Walking along the busy streets of Kowloon in Hong Kong last week, I spent a few moments consciously telling myself to remember to walk on the other side of the road.
Back home, we drive on the right hand side. In Hong Kong, they drive on the left. At a busy street where locals walk, when we find our trajectories intersect, my instinct would be to shift to the right. Which is the precise location they would shift to. We would bump heads and end up doing the cha-cha dance of passing.
It was often embarrassing. So at the start of each journey, I would talk to myself, “shift to the left, shift to the left.” A mantra that felt unnatural, but i felt was a necessity if I was to avoid crashing into other people. This was vacation, a time to enjoy and have fun. Not a time to spend bulldozing into crowds and getting into arguments.
I was doing a fairly good job of passing when I saw this lady on the sidewalk. She was looking at a map, apparently searching for a location. It was also obvious that our trajectories would meet.
Dutifully following the mantra in my head, I started to shift to the left… and upon sensing our imminent crash, she jinked… to my left too.
We did the cha-cha dance of passing, both of us profusely apologizing.
And she laughed. “I never could figure out which way to go,” she said. “I’m a tourist here.”
“So am I,” I said. And with these words we amiably parted ways.
Sometimes in life, we find that many people by unspoken rule, decide that passing should be on one side, rather than the other. We agree to this convention because, by necessity, it avoids head-on collisions.
We should, however, realize that not everybody know these unspoken street rules. Or maybe sometimes they don’t agree that there should be any rules at all. Inevitably, there would be collisions.
What saves us during these collisions is the attitude of graciousness… the ability to apologize first with humor and love.
We must accept that we do not really own the paths we walk. We can follow the paths that we choose, but we must not impose on others that ours is the one true path.
In the end, aren’t we all just tourists here?