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During the course of the last two years, I’ve met countless people. Most have been completely forgettable and some have been what Tyler Durden in Fight Club called “single serving friends”. Someone you might talk to for an evening or hangout with for a day and then you and them go your separate ways. At best you might friend each other on Facebook. Most probably, you will never see or hear from them again. There is a good chance you never even got each others names.
Most of the people I meet I never mention because there isn’t really anything to say. Some like Arun in Oman, Peter in Cairns, Susan in Fiji, and others deserve special mention. As it is usually the case now, most of the people I meet are readers of the blog or follow me on Twitter. Occasionally, however, I meet someone special, totally unexpected and out of the blue. That was the case in Paris when I ran into June.
June just happened to be standing in front of me in line for tickets at Versailles. If there had been another person between us in line, I never would have met her. The line was exceptionally long and after some point we started up a conversation. June is Chinese and immigrated to Australia several years ago to pursue her masters and PhD, which she recently completed. She is currently teaching at the University of New South Wales and spent three weeks traveling around Europe. Paris was her last stop. The day I left Paris was the day she flew back to Sydney. Like most Chinese who have to deal with westerners, June is not her given name, (real Chinese name is Zhiqiong) but most English speakers can’t pronounce it properly, so I’ll stick with June.
After getting our tickets and standing in line for 90 minutes, we ended up spending the rest of our time in Versailles together taking photos and just chewing the fat as we walked around the gardens desperately trying to find out where and when the water show was taking place. (we ended up missing it). After that we took the train back to Paris and ended up getting dinner at a French/Vietnamese fusion restaurant with her friend Gordan who was also from Australia and who was in Paris for a conference. She poured us water while explaining that in China it is the woman’s role to pour water for the men, which of course made us both pour water for her later on which she didn’t object to at all.
We agreed to meet up again the next day at the Eiffel Tower at 10am. Avoiding the enormous long lines for the elevator we walked to the first and second levels of the tower and eventually went up to the very top. After visiting the tower we crossed the river and had lunch near Avenue President Wilson where we talked about China. She was an attorney in China before moving to Australia and I learned more about China during an hour of lunch than I had on the rest of my trip, even though I think she was frustrated trying to explain things to me at times.
After lunch we walked towards the Louvre and visited the Musée de l’Orangerie to look at Monet’s Water Lillies and had a chocolate crepe with banana. Afterword, we headed to the subway and we each went to our respective hotels. I didn’t have a cell phone so she couldn’t contact me and I couldn’t contact her. I was kicking myself for not arranging to meet up with her for dinner that evening.
And that was it.
Total time from running into her at Versailles to parting ways in the metro was bout 30 hours. It was a friendship with the lifespan of a mayfly, and sadly it couldn’t have been any other way. If circumstances were any different, even slightly, we never would have met. If I had taken 30 seconds more in getting from the train to the line in Versailles, we would have missed each other. If she had stopped to pick up a coin, she would have been in a different spot in line.
The most memorable things you experience when traveling are the things you can’t plan for. You can check off all the places in your guidebook, but the things you will remember most are the ones which are the result of serendipity.