People speak all the time about the “transformative” nature of travel. This I won’t dispute. I do, however, think that someone needs to be willing to grow, have their minds changed, and realize that there are not normally these Eureka! Moments.
I like to think I don’t rustle my feathers up too much. When I am waiting for a meal at a restaurant, I am patient and understanding. When my plane is delayed- sure it sucks but it means I deserve another drink or more beef jerky from the small convenience store!
People get upset about getting stuck in traffic, when their steak comes back on the more medium side of medium-rare, when the person in front of you at Starbucks is taking 5-ever to order, and other first-world, minor-at-best inconveniences.
I am not saying I am perfect- by no means am I Gandhi or Mother Theresa (just as my boyfriend…) But I like to keep things in perspective and see the positive in things. I like to think I have always been like this, but my whole view was change a couple of years ago. This is all due to an event that happened when I was in Shanghai, China:
My friends and I spent the day at a market in Shanghai. We were bartering, shopping around, and eating some damn-good dumplings…
Now one thing to note about Shanghai is that there are VERY well-off people, and there is poverty like something I have never seen or experienced. A HUGE divide in the socio-economic classes. In Canada, we have classes like most other nations, but I had always seen it as a spectrum. (All I was exposed to at least.) I had been quite a few places with a large divide, but nothing quite as sobering as when I was in Shanghai.
…While we were at the market, a woman went through the dumpling line asking for money. In her hands were a couple Jiao coins and a few Yuan coins. I always do my best, wherever I go, to give Something. I recognize that by simply having funds in my pocket (especially when I have made it across a globe) that I am in a position where I don’t need the spare funds as much as this human in front of me. So, I reach into my purse- I, with a smile on my face, handed her a 10-Yuan note.
This woman’s reaction was not something I ever would have expected.
Her English was about the same level as my Shanghainese… non-exisitant. She was trying to make change for me. She handed me everything she had in her hand in exchange for the bill. She was gesturing no, taking off her bracelet (that resembled those I would craft with my best friends growing up), clutching her chest, bowing to me so deeply. It was all so physical, so sudden, and with such urgency.
I-in my best physical “charades” of communication- bowed back to her, smiled, and nodded, handing her back everything she had tried to offer me.
The smile on this woman’s face.
She walked away, asking nobody else for change (including my friends-the group of fellow tourists- I was with) I gave her respect, treated her like a human, and clearly gave her enough so she could do whatever she needed with the money she was asking for.
I had given her 10 Yuan. The equivalent of $1.40 USD or $1.90 CAD. I essentially handed her a toonie. This, I could see, was a game-changer to her.
My friends, who had watched this very exciting exchange, asked why I gave her so much… this happens when you are away so long. The perspective of what a “dollar” (euro, pound, krona…) changes. People looked at me as if I handed her a $10 note (which isn’t exactly off the table for me to do anyway).
All I said was “my buck-50 clearly changed her day.” And went back to my dumplings. (Which I think I paid a 60-cent equivalent for)
This one moment, as quick as it was, changed my perspective on things forever. I have family, support, a roof over my head, I am employable, have healthcare… all of the privilege pieces in my life that I take for granted. When I was eating those dumplings, I was actually hiding how emotional that was for me. I cannot ever imagine being in a position, or anyone I cared for, where someone hands me/them a toonie and acting as if they had changed my life.
When I was stuck in Dublin recently (after they booted me off the over-booked , connecting plane), I was surrounded by people demanding money and compensation. They wanted free upgrades and anything else that their insults (towards an agent who had no power in the situation) would get them. I sat there, handed them my passport and waited, joked with, and found the only other 2 (of 40+) people who were level-headed, quiet, and recognized how minor this all really is. I looked around as I planned my evening- I was given a free night in Dublin! I was given 600 Euro, hotel, meals, snacks, and a new flight home. The only thing I would have liked to be different was my DUB-YYZ turned into a connection in JFK, but when they handed me my new flights, I smiled and said thank you. They bashfully, and apologetically, thanked me for being nice. For being nice. 40+ people hauled abuse at them for hours, they had to stay 4 hours past their shift to resolve the issues, and 3 people in total were nice to them.
I think we all need to step back when we get frustrated or aggravated and be more mindful. How are my emotions helping this situation? Am I negatively impacting others in my emotionally-fuelled actions? What is the positive here?
Some things are going to be out of our control, but when we see how lucky we are to be in the situation anyway your emotional state adapts and learns to bend, not break.
I may have helped that woman in Shanghai for a day, maybe two, who knows. But she taught me a lesson that I have implanted into my personality. Staying humble, staying grateful, and to put everything into perspective.
“Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure”- Bob Bitchin