Kyoto: A Random Act of Kindness

I loved the Random Hacks of Kindness event that happened last year, sponsored by tech heavyweights including Microsoft and Google, to bring together a community of developers and geeks to work on the Big Problems of our time.

I’m not actually sure where the concept of “random acts of kindness” first came from (anyone?), but I just got recruited to the cause, after an elderly angel came to my rescue in Kyoto.

The thing about tropical weather, see, is that it can pelt it down without so much as a by your leave. You might think I’d be somewhat prepared for this, what with living in increasingly inhospitable New York. And as it happens, I was very proud of myself for traveling with an umbrella. Only I didn’t actually have said umbrella with me on the morning in question. In fact, I was a number of miles away from it when the heavens opened and I found myself doing an extremely convincing impression of a drowning rat. (The picture above is not blurry because I’m a bad photographer, but because it was pouring with rain.)

Anyway, skip over the part where I attempted to find out where the nearest train station was, only I’d overlooked the fact that I don’t know the Japanese words for either “train” or “station,” which led to a supremely awkward encounter with a man who’d clearly have loved to help if only I could tell him what in god’s name I needed. And skip to the bit where I’m squelching down the street in a state that’s by now bordering on hysterical laughter at how ridiculous this is/I am.

Suddenly, a woman passing by grabs me by the arm, yelling at me in Japanese. Then she points at her umbrella, at which I nod and agree that it’s a lovely umbrella and she’s very lucky. Then she drags me about 100 yards up the road, yelling all the way, which if universal body language/tone are anything to go by includes telling me I’m a very silly girl to get caught in this storm and what the hell do I think I’m playing at, which isn’t really a sentiment I feel I can argue with, to be honest, so I agree busily. And then we get to this hole in the wall alcove, which has a glass counter but not much else, and she drags me under the awning and promptly reaches underneath the counter to pull out a bucket of umbrellas, the big show off. And then she hands me one. At which point I do have a phrase that works: “How much is it?” at which she shrieks again and shakes her head and near enough shoos me out of her shop and back into the rain. At which point the language breakdown happens all over again, with me repeating incessantly, I think, “I’m very well, thank you very much” and heading on my way, squelching off down the street, warm in heart that people really are, in essence, pretty great. I was too bedraggled, befuddled and other words beginning with “be-” to get a photo of my rescuer, but instead, above, a shot of my very beloved, very most favorite souvenir, very pistachio-colored umbrella.

All a long way of saying that I clearly have some karma to repay. So watch out random tourist in distress in NYC. I surely won’t have a bucket of umbrellas on me, but I’ve totally got your cab fare.


2 thoughts on “Kyoto: A Random Act of Kindness

  1. Thanks for this. Lovely.
    As for origins, it’s hard to watch one chimp grooming another and not think that perhaps we came by this desire naturally.
    Looking forward to more.

  2. My visit to Kyoto was also a rainy one but my Japanese boss at the time told me that there is a saying in Japanese that you are lucky to visit Kyoto in the rain as you sometimes have the amazing temples and small alleys to yourself. Glad yours included a good Samaritan.

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