In the last volume, I shared a shocking event I experienced while wandering abroad.
This time, I will talk about the people I met overseas who changed my life.
Encounters that Changed My Life Values
A Friendship That Began with an Origami Crane
During my wandering journey, I didn’t only visit developed countries but also countries where financially impoverished people lived.
This encounter happened in a Southeast Asian country while I was eating.
It all started with an origami crane.
One lunchtime, I was eating at a makeshift table with a few food stalls around, under a sunshade.
While eating, a boy around 8 to 10 years old approached me and said, “Please, money,” extending his hand towards me.
This was a common sight since entering this country, and I had given or not given small change before.
Since I had some coins in my pocket, I gave them to the boy, who then asked, “Come from?” I replied, “Japan.”
We then tried to communicate with gestures and signs for about 15 minutes.
Since English wasn’t fully comprehensible, it took a lot of time for a single conversation.
The summary of our talk was, “My family has no money, and as a child, I can beg more easily,” “I have three siblings, and I’m the eldest,” “I like Japanese anime, and my dream is to go to Japan to watch anime.”
After talking for a while and about to give him some money, he said, “Please, Japan.”
“Do you want Japan?” “Do you want to go to Japan?” “Did you mean money?” “Do you want Japanese yen?”
The boy extended his hand again, but this time, he made a handshake gesture.
While shaking hands, I thought, “What would make this boy happiest right now? Should I just give him money, which he needs to survive?”
I glanced sideways and saw paper napkins on the table.
For some reason, I took a napkin, cut it into a square, and started folding origami.
I didn’t know why, but I felt like doing it.
As I folded the origami, the boy kept watching my hands, occasionally looking up with a smile that made me feel shy.
After a few minutes, the origami crane was done.
When I handed him the crane, he spread his hands and mimicked a bird flapping its wings.
“Is this a bird?” I felt he asked, so I replied, “Yes!” and added, “Bird.”
He seemed to understand and happily repeated, “Bird” several times.
Then suddenly, the boy ran off.
I wondered if I should have given him money instead, but soon he returned with several other boys.
“Please!” they said, pointing at the crane.
I never expected this, but I ended up folding more cranes than ever before.
The boys seemed delighted with their cranes.
As I finished folding cranes for everyone, the first boy’s father appeared, carrying bunches of laminated roses.
It was clear that he made his living selling these roses.
Initially, the father seemed angry with the boy, but softened as the boy explained.
The father then looked at me, held the roses in his left arm, extended his right hand, and said, “Thank you.”
The father then said something to the boy, who grabbed my arm and pulled me along.
It seemed he wanted to take me somewhere, so after paying the bill, I followed them.
We walked for about five minutes and arrived at what’s commonly known as a slum.
Houses made of tattered roofs and worn fixtures lined the area, and one of these was their home.
The other boys said “Thank you” and went to their respective homes.
The father invited me into his home, and I entered, saying, “Thank you.”
The smell was the first thing that hit me.
Inside was the mother, who greeted me with “Hello” after speaking with the father.
The boy’s younger siblings were there, hiding behind their mother.
I sat where the father pointed, and the boy showed his mother the crane while talking to her.
The mother initially looked troubled but ended up patting the boy’s head.
The father returned from the back of the room with a bottle of whiskey in hand. The label was tattered, and the bottle looked smoked.
The mother brought two bowl-like plastic dishes, into which the father poured whiskey and handed one to me.
The father and mother could only speak as much English as the boy, so we conversed slowly with simple words and gestures.
They shared that they lived by selling roses to tourists, but sometimes it wasn’t even enough for a day’s meal. They often received leftover food from nearby shops.
The first boy and one of the brothers were their children, another was a cousin whose parents had passed away, and the other brother was born from the mother’s work with tourists.
I was at a loss for words. Does such a world really exist?
Noticing my troubled face, the father said, “Sorry,” and added, “You look me, man. Thank you.”
