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How a young Chinese woman discovered

that Chinese are friendly and open

How well do we know strangers?

It seems a strange question to ask, right? Because a stranger, by definition, is someone we don't know. Regardless, we've already generalized about strangers. In the USA we've even got a "proverb" that says, "Stranger, danger." 

I'm the stranger expert

I suggest that I'm somewhat of an expert on strangers. For over seven years now (2021) in Kunming, China, I've invited strangers into my home by placing a simple ad on the Internet. In most weeks between two to five strangers will show up at my door for a one-to-two hour let's-get-to-know-each-other conversation. I've visited with well over 2,500 strangers this way. Many Chinese, knowing that I was doing this, asked me, "Aren't you frightened that you'll meet a bad man?" I've always replied, "If it happened, I never found out about it."

 

Riki is my interpreter

Riki, twenty-two, will be starting graduate school as statistics major. She agreed to be my interpreter for a two-day weekend holiday I recently took here in Kunming. She helped me check into an Airbnb in a section of the city I had never visited, a 30-minute taxi ride from my home. 

My meeting-strangers-on-the-street holiday

Her job was to be my guide-interpreter. We would meander together down this street and that and into a few parks. I would approach almost anyone who wasn't walking somewhere quickly and ask, "Hello, may I talk with you for a few minutes?" Riki was by my side interpreting for me.

For the fifty-plus people we approached in those two days, sometimes two or three together, we did not get a single refusal. Then I would say, "I'm on holiday in Kunming. What are you doing in Kunming?" The conversation would proceed from there. At the conclusion of talking with each former stranger, I would say to them, "Even though I am on holiday in Kunming this weekend, I also live in Kunming." Then I would give them my card in case they might like to stay in touch. And I would often ask if I could take their photo or we could have a photo together. We got only one refusal with that request.

Riki's surprising discovery

As we were finishing up our two days together, Riki and I took a few minutes to share back and forth about our experiences before each of us returned to our homes. I asked her, "What parts of these two days did you like? Was there anything that you learned?" 

Riki said that, before we approached any particular person, they often appeared as dour and unapproachable to her. Yet, once we started talking with them, she was surprised at how friendly and interesting they were.

Important people in my life who were "strangers on the street"

These are just a few one-time strangers that I remember (as of September 2021).

  • My full-time assistant and good friend Heidi Yang for almost twelve years now

    • I met her in Green Lake Park holding up a sign "Speak English Just for Fun."​

  • My girlfriend for over eleven years

    • I met her over eleven years ago when she was a part-time manager in a Thai restaurant that I was checking out.​

  • My house manager, research assistant, and friend Riki ​

    • I met her ten months ago when she came to my "Strangers into Friends" event on a Sunday.

  • My good friend Holly Cheng​

    • I met her at "Strangers into Friends" in 2018.​

  • My long-time friend Solomea Sheng, whom I visit with every two weeks​

    • I met her also through "Strangers into Friends" about seven years ago.​

  • My great friend and assistant Rocky Jiang​

    • He came to "Strangers into Friends" in 2015.​

  • My former girlfriend Dawn​

    • I met her asking for directions at Tokyo University. She suggested I visit Shanghai in July 2000, which resulted in my moving from Tokyo to Shanghai near the end of 2000.​

  • My great long-time friend Jeff Newman​

    • I stumbled into Jeff in 1982 when he worked at Radio Shack in Phoenix, Arizona.​

  • The man responsible for me finding my first career in computer programming, which lasted 20 years​

    • I don't remember his name. ​But he was a stranger. I showed up unannounced at his home in New Jersey just across the Hudson River from Manhattan sometime in the fall of 1966. I was 22 and had just moved to New York City one week before. He was the battalion commander of the Marine Corps Reserve unit in Brooklyn that I had just joined. I was looking for my first full-time job after quitting college. I thought that if I could get a job doing something related to "national defense," then I could get out of the Reserves. At that point, I was looking at five and a half years of being a "weekend warrior" once a month. I thought that if anyone would know what type of job that would give me an occupational deferment, he would know. His wife was feeding me cookies when he arrived home from work. I told him my story. He assured me that once I had joined the Reserves, which I had done to avoid the draft, there was no getting out. But, he happened to be a computer system engineer. After asking me a few questions about my background, he recommended that I start applying for computer programming jobs. He said a company would train me. I took his advice and two weeks later IBM hired me for my first computer programming job, training me in numerical control programming. I loved programming and it remained my career for twenty years! What a difference that stranger made in my life!

What would it add to your life if...

What would it add to your life if you treated strangers as if they were already your friend?! What if you acted as if any stranger that you might approach would be happy if you did?  What if you saw the world as your playground and everyone else as your playmate or potential playmate? What if you were willing to breathe into your fear and pat yourself on the back for choosing courage to approach strangers in this way?  What if...

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