Let me tell you a story about a stranger I met in Singapore, many, many years ago. About 20 years ago, I think, my family and I visited Singapore. As always, we went to our separate ways. My Papa would want to see electronics and gadgets. My Mama would prefer to go to the supermarkets or food courts. My younger brother would follow Papa or Mama, or he would see some toys. My youngest bro would either follow Papa or Mama, or browse the collection of musical instruments and games. And I, of course, as always was drawn to books and stationery.
We went to our separate ways and chose to meet near a food court. I went to the assigned place on the dot, but nobody was there yet. I bought some roasted chestnuts and sat on a bench, waiting.
Soon, a lady approached me and sat next to me. Maybe she was sixty or seventy, a teenager that I was thought everybody over 30 as ancient (oh, the shallowness of youth!). Maybe she was a worker there, I noticed her sweeping the floor or something. She was probably on her lunch break. She pointed at the roasted chestnuts I was holding, grinning then nodding. I nodded and smiled back. She asked me a question in Chinese, probably Hokkien dialect, I am not sure. I answered back in Mandarin, the standard sentence of "I am sorry, I do not speak Mandarin/Hokkien." She said, "Ah," as if meaning to say, "Too bad", but she just shrugged and smiled.
She then began chatting in her own dialect. I answered in English. I don't think she really understood, but I kept talking in English. And she, in her dialect. I offered her some chestnuts, and she took one. She offered me something from her lunch box, and I ate some. We continued to converse in different languages. At that time, I thought we understood each other. Don't ask me why. It just happened.
When my family came, I told her I had to go, and waved. She waved back with a big, big smile, her wrinkles deepened, her eyes bright. I saw the light danced on her white hair, and I felt a pang of loss.
My parents asked me, "Who was she? What were you talking about? You seemed to have a lively chat with her."
I told the truth, and my parents just shook their heads in disbelief.
I never knew her name. But I learned something from her that day. I learned that a stranger could become a friend, even though only for a short time. I learned that no matter where you go, no matter what happens, you could always find a friendly face.