He said this while holding the boy on his lap, embracing him: “Thank you for seeing us as people.”
I couldn’t look at them directly and lowered my gaze, noticing the whiskey bottle. Why was the label so worn, the bottle smoked?
This must have been their best way of welcoming me.
I felt I should offer something in return. The only thing that came to mind was ‘money’…
As I was about to reach into my pocket, the father said, “You friend, no customer.”
I felt incredibly small. Had I really seen these people for who they were? Had I tried to understand what they wanted?
The mother called the other children to sit around me, extending her hand towards me and saying, “Hello.”
I replied with “Hello” and shook hands. It felt warm…
I don’t know how they are living now. I hope they are well.
This family changed the way I interact with people I meet on my travels.
The Kind Women I Met Playing Guitar on the Street and Those Who Discriminated Against Them
I was traveling with my guitar in tow.
It was incredibly heavy and cumbersome, but I’m a bit of a music enthusiast.
Doesn’t playing guitar on the streets while traveling sound somewhat cool?
This story is about my encounter with two women, each holding a child not even a year old, whom I met while playing my guitar.
I can play the guitar, but only at a modest level, and mostly Japanese songs.
Playing on the streets abroad, hardly anyone listens, which is quite funny.
I was singing “Graduation” by Yutaka Ozaki when two women, both around 17 to 18 years old and each holding a child, sat down in front of me.
When I finished the song, they applauded while still holding their babies.
“Where are you from?”
“Was that a Japanese song?”
“Yes. Did you like it?”
“I don’t know, but it was good, haha.”
They were refreshingly honest.
As I held one of their children, our conversation revealed this:
“We ran away from home to come to this city,” “We survive by being with tourists and wealthy people,” “The children were conceived during that time, and we don’t know who their fathers are.”
Their stories were quite deep, but they talked about them cheerfully.
While I was holding one of the babies, I smelled something.
The baby wasn’t wearing a diaper.
The women laughed, saying, “Sorry! I guess your holding was too relaxing, and she got too comfortable!”
Then they took the baby and used the hem of their shirt to clean off the spot on me.
“It’s okay, haha. I’m glad she’s comfortable with me. But don’t you use diapers?”
“We can’t afford them. We’d also like to buy milk, but…”
Faced with this situation…
“How about I help you buy some diapers and milk?”
They were surprised but grateful:
“Really!? Thank you!”
They were genuinely good-hearted people.
In that country, security was a bit tight, and entering supermarkets required a body check and identification.
I entered first and waited for them, but then I heard shouting.
A security guard was trying to turn them away.
They had IDs, but it seemed their worn-out clothes and unkempt hair were the issue.
I told the guard, “They’re my friends. I’m okay with them, so they should be okay, right?” Reluctantly, he let them in.
“It’s our first time inside here! We never thought they’d let us in, haha!”
So that was the situation, I realized.
As we walked through the supermarket, other customers avoided us.
Well, that was to be expected…
But the women seemed to be enjoying themselves, so I decided not to worry about it.
After buying diapers and milk, both the women and I were hungry, so we decided to eat fried chicken in the food court.
When we were ordering and I mentioned eating inside, the women suggested, “Should we eat outside?”
Maybe they felt like eating outdoors?
“OK,” I agreed.
I informed the staff and decided to wait at a nearby table.
I took a seat, but the women didn’t seem inclined to sit down.
“What’s wrong? Just sit and wait. You must be tired from holding the children.”
“It’s okay. We’ll wait here.”
I was puzzled but thought they must be tired, so I somewhat insisted they sit down.
That turned out to be a mistake…
The women kept looking around nervously after sitting down, appearing unsettled.
I thought they were just unfamiliar with the supermarket, but suddenly there was a loud crash!
A man walking by had kicked one of the women’s chairs, causing her to fall off. She fell, shielding her child to prevent him from being crushed, as the other woman rushed over.
I exclaimed, “What are you doing!” But the man just said something, laughed, and started to walk away.
