Random Acts of Kindness when you travel
Twice over the last year I/we have been beneficiaries of extreme kindness and generosity while travelling.
Meeting Anand on our way to Georgetown, Penang
We were stuck and confused.
It all happened the day we were entering Malaysia from Thailand. We were doing the ‘independent overland route’: ie. taking a taxi from Hat Yai to the Thai side at Pedang Besar, going through Thai immigration, walking the 500 m or so into no-man’s land to Malaysian immigration, then taking a Malaysian commuter train from the Malaysian side of Pedang Besar to Butterworth. All had gone smoothly except that we hadn’t seen an ATM where we could withdraw Malaysian Riggits. I hadn’t seen one at immigration and I hadn’t seen one at the train station. Luckily they accepted Thai Bahts for the train trip to Butterworth. I asked the lady at the teller if there would be an ATM at the train station when we got to Butterworth. She said yes. I knew I’d need some Riggits to get from the train station to our hotel in Georgetown
So 2 hours later we arrived in Butterworth. There was no ATM. A station employee just shook his head when I asked him. I couldn’t believe that in this large train station there was no ATM anywhere.
I was talking to Lissette, weighing our options, when Anand came up to us. “Where are you going?” he asked. We told him we were going across the strait to Georgetown. “You just follow me” he said.
When I told him our issue, the first thing he did was offer to GIVE me some Riggits. “No, no” I said, “we can’t accept that”. Instead we agreed to exchange some Bahts for Ringgits. I knew though that he was only accepting my Bahts so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed. He would probably never use them.
We started talking. He was of Chinese origin and had been raised in Perlis state near the Thai border. He was in Penang for a few days after which he would go to Kuala Lumpur where he lived with his wife. He was 89 years old.
While talking, he led us to the free shuttle bus that would take us to the ferry terminal. He then bought ferry tickets for us, telling us to save the money we had exchanged.
Once off the ferry, he asked us what hotel we were staying in. It was the Chulia Mansion. “Come with me” he insisted.
Not knowing where the hotel was and not having a SIM card, we would usually have taken a taxi to get to the hotel. Anand was having none of that. “We’ll take the bus”.
He led us to the bus terminal situated next to the ferry and we boarded a bus (the 101 takes you right into downtown Georgetown).
10 minutes later we got out. He pointed out an ATM a few steps away and I went to get some cash while he and Lissette waited.
But he wasn’t done with us yet. He then walked us to the hotel which was about 5 minutes away.
He shook hands with us as we checked in. “It was a pleasure meeting you and I hope you enjoy Malaysia”. With that he left.
We’ll never forget Anand and how he took care of us. Why did he do that? We exchanged emails and I sent him the above photographs. I never heard back from him though.
My other special experience was last November.
Izmet (and friend) in Sarajevo
I had been in Sarajevo for a week and it was my last day.
After a morning of sightseeing, I went for my usual Begova čorba (a special Bosnian chicken soup) at Pod Lipom restaurant. Bill Clinton had been to Pod Limpom, there’s a picture of him on the wall.
It was while sitting there that the man at the next table started talking to me.
His name was Ismet. He had grown up in Sarajevo, fought in the war, and now spent 4 months of the year working in the United States as a truck driver. He talked about Bosnian food. We both ended up ordering a few local specialties. We had a couple of shots of rakia together. A friend, a man he had been waiting for, arrived. They had been childhood friends, had fought together in the war, and now he too worked in the USA.
After about an hour, Ismet invited me to accompany them to another restaurant (Cheers Kitchen on Muvekita). We had a bottle of wine and a pizza, followed by another bottle of wine. Outside, the sun had gone down. We had a Bosnian dish, a sort of pastry with cream and meat. We had another bottle of wine (I was introduced to some great Bosnian wines. Wow). Then we had yet another bottle of wine.
I spent 8 hours with Ismet and his friend talking about Bosnia, the war, and the future. It was after 11 pm when we decided to leave. When I pulled out my wallet they waved it away “No, no, you are our guest”. When I insisted Ismet told me to instead to “pay it forward” ie. do the same for someone else in the future.
I haven’t forgotten that and one day I’ll meet someone in need and will do the same.
Just like Anand, I exchanged emails with Ismet but I’ve never heard from him.
All I can tell you is that it was the kind of experience that will leave you with a warm heart for any city. I’ll always have this special memory of Sarajevo.
Almost forgot: The time I was saved by a mechanic in Lake Toba, Sumatra.
As I’m writing this post, we saw the video of the Malian immigrant saving the baby in Paris. As Lissette says “in a time where the world is coming increasingly insular and afraid of strangers, it’s great to be reminded that people – from anywhere in the world – can have so much room for others in their hearts” (yeah, it sounds a bit corny…)
Have you ever been the recipient of Random acts of Kindness while Travelling?
