"Nani? Surprise! Very surprise", she exclaimed as she gestures with her hands waving them around. "One. Alone...it is very lonely desu ka?"
"Some times alone but not lonely. Today, I was alone, now you are here, so I am not alone." I reply smiling.
"Ohhh. Hai. Yes. Now not alone." She nods while giggling.
When I broke the news about backpacking through Asia alone for 3 months, many people asked about how I would feel being alone for such a long time. I'm an only child, so having time by myself is nothing new, but one of the reasons I travel is to meet all kinds of people. You never have to be alone unless you choose to be. There are countless other travellers and locals for you to strike up a conversation when you are craving some human interaction.
I was sitting in Ueno park watching the sunset when an older Japanese lady asked in Japanese if she could sit on the same bench. I apologized and told her I was a "Gaijin", or a foreigner. She sat down and we actually talked for 15-20 minutes. Even with broken English, we were able to talk about a wide range of things. (charades also helped!)
I showed her some photos of Toronto in the winter time and after the ice rain and in a very adorable way she demonstrated the earthquake that hit Japan a couple years back. How someone can make an earthquake cute, you have to see in person. We also talked about her family, and how her daugther-in-law's husband is from Harbin, China.
She asked about my travel plans and where I was going. I take it that it is very unusual for females in Japan to travel alone based on how many times she said amazing and surprised. She warned me, "bad men and bad women, be careful" and wished me "good trip!" when she left.
Thinking back I wish I had asked for a photo of her. She wasn't the first local person to talk to me and definitely won't be the last. Other than chance encounters when I am approached, I always keep hard candy or other treats to share as conversation starters.
On past trips, I've traded origami with an elderly restaurant owner in Tokyo, chatted about driving in New York with a cab driver in Bangkok, taken a bus with a ticket collector who jumps into the street to help untangle a motorcyclist from hanging wires Da Nang.
You would be surprised how much you can share with a stranger without a single word in common. Most of us seek to understand those around us, even if they are just there for a fleeting moment.
In the routine of everyday city life, I know I'm guilty of shutting the world out. Rushing to and from point A-to-B, I don't open myself up to those around me. Travelling forces you to be more open and trust in people more.
Thank you to all the kind souls I have been lucky enough to have met and all the ones I hope to come across in the future! The chance to meet as many of you as possible is one of the main reasons I travel!
Do you have any tips or tricks to strike up a conversation with fellow travellers or the locals?