As I was walking down an unfamiliar street downtown and closely following the map on my phone, an elderly man appeared by my side and started chatting with me, telling me enthusiastically about the buildings around us — their histories and the current events held there. He was a disheveled-looking man. Over the course of our one-hour talk, I noticed that his shirt and pants were tattered and torn, and that he walked with a limp. He looked like a homeless person, or perhaps someone who lived in a very run-down place. He struck me as an INTP who’s been down in the dumps for some time, and reminded me of Vivian Maier, especially in her later years of deterioration.
He spoke in Mandarin so I tried to speak using as much Mandarin as I could, though with much difficulty and interspersed with English. He used as much English as he could too. Despite the language barrier, I felt comfortable talking with him.
Him: Which country are you from?
Me: I’m from here. 我是xx人。
He asked where I was heading and offered to show me where it was since he was heading in that direction as well. He asked if I’d seen this building and that building, whether I knew about their histories, and whether I’d like to see them. I went along with him since I wasn’t in a hurry and he seemed knowledgeable and genuinely excited to show me around.
Our small talk then turned to a deeper conversation about life. He enquired some things about me, and when I asked “你呢?”, he gave lengthy responses, though evasive (typical of INTPs). But it didn’t matter to me. It wasn’t necessary to know the details about him. He didn’t seem like a local even though the way he was talking about the buildings made him seem like one.
Him: What’s the happiest day of your life?
Me: Uhh… 很难说。
Him: Then what’s the saddest day of your life?
Me: (looks off into the distance, pondering the question) 那…… 那就很多。
Him: Ohh… life is like that. [Some Chinese proverb.] I feel like I want to give you a hug. Can we hug?
Me: Aww, sure.
He proceeded to tell me that I was very different, that I was mature, that I understood so much — much more than most. There were strong notions about the pitifulness of life in his words.
Me: 你可以这样想，especially when you think of wars and things like that. 可是，we can try to make things better.
When we reached my destination, I decided to ask him a revealing question about himself. I knew he would find it alarming and invasive, but I just had to find out if my intuition was right.
Me: 你做画画吗？Do you do art?
Him: (gets taken aback, looks to the ground, seems like he’s going to evade the question but then decides to look up and say,) 我以前做 calligraphy，可是现在没有了。
Me: (gives a nod of comprehension)
We hung around and talked for a bit more, thanking each other for the conversation. Then, he dropped a bomb.
He asked if I had $10 to spare.
I was completely flabbergasted and said, “What?!”
While he explained that he needed it for things like transportation and food, I tried to wrap my mind around the entire situation.
“Is this why you talked to me?” I asked.
Because of my reaction, he started saying that it was okay, that our conversation was more than he could ask for, that he was glad to have met me.
“I want to help, but I’m sorry, I don’t like giving money.” I told him.
I ransacked my mind thinking how I could go about it in a better way. I thought about getting him a transit card but we weren’t anywhere near a station. I thought about heading to a grocery store with him and purchasing whatever he needed, but the closest store was like a 7-11, which was better than nothing. I was thinking about suggesting that, but as it became awkward between us, he made an excuse, affirmed that “it’s okay”, then made a quick exit while I stood there stunned and puzzling over the whole exchange.
Whatever his primary motive was, I believe we had a genuine conversation and connection. I still think about him from time to time, and worry about how he’s doing. I’d be eager to chat with him if I were to see him again.
He just might have been a fellow unhealthy 5. I can’t help but think if that’s how I’ll be if I fall further down the rabbit hole. I wonder if I already resemble that in some way.
It’s amazing how these sort of interactions and connections uplift my mood, yet the underlying sadness persists.