Kindness…once in a blue moon

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

- Dalai Lama

I just finished reading a book compiled by Lonely Planet called ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ and it got that old brain of mine thinking. The book was made up of 26 tales of kindness from wanderlusting travellers trotting the globe. I thoroughly enjoyed each story, especially because it more than ignited my wanderlust and had me prowling flights late at night, searching for the cheapest deal, but what struck me as a little odd was the way in which each story implied that the simple act of kindness was something out of the ordinary, something totally unexpected and almost shocking to the receiver.

Is that what has happened to us? Is an act of kindness now something so rare we actually feel surprised by it? Don’t get me wrong, no act of kindness should be taken for granted, but it should be something that happens so frequently that it’s on par with a shared smile or a friendly ‘good morning’ to your neighbour. I couldn’t help but wonder that if the little Turkish boy who had offered the only food in his family’s kitchen (a chunk of old cheese and stale bread) to the travellers who had run out of petrol, was instead a rich person, would the act of kindness still be viewed in this way? The fact that he was a child and clearly poor, and yet still happy to share his cheese and bread with strangers from a foreign land is of course a pure act of kindness, but it’s also just human nature is it not? To want to care for other people and make them feel at home in your country. We shouldn’t want anyone to go hungry and that little boy is no different. And yet he is a rare gem in this world. What if the strangers had run out of petrol outside a rich man’s mansion? Would he have come running out to offer them some bread and a place to rest? Chances are, no. And that is so sad. But if he had, would it have been featured in this book? I doubt it. Why? Because for most people it might not be such a big deal. What’s a loaf of bread to a multi-millionaire? And yet to me, I’d actually be more surprised if the rich man were to do it because in this day and age it’s the rich people who tend to be the greedy, selfish ones. Not all rich people are like that, but in my personal experience, it’s usually the people with nothing that are the most humble, the kindest.

I wish we were all kind. I wish we weren’t such selfish, self-absorbed, materialistic, greedy pigs. Sometimes when I smile at strangers and they don’t smile back, I get upset. But then I remember the world we’ve created where it’s not really accepted to just smile or say ‘hi’ to people you don’t know. It’s ridiculous. When a stranger does smile back, I want to run up and hug them because it’s that rare. Every single day I thank the cleaning lady at our office for emptying my bin and she always laughs. No one else in the entire building thanks her. It’s her job to clean, right? She’s getting paid to do it. So what…does that mean I shouldn’t thank her? Absolutely not. I will always say thank you. I, however, have learnt that I mustn’t expect the same from other people. If I hold the door open for the guy behind me, he probably won’t say thank you, but I don’t dwell on it. It’s not my fault that he forgot those 2 little kind words. It can be particularly challenging here in China to remain kind all the time because from the outside it seems like everyone is only thinking about number one (themselves, duh!). I can’t tell you how many times I get shoved off the bus or banged into on a daily basis, and sometimes I just want to scream, but I contain it. I don’t shove back. That would go against my religion, that being kindness, of course.

Anyway, I’m getting carried away. All I really want to say is that wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all just learn to be kind again? Genuine kindness. The kind that doesn’t need a story to highlight how special it is because the mere existence of it in itself is enough. Clearly though, it might do the people of this world a whole lot of good if they were to get their hands on books about kindness. Perhaps schools should integrate a new class called ‘The Art of Kindness’ into their curriculum. Because guys, clearly we’ve forgotten. We’ve forgotten how to be kind, how to give without expecting something in return, how to love, to care, to think about someone other than ourselves. Not all of us, of course, but a lot of us. I feel like people are weary of acts of kindness done out of the goodness of our hearts. A young man offering to help an elderly lady across the road could be viewed as a perfect mugging scenario. Helping to clear the table you’re eating at could make the waiter look like he’s not doing his job properly, that he somehow needs assistance. I mean, come on! Are you kidding me? It’s human nature people! We are supposed to be a gentle, kind, caring species.

