The Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday I got my Chinese visa extended for another month – I don’t expect to use all that time but there are a couple of things I want to do before I leave and my planned next stop is Vietnam – the only place in South East Asia that requires a visa in advance!

I got my visa extended in le Shan , a small city two hours outside Chengdu. Le Shan is known for two things – it’s enormous Buddha and for being one of the easiest places in all of China to get your visa extended.

See, in Chengdu and most other places you need 5 days plus a whole host of paperwork (including proof that you have a $100 for every day you intended to stay in China). In Le Shan you need two days, (one if you drop your things off before 9 am) a passport photo, copies of your passport and visa, and police registration for one night’s stay in the city.

I’ll think of Le Shan for a third thing now. How incredibly kind everyone I met there was.

See, I’m not very good with people. I worry that I’m imposing on them, being bothersome, become convinced they’re too polite to say anything and then I’ll curl in on myself and try to make myself small and unobtrusive. I know this tendency has led me to miss opportunities for connecting with people. I’ll get better, become more confident about reaching out, not read every signal as negative – and then something will happen to knock all my confidence out and I’ll curl in in a ball again. This is the stage I was at the day before yesterday.

I got on the bus to Le Shan, my pocket stuffed full of bits of paper from my hostel in Chengdu – the location of the PBS, a couple of potential hotels – and found a seat next to another woman.

Quarter of an hour in I began to feel nauseous. I struggled to control it but about an hour later I was sick, messily, into a too small paper bag.

I cleaned myself up as best I could, whispering frantic apologies she couldn’t understand but she offered me water and some gum.

When we arrived I wondered around trying figure out which bus I needed to take. She spotted me and took me in hand – literally – taking my directions slip and then insisting I come with her. She and her boyfriend gave me a lift into town. When they found the PBS was closed for lunch I tried to communicate that I would find a hotel. They called a friend who spoke English up, established I was looking for somewhere cheap, and insisted on taking there. All the time I was protesting incoherently, torn between a terror of inconveniencing them, a horror of offending them by refusing there help, and a pathetic gratitude for their kindness.

They took me to a tiny place that I wonder had ever seen foreign tourists before. The owners were so so nice and kind. The couple from the bus handed me over with a lot of explanations in Chinese, and the lady owner drove me down to the PBS. She drove me down twice, after the woman at the desk explained they needed a registration form. In between I sat in their tiny lobby while the male owner picked his way carefully through the online registration form and the lady owner called up an English speaking friend to ask me for the information they needed.

I also learnt, during my long wait at the PBS, that they had to go out to the police station to fix the record – they’d entered my name the wrong way around.

I caused them so much inconvenience and they were so wonderful and kind to me.

The next day after I’d said my thank yous and good byes and picked up my passport I had to find the long distance bus station.

The bus driver I showed my crumpled bit of paper of paper to gestured me to get in. Two stops later he gestured for me to get out and shouted something at the young guy at the stop – I presume telling him to look after me.

He took me under his wing, assured me that his house was nearby, shepherd me via bus to the bus station right up to the ticket counter – and bought my ticket for me and scarpered before I realised what he’d done.

I ran after him calling and waving my note – he kept shaking his head and backing away. At last all I could do was call put xie xie, xie xie. Thank you, thank you.

An enormous grin lit up his face.

It makes me happy when I can do something to help others. I need to work on believing others can feel the same way about me.

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  1. Rach says:

    Oh what a lovely, lovely set of people! Especially the one who bought your bus ticket for you, what an amazingly sweet thing to do. I’m so glad there are nice people out there.

    I’m also glad you’re enjoying China. Oooh, Vietnam – I’ve heard there’s a lot of really beautiful things to see there, I look forward to hearing what you have to say about it!

  2. Harry says:


  3. Mum says:

    This post moved me so much on so many levels I am not sure what to say! You write so well. X

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