Today, I did something that was worth patting myself on the back for. I, a map idiot gave directions to guide a London tourist to get to Buckingham Palace from Victoria Coach Station!! When I confidently sent the non-English speaking tourist on his way, there was this warm fuzzy feeling in my heart.
What's the BIG deal, you might think?
I grew up in a city with modern architecture
Let me formally introduce myself. I was born and bred in Singapore and I grew up in a city where the roads are mostly well-defined and look almost proportional to the maps. Singapore is a modern city and streets and roads are mostly properly planned by the government. I never got properly lost before growing up.
However, when I moved to London and began my trips around Europe, I came to a (unwilling) realization that I'm a map idiot and another three years to finally admit it to myself and my friends.
Before, I used to believe mastering map reading was just a matter of practice. Just like the basketballers' shooting drill. Where they would practise shooting off the dribble, shooting from the penalty spot and shooting a three pointer.
The frequent frustrations a map idiot face
Unfortunately, it didn't happen like that. No matter how many times I tried, whenever I have to get to a new "foreign" location. I still face the same problems.
I dislike to go to unfamiliar areas when I'm rushing for time. And I'm almost late for any appointment in a new location even if I'm using my Google maps. Before the digital age, I struggled with reconciling the roads and the images on the maps.
In the digital age when the GPS is not always functioning at 100% accuracy, I often end up going in a couple of rounds in an area before arriving at my destination.
It's extremely frustrating for me especially when I'm running late and I still have no idea where I am. There were frequent moments of despair and I was often very angry at my own helplessness. Even if I have my phone or a map with me.
Why? Why me??
The only redeeming fact is, after I get lost in the "foreign" spot, circulating around the same area two to three times, I become familarized with the area. Yes, the map of the area stays in my head. So I never get lost in that same area again.
When others offer a helping hand
That's the precisely the reason, whenever I get strangers who stop what they are doing and warmly come forward to offer their help,
I'm always extremely grateful. When unsolicited help descends on me, someone who take out moments of their precious time to aid a stranger.
Once I was in Berlin standing in the middle of the street and looking around whilst checking my map, a local came up to me and asked, "Do you need help?" Those words were music to my ears.
Without folks like that local, I would probably have to stand around in the cold for a long time whilst pulling my heavy luggage around with me.
On another occasion I was visiting a friend in west London. It was a dark, rainy and cold Saturday evening. I was holding my brolly in the middle of a four way traffic junction, unsure which roads to take. People were walking very quickly, minding their own business, presumably on their way to their evening activities.
I deliberated if it was time to ask for help and if so, who should I stop? Lost in my own thoughts, I had a pleasant surprise when a kind lady stopped in front of me and uttered those magical words, "Do you need help?" I was moved.
At those moments, I firmly believe kindness still exist in this world.
Passing the kindness forward
And today was one of those days where I had the opportunity to pass the kindness forward. I was going for a weekend getaway and was heading for the Victoria Coach Station. As I exited Victoria tube station - an area where I was lost more than once in the past, I spotted a middle aged man with a piece of luggage, holding his city map and comparing it to the map on the tube station wall.
I hesitated at first because with my past experience, I wasn't confident of offering the right help.
For all I know, I could end up sending the poor man in the wrong direction.
Still, I overcame my reservations and stepped forward. He could only speak spatters of English and wanted to get to Buckingham Palace and St James Park. It took me a while to figure out our bearings on the map and identify where we were.
I heaved a silent relief when I spotted the two touristy location on the map and planned out a simple path for him to get on his way.
Reading maps is one of my greatest weakness. I still experience moments of dismay and disappointment at myself when I still find myself lost despite advance planning.
Yet, today, I was elated. I was able to offer some warmth and support to a tourist at 6.30am on a cold Friday autumn morning.