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