Would love to hear it.
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Related: The absolute worst thing about being a full time traveller (it’s got nothing to do with travel)
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It is always a pleasure to read your your texts Frank.
One note: The name of the restaurant in Sarajevo is “Pod lipom” which means under the linden tree.
The name “Izmet” has a completely different meaning in the Bosnian language. His name is Ismet.
Greetings from Sarajevo and welcome again…
Thank you very much Kao. And thank you for the precisions: I’ve corrected.
Since writing this we’ve been back to Sarajevo. Special place for us 🙂
I’ve had a few but here’s my favorite:
It was my last night in London and I only the cash to get to the airport the next morning. I was walking back to my hostel and I got totally lost. It was getting dark so I ducked into a cafe to ask for directions. When the guy at the register heard where I needed to go he was like ‘I can’t let you walk that far, it’ll take you forever’ and he went over to the tips jar and took out a few pounds and pointed me to the bus stop. That was one of the first times I had random people help me out for no reason.
Very nice story Gilad. Thank you for sharing it. These are things we also remember, right?
Such lovely stories and I’m sure you will always do the same for other people. One thing that comes to mind for me was when travelling by bicycle with a Canadian friend through Europe. We would often ask to camp in fields or even large gardens and always had so many great experiences. One day in Germany we knocked at the door of a farmhouse but did not even get time to ask about a field as the lady almost pulled us in the doorway and announced we were to sleep in their home. It was so much fun to meet her family that evening. She said how happy she was that people had taken care of her kids when they travelled overseas and she wanted to repay it in the only way she could.
That’s a really sweet story. Love it. When people are nice to you you want to be nice to others.
Such a great set of stories. I have had this wonderful treatment in Muslim countries. I remember four of us going to a restaurant in Irbid. Our meal was paid for and we were invited to the family home with coffee and dessert. Such beautiful people! I have experienced that in Palestine and Jordan as well as Vietnam and othe Asian countries. Beautiful memories! Thanks for triggering those memories, Frank!
That’s a very nice story Keith. Thank you. I had to look up Irbid, haven’t been to Jordan (yet)
Safari Travel Plus
For me just the fact that a stranger would offer to show me directions that to me is an act of kindness especially when you are traveling.
I don’t find your post ending “corny” at all and acts of kindness like the ones you’ve shared are some of my favorite travel memories. We’ve had kindnesses extended to us over the years that have left us truly amazed since people from our native country, the US, seem to be increasingly suspicious of sharing even a smile. We’ve had impromptu tours from many new friends who have wanted to share their favorite places and once we had a doctor in Ecuador stop by our apartment on a Sunday evening (in the middle of a rainstorm) because he’d worried over the weekend about my husband’s health. Plus, we’ve had countless people interrupt what they’re doing to point out directions, walk us down a street and even give us a ride. I love the times I get a chance to “pay-it-forward” myself – it gives me a nice warm glow inside. P.S. Just wanted to let you know that I’m not “sick” at all about reading about SE Asia. I’m looking forward to reading about Malaysia next!
You’re always the sweetest Anita! You deserve every act of kindness you receive 🙂
I’m with Ron. How you are treated is often related to your attitude to others. If you’re negative and have a miserable look on your face you usually won’t receive random kindness. It’s often astonishing the power of a smile.
Random unkindness and rudeness actually happened quite often even when one is polite to them
It seems quite many chose to victimize or provide bad service to any poor customers like us
because they think they can get away with it without any complaint from us who looked timid.
For example, service in banks, shops and transport in some part.of SEA can be turn into a very
bad experience even if it was not horrendous.
I noted that their Asian culture tend to focus extremely on profit. If there is little profit to be made, many of them are just
not bothered to give decent service.
Hi Wendy – unkindness and rudeness can (and do) happen everywhere. But this post is about random acts of kindness that go beyond people just being friendly and helpful. It’s about people who actually take time out of their day or go out of their way to help others. It doesn’t happen all the time but it DOES happen and it can happen anywhere/everywhere. And when they do that’s pretty special. I’d rather focus on the positive.
Unfortunately, the real kind of random kindness in South East Asia is very rare or even if it exist, it is nothing really special.
It is more often that one have to deal with extremely bad service, unhelpfulness and hostile environment.
These are the sorts of things that make travelling really worthwhile! Wonderful stories Frank!
Thank you Andy!
Well, Frank, that reminds me of a story…
I was in Yugoslavia in 1982 (just after Tito died but before everything fell apart), working on an oil drill ship. I was rotating out and ready to go home, but spent a day or two before leaving exploring the town. (I had the good fortune to spend some time in Dubrovnik recently, and figured that the town in question must have been Kotor — the endless walls running up those steep hills made a huge impression!)
