Friday, September 16, 2005

the kindness of strangers . . .

We had an interesting experience when we took the train to Taipei last week for the weekend orientation with the Fulbright folks. We got a ride to the train station from a helpful colleague here, Anna Chen. She’s the one who came to NASA this summer and I met her before I left Houston to come here. When we got to the train station we had some time to wait because we wanted time to find everything and since the station had only two platforms, it was easy to do. The train was due to leave the station at 3:50 p.m.; about 3:30 a train pulled into the station and we figured it was ours. We asked the people in line if it was going to Taipei and they said yes, so we got on to find our seats and wait for it to leave.

Much to our surprise it started rolling out right away, and again we asked the people if the train was going to Taipei and again they said yes. Then when we went to get in our seats they were already taken by an older Chinese couple, one of whom was asleep. We didn’t want to disturb them so we looked around for a vacant seat thinking we would sit in their seat instead. Then someone looked at our tickets to see about our seat and discovered that we were on the wrong train. TWO trains were going to Taipei within 10 minutes of each other. The one we were on was the express train, and the one we were supposed to be on was a slower one which left at—you guessed it, 3:50!

So we figured we could get off at the next stop and wait for our train, but we decided to stay on that one and just stand up; one of the passengers said it was 1.5 hrs and our train was supposed to take three. . . so we stayed where we were, because we knew we could just pay the difference in the fares and stand. After a bit over an hour a bunch of people got off at a stop. An empty seat yawned beside us, and I said to Peter, “Lets sit down.” We did, and some more people got on. He said “Someone may have these seats” and I said well, no problem, we’ll get up and give them to the people who have tickets. Nothing happened for a while and then after 5 or 10 minutes a man and a young girl came up and sure enough they had tickets for our seats. So we got up and apologized, explaining we had got on the wrong train and were just stupid Americans. The man sat down by the window but the young girl would not sit down and told me to sit in her seat. I replied that I would not sit in her seat, that she should, and she told me again to sit there and then walked away a few steps and turned her back and refused to discuss the situation. I did not sit down and we rode for another 5 minutes or so, and the man got up and said we should sit down. Again we demurred and said we would stand.

The man said no, I will not sit in this seat, I will go get a seat on the last car or two where plenty of empty seats will be available. So I said thank you for telling us; we’ll go to those cars. He said no and left the car. Well, we stood there a minute and then we sat down, as no one else was going to sit there, clearly. I felt really guilty but it certainly was more comfortable than standing.

We rode the rest of the way to Taipei, which by the way was 2.5 hrs, not 1.5. Just before the train pulled into the station the man returned to tell us to get off the train here. (I guess he figured we wouldn’t have sense enough to do that on our own!) But this is very typical of the Taiwanese. If you ask directions, they will tell you how to go but will also walk along behind you in case you make a mistake; we’ve had that happen several times. They are the most considerate and kind bunch of people I have ever seen. In restaurants we several times have been served food we didn’t order as a gift from the house, especially if the place is not very full. It’s like they are saying thank you for coming into my restaurant.

I have included a few pictures from that trip, including a pig which was sweeping the sidewalk in midtown Taipei. The man on my right is Dr. Wu Jing-Jyi, the head of Fulbright in the Far East and a very brilliant and accomplished person. He had a play produced in New Yor, off broadway, when he was right out of graduate school, and he brought drama to Taiwan. The gorgeous girls are Fulbrights who are teaching elementary school in a village in the mountains. Peter and Maxine and I are at the reception for the grantees. And Peter proves once again that he can go anywhere in the world and find someone who knows him.


At 12:56 PM, Blogger Bryna said...

Gosh, Pat, you REALLY SHUD become an author. And, it certainly sounds as if ur enjoying this trip, tiring me out just to read it. Thanx for the pictures, too. When's Peter going home? We THINK we'll be down ur way, wish you were there.Have you started ur job?And?Be well,hugs.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Patricia Golemon said...

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At 8:11 AM, Blogger Patricia Golemon said...

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