a writing by Elizabeth Padillo Olesen

Encounter at the Crossroads

It was in that boring flight from Kathmandu via Bangkok to USA. The Thai carrier, TG 312, had to stop by Tokyo for refuelling and to pick up more passengers. I had scanned through the magazine, Sawasdee, and some newspapers provided. Still the seat beside me was empty. The passenger next to it was an old man who could not speak English. I had tried communicating with him through signs. It was fun but I wished there could be a person next to my seat with whom I could freely talk to.

Streams of passengers started coming in. A young guy, whom I thought was Korean, occupied the empty seat. Comfortably seated, he smiled at me and asked if I were a Thai. I said, “No, I come from the Philippines and now is working in Nepal with my husband".

He asked me to repeat the word “Nepal” as if he was unable to correctly hear it. But then he said, “Nepal, where it is?”I got the map from the magazine and showed to him the country as surrounded by Tibet, China and India.

I asked if he had heard about Mt. Everest and of Gautama Buddha. And he said.”Yes”.
I responded, “Well, that makes Nepal a significant country though small in size.”

The course of conversation went on further, touching on work and family. He is Mr. Lee, a Chinese working in Japan, an electrical engineer employed in a computer company and visiting his friend in Canada. I told him I was on my way to a church conference in San Antonio, Texas. The newspapers placed behind the seat in front of us showed the headline of some Chinese students at Tiananmen Square with their cry for democracy and their putting up the “goddess of liberty” with the police force on the scene.I asked him about his opinion about it. He simply shook his head, pointing out some trouble in the future, and his own seeming insecurity in Japan.

It was time for me to write some of my impressions on my notebook. Then suddenly, I showed to him how his name could be written in Nepali script. I told him I had started studying the Nepali language and found it very interesting. I asked him too to write his name in Chinese character. I shared that Nepali language is much easier and simpler than Chinese language because it has only 36 alphabets. In a very friendly manner, he asked me to write my name and how it could be written in Nepali.

Then the meal was served. Closing my eyes, I paused in silence saying a prayer of thanks before my tray of food. When I opened my eyes, he shook my elbow and laughed. “Please, tell me what did you do?”
Then I asked him, “Is it your first time seeing a person bowing before food?”
He said, “yes”.
“Really!” I exclaimed in great surprise and joined laughing with him.
“You must have heard about Christians and the church in China or in Japan!”, I added.
“Yes,” he responded, “but I have never met one”.

I tried to explain. “Well, I prayed. I thank God for food and asked him to take care of my child and husband, to bless those farmers and workers who have made this food possible. Also, I prayed that God will give us a safe journey in this flight.”

“Oh, it’s good you prayed for this flight”. That time the plane started to move restlessly because of some turbulence or storm. And I could see his friendly smiling face, not mocking at me, but a smile of wonder at something strange which for him was useful given the restless movements of the plane and the impending chaos at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.

one of my old write-ups from my folder in Nepal

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