Rob and ET

SYNOPSIS:  About a chance encounter while transiting to Kathmandu.

The international section of the Lhasa airport is a bit sleepy to say the least.  Only one flight departs from Lhasa every day that qualifies as “international”: the flight to Kathmandu, the capital of neighboring Nepal.

In my panic to arrive on time, I had gotten “the boys” on the road by 6 AM.  We arrived in Lhasa at 8:30.  No sign of life anywhere.  Officially, the doors of the airport were to open at 9 AM.  By 9:15 somebody with a key appeared.  Until 10 AM, a group of Germans, a scruffy and happily exhausted looking bunch of guys who had actually climbed Mount Everest (!), and a few single travelers, myself included, just waited around. 

When by 10 AM things began to move, we were surprised by an extra-thorough luggage check.  One by one our luggage was screened at the ticket counter and every other traveler was summoned to either explain some of the content of the luggage or remove something that was deemed inappropriate, such as a phone charger right there on the spot.  Imagine the pace at which the ticket line moved.

Anyhow, once we finally arrived at the waiting room at Gate 1 — who needs more than one gate for one flight per day — I tried to purchase a small bag of cookies.  Out in the real world, I would have had plenty of money to pay for it, but the few RMBs left in my pocket got me nowhere at the inflated airport prices.  A drop-dead gorgeous gay guy stood next to me in line for a cup of coffee and found himself in the same situation.  I handed my money over to him with a smile.  At least one of us could afford something now.

Before I knew it, he returned with his coffee and a spare cup, ready to share his purchase.  We started to chat.  He was traveling for three months “to find God”!   

Between the Shamans of Peru and the Lamas of Lhasa, he had been searching for God and he tried to learn about core concepts of various religions.  I assured him that as an agnostic I was of no help in the searching-for-god department, but that I knew a thing or two about a religion or two, or perhaps even three, should he have questions. 

Until the plane left an hour later, and for another hour and a half after we landed in Kathmandu, we engaged in a deep and stimulating conversation about the religions of the world, as if we had known each other for ages.   And then we parted, taking a picture of each other and perhaps … we will never see each other again.

But then, he and his husband live in Grosse Pointe, Michigan!  Who knows?  They might some day show up for dinner!

That’s what I love about traveling: chance encounters like this.  The most interesting people are out on the road, and unlike home, where perhaps a smile is all that is exchanged on the street with a stranger, when you travel, you connect in ways that break through all those distancing social barriers in no time.   And you connect at a deep human core level.

We should do more of this in “real” life!