Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trust on the Road

(Street view in Alfama district, Lisbon)

In “The Ministry of Fear,” a novel set in World War II England, the author Graham Greene wrote, “It is impossible to go through life without trust: That is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.”

Unfortunately, most people are so concerned with protecting their fragile egos that they simply can’t get themselves to risk opening up in order to initiate genuine trust. In the bittersweet process of growing up, the innocent non-existing ego of an infant gradually becomes fragile under one after the other negative shocks, which could be betrayal, cheating, wrongdoing, or simply a broke-up relationship.

In the country level, see what happened in the world in the recent two months? The Orlando shooting, the Nice attack, the Turkish coup, an EU dissolving, a Middle East on fire... every morning some headline news shocked the world. I initially followed those reports and even comments till I was so sick and refused to read any hatred and hostility!

In such a turmoil world, I especially cherish the peace in my little office and the tranquility walking in Georgetown alleys. I also often recall the kindness and trust from strangers I deeply felt in my recent journey to Portugal.

(In a parking lot, Lisbon)

I went to Portugal for the FIRS conference. Since I had trips right before and after the conference which were also in Europe, I got some in-between free time to see Porto and Lisbon. Needless to say, I encountered all sorts of people.

(street performer, Lisbon)

(curious travelers)

(Old-fashioned photographer with his ad.)

I have one whole week in Lisbon, so I rented a 2-BR flat from Airbnb. It's an apartment in a historical building, with high ceilings, an iron-cast balcony, Rococo-style reliefs, and renovated with modern furniture and kitchen, even having a home theater. It is one of the best apartments I ever rented in Airbnb, but the total cost is still far lower than the conference hotel.

(homemade breakfast)

With more time on the road over years, I are inclined to make each visiting place a local 'home'. Living in an Airbnb is part of such experience. I enjoy going to local grocery stores, buying fresh vegetables, eggs, yogurt, fruits, and cooking myself a lovely breakfast. On a luminous morning after the conference, I carried with me from the farmers market the colorful beauty of the sun-- the shiny pink cherries full of juice under their transparent skins.


(in the harbor, Lisbon)

Continuing the shareconomy experience in Airbnb, I also used Uber for most transportation in Lisbon. Each driver has his/her own story.  I was quite surprised for the depth and diversity of the topic. Our dialogues usually started with "how do you like being a Uber driver?" Very often I found people have a strong willing of telling.

One told me that he was debating to wait for the public service in treating his disease, or paying 50,000 euros out of pocket for a private treatment, which was a lot of money for him. He was so glad to have the disease fixed sooner and then he drove Uber to partially cover the expense. We then had a discussion comparing the insurance system in Portugal and in USA.

The other straightly told me that he was in the process of fighting for skin cancer. He felt driving Uber and occasionaly talking to passengers with diverse backgrounds helped distract his intense attention, and he now had more optimism and confidence on life... Fortunately, the cancer was well under control and he was recovering.


(maybe talk to a dog?)

I always wonder why they could be so honest with me, a stranger? Yes, maybe because I am a stranger, risk is low that I can have any overlapping with their lives.

Fundamentally, we all have our own vulnerabilities and we need a listener, a role sometimes cannot be served by those intimate in our life like parents or partners.

For me, those Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts are also strangers. I think heavily of their trust. I am deeply indebted to them for hosting me with their own homes! I am grateful to their trust to take good care of their homes. I always do cleaning and restore the apartment in the same condition as I take it. I am also grateful to those who share with me their life stories. Their words resound in my heart and encourage me to embrace the world with more appreciation. Meanwhile, I also become a good listener. 

The world is full of disagreement, pain and error. I may not fix them, but I will always be a listener. Listen to the world, and listen to people whom I know and I don't. Most people are kind and inclined to trust strangers; the world is not only those negative news reported in the media. 

Being a listener. Being understanding. Being empathic. This is what I want to become in this world.

(Photo taken at a ruin site, Porto, Portugal)

More articles on trust:
                              Alone and Together

More articles on Portugal:
                              O Porto!
                              Azulejos: once upon a tile

Photographed by Jennie Bai.
Copyright ©Jennie Bai. All Rights Reserved.

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