A New Year's story by Andrew Biggs | Bangkok Post: learning

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A New Year's story by Andrew Biggs

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Andrew Biggs tells a short, heartwarming story to help us start the New Year. 

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Andrew Biggs writes a regular column for our Brunch magazine. Last week was his year-end holiday edition and I think you'll find it fun to read.

It's a bit long for English learners, so I have cut it down to a manageable size.

In his column Andrew tells a true story about an experience he had on a cold (0C), rainy day in New York City.  He was on a train in the subway system and....

The strangers of kindness

Andrew Biggs

We stopped at 34th Street station. Into the subway came a man wearing a party hat, along with five of his friends.

His name was Ian, as we all were about to find out.

As the train pulled out of the station, one of Ian's friends clapped his hands and announced: ''Alright ladies and gentlemen, listen to me. Today is my friend's birthday and I'd like everybody to sing Happy Birthday. On the count of three.''

Two people in that carriage immediately cringed for two entirely different reasons.

The first was Ian, being outed by his friends for having a birthday and for becoming the centre of attention.

The second was me.

(Note: In the next very long sentence, Andrew simply says he is uncomfortable showing his emotions in public -- perhaps because of his British descent)

I am a sixth generation Australian, but despite those centuries I still can't unload the pesky DNA meticulously ingrained for thousands of years by the Brits; the genes that shy away from public displays of emotion, the worst of them being affection.

In a public place I try to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. I try not to display any human vulnerability such as sneezing, coughing, moving a limb or breathing.

So when a loud American requests across a crowded carriage for us all to join in a spontaneous celebration for a total stranger, I shrink. What happened next floored me.

''One ... two ... three!'' shouted Ian's friend.

And the entire carriage erupted into song.

Across that rocking subway train carriage, total strangers started singing happy birthday. And to my horror, I heard myself joining in.

I was suddenly singing a rousing version of Happy Birthday, oblivious to its consequences.

This not being Thailand, we stumbled on the third line.

''Happy birthday dear ... '' and for a moment the hysteria subsided, for nobody knew the guy's name.

Luckily his friends came to the rescue.


Ian! It is one of those names which, along with being mildly nerdy, doesn't fit into the happy birthday song. And why should it; have you ever met an Ian you wanted to celebrate a birthday with?

I think it was the first time in my life I ever had to sing ''Happy birthday dear Ian'' and it sounded not unlike a Rihanna lyric; clunky and not fitting the meter of the song.

''Happy birthday dear ... EEEEEEEEEEE-YEUNNNN.'' Yuck.

Nevertheless the entire carriage saved itself with a rousing end ... ''Happy birthday to you!''

After which the carriage erupted into cheers.

What a great moment. Ian immediately lifted his arms up and did a 180 degree sweep to acknowledge the crowd. One of his friends brought out a wine glass and a bottle of red wine, opened it, and poured a glass for him.

My first instinctive stream of consciousness thought was: ''Oh my god where did he get that it's after 2pm and not yet 5pm'' but I remembered I was in a civilized country with a healthy attitude to alcoholism.

There was a middle-aged woman sitting not that far away from where Ian was standing.

She was in a heavy overcoat and clutching a bag. She looked like one of my maiden aunts from Melbourne we were forced to visit as children.

''You're not the only one celebrating a birthday,'' she said loud enough for us all to hear.

''Is it your birthday too?'' asked Ian's friend. ''One more time for this lady sitting here.''

For the second time that carriage erupted into Happy Birthday. Another of Ian's friends passed a birthday hat to the women who put it on. By the time we got to that awkward third line, they had passed her a glass of wine, too.

What an animated conversation ensued! Suddenly strangers were chatting to one another about memorable birthdays, about siblings and family. Meanwhile the maiden aunt was announcing how she ''wasn't going to divulge her age but it was a good deal more than yours, young man''.

''I'd like to try a sip of that,'' a woman sitting across from the matronly aunt said, quite out of the blue. The glass was duly passed across, and more party hats and glasses were distributed.

What a jovial atmosphere there was in our carriage that afternoon. As the train pulled into 59th St Columbus Circle, Ian and his entourage got ready to leave. The glasses were collected and the wine was downed by those who had to remain on the train. The maiden aunt and a few other strangers kept their party hats on.

We'd known Ian and his friends for no more than six minutes but even I was sad to see him go.

We said our goodbyes and they waved us off from the platform as we hurtled off to Upper Broadway.

''We call that a New York Moment,'' a short lady in a cap told me without my asking.

I guess the two things that struck me most about the incident were these: First, the sudden and unrestrained friendliness that erupted between a group of strangers who, despite their separate lives, were all living the same lives.

The second? In the midst of this hilarious, spontaneous celebration, one single man remained fixed to his tablet. Glasses were handed out around him, party hats were distributed, and twice he was in the middle of two raucous versions of Happy Birthday. He never flinched throughout it.

''Happy birthday,'' I whispered to the maiden aunt as I got off on the 86th Street station.

''Thank you dear,'' she said with a smile that warmed me on that blisteringly cold day.

That's all. I just wanted to make you feel good as we usher in the year 2557. Happy New Year, dear reader!

