I was talking recently with my wife and travel partner. I can’t remember how we got on to the subject but we were talking about acts of kindness. The conversation reached a slightly depressing conclusion, but intrigued I stoked up the same conversation at my workplace a couple of days later.
The conclusion we all reached, is that, rather sadly, most acts of kindness are in fact transactions of a sort. The kindness is given but something is expected in return. Be it love, appreciation, loyalty etc. I’ll give you an example.
A man gives his friend £100 because the friend is in a bit of fix. If 2 weeks later this friend had extricated himself from the fix and then won a holiday for two, but invited a different friend to join him, it is fair to say that the kind man would be rather miffed. And £100 lighter.
Probably without really realising it, the man, now really wanting his £100 back, expected an upgraded level of friendship in return for his kindess.
You can apply this type of logic to almost any act of kindness when the two parties know each other.
In the end, after much toing and froing, my wife and my colleagues all conceded that the purest act of kindness is between two people who do not know each other and will never see each other again.
The homeless person in the big city. The anonymous donation maybe. But certainly not between friends and family.
Now this is actually a rather depressing thing to be thinking about, but then I realised that by far the best place to find pure unadulterated kindness is at the other end of an aeroplane flight.
I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try,
When I got off of a night train at Da Nang station in Vietnam I was concerned with one thing and one thing only. Finding a taxi to Hoi An so I could get some sleep. Sadly the arrival of a train is like a honey pot to bees when it comes to taxi drivers. A few would be handy, but in Vietnam they can be wating en mass.
So bleary eyed, I staggered towards the crowd of excitable taxi drivers, all beckoning me with great enthusiasm. Then a man appeared next to me speaking pretty good English.
“Where you from?” he asked.
“England” I responded, blinking in the harsh sunlight and wondering where my sunglasses were.
“How long you staying?” he enquired.
“Three days” I replied. “Or maybe four.”
The man touched my arm in a way that encouraged me to stop. I looked down at him for the first time. His face was one of concern. “You should buy your ticket for your next train now. There is a festival and tickets will sell out. Come with me. I will help you.” He turned expecting me to follow.
Yeah yeah I thought. I may be a newcomer to this travelling lark but I know all about that type of scam.
“No it’s fine” I responded confidently, setting off towards the baying crowd of drivers once more.
“No really” he shouted after me. “You will not get a ticket tomorrow. You must buy now. Come.” He was probably beckoning me with great vigour but I wasn’t looking back and I certainly wasn’t falling for his skullduggery.
I fell into the crowd of taxi drivers and before I knew what was happening my bag was slung into a taxi and I was on my way to Hoi An. I felt pleased with myself for making short shrift of the trickster. But of course you can see where this is going.
I arrived at my hotel and the first thing they asked me is if I had bought my onward ticket for the train. When I answered they looked concerned and told me about the festival. A boy was sent to the station to buy a ticket and I paid a premium for it.
I never saw the man again, which was lucky as he probably would have pointed and laughed. But was his act an attempt at pure kindness? Probably not. He most likely hoped that I would pay him for his assistance. I will never know for sure.
I Said Prove It!
What about the young student who offered to show us the best photographic opportunities in Banteay Kdei temple in Cambodia. He was so helpful and courteous, showing us how to capture the light just right and where to stand. Then he hounded us for payment and no amount was enough. Grrr.
Or the Argentinian man who tried to help me wipe ketchup from my shirt. He worked so hard as he dabbed at the stain. He even happened to have a cloth and a bottle of water in his hand at the time. Sadly he didn’t see who stole my camera. (This didn’t really happen…though it often does)
You’re Running Out Of Time. I’m Getting Bored
Hang on….I think I’ve got it!
We were on our way to Ko Samet in Thailand. Our crazy Thai Minibus of Doom from the Cambodian border had somehow conspired to deliver us to the edge of a main road miles from anywhere. As we stepped off I looked back at the driver with a look that said where the hell am I?
He pointed down the road the behind us. “Walk” he shouted. And then he was gone, in a way that only Thai Minibuses of Doom can be gone.
We set off, heavy rucksacks weighing us down in the early afternoon heat. The road was long. We could tell this because it was straight and flat and the end was hidden somewhere in the middle of a heat haze. Then we heard the most welcome of sounds, the rattling popping engine of a Thai tuk tuk.
We hailed it vigorously but then realised it wasn’t like the tuk tuks we had been using in Bangkok. This was a tuk tuk designed for carrying goods. Judging by the contents of it’s floor it usually carried vegetables.
Nevertheless the driver, an elderly Thai man with kind eyes, stopped and insisted we jump in. It was a squeeze but we managed to get “comfortable” and he set off. First of all he swung by his house to get his motorbike helmet. This was confusing. Maybe there is a law in Thailand that says you can ride helmetless if carrying vegetables, but you must don the head protection when carrying backpackers.
But anyway, within 5 minutes we were at the dock in Ban Phe. The man jumped from his seat and helped us out, even assisting me as I hauled by backpack onto my back. I reached for my wallet and removed a sum of money that seemed a little more than suitable, but as I turned to give it to him I saw that he was already sat astride his tuk tuk and was pulling away.
“Stop” I shouted, breaking into a run which made Bambi look surefooted. But he waved dismissively, still smiling at me with his kind eyes as he drove away.
“Please stop” I whimpered pathetically. Then I stood and watched him ride away into the distance. I was confused. I felt like I had cheated the poor guy. I was almost worried that people may have seen me not paying him.
And then it dawned on me. That was pure unadulterated kindness, all bundled up in the form of a smiling happy Thai man. Nice.
Cool Story Bro’. What are you trying to say though?
I guess that what I am getting at is that travelling delivers the most extreme high. The unbridled happiness, the awe inspiring vista, the jaw-droppingly tasty and cheap food, the most special of late night conversations with like minded nomads.
And it also delivers the most testing of lows, which make the highs all the more amazing.
For me, on that steaming hot day in 2012 I eventually came to realise that the Thai man was possibly the kindest person I have ever met. It made me happy.