Back in February, I was passing through the Detroit airport when I walked past a Chinese couple struggling to get some information from a United Airlines agent. I could tell there was a language problem and that they were worried. I wasn’t in a hurry and for some reason felt that maybe I could help, so with my poor Chinese I stuck my nose into the conversation. I eventually figured out that they were confused about their luggage because when they came through Detroit from China, they had to pick it up and take it through customs to get it checked onto their next flight, and now they worried that something had gone wrong since they weren’t doing the same again with the luggage they had checked at another city. I explained that the luggage would be put on their plane to China and that they didn’t need to do anything else or worry about their luggage (fingers crossed). That solved the problem. Like many Chinese people, they were extremely gracious. We exchanged cards and they told me that if I ever come to Shanghai, please look them up. That was before I had any idea that I was going to Shanghai. We stayed in touch and my wife and I did take them up on the offer.
That little encounter led not only to only of the best dinners ever with the couple and their friend a couple weeks ago, but led to a marvelous day yesterday where I had the privilege of speaking to a group of about 60 engineering students and professors in a seminar in intellectual property on the beautiful campus of the Shanghai University of Engineering Science, where one of those two strangers in Detroit is a professor. And that speaking engagement led to a dinner invitation with another group of people, a wonderful Taiwanese family, some of whom are living in Shanghai. The dinner, once again, was one of the best ever. Chinese food is terrific, but especially when a) there is a large group of people so many dishes can be ordered and sampled, and b) a Chinese person does the ordering and selects the restaurant.
So many blessings came from a few minutes of trying to help a couple of strangers in Detroit. It’s a terribly selfish thought, but I have to wonder how many other wonderful experiences I’ve missed by walking past people who could have used a hand for a minute or two? The bigger question is how much more good might I have done if I had just paid attention or had the courage or compassion to stop and help? Sometimes all that is needed is a few words of guidance, not hours or resources we don’t have. Some of my most frustrating moments were or could have been resolved with a touch of kindness from a passing stranger.