You can read the full, unedited story here: href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/family/387132/the-strangers-of-kindness">http://www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/family/387132/the-strangers-of-kindness

Learn from listening

Click "play" to listen to A New Year's story by Andrew Biggs and "Download" to keep this file for educational purpose.


acknowledge: to show that you have noticed somebody/something by smiling, waving, etc - รับรู้

affection: a feeling of liking and caring about someone or something - ความรักและห่วงใย

alcoholism: a medical condition that makes it difficult for you to control the amount of alcohol you drink - การติดสุรา, การติดเหล้า

attitude: someone’s opinions or feelings about something, especially as shown by their behaviour - ทัศนคติ, ลักษณะท่าทาง

aunt: the sister of your father or mother; the wife of your uncle - ป้า,น้าผู้หญิง,อาผู้หญิง

breathe: to bring air in and out of the lungs - หายใจ

carriage: one of the vehicles that are joined together to make a train - ตู้โดยสาร

centre of attention: someone or something that people are most interested in - จุดสนใจ

century: a period of one hundred years - ศตวรรษ

civilised: advanced, polite and reasonable - ศิวิไลซ์

clunky: heavy, clumsy, awkward - อืดอาด, ชักช้า

clutch: to hold something tightly - จับแน่น

consequences: results of effects of something - ผลที่ตามมา

coughing: the action of forcing air up through your throat with a sudden noise, especially when you have a cold -

cringe: to move back slightly from something that is unpleasant or frightening; to feel very embarrassed and uncomfortable about something - นอบน้อม, หดกลับอย่างเร็ว, ยืนงอตัว

descent: being related to a particular person or group of people who lived in the past - การสืบเชื้อสาย

display: to show signs of something, especially a quality or feeling - แสดง

emotion: strong feeling such as anger or love, or strong feelings in general - อารมณ์

erupt: to start suddenly - ปะทุขึ้น

floor: to surprise or confuse somebody so that they are not sure what to say or do - ทำให้งง, ทำให้ประหลาดใจ

gene: a unit inside a cell which controls a particular quality in a living thing that has been passed on from its parents - ยีน

generation: a group of people in society who are born and live around the same time - รุ่น (คนรุ่นต่างๆ)

horror: a strong feeling of shock or fear caused by something extremely unpleasant - ความหวาดกลัว, ความขยะแขยง

hysteria: an extremely excited and exaggerated way of behaving or reacting to an event - การปลุกปั่น,ความตื่นเต้น

immediately: happening right after something else with no delay; right away - ทันที

inconspicuous: not attracting attention; not easy to notice - ซึ่งไม่สะดุดตา, ซึ่งไม่เป็นเป้าสายตา

ingrained: that has existed for a long time and is therefore difficult to change; under the surface of something and therefore difficult to get rid of - ติดแน่น, ซึ่งฝังแน่น

instinctive: based on instinct, not thought or training - เกี่ยวกับสัญชาตญาณ

limb: an arm or a leg - แขนหรือขา

lyrics: the words of a song - เนื้อเพลง

maiden: a girl or woman who is not married - สาวโสด

meter: the rhythm of a song or poem - จังหวะในเพลง

meticulously: in a very thorough way and with careful attention to detail - อย่างพิถีพิถัน

middle-aged: neither young nor old - ซึ่งมีวัยกลางคน

mildly: not seriously or strongly - เล็กน้อย, อย่างเบาๆ

nerdy: someone who is very interested in technical or scientific subjects, especially computers. This word usually shows that you think people like this are boring; someone who is boring, not physically attractive, and does not have much social ability - ที่ฉลาดแต่เรื่องเรียนหรือทางวิชาการ แต่มักไม่ค่อยเก่งในการเข้าสังค, ทึ่ม

oblivious: not aware of something - ซึ่งไม่ตระหนักถึง, ซึ่งไม่นึกถึง

out: to make an unpleasant or embarrassing fact about someone publicly known - เปิดเผย

overcoat: a long warm coat that you wear in cold weather - เสื้อคลุมใหญ่

pesky: annoying or causing trouble - น่ารำคาญ

rousing: full of energy and enthusiasm - ตื่นเต้น,เร้าใจ,ปลุกใจ

shrink: to become smaller, or to make something smaller - หดตัว, เล็กลง

shy away: to avoid doing something because you are nervous or frightened or feel it is inappropriate - หลบเลี่ยง, หลีกเลี่ยง

simply: just; only -

sneeze: to loudly blow air out of your nose in a sudden uncontrolled way - จาม

spontaneous: happening or done in a natural, often sudden way, without any planning or without being forced - ซึ่งเป็นไปตามธรรมชาติ, เป็นไปเอง, ซึ่งเกิดขึ้นเอง, โดยสัญชาตญาณ

stranger: a person that you do not know - คนแปลกหน้า

stream of consciousness: a continuous flow of ideas, thoughts, and feelings, as they are experienced by a person - ความคิดต่อเนื่อง

stumble: to make a mistake when you are trying to achieve something - ทำพลาด, สะดุด

subside: to become weaker, less violent, or less severe - ลดลง

sweep: to move or spread quickly through an area; to move something or someone with powerful force - เคลื่อนไปอย่างรวดเร็ว, พัดพาเอาไป

total: complete - เต็มที่

unload: to get rid of something that you do not want to keep - เอาออก

version: a particular form of something which varies slightly from other forms of the same thing - ชุด, เวอร์ชั่น

vulnerability: a weakness; a weakness that makes someone/something easy to attack - ความอ่อนแอ, ข้อบกพร่อง

Yuck: used to show that you think something is disgusting or unpleasant - น่ารังเกียจ, แย่มาก

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