Learning to trust on the kindness of others is a hard pill to swallow nowadays, especially when you don’t have a choice. Between traveling to China alone and having language barriers, I found myself unknowingly being tested on my trust in strangers. With mass confusion amongst fellow travelers and loads of people filling nearby terminals, I found myself curled up in an airport lobby overnight in Narita, Japan. If it wasn't for a soft spoken Chinese girl named Gwen I wouldn't have realized that relying on the kindness of a stranger can open up a friendship for years to come.
My journey started in early January from Honolulu, Hawai`i on China Airlines. It was planned to be one of those grueling flights packed like sardines in coach class for 8 hours to Narita, Japan. From Narita I’d switch flights and end my travel 3 hours later in Beijing, China. I was heading over to Beijing to visit my friend that was currently studying abroad at Peking University. With heaps of snow on the ground in Beijing at the time, I packed my luggage with the warmest clothes I had. Living in Hawai`i at the time my warmest clothes consisted of tube socks, jeans, a pullover sweatshirt, a beanie, and gloves I bought from Wal-Mart just before I left. I figured buying a heavier jacket once I landed in Beijing would become number one on my priority list.
For my two hour layover I landed in Narita and sat at my terminal waiting for the last leg of my trip. About an hour before passengers were scheduled to board the aircraft, staff members were making announcements over the intercom. As I listened to them speak Japanese and then Chinese I waited to hear English, but it never came. The people surrounding me started to talk loudly and form a line at the check-in desk.
The look of confusion must have been evident on my face because about five minutes after the announcements a girl my age sat down next to me. Her arms were filled with food and candies she just got from one of the nearby stores. She asked what flight I was on and where I was going. As I told her I was heading for Beijing she informed me that she too was traveling alone and that all flights destined for Beijing have been delayed till the following day because of a blizzard that has stopped incoming flights. As we sat at my terminal talking she translated all the announcements that the airline workers were broadcasting and any news that may pertained to me; they never spoke English over the intercom.
I noticed the flight attendants making their way around to passengers that were on my previous flight and taking the same connecting flight as I was. As they got to me they took my information and asked to put me up in a hotel overnight so I didn't have to stay at the airport. I was surprise by the offer and turned to look at Gwen (who didn't have the same offer from her airline), as I thought about it I asked the flight attendant if Gwen could stay in my room as well. Since she wasn't on my same flight they said that only I could go. After Gwen’s kindness and helpful nature towards me I couldn't just leave her at the airport, so I declined the offered and chose to spend the night in the airport.
Every passenger destined for Beijing had to go through immigration and collect their luggage from baggage claim. After Gwen and I were done with all the paper work at customs and figuring out the logistics for the following day, we went to a restaurant near the lobby to eat dinner and got to know each other. I learned that she goes to college in Canada and was in Japan to see a concert on her way home to visit her parents that lived in Beijing. I mentioned to her that I live in Hawai`i and if she ever came to the islands that she was more than welcomed to come and stay with me if she ever wanted to, after all she did help me in my time of need.
As the night grew closer most everyone we were once surrounded by had left for the night to a hotel. There were only a few of us left, the cheap travelers. The passengers that didn’t want to pay for a cab or a hotel for the night, there was about fifteen of us in the airport lobby. Our bed for the night was the oh so comfortable thinly cardboard padded airport linked chairs that stretched almost the whole length of the now dark and freezing lobby. Throughout the night shadows that the lights were casting danced on the tall walls of the lobby and the temperature dropped so cold that everyone was in the fetal position buried under anything that would shield them from the icy air. Every now and then a security guard scanned the lobby, his boots clanging loudly on the corridor floor as he would walk pass while other people snored and tossed about to get comfortable.
As morning came we all one by one got up and made our way to the bathrooms to brush our teeth and put on a fresh change of clothes. Since Gwen was on a different flight than me to Beijing, we said our goodbyes and exchanged contact information. Without Gwen I wouldn't have known the extent of my situation and what was going on. She also helped me see the good in a stranger, something that was an unexpected experience; one I will always cherish and learn from. Her kindness was the cornerstone of me learning to trust complete strangers in situations that were out of my control. Not only did I learn to view strangers in a different way, but I also made a friend. A friend I wouldn't have made if I was closed minded or guarded.