Intrepid senior traveller, Elred Lawrence, has been on his epic cycling trip in South-East Asia for some 90+ days now. When he embarked on this trip, he did not realize that one of the major highlights of the trip would be the constant encounter of unexpected human kindness.
When you are thousands of miles from home, you don’t speak the language and you’re possibly lost (is the GPS sending me in the right direction?) is it serendipitous that precisely at that point help arrives in the most unexpected form, generally in the form of Good Samaritans.
It is quite remarkable that when one thinks about the random acts of human kindness is not how rare they are, but in fact how frequent they are. It would seem that human response to vulnerability is not to take advantage of it, or prey on it, but to help out. And it would appear from Elred’s human kindness stories that generosity more often comes from the poor, and not the wealthy.
Elred and his bike flew to Singapore with Qatar Airlines, and the first act of human kindness came in the form of a cabin crew member, Ki Kie Zaw Lynn. On chatting to Elred, she found out about his upcoming adventure and later on during the trip, she took him to the galley where the Qatar team were assembled to present him with a surprise good luck taste treat with a message from her and the rest of the team.
The spontaneous generosity from random strangers just keeps happening, such as:
- The man at a busy roadside restaurant who offered Elred a seat at his table, and then proceeded to pay for two drinks of Kopi Ais and gave Elred some chocolates;
- The owner of a backpackers lodge who treated Elred as one of the family – introducing him to his friends, offering free accommodation for as long as he wanted to stay, as well as treating him to meals every day;
- The Thai cyclists who invited Elred to join them for lunch and paid for his desperately needed iced coffee;
- The steamroller driver, working on construction of a new road, who saw Elred resting at a roadside café, drinking Coke, and who promptly bought him an energy drink to ensure he had enough strength to continue cycling;
- Picture this scene – temperature of 46 degrees C, no means of navigation, having been misled by Maps Me, a dead phone – Elred was exhausted and he stopped at a grocery store to buy a cold drink and recharge his phone. The owner let him nap at the table and when he awoke, gave him a bunch of bananas for energy and then showed him that he was in fact within 2 kms of his destination;
- After sheltering from a rainstorm for a couple of hours, Elred realized that he would not reach his next accommodation in time for the night, and so asked at a local police station if he could spend the night there. They very graciously responded that he could and when he was settling down for the night, a Thai gentleman took him under his wing and took Elred home to his family in the mountains for a meal and the night. It turned out that this gentleman’s family are Hmong people (pronounced moong), the original hill-tribe people of South East Asia. Tourists in Thailand pay a fortune to meet and stay with a hill-tribe family and here Elred was being treated as a VIP. His home is traditional, and the family consists of 14 people including the grand-father whom Elred met in the morning –a hale and hearty 104 year old man. And interestingly, the family are all Christians. In the morning, Elred said his fond farewells, conveyed his deep gratitude for the way everyone welcomed him, making him feel part of the family. He was given multiple invitations to visit again. He was taken down to the freeway so he could be on his way, but not before being given the gentleman’s phone number with strict instructions to call if Elred needed any assistance whatsoever. Elred found this to be an amazing experience of true humanity – folk who live so simply yet are prepared to share everything they have – he was truly touched and blessed.
- On Day One of the cycle through Myanmar, and just 20km into the trip from Myawaddy to Kawkareik, Elred stopped at a roadside restaurant for water after a steep hill climb. A young man invited him to join him for a meal. Elred joined him but declined to eat as he had just had a large breakfast. After asking Elred six times if he could buy him food, and each time Elred declined, then then bought Elred some water and they enjoyed a great conversation. On leaving, the young man bought Elred 4 more bottles of water and a packet of snacks to keep him going on the road. He told Elred that Myanmar people see it as their duty to look after others.
Wouldn’t it be incredible if we had this ethos in South Africa?
All of this spontaneous generosity is incredibly moving and often impossible to pay back, except for a heartfelt thank you at the time. It’s frequently proffered by people who have little to give, or who are busy, or tired, and could pretend not to notice. Such acts change how you feel about a place. So wonderful to experience all of this, and so much more, in countries where one is travelling.
It would appear that Elred is in the right place for a trip of this nature, as South-East Asia is reportedly “up there” in the category of human kindness. Elred is currently cycling in Myanmar, which is internationally renown for the generosity of its people, and reportedly the world’s kindest country. . Billed as “the world’s leading study of generosity”, the World Giving Index rates 140 countries in three categories – helping a stranger, donating money and volunteering time. Myanmar has made the top spot. According to the research, 91 per cent of Myanmar residents gave money to charity in the past year, 53 per cent said they had helped a stranger, and 51 per cent claimed they had volunteered. “The high scores are likely to be a result of Theravada Buddhism practiced by a large proportion of the population in Myanmar, whereby followers donate to support those living a monastic lifestyle – a practice known as Sangha Dana,” the report states.
Incidentally, South Africa rates as # 9 on the list of the “Top Ten Countries for helping a stranger”.
Tell us about your random encounters of human kindness….