The other night I went to a TED talk (which I’ll be writing more about later). Halfway through this foreigner joins us. I never met him but he seemed to know many of the people there, and he joined in the discussion and activities. Afterwards the whole group walked to a nearby pub and we ended up walking next to each other. We did the whole “learn about the other foreigner” thing. Turns out we have both lived in the area for 4 years, both had been learning chinese by ourselves and had many of the same friends. We just never ran into each other.
“I’m American,” he said. “From Connecticut.”
Now, I tell everyone I’m from New Hampshire, but I spent the first 18 years of my life in Connecticut. (Okay actually I tell people I’m from Boston as most people–other than Americans–have no idea what a ‘New Hampshire’ is.)
“I grew up in Connecticut,” I said. “But I don’t usually tell people that. It’s a little embarrassing.”
“Why’s it embarrassing?” he asked.
“Well, most people think of CT as a rich and snobby place.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Anyway,” I said. “I grew up in Westport.”
His looked at me, his eyes widening. “No way.”
I thought he was fucking with me. Westport is a very small and not at all famous. The odds that I would run into someone from there are astronomical.
But sure enough, “Did you go to Staples High School?” he asked.
“Class of ’94,” I said.
“I’m 2004!” he said.
Not only did we go to the same high school but the same middle school as well. He was more into sports and I more into theatre but it turned out we had several of the same teachers including Mrs. Brown, the most dreaded middle school teacher in Westport. (I once got a detention because Mrs. Brown caught my friend chewing gum and grilled my friend over who had given her the gum until she ‘fessed it was me.)
Then he asks me who the most famous Westporter is.
“Paul Newman,” I said. “Or Martha Stewart.”
“No, not them. Have you ever heard of dancing Matt?” I couldn’t help but laugh.
Dancing Matt, aka Matt Harding, was my classmate that struck gold with a series of youtube videos. Not only did we graduate the same year, but his older sister was my babysitter when I was young and my mom and his mom are still friends. Turns out this guy was in one of Matt’s videos, though at the time he had no idea Matt was also from Westport. (He found out later after telling his friends about being in the video.)
For the rest of the night we would occasionally stop whatever conversations we were having, look at each other shake our heads and just say, “crazy.” Here we were, in a bar in a city in southern China, in a group that included Chinese, Africans, British, French and Germans, and the two of us from the same small hometown. Seriously, what are the odds?!