The Day I Went Around Giving Free Hugs to Strangers

Two days ago, I gave free hugs at the busiest area of Singapore during the lunch hour–the Central Business District @ Raffles Place!

Raffles Place

This task is as part of my feature on Soul Sisters, a upcoming documentary by MediaCorp on inspiring women walking unconventional paths. MediaCorp selected me to be on the show as they feel I have an inspiring story to share. I am personally excited to be part of the show. :D

In filming my episode, the director Lee asked me if I was okay with giving free hugs to strangers, given that one of my tasks for my 21-day kindness challenge last November was to hug someone. Of course, her request to hug strangers is totally different than what I had assigned to you guys since my task was simply to hug someone you already know. But not being one to back down from a challenge, I said to her, “YES!”

The Hug-a-Stranger Challenge

The challenge I set for myself was to hug as many people as I could, in a way that was authentic and true to me (i.e. no lying, giving false compliments, projection of a false persona, begging, etc. just to get a hug). I opened myself to hugging anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or attire. Young or old; male or female; Chinese/Indian/Caucasian/Malay/Filipino/etc.; corporate or non-corporate attire–these people were all part of my target.

Me and Sha

Me and Sha, the camera guy. He’s 24 and passionate about videography. Nice chap with a good attitude–I like his character! :)

Lee and I

The director Lee and I. She doesn’t like having her pictures seen anywhere on WWW, so I told her I will mosaic her face. :)

Getting wired up!

Getting wired up! (Got to record my voice and the strangers’ reactions when I approach them!)

Me walking away

All set and walking to the battle field! :)

Commencement of the Challenge!

In order to get my hug from others in a non-cheesy and non-intrusive manner, I created an opening pitch, “Hi, I’m doing a hugging challenge now and I’m supposed to get a hug from a stranger. Can I get a hug from you / Can I give you a hug?”

Initially I started with “Hi my name is Celes” but I promptly dropped it after a few tries because the lunch crowd at Raffles Place proved to have infinitesimal attention spans. I learned that if I was going to get/give my hug, I needed to get my message across fast, in like the first 2 seconds.

Difficulties Faced

It is definitely not easy walking up to any random stranger to ask him/her to give you a hug–especially not in a lunch crowd at the Central Business District, where everyone is walking at lightning speed, trying to get from Point A to Point B, with a highly pissed-off look on his/her face!!

What made the challenge more difficult was when people rejected me left right and center, some of whom were extremely rude in their rejections.

For example, there was this stiff-looking, Caucasian guy who breezed past me with a straight face and a monotonous voice saying, “Very busy. No. Don’t talk to me.” This was even after he heard everything I had to say and knew I was just asking for a hug.

There was an Indonesian lady who was extremely rude and gestured wildly for me to go away the whole time when I was just speaking amiably to her. She kept saying loudly, “NO! NO! NO! GO AWAY! Just GO AWAY!” even after her own friend had acceded to my request and had given me a hug!

There were also nonchalant, jaded-looking Singaporeans who either walked straight past or were very dismissive even after I had explained what I was trying to do. It was disappointing to see  Singaporeans react so unkindly; I was expecting more from my fellow citizens. I always think the simplest thing one can do to another fellow human is to at least acknowledge the person and give a polite “No it’s okay” or “No thank you” even if one is not interested in what the other had to say; this is something I do myself when dealing with people giving flyers or sales promoters on the street.

Me facing the lunch crowd in Raffles Place

Looking for people to hug. Everyone looked really lean, mean, and unhappy.

Filming in stealth mode

Lee filming me in stealth mode, so that the passer-bys wouldn’t be alarmed by cameras following me. Sha was also filming me from a different spot. 

Lunch crowd at Raffles Place

Trying to get someone’s attention in the middle of the busy lunch crowd, to no avail. No!!! :(

Sheepish look

“Someone! Can someone, anyone, just give me a hug–please?!?!? >.<”

Positive Reactions

But amidst these negative reactions, I received positive ones. In fact, my positive responses were more than the negative reactions–about double or more.

There was one really sweet, beautiful Singaporean girl in her early 20s who promptly went, “Yes, sure, of course!!!!” and gave me a HUGE hug after hearing my pitch. She was sitting alone when I approached her.

