Unforgettable stories of Encounters


I do not know them.
What stories their careers and their relationship hold, I have no way of knowing. 
Yet almost every year, in winter, I encounter them on Auguststraße.
They are always wrapped in identical scarves, dressed in a similar style, taking turns carrying a black poodle. 
I still vaguely remember the first time I saw them: it was a bitterly cold night, and I was curled up in my favorite bookstore, reading, when they came in carrying the dog. There was a stark contrast between them, yet they were perfectly harmonious, and they exuded a sort of easy intimacy and tenderness.  
Ever since then, encountering them again and again, year after year, has become a sort of ritual for me. Their appearances are like milestones, measuring the passage of time.
Or perhaps you could say,
the thing that I encounter is not actually those two people, but rather one of their rituals.
Winter has come again,
and I do not know if I will see them this year.
Before the Storm

One day several years ago, as my friend Y and I were returning from a full day of traveling around Bagnerogio, the arrival of dusk was accompanied by the approach of a storm. The rustling of the trees in the wind was set against dulled explosions of distant thunder, and tourists quickened their steps as they rushed to get back to the station before the rain. 
As I was hurrying along, I noticed a pair of Asian tourists sitting calmly on a bench beside the cliffs, leisurely admiring the coming storm: layer upon layer of thick clouds multiplying and tumbling into each other, each dyed in different shades of twilight; a single faint line of pale gold glowing above the horizon. 
The storm itself was beautiful beyond description, but the image that stays with me is those two observers. To stay so carefree in the face of such a powerful moment is the way all travelers should strive to be.
The Window

I often enjoy observing the life of Europe’s elderly, especially the lifestyle of East Berliners. Many are widows or widowers. Many just barely get by on welfare, and some don’t even have that basic support. When I see them on the street, I can’t help but wonder: having lived through such calamities and upheavals in their youth, will they ever find new peace in their hearts?
On the way home, I often pass by a window. Each day at twilight, at exactly the same time, the owner of the apartment opens the window and leans out to watch the sky. She stays there for quite a while. Nobody knows what she is thinking – or perhaps she’s just simply watching the world pass by? When the days are warm she spends more time in the window, and a slight smile stretches across her face. If children are playing in the street she might speak to them, saying, “Those sidewalk drawings are really great!” or something similar. If I happen to see her in her window, we share a nod in greeting.
As for who she is, what her story is, what her life is like, I have absolutely no idea. But of one thing I am sure: those who go years without opening their windows are most certainly bored and lonely. This is true whether or not they live alone. 

“I think that encounters might seem random, but they are driven by some level of cause and effect. You could say that the kind of person you are defines the things you want, then the places you go, then the things you do, and finally the people you encounter; one long string of effects. 
“In the angst of youth, I constantly complained that life was tedious and people were boring. But after I learned how to be happy, the world became full of interest and attraction. The same old places, the same old people, suddenly presented me with new discoveries. 
“When I was in college, I fantasized about moving to France and meeting my someone special; someone with that curly hair I like, tall, dignified yet passionate, a lover of books, a geologist and spelunker; he would ride across Paris to pick me up and take me to a concert. As for me, I would speak fluent French, have long hair and a carefree manner, enjoy painting, and occasionally go rock climbing… eventually, I painted my Mary Sue dreams onto paper. 
“Later, I really did grow out my hair, start learning French, and move to France. I was carefree enough, my classmates liked me, and one of my animations was chosen for a student art festival in Paris – where I met my classmate’s little brother. He didn’t have a bike, but he was tall and he did have that cute, curly hair. He loved reading, he studied biology, and though he displayed no particular inclination for spelunking, he was active and outdoorsy. He didn’t take me to a concert, but we did bike across Paris and Berlin, and went swimming and climbing. 
“Some would say that this is fate. But the idea of fate, though it sounds romantic, just encourages fantasy, even self-deception. We like to give it credit for just about everything, while the real reason I met him was me!”


The Conductor
I want to share a little story from my time in film school. 
In our junior year, a few friends and I were getting quite beat up by a particular group project. We were all ambitious idealists, brazenly submitting all our films to every kind of international festival, and all international festivals had one requirement in common: all submissions must have original scores. Yet in China at the time, students just borrowed cues from other films for all of our assignments. Those of us with better connections could occasionally get some music students to lend a hand, but our group still had our heads in the clouds – we would accept nothing less than a professional film score. We knew nothing about society at that point. We couldn’t even get in touch with a real composer, let alone hire one.
It was a winter night. I took a train back to my hometown, my eyes vacantly scanning benighted fields and forests flitting by outside the window as my mind endlessly obsessed over the problem of finding our composer. 
The train slowly pulled to a stop at the platform of the final station. I heaved my heavy suitcase off the luggage rack and was lugging it toward the station exit when I heard a voice: “Such a young lady, carrying such heavy luggage. Let me help you.” I turned to see a middle-aged man in a military greatcoat, standing tall and straight, observing me with a kind smile. Perhaps it was my trusting nature, or perhaps some keen intuition, but I trusted him immediately and slipped him the bag hanging from my shoulder. 
We chatted as we walked
He asked if I was going to university in Beijing, and I told him I was studying film. He laughed and told me his son was studying piano in Paris, and that he himself was a conductor.
I stopped in my tracks. I could feel my eyes shining as I blurted out, “Can you help us find a composer? For a film score? We’ve need one immediately.” 
“Of course! Do you need a modern score, or something symphonic?” A hint of a laugh appeared in his eyes and the corner of his mouth as he recited the contact information for a young but experienced modern composer. We talked a bit more, and he helped me out of the station and into a taxi before waving goodbye.
That night, I felt that I had encountered an angel sent to Earth just for me. Our film was eventually accepted to festivals in Japan and Germany, and by a series of further coincidences, helped get me a job offer in Germany.
Sometimes a simple chance meeting can have a profound effect on your life, and each encounter can leave its mark on your life. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always believed that there are no impossible things, just things that haven’t happened yet. 

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