Unfamiliar Human Interactions
The nonverbal interactions are something I’ve grown to be more aware of as I experience new places in the world: A sign of gratitude. An exchange with a genuine human connection. An interaction that is unfamiliar, yet comfortable. The correct etiquette when exchanging money with someone through the placement of both hands together on the bill while making eye contact.
The preliminary experience in a new city, with a new person or something unknown, stimulates our brain and pressures us to focus on the raw reality in that exact moment. The hiding behind the screen is easy, it’s comfortable, but it doesn’t make me feel alive. I feel alive when I am trying to break down the language barriers with the kind Chinese lady who is running her laundry business in a narrow, bare alley that escapes the madness of the buzzing streets of Hong Kong. She is eager to have the business and smiles at my confused western, Caucasian face. We go back and forth to determine the cost, timing of pick up and name for pick up. 10 minutes later, I exchange 70HKD for a week's worth of laundry and three hours later I can pick it up clean and folded. It sure wasn’t my angel mother folding my clothes in white suburbia US, but it was wonderful, nonetheless.
In addition, while in Vietnam a similar unfamiliar experience turned into one of the highlights of my trip. Two friends and I were walking around in the chaotic city center when we were approached by five Vietnamese student aged individuals. With big smiles on their faces, they simply asked if they could have 5-10 minutes of our time to speak English with us. At that moment I realized I was in a different world and could be spotted from a mile away as a foreigner. The interaction was extremely genuine from the Vietnamese students and they quickly conveyed to us that English is the greatest skill that a student in Vietnam could have so they took to the streets of the city to talk with foreigners to practice their English. We talked about their areas of study, they provided us with local recommendations in Hanoi and we even ended the conversation exchanging Facebook names and taking a group photo. Their eagerness and curiosity to learn proved to resonate well with us Westerners and led to a delightful interaction for all parties involved.
The differences are something we often dwell on, but I’m learning that more people are becoming increasingly open and receptive to accepting the individualistic qualities of others. I’ve found that this typically leads to a certain eagerness to learn more about people and it’s become one of my favorite parts about traveling.
I paid money to go on “Asia’s Longest Cable Car Journey,” took an Uber to the airport, and ate late night McDonald’s. It was pretty, familiar, and comfortable yet the normality was a far different feeling inside than the laundry interaction with the sweet Chinese lady in the alleyway or the conversation with the Vietnamese students. Figuring out the simple necessities of daily life in a foreign environment was a unique experience that far surpassed the touristy cable car ride. Learning from my biases, reflecting and growing with each uncomfortable or unknown experience makes it a bit easier, enough to desire another unfamiliar interaction or experience in the future.