The thing is, I never really considered myself sociable (I still don't). I don't like approaching people and most of the time, I don't enjoy small talk with non-friends. When I was in school, my friends and I were expected to foster friendship with cadets from other schools during events like annual gatherings and campfires, and I would be one of those who'd perform most poorly in this "socializing" task.
I used to think it's because I am somewhat shy, but once, when I dared describe myself as "shy" and all of my closest friends gave the same response, "You must be kidding!", I had to accept the fact that maybe it isn't shyness. I mean, I'm talkative by nature and I find it hard to run out of things to talk about, so if I really want to, I guess I shouldn't find it hard to simply walk up to someone and start a conversation. So, maybe I just don't like taking the initiative to be friendly. In fact, most of the time, I wish strangers wouldn't talk to me. For the "protagonist" of this post, though, I'm glad he did.
It was a lovely evening and I was taking a solitary stroll along the beach. A bunch of local men were bundling tourists onto a banana boat and they asked me to join in for a ride. I politely declined, citing fear. They offered to let me ride in the speedboat (which will be pulling the banana boat) instead. I declined again and after several minutes of courtesy chit-chat, I went on. A little way ahead was a lone man with tousled shoulder-length hair, relaxing and watching life around him. He smiled warmly as I walked by and I smiled back (because it would be impolite not to). It took no more than ten or fifteen minutes' leisurely pace to reach the end of the stretch at which I turned back. The man was still there, and as I passed him again, he smiled and said "Hi."
I said "Hi" in return, and we started chatting.
It began as all usual conversations would - where we are from, whether we're there for work or leisure - and then, I took an extreme interest in him. He's traveling to see the world, he said, in his mobile home, which he's driven all the way from his home in Germany, out of Europe, through the Middle East, India, Indochina etc, and had been parked at Batu Ferringhi Beach, Penang, for ten days. I was beyond amazed. I am aware that it isn't uncommon for some people to take months off work (and regular life) to travel, but that was the first time I'd met anyone who's spent almost a year on the road... literally! At the time of our chance meeting, he was a week away from the first anniversary of his traveling, and his journey wasn't at its end... once he's reached "the end" (I think it is Singapore, but my memory is poorly these days) he will turn back and trace a slightly different route back to his home, possibly through vast China. That will take another year or more.
I asked for his permission to take a photo of his mobile home. He graciously allowed me.
I spent the evening talking to this fascinating man. He told of his many encounters in the foreign countries he's been - the people, the culture, the ease or difficulty with which he made his drive across and meeting other travelers like himself. He showed me his solar power generator, which provides electricity for appliances in his vehicle; the little boat and the bike which he hauls with him, for local exploration when he's parked somewhere; picture books of common objects which he uses for communication in countries which languages he doesn't speak - he would just point to the picture(s) that indicate what he needed; and a map on which he tracked his journey thus far -
I had so many questions to ask - he put up with me good-humouredly and answered everything. He talked of his life (and life in general) in Germany, his work, his wife and children, and his past travels. He asked me stuff as well and I painfully remembered I don't really know much about interesting spots in my country. Remember the last time I went gallivanting around town with the lost boys from Europe? Yea, that was the one and only time. I kept thinking, if it was my bestfriend, she would have made a far, FAR better conversation with this traveler than I ever could have.
I don't generally talk to strangers, and still don't think it is wise to, but for this - well, I guess I'm fortunate. It isn't yet a year since our chance meeting. He should still be driving, somewhere, right now. All the best, F! Thank you for your stories.