Continuing with the challenge to talk to 500 new people this year. See this post for the brief description of the challenge.
- Sunday 21 March in Sydney the sustained heavy rain had strangers talking to each other, especially in the crowded supermarket.
When the Emerging Artist said to me, ‘You stand in line while I get the rest of our stuff,’ a woman with a strong southern European accent burst out laughing. We had been unwittingly blocking her path to the end of a checkout line. I let her in front of me, and a conversation followed. Was there a new Covid panic that none of us (a couple of other people joined the conversation) knew about? A young woman in a mask and a stylish tattoo on the nape of her neck searched her phone for news.
The conversation kept up, among strangers thrown together by the weather, until my load was rung up and paid for, and I headed off to the fish shop. A quarter of an hour later at the greengrocer’s, the masked young woman and I passed by each other like total strangers.
- Tuesday morning at the pool, as I finished my eight laps in the slow lane, one of the attendants was fiddling with the lane-dividing ropes. I said something banal like, ‘Tightening the ropes?’ She said, ‘You’re all swimming too fast.’ I laughed: ‘It’s a long time since anyone said that to me.’ She only had one line: ‘You’re all swimming too fast,’ she said again, and gestured vaguely to the adjacent gentle exercise area. [Incidentally this is an example of a tiny exchange that laid the basis for subsequent ones – on Friday morning, she initiated a brief chat.]
- Wednesday evening, unusually, I was in Marrickville Library at 7.15. When the lights were dimmed, I was engrossed with my computer and it took a while to realise it was a signal. Without thinking, I turned to the person next to me, who was also packing up her computer: ‘I could have kept going for another hour.’ She said, ‘Yes, you get into the zone, don’t you?’
- Wednesday, a little later, when I stopped to buy a quick meal at a Portuguese place, I decided to go for something beyond strict transactionalism. I asked the young man serving me if he was Portuguese. ‘No,’ he said, ‘are you?’ When I said I was from north Queensland, he looked as if that was surprising, and told me where he was from. I had to ask him to repeat it, but was too embarrassed to ask when I still didn’t catch it.
- Thursday morning at GymKidz with Ruby, I was sitting on the sidelines as usual while the Emerging Artist did the hard yards of encouraging and assisting. I turned to the woman sitting –suitably distanced – in the next chair and asked, ‘Are you a grandparent too?’ She smiled and gestured to indicate that she didn’t speak english. A little later her daughter joined her, and she and I laughed together admiringly at our respective young descendants’ skills.
- Thursday, later, a beautiful day at the zoo, the three of us were standing at a glass wall staring into a deep, empty pool whose surface was a couple of metres above eye level. A small boy, maybe four years old, approached us and said, ‘My nan told me to tell you that there aren’t any seals in there.’ We thanked him, and acknowledged his nan as we left.
- Friday morning at the chemists while waiting for some prescriptions, a little girl was crawling on the carpet. Her mother said something like, ‘Good dog,’ and her slightly older sister just looked mortified. I said softly to the mother, ‘What a beautiful puppy you’ve got.’ ‘Yes,’ she said, isn’t it.’ We chatted, and after a while the older girl picked the younger one up in a big hug.
- Friday evening, we checked in at a motel in Albury (this is starting to feel like a personal contact tracing exercise). The tired-looking young man at reception was wearing a colourful T-shirt featuring Kramer from Seinfeld. I said I liked it. We discussed Kramer briefly. I asked if he had a printer so we could print off our permit to enter Victoria. He said having it on the phone was fine, and anyway no one was checking now – he’d travelled to Melbourne and back a couple of days ago and forgot to get a permit: ‘I felt naughty.’
- Friday evening, a little later, a family group was walking on the opposite footpath to us. One of the boys – probably about 8 – called out a cheerful greeting to people in a passing car. As we got closer, I saw that he called out and waved to every passing car, and that there was then a discussion with the other, older boys about whether anyone had waved back. I asked if that’s what he was doing, and expressed my approval.
- Saturday afternoon, at our accommodation in Carlton, I asked the young man at reception if there was any parking nearby. He said the basement parking was theoretically full but he’d work something for us. Bearing in mind this challenge, I remembered to ask him his name when I thanked him.
Running total is now 58.
