When I Was an Accidental Hero

January 20, 2012

Two train stops from my neighborhood, and I am sitting next to a woman who gathers her bags preparing to disembark. In typical Beijing fashion, a woman hovers shamelessly, maneuvering her child into the seat the instant it is vacated. She is quite pretty, and I steal discreet glances at her as I scroll through the emails on my cell phone and wonder if she is a Westerner or wealthy. There’s just something about her confident, non-passive stance that makes her stand out on this crowded train.

I notice her eight-ish-year-old peering over my shoulder. “Can you read English?” I smile at him. He shakes his head no. “I can’t read Chinese either,” I say. He smiles. His mom smiles. Suddenly, they lock eyes, and pounce onto the backpack in his lap. “IPad,” they say, both digging furiously through the bag. “It’s in English,” they say, peeling back its nifty magnetic cover and punching in the password. “Could you switch it to Chinese!??” Their earnestness is adorable. She adds: “My little sister just sent it to him with a friend from England.”


My station was now only one stop away. I take the iPad in hand. “Let me think,” I said, a little bit stressed about fulfilling this apparently earnest wish before the train pulled into Andingmen Station, but somehow they had already figured out that the option should be under the “General” menu. I scrolled down, quickly located the language option, and tapped my finger on it. The option for simplified Chinese appeared. “It’s this one!” they pointed together. “Thank you! Thank you so much!” I was laughing, insisting it was no problem at all, heading for the opening train doors. “Thank you! Bye bye! Thank you!” they called out after me. And somehow, I felt like a rock star.

If only there were many such tiny problems to bring strangers into friendly contact.


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