>When I was in London I can remember thinking that out of the 8m milling inhabitants, I knew maybe 50. We all love to say small world isn’t it? but it happens so little in reality. But why do we know so few people when I see hundreds, maybe thousands of people a day? It’s especially an English trait to be reserved, respectful of other’s privacy, unsure of the neighbour’s kid’s names. Maybe this is a more middle-class aberration.
When I was staying with my sister in London, I chatted with one of her housemates about travelling. She commented that she hated the fact that people she didn’t know would talk to her. She just wanted to sit on the beach. Consequently she left Thailand with no more friends than she had previously. I left the conversation disappointed but not surprised.
My travelling experience has taught me to talk to people as a necessity but more important as part of the growing up and out. I met Joe as we were both heading north into Brazil from Argentina; Ben as we were going to Cuba and both had no idea where to stay; I met Luke Parrott in Japan when I was invited to a dinner for a new guy in regional office and noticed through the meal how bored he was listening to his boss talk in his ear. I didn’t have much time for the boss either so I knew we would get along. I still remember the Japanese woman who tried to talk to me on the train in Hokkaido. I spent New Year with Ben, a French guy who I meet playing pool in Cambodia. I spent an incredibly drunken Chinese New Year a month later with Ben, his girlfriend and Kim in Vietnam. I had met Kim in the street and he was lost, looking for a place to stay. So I gave him directions to a hostel and ultimately walked him there. There are many more; Jeroen and Daphne, Gustavo and Lise, even Christine and Scotty.
The story is meeting Christine is a classic. I was in Japan. It was the 2nd of January 2002. I was due to meet Luke in Osaka but as usual I was late. When I got to the bar, LP was sitting with two girls. I got a drink, sat down and conversed like we were all friends. Later I asked LP how he knew the girls and he said he didn’t, just needed someone to talk to as I was late. 9 hours later, we were all drinking still. We were friends for the rest of the year and Christine and I lived together in Korea for a year and have been firm friends that first meeting.
Scotty, I met in a mate’s restaurant. I was talking to Sarah who was looking at clothes on the laptop and once I found out the Gorings were from Sheffield, the conversation flowed. Later Scotty professed his love for rugby and a bound was formed. We watched almost all the British Lions games together, drank ourselves silly throughout and when I returned to Korea later that year, I lived with Scotty and Sarah and did so happily and gratefully.
The link below is to a story on the BBC website. It’s an article on a photographer’s story of meeting those people we see everyday, yet never speak to. The newsagent, the street cleaner, the chip shop guy, the old man next door. All these ordinary strangers who observe you everyday in varying detail, yet you never know their name. How is it that you can have long conversation yet ever know each other’s names? This photographer, Susie Rea decided to talk to those people, ask about their lives and photograph them. It’s something I have thought about recently with the passing of my granddad. There was so much that he had seen. And as Phillip K Dick said, all will be lost, like tears in the rain.
Intimate Strangers :