Ten minutes later, I saw her walking past me with someone, presumably her friend. I promptly approached her to say hi, while at the same time requesting a hug from her friend. While her friend threw me a bizarre look and shrunk back in fear, the sweet girl nudged her on, saying, “Go hug her! Free hugs!! She’s giving free hugs!!” Her friend then eased up, after which I stepped forward to give my hug. I also got them to hug each other after that. :D It was such a sweet moment!

There was also this group of five individuals (Singaporeans as well) who were sitting down and chatting amongst themselves. After I approached them, one of the guys responded very enthusiastically and said, “Oh, sure, why not?” He then gave me a hug, which opened the window for his four friends to do the same. At the end, we did a group hug and bid each other good bye! :D

Approaching for a hug

Approaching for a hug while the rest watched in curiosity

Getting my free hug!

Yes — getting my free hug!

Moving in to hug the rest

Moving in to hug the rest

Huddling for a group hug!

Huddling for a group hug!

The walking crowd was also among my target. I approached anyone I saw–be it lone individuals, duos, or trios. I was pleasantly surprised that many people were receptive to my hugging invitation and gamely gave me a hug even though they might have been shocked initially. :)  

Hugging a Caucasian guy

One of the lone individuals I approached for a hug. This one was a Caucasian guy. While he was surprised by my request initially, he immediately warmed up and said, “Sure, okay!” and gave me an open hug. :)

Sheepishly smiling after the hug

Smiling sheepishly after the hug. I didn’t notice it then but it seems from the picture that he was smiling after the hug too! That’s quite sweet to know the hug left a smile on his face! :)

Approaching a duo of girls

Thinking about how to approach this duo of girls on my right

Getting my hug from the girls

Mission “Hug a stranger”–accomplished!

Then I had this funny experience with this trio of Malay ladies. While they were quite stoic and pushed me away with a firm, “No,” initially, I kept following them and saying, “Please! Just one hug!!!!”

After trialing them for about thirty seconds or so, they finally opened up and gave me a hug. ;)

Approaching a trio of Malay ladies for a hug

Approaching a trio of Malay ladies for a hug

Persisting; not giving up

Persisting and not giving up despite them walking past me and ignoring me

Finally getting my hug!

Finally getting my hug from one of the ladies! I continued to follow the other two and subsequently got my hug from them as well. :D

More Pictures of Me Hugging Others

Here are more pictures of me giving my pitch and successfully securing a hug from other passer-bys. :D  

Hug with a nice Chinese guy

A nice gentleman who gamely took up my request and gave me a hug. I think his name was Marcus or Lucas if I’m not wrong! Very sweet guy!

Hugging two Chinese girls

Hugging two sweet ladies! They were initially all ready to ignore me and walk past me. But after hearing my pitch, one of the girls relented, and the other also opened up and allowed me to give her a hug! :D  

Hugging an Indian guy

Hugging a duo of Indian guys who were standing outside Chevron House, probably waiting for their friends. Again, very sweet and nice people! They did not react with fear but instead were very warm.

Asking a trio if I can hug them

Approaching a trio of Indonesian ladies to get a hug

Getting a hug!

Getting a hug from the lady in the middle! The other two outright rejected me! The (Indonesian) lady on the right of the picture was particularly rude unfortunately. She kept flapping her hands at me, saying, “NO! NO! NO!” and gesturing me to get lost.

Hugging a senior citizen

Nice uncle Paul. :) He was distributing flyers for wedding-prep beauty treatments and gave me one. I then asked him for a hug and he said okay. :)

Hugging a Chinese guy

Approached this guy who was sitting by himself and fiddling with his phone. He was shy yet friendly and gave me a hug in the end!

Hugging people at the swing

I “attacked” people at the swing as well! This trio (Australians, I believe) gave me a hug with open arms and we even took a picture together after that with their camera! :)

My Thoughts

The challenge lasted for about 45 minutes, after which we wrapped up the scene. All in all, I hugged 25-30 individuals and received 8-9 rejections.

It was a fun experience in that I got to meet all these different people and experience their reactions. Some people reacted very adversely to my simple, benign request for a hug. Some people resisted initially but warmed up after hearing what I had to say. A small handful were very enthusiastic and promptly said, “Sure, why not???”

I wished that those people who reacted with fear would break past their personal barriers and realize that strangers hugging strangers isn’t such a scary thing. These people are probably entrenched in a fear-based, separation mindset–where they see people as separate from them and hence, malicious with negative intentions. Maybe a stranger approaching them for a hug is scary because they do not know this person and they see this person as separate, questionable, and foreign.

