"What Goes Around Comes Around": On Accepting Kindness From Strangers

“What Goes Around Comes Around”: On Accepting Kindness From Strangers

Right now, I should be in absolute shock and wonderment. I’m sitting comfortably in the rental home of three elderly Japanese people, who have just treated me to a magnificent meal of sashimi, okonomiyaki and the usual unusual assortment of Japanese vegetables exotic to the foreign tongue.

Where I had presented nothing but the hitchhiker’s thumb in exchange, the bubbly trio had picked me up and taken me not only to the original destination I had requested, but on an extended tour of the local area. Now here I am, sitting in their home, eating their food, even using their shower.

Of course I’m grateful. Yet I feel mostly numbness inside — it’s far from the first time something like this has happened to me while travelling alone in Japan. Something about the young solo foreigner in this country seems to attract the pity, as well as the curiosity, of Japanese people, especially the older generation.

Is it wrong that I have almost become used to having my meals paid for by complete and utter strangers? No matter how many times it happens, the question of whether or not I should accept their hospitable offers never quite escapes my consciousness.

Yet the main reason I have accepted this particular gesture and am sitting here today is due to the guilt I’d felt at refusing something similar from a Japanese couple the day before. After telling them I had better go, I had departed to set up my tent in a nearby park. Then, just as I was settling down inside my portable home all ready to rest, I was hit suddenly by a wave of pain and regret as the concern the couple had oozed seeped through my feels barrier.

It was then that I’d realised they weren’t being kind to me due to any sort of obligation; they wanted to be kind. It made them happy to do something for me. And by leaving before they had the chance to give me the experience they wished to share, I wasn’t sparing them trouble — I was just being rude.

As I sit among my new companions now, the man among the trio puts what I’m feeling into perfect words. His eyes twinkle with the joy of a good memory; he tells me how when he was young and travelled Taiwan by himself, many Taiwanese people treated him to meals. There’s a brief pause in the conversation as he utters a Japanese word that’s alien to me. But never fear, Google is here, and within seconds, he’s showing me his smartphone with the words “meeting of fate” presented on the screen.

That’s what this was to him. A meeting of fate.

“Many people were kind to me in Taiwan, so today I treat you to a meal to show kindness to you. So, when you have the chance, please also show kindness to the next person.”

It sounds like something you would only hear in the movies, in some sort of corny rom-com. Yet somehow, it makes perfect sense in this reality, too.

A couple of days later, I find myself on the other end of the experience. I’ve met a guy in his thirties working at a hostel who’s bored with life after having been raised in the bustle of Tokyo and having recently finished a working holiday in New Zealand. A spark lights his eyes as I tell him that’s the country of my birth.

I return the next day with ice creams for us to share and more conversation to offer. Before I know it, we’re off on a day trip to the next town, checking out the sights and sharing banter together. I can see the happiness created by this small gesture reflected in his eyes as he thanks me and wishes me luck for the rest of my travels.

But that’s not all. I realise I’m feeling a similar buzz of joy. So this must be what all those generous people I’d met had felt. It feels good to give, as well as to accept, random offers of kindness. The benefits are mutual.

So I guess I don’t need to feel guilty about accepting offers from strangers anymore. The old man was right. What goes around comes around.

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