I tried to catch him, but the women held me back, saying, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”
Other customers pretended not to see, and some even seemed to approve of the man’s actions.
That’s when I understood…
The women didn’t want to sit because they knew the wealthier people wouldn’t tolerate them.
“I’m sorry I insisted you sit. Are you hurt anywhere?”
“Don’t worry about it. You’re not to blame. It just hurts a little.”
As she finished speaking, the ordered fried chicken arrived, and the staff brought our order.
“Let’s go,” she said, grabbing my arm, and we left the food court.
As we exited, I saw a cleaner immediately start to clean the table and chairs we had used.
Once outside, the women’s demeanor changed, and they were smiling as if nothing had happened in the supermarket.
When I asked, “Where shall we eat?” they pointed to a flower bed.
There was a bench nearby, but I followed their lead.
As we approached the flower bed, one of them took off her button-up shirt she was wearing over her clothes and laid it on the ground, saying, “Let’s sit here.”
They both sat down on the ground.
Seeing them sitting there, I reflected on the series of events in the supermarket.
Being denied entry because of their attire, not even allowed to sit, viewed as something dirty.
And now, what they were doing for me.
These women were kind and resilient.
I took the shirt they had laid out, dusted it off, returned it to her, and sat down on the ground with them.
They were a bit surprised, but then one of them said, “Let’s party!” and we all shared the fried chicken we had bought.
As we ate, we talked about many things: their dreams, my life in Japan. It was genuinely a delightful time.
After finishing our meal and winding down our conversation, I began to gather the trash to throw away.
“Wait a minute! Can I take this with me?”
“You want to take this with you?”
“There’s still flavor left on the chicken bones. We can enjoy it back home.”
I was at a loss for words…
“Thank you for the fried chicken! And for the diapers and milk too!!”
“Take care! I had a great time too!”
With those words, we parted ways.
Shortly after parting ways, the women called out to me, “Wait a minute!”
“We received milk and diapers from you and you were so kind to us, but we haven’t given anything back. Is there anything we can do?”
I was taken aback, as I hadn’t expected anything in return.
“I don’t know what to say… I had a great time, and that’s enough for me.”
“Well, if it’s okay… we are women, after all. This is all we can offer to repay you. But we’re dirty, aren’t we?”
“You’re not dirty! And I didn’t spend time with you expecting anything like that. I enjoyed our time together, and that’s all that matters!”
They seemed insistent on giving something back.
“Then, could we take a photo together?”
“A photo? Is that really okay?”
“Yes! That would be great!”
Reluctantly, they agreed to take a photo with me.
I handed my digital camera to a nearby person and asked them to take a picture of me with the women.
“Why with them?” the person asked, looking at us with a judgmental gaze.
Despite their attitude, I didn’t even care. I felt like I had become a bit stronger, more like the women I had just met.
Summary: This experience made me reflect on how I truly interact with others.
The encounters that changed my view of life will continue in another installment.
Even though I’ve tried to omit some details, the story inevitably becomes long when I attempt to write in a way that conveys the message effectively.
The main message of this article is about how my encounters with a family selling roses and the two women made me reflect on whether I am genuinely engaging with others.
Cultures differ across countries, as do realities of living standards. How we interact with others is ultimately a matter of personal sentiment.
I sometimes wonder if giving money in such situations is merely an act of hypocrisy.
There are moments when I think it might be better not to do anything if it’s insincere.
However, now I believe that “if everyone in the world is striving to live happily each day, then it’s good to have something that makes today a little happier.”
Fortunately, living in Japan provides a certain level of assurance in terms of lifestyle.
But, of course, nobody knows what tomorrow may bring.
My encounters with them have now led me to a behavior where I face everyone I meet today squarely and cherish the interaction. This has become a principle of action for me since I entered the workforce, and I’d like to think it has helped me gain trust from my clients.
I’ll continue this story another time.
Thank you for reading.
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