Like a blur, these past few months have come and gone. Upon reflecting on the very best moments of some of my travels, I realised I loved meeting strangers. The conversations, the insights and the personalities offer varied perspectives that it's often easy to overlook these things when we meet familiar people in familiar settings.
When we think of 'strangers', there are erroneous representations. We associate strangers with danger, unfriendliness and hesitance, but what if we put that all away, run with our intuition and take an active approach to engage with people.
So I had this idea of meeting strangers each day for a period of 7 days. It has been a week already and I had started this project on 25th September, Sunday. It was during my daily commute, jogs, walks in the park, city and malls that I met some people, who shared their story, and opinions about anything that would trigger a thought.
Day 1, 25th September - Justin
It was 6.00pm. Not too late to start this project. I had gone for a jog round the neighbourhood and was a tad bit nervous about striking my first conversation with someone at my backyard. It was a long, lonely stretch and hardly anyone was out until I made a turn and met Justin, an awkward teenager at the basketball court.
There’s nothing worse than learning within 3 minutes of meeting somebody that this conversation is going nowhere. But I was hoping this didn't end up like that. I asked him so what's his story and explained a little about this project.
"Oh cool, so it's like a survey?" "No, it's not." "Okay, well I just like being indoors and I have got a basketball tournament to prep for tomorrow, hence why I am here...playing. But in my 14 years of existence, I guess I like doing nothing much and getting to know people. In my free time, I can come up with an odd pun like 'What is so TREEmendous about that tree?' and also I think Michael Phelps can breathe underwater. It's a known fact, I am telling you."
Complete oddball and full of dry humour. Justin kept bursting with some puns and other factoids which got me wondering if I could recall how awkward I was back in my high-school days. I got to know his circle of friends and we played a quick basketball and frisbee match. "So, are you 18?" "No, I am not." That's how it sort of ended.
Day 2, 26th September - Dr. Mukesh Rai Joshi
When I had gone for my dentist appointment, I would have never imagined to meet an interesting person who had many feathers added to his cap. There's plenty to learn from Dr. Mukesh. Not only does he fix people's teeth, but he is an astrologer. We bonded over our love for the Himalayas, mountains and spirituality. He said he found healing in astrology when his relationship had taken a downward spiral after about 20 years of marriage. "Astrology has this powerful way of understanding people and allowing us to become more aware of our limitations. We can't modify our destiny but we can find ways to become more charitable and that will mitigate all the problems in our life. The more you give, the more you get."
Day 3, 27th September - Fakiah
"Good morning!" greeted Fakiah at the university grounds where I work. Firstly, it was really early in the morning at an ungodly hour and it was rare to see someone so cheery and upbeat. I love cheery people and it was easy to strike a conversation with her. Fakiah works as a security guard at the university; prior to this she worked at a recreational park. Work-life balance was hard to manage and expenses were high. Her husband has been sick for quite a while, and she has two children, a 11 and 8 year old.
"So how do you keep it together, Fakiah? You've got a lot on your plate." "Right now, I am thankful to have my family and health benefits covered by the university. It's hard but there's no point worrying about the little things, when we're given two hands and a brain to make the best of any situation. So I think everyone just needs to reflect and be grateful for whatever choices or events that get thrown on them."
Day 4, 28th September - David
I met David on my journey back home. We started off on a rather odd note. "Do you need help with those bags?" I asked. He looked like a skinny athlete; a cross between being incredibly skinny yet strong at the same time so I couldn't really figure out if he needed help, but I decided to ask anyway. "Do you even think you can help me?," said David. "Errr, what do you mean? ofcourse I can." Now, I wasn't really sure if we were both underestimating each other all over some bags and our fitness capabilities. Anyway, cut to his story.
David (who refused to get his picture taken) is an expat living in Malaysia as a technology lawyer. He is a semi-retiree and was just heading back home after spending his entire afternoon learning music online. He said it's so great that we get to learn anything and everything you want in this digital age. Back then, his focus was always about acquiring knowledge from traditional institutions and the liberal arts was something that he never got the time and money to dabble in. "It's great to be in Malaysia but at the same time I wished the country could do better. We're cross between a first-world nation (just below Singapore) and a third-world country (just above Thailand). If only, we got all our shit in gears," he concluded.
Day 5, 29th September - David Ling
On my way to the mall, I had to run some errands and sat at one of those corner benches to sort some things on my phone. I turned to my right and noticed a long haired guy who was charging his phone, instead of the weary mall hoppers who seem to wait for a lifetime until their girlfriends or spouses were done shopping. I casually tapped (or poked him) and told him about my project, and if we would be delighted to help. He was incredibly friendly and very easy to talk to.
Here's a Sarawakian musician who studied for 2 years in Boston, US and went to the Berklee College of Music. He plays the piano and clarinet and has been involved in the Indie music scene in Kuala Lumpur for some time playing jazz, pop to anything goes. As a third born in the family, David did mention that there was not too much pressure to follow the traditional route, and his family was perfectly OK with him pursuing music as long as there are no drugs and tattoos involved.
"People there are uniquely different, but back home in Malaysia, I feel that we're a friendly lot," said David. He recalled babbling about his whole life when a guy in university at Boston asked, "How you're doing?" and over here people are OK if you talk endlessly; they're all ears which is great.
I was glad to meet David. A chilled funny guy who even invited me to several jam sessions and introduced me to his friend circle which I probably would've never met if I didn't approach him.
Day 6, 30th September - Chong Chung Fun
A simple guy who really believes that after all these years of working, the material possessions should not be counted for. Chung Fun works as a finance manager but fatherhood has brought him renewed perspective in life. Through his rose-tinted glasses, he believes the thing about "wealth" is that there is more than one way to measure it. He thought it would be clever to name his daughter "Joy" since we're so often caught up in the boring threads of life, it would serve as an inspiration to be able to call out to Joy every single day.
Day 7, 1st October - Ian
That gleefully happy smile are not dental implants, but really everything about Ian. He performed a bit of fancy footwork at the Lindy Hop jam sessions that I used to attend previously. A newbie to Lindy Hop, Ian had an infectious energy and a lot to talk about. He studied Kinesiology in Canada and was now back to Malaysia. He said that growing up was really hard as he used to live in isolation. "It was hard to make friends and I realised in Canada people just refused to mingle around, they stick to their own friend groups. It all boiled down to taking the initiative and that changed me completely. "
"People living in the suburbs are generally more friendly. I lived in Taiwan for five years and though I don't remember much, I do remember living in this tiny bubble that I found it hard to break through. Now, it's easy - just get up, talk to people like what you do and you'll be amazed what a genuine conversation can lead you to."
Do you like reading more about conversations with stranges? If you have someone that I should meet, feel free to get in touch with me.