I have many tales of kindness that would be worthy of a place in a Lonely Planet book, especially kindness from strangers, and yet these strangers gave me their kindness in such modest ways, that I genuinely believe there are still good people out there. People who aren’t jaded by the evils of this world, people who will offer a helping hand without thinking twice, people who truly feel happy making other people happy. I want to be one of them. I don’t want to be dragged down by the masses of people who shove and claw their way to the top, screaming “ME ME ME”! Oh, but it can be hard to keep yourself from getting submerged in that embarrassingly selfish world. Sometimes I feel I’m on the verge of it and then I remember who I am, and where I come from and how to be human, to be kind. And I think of all those people who have shared their kind hearts with me and me with them, and how we are on such an interesting journey in this big old world. I wonder if the Canadian man who gave me money to take a bus back to Maputo in Mozambique after my bag was stolen has ever received such an act of kindness in return? Maybe he doesn’t even remember it because he is that kind all the time, or maybe karma did something beautiful for him. I hope so. I know for sure that I won’t ever forget that act of kindness. Nor will I ever forget the Indian man in Kuala Lumpur who helped me find my great uncle’s gravestone in a cemetery of thousands of headstones, after he found me in a heap of tears, lost on a street with a dead phone and no way to communicate where I wanted to go with the locals.

There really are kind people in the world. In fact I’m sure everyone is born kind, but somehow they get lost along the way and that cruelty spreads like wild fire and kills all the kindness. But today is a blue moon and I have a feeling that the kindness will creep back out, because as the saying goes: “once in a blue moon…”.

Love,

Luna

p.s. Be kind, yo’!

“But I want to see the real…”

“But I want to see the real China.”

Um…

What do we even mean when we say we want to see the ‘real’ China? Or the ‘real’ Scotland? What you are seeing right now, in this moment, is the real China, or the real wherever you are. I often hear people complain about how westernised China is these days (I am also guilty of this on occasion) and how it’s just not what they expected it to be. Well, sorry to break it to you but why would it be any other way? The whole world is developing at an absolutely crazy rate, so why should China or Thailand or India be any different? I too, would love it if everyone in China did Kung Fu and wore qi paos (traditional Chinese dresses) and only rode bicycles. But sadly, life goes on. Cultures develop and adapt and borrow from other cultures. People still practice tai chi here, but it’s usually outside Walmart, which is nestled between a Starbucks, a KFC and a McDonald’s. There is the odd bicycle or two sprinkled amongst the rush hour traffic, and occasionally you might be lucky to see someone adorning the classic qi pao dress. Of course there are places in China where you can go to still catch a glimpse of Chinese life as it always was, but those days are fleeting. Trends catch on. Everyone wants a car and to try a hamburger. Personally I just want a bicycle and a bowl of brown rice, but that’s because I grew up with cars and hamburgers. We always want what we don’t have, don’t we? I want to cycle along a river filled with bamboo rafts and stop at a pagoda for a cup of green tea, then continue on my way to the bottom of the mountain to dabble in a spot of Kung Fu. Meanwhile, my friend Lily from China wants to go to Starbucks and drink coffee, then head to the mall and buy the latest iPhone. Then she might get her hair dyed light brown and consider whether she wants pizza or a steak for dinner. And on it goes.

Everyone, the world over, is totally free to decide which cultures they want to flirt with, which languages they wish to learn and which countries they want to travel to next. But we must just keep in mind that they might not be exactly what we had anticipated. More often than not, there will be a McDonald’s standing high and mighty at the end of the street, but there will also be a friendly little local restaurant tucked just down that alleyway. Go there! You might be lucky enough to meet some lovely people who can restore your faith in the fact that there are still some people who care enough about preserving their unique culture and sharing it with any curious visitors to the area.

So, when you arrive in Shenzhen or Tokyo or Edinburgh or Cape Town and things aren’t quite what you expected, don’t panic! Rest assured there will be some hidden gems that will be positively oozing ‘China’ or ‘Japan’ or ‘Scotland’ or ‘South Africa’. But also, keep an open mind. Don’t expect everyone in Scotland to be wearing a kilt and talking with an accent so strong you can’t even make out one word. You will come across it, but not around every corner, and that’s what makes a place so interesting. You come in with a narrow view of what a place will be like, filled with kilt-wearing, haggis-eating redheads and you should be pleasantly surprised to see that there is more to Scotland than meets the stereotypical eye. We all embrace modernity and development, even if we pretend that we don’t. We want to sit cross-legged with the monks at the temple, then run back to our air-con’d rooms and check Facebook. We want to eat with chopsticks to prove that we can, but we also want to eat pasta sometimes too. We want it all. And that’s OK. In fact, that’s the key, embracing all aspects of a culture, both old and new, and enjoying everything that a country has to offer.

Don’t blame China or wherever you are for trying to keep up with the rest of the world. It would be nice to be able to live in a small, traditional Chinese temple house, but the reality is: that just doesn’t work in the big, bustling cities. And thus it is, we live in skyscraper apartment buildings and commute by bus instead of horse and cart. So, the next time you travel somewhere remote and get upset when you see that giant  yellow ‘M’ or people wearing jeans instead of robes, just remember: we are all moving forward together, and only we can be responsible for preserving and maintaining our unique cultures and languages so that they don’t disappear off the edge of our beautiful earth, never to be seen again.

