The best thing about travelling is the people you meet – and the kindness that new friends can show when you’re a stranger in their country is something that should be reciprocated
On my first visit to the Philippines in April, I spent some time scuba diving in Sogod Bay in Leyte, where I snorkelled with whale sharks and came face to face with a deadly sea snake. Which was nice. But I also did a scuba diving liveaboard trip to Tubbataha Reef, a remote coral atoll in the Sulu Sea that’s possibly the Philippines’ best diving location.
One of the great things about liveaboards is that you tend to bond with your fellow divers pretty quickly, and I always enjoy finding out where people are from and what they do. I met an American couple, Julie and Heath, who it turned out had been living in Manila for a year or so as Heath is managing the customer support call centre for a major US computer maker. These guys were not only great fun to hang out with on the boat, but they also went out of their way to help me at the end of our trip.
As well as inviting me back to their apartment in Manila so I could avoid hanging around in the airport all afternoon until my evening flight, Julie also joined me on a mission to go and find the Solidaridad Bookshop, owned by the Philippines’ greatest living writer, Senor F. Sionil Jose, so I could buy a copy of his novel Dusk from his own shop. Manila’s traffic is even worse than Bangkok, so Julie’s willingness to spend a couple of hours slogging through the gridlock to find the bookshop was even more remarkable. Finally, Heath dropped me off at the airport before heading to work himself, making it a stress free afternoon all round.
Besides doing a little sightseeing, what I enjoyed most of all was simply chatting to Julie and Heath about their experience of Manila and how they found the expat life there – plus I learnt a fair bit about Nashville, as that’s where they’d lived before. (It was the week Johnny Cash’s house had burnt down after being bought by one of the Bee Gees – we all agreed it was clearly God’s work).
The point I’m trying to make here is not just to crow about my own good fortune, (although that’s always fun), but to say how Julie and Heath managed to transform what would have been a pretty dreary afternoon hanging around on my own into a memorable ending to my first Philippines trip. For them it wasn’t a huge amount of effort to invite me over because Manila is their home now, but it made a huge difference to me. But more importantly, it was the fact that they simply bothered to help me out when they didn’t need to that I was particularly impressed with. It made me want to be more helpful to other people myself, although given I’m genetically predisposed to being a miserable bastard, that’s quite difficult.
I think there are a lot of things each of us can do that are not much effort that make a big difference to someone else. You have the judge the moment and the person with stuff like this to avoid being a freak magnet, but even so, it’s pretty easy to do. If that makes me sappy, fair enough. But Julie and Heath’s kindness made me think of the hundreds of people who have helped me while travelling who I can never repay, and the only thing I can do is try and show some of the same kindness to other people who cross my path – who promise not be a complete pain in the backside, natch.