Walking up the steps of Kashgar’s old city, I came across an older Uyghur gentleman being escorted by what looked to be his daughter. He stared at me intensely as I walked towards him, a faint air of distrust in his eyes.
No doubt I was just another tourist, here to take photos of the last of the city’s ancient mud-daub buildings. There were a few tourist shops operating within the confines of the community, but I’m guessing that the presence of foreigners is more of a hindrance than a blessing when most of the inhabitants just want to go about their daily lives in peace.
I climbed the last few stairs as they paused at the top to let me through the narrow alleyway.
“Asalaam Aleikum,” I greeted the man. His demeanor instantly changed, and mirroring the smile on my face replied with “W’aleikum Asalaam.” With one hand still resting on the girl’s shoulder, he reached out the other and enthusiastically shook my hand.
That’s all it took–learning how to greet someone in their language, a smile, and a willingness to use both together in the field. If for no other reason than seeing the look on someone’s face, I routinely go out of my way to greet many of the locals I meet on my journeys.
Yes, especially the dour looking ones.
You’d be surprised at what this “opener” can lead to–invitations for tea, assistance with getting around, free food–all sorts of things. Even if you’re left with nothing more than a smile returned, it’s still worth the small bit of effort.
A smile can be a powerful thing.