A Sweet Looking Woman
It was January 2009 and I was strolling with my family near some shopping stands in Qufu, China. I saw this little woman pushing her bicycle fruit cart towards me. We made eye contact and she smiled sweetly.
She reached out to show me her winter melon. It was sunny, but bitter cold and I had no desire to nibble a juicy fruit.
I later learned that winter melon is actually a vegetable and not even sweet. But that's not the point. I was more intrigued with the sweet lady than the food.
Since I was a child, I've been able to fumble along using gestures and facial expressions when visiting other countries. I'm also spoiled by the fact that most people who deal with tourists speak a tiny bit of English. The melon lady and I jabbered quite a bit with each other, in our own languages. I don't think either one of us tried very hard to understand the other.
Handing over the Melon
The woman quickly sliced the melon in a decorative fashion, then stuffed the bagged veggie in my hand. I laughed nervously and shook my head no. I reached into my pocket and produced a small coin. The sweet woman was insulted. I blabbered in English that I had no more money. ..which was true. She stomped her foot when I tried to hand the fruit back.
An Angry Sweet Lady
A few shop owners nearby were enjoying the show. So was my husband as he clicked the camera, not offering to help. I shrugged and apologized and handed the melon back. She whipped her hands away and we both watched the melon splat on the street. The little woman was furious, stomping and hollering...I will never know what!
I heard snickers from the growing audience as I backed away from the enraged melon woman. I used my most apologetic gestures and shrugs. I tilted my head and revealed my empty pockets. How could I gesture these words, "I didn't drop that thing! You made that happen on purpose!" So I turned and escaped back towards the tour bus.
I didn't look back, but I could hear the woman yelling. Was she jumping on her bike to chase me? I made it to the bus and collapsed in a seat and felt a little confused. Should I laugh or be furious... or ashamed that I had been an obnoxious tourist. When Don finally climbed on the bus I was annoyed. "Why didn't you come to my rescue? Is she still looking for me? Where were you!" He rolled his eyes. "I was paying her off. I did save you."
So thank you, Melon Woman.
You were no sweeter than your melon, but you taught me a lesson. You can't count on playful gestures and smiling faces to really communicate. I think we both thought we were charming each other, but neither of us ended up happy. I'm sure I failed in the diplomat department. I should have humored less and respected more.
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers