A few weeks ago in Northeast China while I walked alongside a river somebody shouted at me "Do you speak English?"
I looked over and saw two men. I replied "I hope so!"
I soon learned that one of the men was Irish and visiting China. The other was Chinese and had grown up in the local area but had spent 15 years living in Ireland. The Irishman asked me about my nationality. After answering, his immediate followup question was "Will you be able to go back to vote?"
He wasn't asking out of idle curiosity. Like some other non-American foreigners I have recently bumped into in China, he expressed great concern over the U.S. presidential election and the ramifications it would have on the rest of the world. He feared Donald Trump winning. When the Irishman called the election "crazy", my mind immediately went to something I would have hoped to never experience — a U.S. presidential candidate declaring that if they won their opponent would go to jail and saying "lock her up" in response to a chanting, supportive crowd.
I briefly thought about politics in the place where I was standing. I also thought about the mountains within view on the other side of the river. I had never been so close to them before. Now they seemed closer in a more figurative sense as well.
Regarding the nearby town next to the mountains, the Chinese man shared reports from locals of how 600 people had died there during a flood several months earlier. Even from our own vantage point, it was apparent they had far less to protect themselves from floods. Life is different on the other side of the river.
Fortunately, the conversation included many cheerier moments. To my surprise, the Irishman had several fascinating stories to share about his connections to the Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, who has strong Irish roots. Based on his account, many in Ireland are proud of Kaine.
Soon it was time to part ways, and the three of us took a photo together. Afterwards, the Irishman asked, "Is it OK to share the photo? Do people know you are here?"
I pointed across the river and joked, "I think they know I'm here." I gestured to our side and added, "They know I'm here."
They both laughed. And then I asked if I could take a photo of just the two of them. They stood next to each other in front of some trees. I suggested they stand in another location so I could get a different angle. The Irishman immediately recognized why and agreed it was better.
It wasn't usual for either of us to be just across the river from a town and mountains in North Korea.