On that note, I am a proudly Scottish girl who absolutely loves the country I was brought up in and even though my accent is ‘messed-up’ (as people like to remind me on a daily basis) and I have lived abroad for almost a decade, I am still Scottish and always will be. However, I also speak Chinese and I need to drink a bowl of Japanese Matcha tea every morning, and I left a chunk of my heart in South Africa and sometimes I think I might actually be Taiwanese I love it that much, and soon I am going to travel to Myanmar and I know there will probably be a Starbucks in every city, but that’s totally OK. Because I respect that if I want to embrace a whole assortment of cultures, then so too, does Myanmar, and that includes coffee culture. Plus, just because it’s there, doesn’t mean I have to give it the time of day. I will happily cycle on and hopefully get lost on some magical road from days gone by.

Hypocritical? No. Like I said before- keep an open mind. Don’t compare the place you’re visiting to history books and travel stories from centuries ago, but when you do have a close encounter with a part of the culture that you hadn’t imagined still existed, remember to enjoy it and be respectful of that special moment, because they are rare.

Love,

Luna

p.s. Have you ever travelled somewhere and felt disappointed because it wasn’t what you expected? Ah, but that is life. Just try to find the positivity and enjoy whatever experience you are having, because really, you are lucky to just be experiencing it in the first place.

Stop thinking and just Write

Dear Luna Finula,

It’s Siobhan here. That girl who appears to have abandoned you. I’m sorry, I really am. I have so many scribbled thoughts, travel tales and random figments of inspiration to share on your little space, but I have neglected to actually write them here and have instead been putting ink to paper and sharing them with only myself. I don’t know why. It could be procrastination, it could be laziness, it could be that I think publicising my thoughts for all the world to see is a bit weird and why would you all want to read what I have to say anyway? I kind of miss the way I blogged back when I first started in 2010. I did it almost everyday and I did it for myself. I would write about how I thought a skyscraper was magical or how a taxi driver was psychic or the beautiful way in which old people danced on the streets here in China. I wrote without abandon. I didn’t care if anyone even read what I wrote. It was something I did while eating peanut butter on crackers. A way of processing the crazy day that had just occurred. Perhaps hoping to make someone laugh or inspire someone to notice the little strange things that happen every single day, the things that make life so special. Lately though, I’ve almost lost that part of myself. Don’t get me wrong, I still absolutely revel in the delights of little things and all their simple beauty, but I’ve stopped sharing them, haven’t I? I need to write. Even when it doesn’t make sense, or when I’ve nothing worthwhile to say. Because what I think isn’t worthwhile, might mean something to someone else. So I’d like to start writing here again Luna Finula, if you’ll take me back?

I have a gazillion adventures I’d like to share with you. Simple adventures and big, rollercoaster adventures. I want to tell you about the hilarious monsoon rain that we had here in Shenzhen last Friday. There was something utterly fantastic about running through the rain, screaming and laughing as it lashed down into my boots and broke my umbrella with the sheer weight of all its droplets. The moment where I locked eyes with an old, frail man who was jogging through the rain completely barefoot. As I caught his twinkling eyes with my own, we both burst out laughing. Completely raw, gut-wrenching laughter. He threw his head back and howled and I screamed like a 5 year old child. It is those moments that make me want to write again and to fall in love with this country once more. China is absolutely, mind-blowingly crazy. After 5 years, I still don’t understand half of the stuff I see on a daily basis, and yet I must love it nonetheless, or why else would I still be here? Well, I think I know why and it doesn’t really have anything to do with a specific location. I could be anywhere, but as long as I have moments like laughing in the rain with a stranger- and an old, short, frail Chinese man at that- then I’ll be OK. At the end of the day, isn’t that what this silly, old world is all about? Living life to the full. Even if it means getting totally drenched along the way, so much so that you have to take your clothes off and wear a sarong in the office for the rest of the afternoon.

Luna Finula, I’m back. I’m going to stop thinking so much and just write. Write about laughing attacks with old men, write about purple flowers growing out of the pavement, write about love and how we seem to have forgotten how to be kind to one another, about mind readers and the simple innocence of kids. Actually, about anything really. I just need to write again. Maybe I’ll even share some of my ink ramblings from the past few months.

Love,

Siobhan- your apologetic neglecter who owes you many an adventure.