unexpected conversation

In our digital era, we are surrounded with a lot of information. Aware or not, most of them are bad ones. Thefts, fights, lies, accident, murder, massacre, and war. Those made us start to lose hope to kindness. To humanity. Not only others, but also ours. We start to think, Why we need to be kind when others don’t?  

When i travel, i am grateful that i meet amazing persons who have those virtues, kindness, humanity, and many others. I would like to share those people with you in my stories. These stories are real. They are my life journey.

My mind flies to a moment in June 2014, almost a year ago. I went for business trip to Balingen, Germany to attend a 3-days workshop. Yes, i flew far from Indonesia across the big ocean just for 3-days workshop. When i went home, i literally walked like zombie.

The story i want to tell you is not about how exciting or boring that 3-days workshop was. But, a story when i had unexpected conversation with a stranger. This is why i love to travel, to meet people, to have conversation with them, and to connect with the rest of the world. For me, it is very common to bump with stranger like this. Its even more common to be friend with them years later.

There was no direct flight that can took us directly to Balingen. The nearest airport was Stuttgart Airport, about 1.5 hours from Balingen. From this point, the choices were to take a taxi or to take trains. Of course, taxi costs more than train. Considering my zero knowledge of German language and the uncertainty of i can reach the hotel on time, i took the taxi option. As the extra, it was paid by the company anyway.

Thats when i met him. Just for the story purpose, I name him Mr. Farhan. He is the taxi driver that took me from and to Balingen. The conversation happened after the workshop during the return trip, from Balingen to Stuttgart. I was the only passenger in his cab.  If i travel alone, I always have a habit to sit in passenger seat beside the driver. Not only because i want see the landscape, but because i can ask questions to taxi driver on how local live in their daily life.

The conversation started with a question, “Why are you alone?” I were with my colleague when we went to Balingen, but i came back to Stuttgart alone. He noticed that. I answered, “My colleague need to continue his trip to Switzerland and i need to go home, this was the point that we need to part our ways.” The typical conversation continued, “Where do you come from?” I answered, “Indonesia.” Another expected reply, “But, you look like Chinese?” with a question tone hanging around.

I answered, “My gene is Chinese. I think my grand-grand father sailed from Mainland China and their generations born and lived in Indonesia now. So, let say, i am Indonesian Chinese.”  I need to put Indonesia in the first word because i feel more like Indonesian, if i compared myself with authentic Chinese in Chinese Mainland. I continued, “How about you? Where do you come from?”

From his look, i know for sure that he is not a German, but more towards middle east Asia. He answered, “Pakistan.” Bingo! I continue with more question, “If i may know, whats bring you to Germany? What’s the story?”

The answers that i usually heard is because of school, work, or to get better quality of life, especially people come from developed country. Other common reason is because they love the idea of living in Europe. But, this time the answer is different and that is the reason why this conversation become interesting.

When we hear about Pakistan, the impression we have in mind is safety concern and war, at least for majority of people (there is always outliers). Back in his old days in Pakistan, more exactly when he was in school, Pakistan had two major political parties that ruled the land. It also seemed that they had their own forces. To be eligible for school, he need to belong to one of the political party. He chose the winning party at that time. A few years later, this political party fell down. What happened next was as you can imagined in movies, the new regime tried to ensure his power using their forces. As for him, he was the target. The choice was clear, he must leave the country, or he would leave his life.

At that moment, one of his uncle lived in Germany. With his uncle’s help, he fled to Germany and lived there ever since. We heard this kind of story in paper. To hear this from the historical actor himself, made me feel grateful on my life. Some people said that luck doesn’t exist, its only a series of life effort that finally give you the result. Then, how we explain this? As far as i know, we can’t choose where we born. And where we born has serious impact on what we will become.

Its been a long time since that era, about more than 25 years if i guess correctly. The world has  changed. At least a bit in positive direction, i believe. He mentioned that he visited his home back in Pakistan to meet his family in his holiday in the past years. But, he always came back to Germany. Then i asked, “How is life in here (here : Germany)? Do you enjoy it?”

“Life in Germany is good”, he said. As a country, it has a great system. If you work hard, then you can live well. However, there is something missing. Germany is generally quiet if we compare it with Pakistan, or Indonesia. But, it’s not only because of that, but something deeper. I think what he miss the most is the essence of “family-ness” that most of Asian countries has. For example, when our parent is getting older, we will stay with them. Usually this is the eldest son responsibility. We always been taught to take care of our parents, especially when they enter retirement period. Retirement home is certainly not the preferable option.

He mentioned in where he live right now, the elder usually live alone in their house. Sadly, when they passed away, no one knew straightaway. In some cases, people found out days later, when the caregiver came to clean the house.

I am not saying the system is wrong. I had discussed the same topic with other friends. They mentioned that eventually they will make the same decision. They don’t want bother their children and will choose the retirement home instead. This shows how independent they are. At the end, its a matter of culture that influence our perspective and decision.

The conversation continued to other comparisons of East and West culture, such as food, religion, and others. It was a great one and half hour conversation; two-ways conversation where we tried to understand each other culture without prejudice. That was a moment of respect; Pakistan, Indonesia, Germany, or anywhere in the world has become our world. One of my friend says this is the sign that we become “people of the world”.

He shared his intention to come back to Pakistan when he is retired, despite of what happened in the past. I can understand if he have no intention to go back, if he has negative feelings about Pakistan. Instead, i feel that he accept the past and move towards the future. It takes someone’s courage, forgiveness, and wisdom to do something like this.

Since i enjoyed the conversation a lot, i unconsciously left my phone in the cab. He ran and caught me before i enter the airport door. He said, “I feel something is odd and when i check your seat, i find your phone. Maybe we will meet again in the future.” I replied,” Thank you very much. Its certainly a possibility.” Later, i smiled and bid a farewell. Who knows what will happen in the future?

Now, who says that kindness and humanity is rare? Sometimes, we just don’t notice that because we never truly see, others or even ourselves. Its out there, waiting to be found. Please speak up if you find one. World need more good news than ever.

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