Jan 31, 2013

Here's a challenge for anyone who's bold enough.

Perhaps my whole recent fascination with talking to and learning from strangers started at the Experience Yale-NUS Weekend, where I met people from so many places and learnt so much. Julia Versel gave me a little souvenir from Senegal. Kishin told me about the symbolism of sakura for students and how it changed from representing the start of school to representing graduation (because they used to flower in April, but now they do in March). Shrabya gave me so much insight into life in Nepal. Rohan talked about IIT. I felt immersed in a buffet of cultures and personalities and worldviews and accents. It was so incredibly colourful and I really enjoyed just having a tiny glimpse into the lives of others.

A few days ago, at Subway, I saw this girl with cute printed pants who spoke in an interesting accent. Italian, maybe? European for sure. I really felt like asking her where she was from, but she was busy talking to the Subway person, and I regretted not jumping at the chance when I had it. So I decided that I would hold a conversation with the next foreigner I saw, and learn.

So yesterday at work, as I was walking back from buying Jared lunch, a guy came up to me and asked me where the bus stop out of UTown was. I was walking in that direction, so we decided to walk together. Along the way, I found out that he had just gone for an interview to do his PhD at NUS. Turns out he also used to teach driving theory and stuff. (He was local, so I hadn't fulfilled my specific goal, but the aim of meeting someone new was achieved!)

Then later on in the day, I saw a guy with crazy long frizzy hair sitting in the sun. I mean, it was a HOT day. I was like, what?! So I went up to talk to him. Turns out he was from London and was a biomedical science exchange student from King's. We talked about things like London and Singapore and the architecture in both cities and the ideal pace of life and Chinese characters and how he got his nickname. In the sun.

Today, after my driving lesson, this guy who seemed like an interesting person to talk to sat next to me on the bus. I decided against starting a conversation with him at first, so I took out my earphones, but as I was beginning to regret my decision he took out his earphones too. Oh well. As we got off the bus, he made a little comment to me, too, which hinted that he was the friendly sort. I was really regretting not at least finding out a bit about who he was, at least. But then we both happened to be waiting for the same train, so I went up to him. Turns out, he's doing his PhD at NTU. He was from India, somewhere near Calcutta, and had graduated from IIT, so we talked a bit about 3 Idiots and stress and the mugging culture in Asia and stuff. He also introduced me to the iTunes Match, an app that's going to be incredibly useful for me, since my phone's only 8GB.

So here's the thing. A lot of Singaporeans are pretty reserved about talking to strangers, or they feel weirded out when a stranger attempts to make light conversation with them. Why? It's so unfriendly. We're all curious about people, aren't we? Aren't we curious about the person sitting next to us - what's going on in her life now? What are her opinions on things? How would things be like in her shoes?

So I'm setting a target for myself in February: hold a conversation with four strangers. Find out a bit more about them and learn from what they've seen or how they think. This doesn't include strangers at events where everyone's a stranger and everyone needs to make friends, like at camps or at the theology school prep classes which begin in mid-Feb. This would be someone I meet on the street, someone who's also waiting for the bus, someone in the lift or who's queueing at the same stall, someone who's sitting in the sun in the heat of noon.

And I encourage as many of you to join me in this challenge! Don't forget these new people you meet, too. Remember how the conversation went and how much you learnt from each other and the spilling forth of ideas and views. If you're living in a country where talking to strangers isn't uncommon, then raise the target 'quota' or raise the standards!

If you're reading this and you decide to take part in this with me, let me know! :)

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