I'm working a science conference down in Denver this week. Mostly I curate the presentations, and the scientists yell at me, since none of them can be bothered to read directions.
Some of them surprise me, though.
One man came all the way over here from Guangdong, China, to present his findings on Something Something Technical Something Solar Something Brewery. I don't speak Science, and he barely speaks English, and so conversations have been difficult.
On the first day of the con, he had tremendous difficulty figuring out the process for registration. We all tried to be helpful, but it was mostly a lot of hand waving and that thing that Americans do when, when someone can't understand us, we just talk slower and louder.
The next day, he chased a coworker and I down in the speaker's hallway, because he couldn't figure out where he was speaking. My coworker and I managed to deduce that he was presenting his paper in the Ignite format (20 slides, 15 seconds a slide) and immediately started to worry about him. We managed to convey his room number and date to him only through the gratuitous use of drawing alphanumerics in the air, and a lot of pointing at the schedule. Somehow, it all worked out. He was so thankful, he opened the box breakfast he'd picked up from somewhere, and began offering my coworker and I food by the handful. No matter how many times my coworker tried to be gracious and accept his gifts, there was always something else to be had. My coworker ended up with a fistful of bacon and another fistful of fruit. (I helped him eat it.)
We were just blown by the kindness and appreciation of this man, who had flown halfway around the world, knowing nobody, barely able to communicate with a whole other culture, to speak for 5 minutes at a tiny conference out in the mountains. His eagerness to meet people (we've since seen him palling around with many of the other conference attendees), his graciousness, and desire to learn (he is ALWAYS either in session or running to see something else) is incredible.
The next day, I walked into the staff room to find a bag of green tea sitting on my backpack. Confused, I turned to my coworker, looking at him quizzically. I'd been moaning about the lack of real tea near the conference center all week, so where had this miraculous gift come from? My coworker had run into our buddy that morning, who thrust this bag of tea at him, that he'd brought with him from his home provence and traveled around the world with, just to give it to a person who hadn't even gone out of their way for him , had simply been doing their job. My coworker, in turn, gave it to me. And when I heard the whole story from him, I started leaking happy tears, right then. I don't think our friend meant to be so pointedly thoughtful, but the serendipity of the gesture was just completely overwhelming to me.
I've found inspiration and strength in the strangest places this week - my new Chinese friend being one of them. In presenters eager for the challenge of an Ignite presentation, in my coworkers ability to function and be productive on less than no sleep, in their eagerness to work together and to get to know me and support me however they can, and even in the scientists, who are talking so far over my head I can barely keep up - but what I've learned has been incredibly insightful and even, dareisay, motivational.