I’ve always been fascinated by flash friendships – those chance encounters with strangers that range in length from mere seconds to hours that can change you forever. These past two weeks, these types of friendships were not only what made the trip more spontaneous and educational, they were the most meaningful. Over time the palaces and museums began to all look the same, but the people and conversation remained distinct in my memory.
When I travel I actively pursue conversations with strangers. And with this trip to Korea culminating in an extended layover in Japan, I spent the last 36 hours meeting a handful of people that left me in awe. As some people know, I’m an impatient person. I hate waiting. I’ve never had to wait more than 45 minutes on a plane before taking off, and in those instances I was positively itching to leave. This time, however, I sat in a plane for over 4 hours before taking off. They didn’t let us off that plane (for over 14 hours in total, and as curveball after curveball was chucked at us (caterer and engine problems), we waited, not knowing when our plane would take flight.
Sounds like a nightmare, right? But it’s funny - it was actually the most fun I’ve ever had on a plane. It felt like I was living in a summer camp. Because most of us had been volunteers who gave up their seats for a free night in a hotel and giant travel voucher, we all had something in common and the sort of impulsive, bright personalities that made it easy to chat with one another. By the end of the flight, we were all chatting voraciously like we were long-lost friends. But we weren’t, so when we said goodbye, it was goodbye.
People I met on this particular Japanese layover:
The Canadian – Chris was the guy that I volunteered my seat with pre-Japan adventures. He was a tall and extremely buff guy with a serious hangover. We kept each other company as the negotiations and paperwork took place, and planned to stay up for the next 24 hours in Tokyo and exploring Japan. He’d traveled throughout Southeast Asia and was ready to go pass out for about 80 hours. But after we got to the hotel, I was ready to eat all night in the buffet and pass out, and he, conversely, was all ready again to go rage in Tokyo all night. Major kudos to that trooper. We saw him the next afternoon looking like absolute shit. But I know it was worth it. He got to pass out on the plane for the solid 14 hours. He was the epitome of YOLO.
The High School Teacher - He was a 21-year old trapped in a 55-year old man’s body. He booked a one-way fight to Dubai, leaving his entire family, to go on a solo trip around whoknowswhere. He ended up chilling in Japan because of a canceled flight to Houston. He was impulsive, intense, and a little sketch. I chatted with him and a university professor for over 3 hours at the dinner buffet. We argued. A lot. About shallow things and about deep things. About things I wouldn’t want to argue with anyone about because those things ruin relationships. But somehow we still liked each other at the end of the night.
He analyzed my handwriting and said a few things that were quite unnerving. Some things he said were pure BS. But overall it was interesting to hear what he had to say. The sketch part - after telling him the front desk guy requested that I cancel my Tokyo plans to drink with him, High School Teacher put his arm around me and then marched around the lobby to make the poor guy see. It didn’t work - front desk guy still contacted me afterwards and I was very honest about my gigantic headache and inability to consciously spend time with him after his shift. High School Teacher also only called me “sweetheart” or “Stanford”. Cooooool. I did like him though. Had a big personality. Confided in me some things about his beliefs and personality flaws. He showed me that finding yourself and being adventurous doesn’t end when you have a family. I wouldn’t pull what he did (felt like abandonment to me), but it shed new light on a fear I had about settling down.
Cal girl - Katherine and I met through High School Teacher. He introduced her as “Berkeley” and me, “Stanford”. #obnoxious. But she was a total badass and we hung out all day exploring Narita, the temple, and the rest of the little town. It was like having a really good friend but without having had years of history. We’re still friends and are hanging out when I move up to SF. She’s just awesome.
The model - Peyton was this 15-year old, gorgeous, leggy girl from Missouri who had just spent 6.5 weeks modeling in Japan for W magazine (it’s a secret! she announced to the plane). Her mom was an absolute tiger Jewish mother. Katherine and I watched them interact with awe. Peyton had none of the snobbery attitude I’d expected from someone who was so successful so young. I’d watch for her - she’s going places.
There are more people that I met over the course of those 36 hours (a CS guy from Boston, etc) but the ones listed above made the greatest impact on me.
How strange is it that in just 36 hours a group of people can become so close, and also so quickly remove themselves from each other’s lives. Flash friendships are the best.