In Tamworth at my motel three conversations with Richard – the owner/manager. One began because the carpet around the mini-fridge was soaking with water – realised when my socks absorbed the water – and it necessitated a change of room. I live diagonally opposite when I was a boy – till age 16 55 years ago, I told him. He seemed surprised – that moved the conversation to his origin – nearby to where an aunt and husband had lived in the 1960s/1970s in KL Of Chinese background – mother Hakka, father Hokkien. He’d travelled during his working life in Malaysia on business (machinery) all over Asia from India to China, Viet-nam a number of times – Bangladesh, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia. Another conversation revolved around walking. It’s good for you, he told me! I agreed. Have you heard of the 88-temple pilgrimage around the Japanese island of Shikoku. Write it down, he said. Hmm I thought – and wrote Shikoku first of all using Chinese characters: 「四国」(literally: four countries)! He laughed. Another conversation was about Cheng Ho or Zheng He – the great Chinese admiral who went to the east coast of Africa at the start of the 15th century. He’d visited Malacca en route. I’d been to Malacca/Melaka) seeking his presence – and discovering other presences – Thai, Hindu, Burmese,Portuguese, (Francis Xavier was there, too) Dutch, English, Imperial Japan WWII – finally Merdeka/Independence… The motel does a good little breakfast, too. I took a run up to Hanging Rock – the Chinese were there in the latter 19th century gold-mining – built two Dams – The Sheba Dams – for washing the alluvial gold – both dams still there – at over 1100 metres a lovely cool place – autumn colours already in evidence. Associations with the Ashton’s Circus folk from the latter 19th century, too. At the lookout a conversation with a couple travelling from Yarram in the Gippsland district of Victoria – obviously avoiding the coast because of the floods along the Pacific Hwy route – heading up to a daughter on the Gold Coast. He was avoiding the lookout – a fear of heights – she’d come back up from the lookout point to alert me to a red-bellied black snake she’d seen curling its way around a tree into a clump of grass. I searched for it but it had moved away from noisy ground thudding humans. One other conversation was with the new management of the Wallabadah service station – no longer cheap – but well renovated and transformed inside. I offered my congratulations – the chap in charge looked Nepalese to me – but somewhere out of that region.
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Jim, I think you’re a past master at making solid connections, finding webs of connection, with new people. I am in awe, and will try to lift my game.
I had an interesting little chat with the young woman at the till at my local RSL restaurant. They had an Easter Raffle which I don’t want to win because I don’t like cheap chocolate, but I bought five tickets to support it. When asked if I were a member, I said yes, that both my parents had been in the forces during WW2, and she looked surprised. I said that actually my mother had been in a good deal more danger than my father was, though that would have changed if the war hadn’t ended when it did and he’d been posted to serve in the Pacific, and I explained about how she’d been in the ATS, delivering supplies after D-Day not far from the front and returning with salvaged parts from damaged vehicles.
I’m sure this young woman, working where she does, hears all kinds of war stories, but she’d obviously never heard about this.
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That’s lovely, Lisa. You and Jim both inspire me to be more adventurous!
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Hang on Jonathan – it’s your already heavenly-heights game which inspires whatever response I can make!
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And I liked Lisa’s story too but couldn’t get my “Like” to stick! So here it is down here, Lisa! One of my maternal uncles, 2nd marriage – over 40 years ago – was to a woman born 5th generation Yunnan Chinese ethnicity in Pangkal-Pinang the capital on Bangka Island (where many young Australian nurses were massacred by the Imperial Japanese Forces in early 1942 – after surviving the sinking of the SS Viner (?) – Vivian Bullwinkel the only survivor who told the story post-war). Of what relevance this has to the thread here I am not sure – but they both – my uncle and aunt – live in Canberra!
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OK, I missed this one, but we did have one significant conversation with strangers this particular week. We went to a special promotional event at the Canberra Theatre Centre, aimed at getting subscribers back again. We’d a actually already booked two of our favourite programmes but were keen to hear about ones we didn’t know. Anyhow, after it, we went across the road to a nice little restaurant and after sitting down, two chaps sitting two tables away moved next to us because where they were was cold. The restaurant was cold! After a while, I asked whether they’d mentioned the temperature to the server. They hadn’t but the server heard me, and advised that he’d already turned the temperature up. Anyhow, this resulted in a long conversation which started with the fact that they shouldn’t have been there but their Porsche had developed a problem (this was a Sunday night) and they had to wait until Sunday to see the local Porsche detail. This meant they were going to miss their special tour of Lake Tyrrell they’d booked on their route to Adelaide. Lake Tyrell, we said? Sea Lake, we said? We’ve just been there and none of our friends had heard of these places, and here were two men from Sydney who had organised a special tour! We also talked Porsche problems, but we were less knowledgeable there! We left the restaurant feeling warmed by the contact.
8. We drove to Melbourne in late February. As we left Holbrook, me driving, I said to Mr Gums, ‘do we need a permit?’ No he said, but I was pretty sure we did, as I’d planned to apply for one and had forgotten. So, out came his smart phone and yes, we did, so he applied for one online and we had it on our phone ready when we reached Albury not long after (as we were staying at Wodonga overnight). There were many signs saying it was needed but no-one asked for it.