Ticket to Ride

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Never underestimate the power of random acts of kindness.

Last week I was passing through New York and on my way to an event. While in NYC I’m usually a subway kind of guy, but when looking at maps.google.com the subway line closest to me and my desired destination appeared to be having some issues. I lucked out that there was a bus line with a straight shot uptown.

I arrived at the bus stop with enough time to sit, stand, and walk a bit back and forth. As the bus approached I realized everyone was holding white tickets. The doors of the bus opened as I asked a woman next to me if one needed a ticket if they had a metrocard.

“Express buses do.”

“Was this an express bus,” I asked?

She craned her head, ever so slightly, to confirm. “Yes.”

I rushed over to the ticket machine through the traffic of commuters stepping off the bus. With panicked eyes I clumsily searched for what I needed to do.

And then I heard her voice, gently giving me directions, and repeating directions as my fumbling fingers tried to catch up. I could feel that everyone must have boarded by now, and any normal bus would probably have left.

I grabbed my metrocard, urged the white slip to print more quickly through my concern, turned, and jumped towards the open doors of the bus just in time to hear the bus driver say, whoever is holding the door in the back of the bus, please step away.

It was her.

We’re not friends and I didn’t have the chance to ask her name. Chances are good that we will never see each other again.

She had no real incentive to stretch out her neck, or to lend a helping hand. And if I missed the bus, would it have been a huge deal? But in that moment, such a small gesture of kindness meant a lot to me.

Something that is small to you may be big for someone else. When was the last time you chose to go just a bit out of your way to help someone else who seemed to be in need?

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How lucky am I that this picture just happens to be a shot of the bus I talk about above? This shot of the M15 SBS comes from this article in The Epoch Times, New Express Bus Hits First-Day Bumps (October 13, 2010).

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Are We the Living Dead?

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I used to be scared to death of the dead. More specifically, the scary movie genre people group under the “entertainment” realm used to really freak me out. Especially if watched at night, I’d have a hard time falling asleep, concerned I might not wake up again after a zombie feasted on me.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I learned there is an entire genre dedicated to this type of film, many of them with zombies running (read: walking) around. The walking dead were something I fortunately got used to, thanks to my buddy, Taylor. T loved these movies and introduced me to the finest apocalyptic films that have graced the silver screen (or went straight to DVD) from the comfort of our Beijing living room. A classic example of getting over fears, the best way I know how: face it, deal with it, move on.

My favorite movie genre falls somewhere in between romantic comedies and action flicks. I get misty-eyed when love reigns over all and pump my first with exuberance when good triumphs over evil.

In sharing about a movie I saw recently, “Warm Bodies,” the point is not that it is an apocal-action-romcom, rather, it was the theme of communication and mutual understanding that surfaced out of the conflict between “the regular people” and the corpses.

From the opening scene you realize the movie is from a unique perspective – the zombie’s. The living dead, at least in this guy’s case, have much more complicated thoughts than their outward appearance would suggest. Already with a desire for something more, our new friend, R, finds himself at a turning point when he starts to feel something ever so subtle in his heart, and realizes it’s because he’s somehow falling for Julie.

Every day most of us pass over or pass-by that which takes up too much time. We make assumptions that often support what we already know, believe, fear, love, etc. How often are we willing to stretch ourselves past what has become our “norm”?

R saw something special in Julie (big deal she was alive and he had just feasted on her boyfriend’s brains). And Julie, after a bit of convincing, saw the same in R (it can’t be love-at-first-sight for everyone).

Persistence, a calm demeanor, and time made this love happen. And it just happened to save the world. This made me wonder, how we can each do more of this in our lives?

Listen, I get it, it’s easy to be persistent when you don’t have much to do. It must be easier to be calm when you don’t have much of a pulse.  And it almost goes without saying that time is one of our scarcest commodities. But what would it take for us to more frequently take a chance on finding something amazing in a place so unexpected?

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Also including the link to Warm Bodies on IMDB in case the original movie website link above … dies. I like how warmbodiesmovie.com immediately loads the first four minutes of the movie where you get a good feel for R’s character. Any favorite movie quotes?

Why I Write

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Several friends, old and new, have advised me over the past few years that writing a blog is a good idea. I did gain much delight from writing as a high schooler for our local track community’s BBS and for family and friends early in my college career. However, “adult” life has been too busy for blogging. And besides, if I was to write a blog, it would need to be a slice of perfection. It would have a very clear theme and it would have great flow from word to word, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, post to post.

I would have to answer the wannabe existential – yet profoundly practical – question of:

Where do blogs begin?

So I avoided blogging and writing-for-fun all together.

And it’s been nine years, based on the generous assumption I regularly wrote something for fun near the end of college. But with my recent choice to step back from it all, to reflect forwards and backwards on my life to this point – and in particular, nine years in China – I started to take the question, “Why do I write”? seriously again.

I did not hit the ground running when I arrived in America the second week of May. My lady’s graduation was top of mind, while re-integrating into America, jet-lag, culture shock, etc. were background accompaniment. For my primary daily activity, I resorted to reading. And lots of it. It’s been an interesting time for me, as a guy who typically spends most of his waking hours with people, to shut off from the telephone and most email in favor of article after article after article. Did I mention I’ve considered myself mostly a non-reader since college (if not slightly before)?

Turns out I love reading. I’ve had a blast and have been very content to spend most of my days alone. Reading. Thinking.

It was Andrew Chen who provided my time-to-start-blogging tipping point in his post, “New college grads: Don’t sell your time for a living.” It’s worth the read and much of the article resonates with me as a person who has pursued non-traditional employment from the day I entered the workforce. But it was the part about learning to make something – and the fact that blogs are something you make – that hooked me.

Reading further, I appreciated Andrew’s note on the time it takes to make something great, and his mention of an Ira Glass quote, originally from the Underground, on starting as a beginner:

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.”

In some ways, it all should be intuitive, right? Finding a meaningful writing niche has a great degree of difficulty. It is followed by questions such as: why write, to whom do you write, about what do you write, etc. I expect it should be painfully obvious that blogging is hard, it is a skill, it is something you make. And sometimes to make something great, you need to start over.

And that challenge was enough to push me over the edge.

At the end of the day, I’m not here looking to develop blog skills. But I am quite keen to find my voice. I’ve spent nine years neglecting my English writing voice in favor of things like improving my Chinese language skills and practicing business. The past decade plus has brought me to places I could never have imagined, many of them far from home. I’ve made it by not being afraid to explore, to take a risk, to try, and to fail. And as I continue on this journey to find my place in this world, I return to spend some time in my home country, and return to a medium of expression I used to practice daily. Thanks for joining me for this segment of my travels to find my voice, to find a niche. I am ready to write.