generous woman who decided to talk to a foreign stranger.
While the gift was a small gesture, to me, it was something so much more: a beautiful, simple story of human kindness that I’ll never forget – something that has definitely wormed its way into my stories, and will continue to do so as long as I write.
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