I’d call it a “phenomenon” when something sparks a memory that makes your heart sink into regret. One of mine came as I was reading Oryx and Crake, barely awake on a the first leg of my trip to Cambodia. My mind wandered to what the next leg, on EVA Airlines, would be like. More often than not, you get your own TV with a totally awesome selection of new releases that easily take up 9 hours of the flight from California to Taipei. Sometimes, you can fall asleep as easily as you do when you’re in bed with the T.V. on.
On my first ever trip to Cambodia in 2006, I sat next to an older Cambodian lady who didn’t speak too much English. I fell asleep and was out for about 8 full hours. When I woke up, I snuggled up to the window with my blanket and turned on my screen. The lady next to me woke up a bit later and tried to turn hers on as well, but didn’t know how. I didn’t bother to show her.
Why do I remember this so vividly? I bet the woman thought nothing of it at the time and hasn’t thought of it since.
Two years later, I found repentance when I got out of line at a store to help an elderly woman with the door, losing my spot. I felt so freaking proud of myself. But hey, here’s a question: At what point did manners become surprising? Why did we ever develop a mindset where we didn’t bother with minimal exertion for the sake of being kind to someone else?
Now, I’m at Taipei airport, having finished my third go-around with that California to Taiwan flight. I sat in the window seat next to a Cambodian couple — probably in their late 50’s — who noticed the tattoo on the back of my neck (a black and white drawing of Angkor Wat) and said something to me in Khmer. I told them I was going to Cambodia, and we were all smiles.
For the next 12 hours and 55 minutes, the woman gently nudged me awake when it was dinner and breakfast time. They got me juice and tea when I clearly didn’t hear the flight attendant say anything. They noticed when my cup was empty, took it from me, and held onto it until the big trash bag went by. They cleared my tray in anticipation for the attendant’s next go-by. I realized: man, this totally ties into my story about the woman I didn’t help 6 years ago!
This is just how they always are, never thinking twice about these small gestures of kindness! Is my dissolution with everyday kindness American-made, or am I just a jerk?
Once I made it to the bathroom here in Taipei, there was a gaggle of women freshening up after 13 hours on the plane. I offered one my face wash, pointing out that it was called “Morning Burst” so she should be refreshed in no time. She said “thank you very much.” I offered to help a woman with her huge carry-on down the stairs. She said no with a giggle, causing her to almost face-plant. But still, my point comes across. I even told a guy headed toward an outlet that the outlet wasn’t working before he made the 10-foot journey. However, I didn’t offer him the outlet I was using despite my computer’s full charge because the preservationist in me knew I had 3 hours to kill. Come on, 5-year-old MacBooks can’t keep a charge. You all should know that.
You kindness critics are welcome to point out that I’m doing small, nice things to make myself feel better. You’re probably right. But that doesn’t mean the nice thing still doesn’t get done.
By the way, I’m safe and sound in Taipei, and will be boarding for Phnom Penh in 1.5 hours.