THOSE STRANGERS YOU MEET ON THE ROAD… OR ELSEWHERE.
FIFTH EPISODE: THIS WAS OUR BEACH
“Don’t you dare to speak to strangers!” We’ve all been hearing this, especially during childhood. Because strangers are unknown, and unknown is scary, filled up with bad intentions, particularly with those fizzing candies and long raincoats. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, for it’s actually a good piece of advice for kids, whom are innocents and don’t really know about mistrust, carefulness, and well, who knows what could happen to a helpless kid? However… I’m wondering why this piece of advice stays stuck within us once we grow up. Is it right? Aren’t we doing too much being so cold and distrustful towards strangers? What’s going to happen if we step up, just a little, out of our comfort bubble?
Here, I’ll try to prove from A to Z how it can be really awesome sometimes to let yourself go and talk to strangers, to trust them a little and moreover to take some time to… Just speak and get to know them.
While travelling, you often get some random acts of kindness. Maybe because you’re more up to it, more open to it, and also more dependent on it. Here, I wanted to share some of those encounters with strangers, some of those random acts of kindness, some of those great surprises I had with strangers, and therefore what I learned from it. I’ve got plenty of little stories that I’d like to share and write about. I hope this little saga will have the advantage of bringing a different, yet optimistic glance upon our world.
I’m telling you, folks. You can talk to strangers. That’s pure happiness.
A BEACH IN HUALIEN, TAIWAN,
Our beach didn’t have a name you could find on Google Maps. It’s not even a proper beach, so to speak. Just a place behind the Night Market in Hualien, beside Nanbin Park and its Matsu sea goddess statue.
It’s not that much pretty neither, although the coastline is definitely my favourite place when it comes to riding my Hello Kitty bike.
Just Before Sunset.
This was our beach nonetheless, where my Finnish friend Emma and I went almost every day for a swim, facing the misty mountains of the Central Mountain Range, facing the sunset, facing the moonrise, facing this red lighthouse afar.
The sky was always different while we were lying like sea stars on the water or playing with the waves. Ominous grey and heavy clouds. Pink and orange waves of sunsets. Little white puffy clouds. Bright cloudless blue sky. We couldn’t even take pictures of those skies most of the times, we had forgotten our cameras and phones at the hostel. So we tried to print the scenery in our mind, telling each other we will never forget that specific moment where the sky was bursting with crazy colours.
I still remember the first day we went to our beach. It used to be her beach before, the spot Emma chose to go swimming almost every day, meeting some fishermen sometimes. It was more a fishing spot than a swimming spot I would learn later on. I was following her racing her bike, trying to memorize every turn and streets, and was a bit confusing when I first arrived.
It was no sandy beach. It was a rocky beach, not really a beach, with a lot of garbage from the Night Market. But there was something extremely extraordinary about having the chance to go swimming every day. Because that’s exactly how it felt: a chance.
I was so happy in the water this is where my heart always opened to her. A deep and unexpected friendship was sealed at this beach, our beach. The kind of friendship coming from the heart, regardless the age, the social class, the country, the mother tongue, the background. We talked about life, expectations, love and luck. We laughed at our flaws, at our stupid English and the way it’s impossible for us to say things such as “rural” or “Channing Tatum”.
She’s so young, compared to me. But at no time she made me feel inappropriately too old to hang out with her. Instead, her young glimpse at the world was refreshing, like a bubble tea with loads of ice. She’s such an optimistic and genuinely kind person, like a ray of sunshine. And bathing in her light would just make my day when I was feeling down. The sea, as well as her laughter, healed some of my superficial wounds.
We brought people sometimes to our beach. We taught Una how to swim, Sasha convinced us to buy floating tubes to play with the waves, Nikita shared a bath under the moonlight with us. It’s like they all could feel the magic of the place. Of our beach.
It’s funny how you can make a place your own. Calling it yours. It wasn’t just a beach, we referred to it as ‘Our Beach’, and people will instantly understand which place we were talking about. We made it ours by going there every day, we randomly made this place a familiar place like we would have done with a coffee shop, a garden or a house.
Going to our beach was always a highlight of our day, a welcome break from the Taiwanese heat that would make sweat our European asses off on our daily morning cleaning duties. The Ocean there was so refreshing. But it wasn’t just about swimming and getting refreshed there, it was also about being our true selves. In all our candour, we showed up there being vulnerable, full of flaws, clumsy and goofy, while the waves would wash away our tears so we could leave the place as strong bad-ass women – ready to face the world and get our shit together.
Surrounded by Chinese language and street names we couldn’t read, our beach was our sanctuary. Nature doesn’t give a fuck about languages, culture, social background, or where the hell you come from. Like our friendship.
Sometimes I would go alone, but it would never be the same. I got a jellyfish bite the only time I went swimming there on my own. Afterwards, I would just sit on a rock, listening to music, watching the sunrise, the moonrise, and thinking about this summer in Hualien with my amazing Finnish friend.
By the end of summer, our beach wasn’t the same anymore. Successive typhoons and gigantic waves changed its shape, scattering huge rocks around and dragging those concrete tetrapod ashore. It felt like our beach was there only for us, only for our perfect summertime in Hualien.
When we both left, there was no ‘Our Beach’ anymore.
Now, every time I’d think of Emma and our beach, I’d taste a bit of salty water on my tongue.
“Become friends with people who aren’t your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow.”
The draft of this post was first written in the #HandAlongBook I created in Hualien.
Learn more about the #HandAlongBook concept RIGHT HERE.
LET’S GO THERE!: