A world of inspiration: A Familiar Face in a Foreign Land

This edition of ‘A world of inspiration‘ is a beautiful story by Nellie Huang who lives in Singapore. Nellie is a freelance travel writer who shares her travel tales via her blog: Wild Junket. Nellie’s narrative of a chance encounter on a bus in San Francisco eloquently captures the essence of what travel is all about.

A Familiar Face in a Foreign Land

Sitting in an empty bus, staring out onto the unfamiliar streets of San Francisco, I was lost, literally lost. I had no clue where I was, and what I was doing in this foreign land alone. Craving for some companionship on my first solo trip, I looked around for someone who would return a smile.

golden-gate An old Chinese lady sat down next to me, but didn’t smile or look at me. I was invisible to her, and to everyone else. It was then that I realized maybe it was time to leave, time to go back to where I belong. Looking around, I noticed that I might be on the wrong bus, and so politely asked the old lady beside me if we were nearing Fishermen’s Wharf.

She shook her head and waved her hands, saying that she didn’t speak any English. With Mandarin as my second mother tongue, I had no qualms about speaking her language and she quickly warmed up to me. Initial resistance had faded into warmth and friendliness. I smiled and answered her questions, fulfilling her curiosity – where are you from? Why are you alone? Where are you going?

On the long bus journey, we delved into an engaging conversation where I wandered precariously into her life. The lady had escaped to America all the way from China about fifty years ago, during the war when she had no other choice but to run. She talked about the days on the boat, with no food and warm clothes, risking getting caught at any moment. She was a nurse, and after surviving the journey, she fell in love with a man who became her husband, and they sought refuge here in San Francisco. Her life was hard but fulfilling. She never learned English; she didn’t have to, she was surrounded by fellow Chinese in her home at Chinatown. Her son is now an engineer, whom she thought, would be a perfect match for me.

Laughing innocently at her offer, I was taken aback when she grabbed my hand and pushed the bus bell. She had the strength of a bull, and within minutes, we had gotten off the bus, and were standing right along the streets of Chinatown. ‘But I was heading to Fishermen’s Wharf…’, I mumbled. She said there was plenty of time, and she wanted to buy me some of the best dimsum in Chinatown. I followed behind her, as we pushed through the crowd amidst the oriental stalls and chaotic market. It felt like home all of a sudden, and the old lady had become like a mother to me.

Meeting her had awakened that urge in me; that urge to uncover intriguing people and places. She probably didn’t know the impact she made; inspiring me with her zest for life and making me feel warmth in an otherwise strange land. Many people ask me what travelling is about – I’d say, it’s about the people you meet and the experiences you gain. That itself is priceless.

About this week’s guest writer
pict0259-150x150 Nellie Huang is an atypical Asian, who journeys around the world in search of heaven. She finds one too many of it, and has been drunk and dizzy since then, in her love affair with travel. She is a worshipper of the sun, wild adventures, and new discoveries. As a teacher with compassion, she has taught in Spain and Tanzania and lived in Miami and London. Now based in Singapore, she is a freelance travel writer and translator, and continues exploring her thirst for the unknown.

Read more about Nellie’s travels on Wild Junket.

Follow Nellie on Twitter.

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19 Responses to “A world of inspiration: A Familiar Face in a Foreign Land”

  1. Adriana 25/11/2009 8:50 pm

    I´m going to check out the other stories! would love to write about it! 😉 what a priviledge!

  2. velvet 25/11/2009 8:39 pm

    Wow, that’s an amazing story Adriana. You should check out the other World of Inspiration articles on this blog. They’re all gems. I ran this guest series for 20 straight weeks and am really proud of the quality of the articles written. If you’re ever interested in writing about your Jerusalem encounter, give me a shout.


  3. Adriana 25/11/2009 7:15 pm

    great story! a trip can truly be changed by who you meet.
    It reminded me of a situation when I was in Jerusalem, lost around Via Dolorosa, looking for the Holy Sepulchre Church and as I asked for direction in English a young nun tried to communicate but couldn´t, so we sitched to Spanish and she showed me the way. WHen I thanked her, I asked for her name – Luz… it means light in Spanish. She was like a light in a tunnel for me at that moment.

  4. velvet 04/11/2009 10:13 am

    Thank you for your comment Arantxa.

    Best regards,

  5. Arantxa ( AECAN) 03/11/2009 11:09 pm

    What a sweet post! Isn’t it incredible? sometimes , while travelling, a perfet stranger makes you feel safe and as at home, many times in our own places we feel alone.

  6. WildJunket 18/06/2009 3:56 am

    Lisa, that made me laugh! No, I’m afraid I never got to meet her engineer son. But who knows? 😉

  7. lisa 13/06/2009 5:09 am

    did the lady ever introduce you to her engineer son? I thought you two would marry someday as mom said..

  8. WildJunket 23/05/2009 8:37 am

    Hey guys many thanks for your kind words! We are all the same, I agree. Regardless of language, race or beliefs, strangers can easily become friends.

  9. velvet 22/05/2009 1:55 pm

    Hi Mary Ann,
    Thank you for your comment. That was one of my biggest lessons when I travelled around the world last year: I found it really striking that people all over the world, despite different ethnicities and cultures, are really all the same.


  10. Mary Ann Grisham 22/05/2009 3:35 am

    Wonderful story! Connecting to strangers, and finding out we’re really all the same….that’s why I travel.

  11. velvet 21/05/2009 11:43 pm

    Hi Joshua,
    Thank you for your comment! I really enjoyed Nellie’s article too. It really is amazing to see how people open up when you speak their language and then to discover how we are all alike, if only we could be more open to foreign languages/cultures.


  12. Joshua McClure 21/05/2009 11:35 pm

    Hey! Really enjoyed this article. I hope you’ll write for VE more often. I wish I could speak Mandarin. I try to learn what I can. Hen how?

    I find the same is true with Spanish. If you speak people’s mother tongue the tend to open up, even if you speak it poorly. When I was in Panama, the people loved it when I chirped in with my views on things in their Panamanian form of Spanish. They told me I spoke Spanish like a Panamanian. They lied. But it was nice.


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