This kind of story often seems to happen to me.
On one of our last days in Valencia, Spain where my wife, Meryl, and I had spent the summer, we were returning from last-minute shopping at the famous Central Market, one of our favorite spots in the city.
At 11 am, since it was already 88 degrees (31° C), we decided to take the bus back to our apartment. We were lucky to get seats because the #32 bus is the one which travels from the downtown historic area through our neighborhood and then on toward the Mediterranean beaches.
Sitting immediately in front of us was an older Asian man who was fanning himself with a strangely interesting fan, but not like the usual abanicos that are used by Spanish women on hot days. It had unusual rose paintings on the front and Chinese lettering on the back.
As the bus filled up, an older lady boarded the bus and the Asian man moved his packages to allow her to sit next to him.
She admired his fan, first determining that he understood Spanish. After acknowledging that he spoke Spanish, he immediately offered her the fan. At first, she refused politely, but he insisted. You could tell by her reaction that she was going to treasure this gift from a perfect stranger.
A few minutes later, the Asian man signaled to the driver that he was getting off at the next stop which happened to be our stop. Since he was carrying some very heavy bags of groceries from a Chinese market, I offered to help him.
As we were getting off the bus, he proceeded to tell me his whole life story!
He was 72 years old, originally from Saigon, Viet Nam but had escaped by boat during the Viet Nam war to Hong Kong. He had emigrated to Spain 24 years ago because of some Chinese friends. While there are many Chinese people in Spain, he explained to us that there were very few Vietnamese people in Spain because most of them wound up choosing France as they left Asia. This is partly because of the historical connection of France and Vietnam.
Our friend told us that he has several daughters, one of whom works with his wife in their nail salon which was directly across the street from our apartment.
After we helped him bring his packages to his apartment which was about five blocks in the opposite direction from us, he invited us upstairs. I was surprised that Meryl went along with me so willingly since she is usually much more cautious than I am with strangers. He offered us water, tea and cookies and then he walked over to a cabinet on the other side of the room and took out some things to show us.
“One fan for each of you.” He continued by giving us each a beautiful silk Chinese shirt and pants.
“My gift to you,” he explained in very heavily accented Spanish, “for helping me so nicely.” We sat and talked and he gave us details about how he had fled Saigon in the late 70s during the boat crisis and how he had lived in Hong Kong for several years before coming to Spain.
As we left his apartment, he walked with us back to our neighborhood because he wanted us to meet his wife and daughter at their nail shop. While there, he again thanked us effusively for helping him. We in turn told him how much we enjoyed the experience of meeting him and how much we appreciated our unexpected gifts.
I wish that this experience wouldn’t have happened on one of our last days in Valencia. I would have liked to have gotten to know our new friend better.