As I walked through town a fellow sitting on a bench asked if I wanted to exchange money, buy some Yugoslav dinar at a very good rate. Since the dinar was worthless outside the country I was more concerned in getting rid of my money, not buying more. A few moments later a couple of young guys, 17 or 18, came up to me and guided me away, later explaining that the fellow on the bench was with the secret police, trying to entrap currency speculators. I spent a good afternoon with those young guys, talking about American music and whatnot.
The next day at the airport (now the Dubrovnik airport — it hasn’t changed much) I’d succeeded in spending all but a few cents worth of my dinar. Then I learned as we were boarding that there was a departure tax to be paid, and only dinar were accepted. It was just a few dollars, but i had no local money! Uh oh. Let’s see, the nearest consulate was in the capital, Belgrade…
Another passenger, a young Yugoslav, offered to pay it for me. He had no reason to, it was just a kind thing, but got me out of what appeared to me to be a very bad situation.
Even after all these years, I still think of that kindness.
(And I notice that both our stories about acts of kindness happened in the Balkans. Too bad they can’t treat each other with the same kindness!)
Great stories Paul. And to have young kids help you – that’s great.
I totally agree with you about the Balkans. Even between themselves (Croats with Croats for example) they’re not always nice – during our year there we definitely felt that they were nicer towards us as foreigners than among themselves. And if they weren’t very nice among themselves, they were downright pretty negative towards any of the other groups in the Balkans. Such bitter history. Shame.
Thanks for the great stories.
I love random acts of kindness and we have been recipients of it. I remember when we first moved to Malta and looking for the grocery store, we got off at the wrong bus stop with all the confusing Arabic names and we were a bit away. Going into a shop to ask, they tried to explain to us and pointing. Finally this lady is like follow me, left whatever she was in line for and drove us to the shop, which is a thing in itself. Finding parking in such a congested area meant she had to look for another when she got back. It was such a nice thing, and waved away our attempt at reimbursing her. I also remember the lady in Krakow who paid for our bus tickets when we didn’t know how and no one had change, she simply handed us the tickets and smiled as she got off (we had gotten miserably lost and were headed the wrong way entirely :-), something l am an expert at! ). Yeah..people are good, and the pollyanna in me keeps looking and finding them. Great stories you have and hope you do get a chance to pay it forward :-).
Great stories Kemkem. The one about the lady in Malta amazing, that she would go out of her way like that.
Very, very nice.
For me this random acts of kindness are the best part of traveling. I have realized that my best travel memories are the people I meet, and that I no longer travel to see beautiful places but for the experiences.
And as someone who loves Penang (because of its people among other reasons) I’m happy that you had a good experience on your arrival.
You are very right Laia about people making a place. When we remember a place it’s usually not what we saw that sticks in our heads, but the people we met along the way.
We’ll admit to not loving Penang (next post). But we had some very nice personal experiences in Malaysia.
I’ve found I usually get what I pay attention to. If I focus on the negative (hot polluted dirty streets, beggars and touts, shady taxi drivers, NO F-ing ATM’s, etc etc…) more often than not something undesirable happens. But if I take note of the little gems, rays of sunshine in the gloom, a smile freely surrendered, that’s when those cool little miracles happen that makes those 17 hour flights seem to be a small price to pay! It doesn’t hurt either if you have a warm, kind face with a pleasant smile for all 🙂
It’s very true Ron. If you’re smiling and have a twinkle in your eye you’re more likely to bring good experiences.
I remember once being in a bad mood getting into a cab (a misunderstanding with an Airbnb owner in Zagreb had us waiting at the bus station over an hour). The cab went around in circles and 20 minutes later we were delivered at our destination. I found out later that it was a 5 minute walk…
Love it! It’s heartwarming hearing these stories. I’m in Sarajevo and it’s great here. I wasn’t quite sure of that when I arrived. I was at the bus depot and went to money exchange and the clerk told me I was at the wrong place, even with the advert on the window. I went to the office next door and asked and they sent me back to her. Luckily, another teller helped me and all was good.
Maybe a misunderstanding Paula? That sounds a bit weird doesn’t it?
If you have a chance, try out that 2nd restaurant I mention in the post and have a bottle of wine. I think it was called Blatina, from Vina Zadro.
Have you gone up to the Yellow fortress for the views?
Glad you’re enjoying Sarajevo!
I’m sure it was a misunderstanding or perhaps her way of messing with tourist lol. I’m sure the look on my face was priceless. I’m not much of a wine drinker, unless it’s a sweet one, but I might try a glass. Yes, been to yellow fort a couple times… fantastic views. I’ve been here nearly a month, on Wednesday is Split. I’ll be scanning your post 😉
One month in Sarajevo!!! Wow, I’m impressed Paula. I hope you write a detailed post about that on your blog. I’d be very interested.