Today by sheer coincidence, I chose to go to my storage facility to sort out the things I wanted to bring back to Singapore when my time in the USA ends (It is an unhappy situation. I'd rather not talk about it now, or maybe [Edit: meant to say "maybe" on the first write, but somehow lost it. I've revealed part of it in the comments section already] ever). Taking my bicycle out for the last time to be put aside the dumpster, I gently told her "I hope someone finds you and makes good use of you." Then, as I brought a second load of things I wished to dispose of, a car with a family of 5 pulls up and the dad heads over to the dumpster and the bike. Now, this is common. Some people will take the Sunday to look at the trash heaps of storage facilities. Some look for anything that is valuable and can be salvaged, others look for still-functioning stuff they needed. I helpfully pointed out that the bike was mine and could do with a new home. It felt great, their youngest son was very excited about it. It was clear that would be his bike.
And then I walked back to my unit to clear more stuff. On seeing the bike helmet and lock there, I quickly took it up to hand it over to the family before they left. And then it struck me - here was a chance to also get rid of the furniture I would have no use of after I am gone. So I asked "I do have some stuff I'd be getting rid of, if you'd like to take a look."
And they did. It turned out to be a very fortuitous encounter. They had actually been on their way to a furniture place to put down a deposit for the very type of stuff I was giving away. The mother asked how much I wanted for them and I said "They are yours for free."
What followed was in my own 26 years of living in Singapore, atypical of my experiences with complete strangers there. First, it turned out all my things could be of use to them. The mother was a Sociology major graduate student with the University and the couple has 5 (!!!) children, one of them nearing college age himself. They could all do with the stuff I was giving away (except - I gently explained to their youngest son, my DVDs and books). While they made arrangements to have their vehicle prepared for multiple trips to take most of the big stuff, I chatted quite a bit with the mother about what we both do in academia and about life. She spoke of the pressures of graduate school on family life that resonated with me. My own experiences were somewhat less congenial, but she told me how her academic boss was very supportive of her slowing down her career as a graduate student to keep the family going. That kind of support is rare, particularly in Singapore. We agreed it would be nice to exchange our contact information so they can get more of my stuff as and when I no longer needed them. They also offered to help me move all the books and documents I had wanted to sort at the facility to my apartment, so it is easier to do the sorting. That was a great help. Much of the annoyance had been to walk the few miles to the facility from my apartment each weekend to perform that task.
As it neared lunch time, they invited me to go with them for lunch as the kids were feeling hungry. They treated and I put up token resistance :). They dropped their kids off at their apartment, and showed me their place. Their teenage sons were back and so they were able to help out with moving a big chunk of my furniture from the storage unit later. They were wonderful people. It was clear from the start they couldn't take everything on the same day, but the father was so kind as to ask when I had to pay the next month's rent on the storage. He was thinking I could save some money on the rent if they could help me move out the rest before that time. I told him it was ok, I hadn't planned for it but it was also not a rush for me. Whatever worked for both of us was good enough.
So, I had a wonderful and inspirational win-win encounter today. I think we'd all love to stay in touch over the longer term if we can. This scenario has been repeated for me over my time here in the USA with complete strangers. Sometimes with shared experiences, sometimes through a window of coincidence as is this one. They have all felt comfortable, and they have all been good memories whether we keep in contact or otherwise. Very atypical of my experiences in Singapore, for one reason or another. Makes my eventual departure poignant. I will miss this country very much.