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You should talk to strangers

in Features/People/Places by

It was rather refreshing to discover that, unlike Hong Kong International Airport, the sovereign island of Taiwan and its people do not walk around with a gun testing you for Ebola. In fact, they walk around in awe, labeling us as Filipino (I assume that’s where the darkest people in Asia come from) and strategically inserting themselves in our midst for an impromptu selfie.

It’s alright, and profound, to reach the epiphany that outside Africa, Africans are celebrated.

The day started with an aggressive heat slap. The mosquitoes had, by 6am, resigned, and the sun had no shame in openly penetrating our pores. But that’s okay, because a bottle of water cost only 10 Taiwanese Dollars. As we walked and melted our existence away, the gods of adventure must have descended on me, and with a thumb we got a ride.

Several trucks had passed us by, some had waved at us and others just looked at this group of “exotic” individuals on the side of the road, until eventually a friendly car stopped, and invited us in.

For a moment I was in awe of the fact that my courage had actually conducted me inside this car, next to this complete stranger whose vocabulary could be translated in something other than the alphabet I am used to. What to talk about? What to ask? Sharing of ourselves and listening is what came to happen. How he wants to retire (at which we laughed!), and how he wants to have a farm (should go to South Africa!), and what we studied, and where we are from in Africa… It was a truly enriching experience to try and explain to him why we didn’t really find Tofu that interesting, and equally fascinating to see his confusion, since, according to him, there is no reason to not like Tofu.


The roads started getting bigger, but paradoxically made smaller by the increasing number of colours, and people. And scooters, oh yes, scooters. Day markets would colonize streets altogether, and the scent of unknown meats and unpacked shoes, or jewelry that seemed legitimate next to Buddha-inclined bracelets, where to start?

The heat penetrated deeper, and the ladies, so kind, kept on stopping to ask us where we were from (after discovering that we were not from the Philippines!), and gave us tips as to what to eat when we have the time, and where to go. Never had I realized how unimportant verbal communication could actually be, when faced with the sight of empathy that is not reduced to vocabulary; when blessed with hands that can imitate everyday gestures, and a smile that talks universally. It was all both crazy and enchanting.


Sitting down at a restaurant that has been around for 50 decades, apparently, I took out my drawing journal and attempted to translate my sight onto paper. The man in the photo above, with his wife I assume, became a recurrent contributor in today’s work of art. He gave me one look, when I was trying my best to decode the calligraphy on the posters, and politely took the book from me so he could do justice to the ritualization of this writing.

So it became a dance. I would draw, he would write. And at the end, a joint effort, realized in one piece of paper, on a hot day in Kaohsiung.

I am grateful.

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