However, just because something or someone is new to you doesn’t mean that it’s going to be bad. It just means that this is something you have never experienced before. The question is, “How open are you to new experiences? How ready are you in accepting new connections and opportunities?” 

In a way, a simple reaction to a stranger asking to a hug can provide insight to how these people behave in other life areas. Likelihood is that these people are usually resistant to opportunities. Where new opportunities come knocking on their door, they probably tend to shun away, thinking that these opportunities are bad. When new connections float into their lives, they probably shut their hearts from them, thinking that these people may have bad intentions or may cause them harm.

Because of such a fear-based mentality, they close themselves up from many great things. That’s a big pity unfortunately.

I am personally excited by the people who reciprocated my intent and gave me a hug. Seeing them initially greet me with a puzzled/resistant look, which slowly turned into a smile when they heard my pitch, and them subsequently opening their arms up to hug–that was so sweet and endearing. I hope they were left with a warm tingling feel after the hug and this small little experience planted a seed of love (however small) in their hearts. I know it did to me. :D

I’m glad that I took up this challenge in the end. While hugging a stranger is not part of my routine nor something I overtly talk about on PE, it’s an action in line with the principles that I preach–oneness and love. Stepping out of our comfort zone is also something which I advocate as it’s part and parcel of growth, and approaching strangers for hugs was definitely out of my comfort zone since I had not done it before.

At the end of the day, are you someone who challenges yourself out of your comfort zone or do you shirk in the face of unknowns? Are you someone who is open to new opportunities and connections or do you always shut them off without thinking? Are you someone who views the world with a oneness mindset or do you see others as separate and hence laden with bad intentions? These are three questions which I want you to think about as you walk away from this post.

Will let you guys know when my episode comes up; it’s currently slated for Oct 1. :) This series is currently planned for Toggle, MediaCorp’s new online video platform, and it may also be broadcasted on Channel 5 if everything goes well. :D I may be doing a behind-the-scenes post for the whole filming (this hugging thing is only one of the other shootings we did), so stay tuned!

Share Your Thoughts!

Are you someone who will gamely say yes if a stranger asks you for a hug? Or will you turn the person away?

How would you ask a stranger for a hug if you are put up to this challenge?

Please share! :)

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Image: Raffles Place


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  • http://selfstairway.com/ Vincent Nguyen

    Ha! I was doing this a few weeks ago with my friends at the mall. I didn’t do this as long as you did but I got mixed responses too. Nothing too harsh, but there were a few people who just did not want a stranger’s hug. One lady told us we made her day though. :)

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Haha, what inspired you guys to do this at the mall? :)

      • http://selfstairway.com/ Vincent Nguyen

        Why not? :P

        • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

          I just wanted to understand how you guys came to decide to do it since it’s not something people normally do. :)

          • http://selfstairway.com/ Vincent Nguyen

            We just like performing social experiments on occasion. It’s fun to see how people react and it’s a good way to enjoy ourselves.

  • http://www.jocasey.com/ Jo Casey

    I love this idea – I wonder how much culture influences the responses of people? I’d love to do a global experiment and see which national cultures were more receptive to hugs! I have a friend who has a T-Shirt with ‘Free Hugs’ on it – it’s a great conversation opener!

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Hi Jo, that would be truly fun, doing a global experiment and seeing how people around the world respond to such spontaneous requests!

      Your comment reminds me of a hugs-experiment video I’ve watched before on Youtube–I believe it was done in Italy. It was done a little differently though in that the person carried a signboard saying “Free Hugs” and didn’t talk to anyone whereas I approached strangers directly. For him, he had many people ignoring/walking past him and also people who walked towards him with open arms for a hug. It was really sweet!

  • Katherine

    With your sincerity and sweet smiling, there is no reason in rejecting your free hug :)

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Aw thank you Katherine!! :) Haha, there were people who rejected me though (as I have outlined in the post). I’m just grateful for this experience!

  • Susie

    You are so brave to take on this challenge Celes! If it were me, I think I’d do the t-shirt / sign approach you described from the Italian video, rather than the pitch approach so that people hopefully come to you rather than you having to work so hard to convince them hehe! what an awesome experience you had! :) I was encouraged to read that the positive reactions outweighed the others.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Aw thank you Susie! :) I think the T-shirt/sign approach is definitely a good way to ease into such a challenge! :) It was definitely quite challenging to have to convince people for a hug, be it through me walking with them to explain what I was doing or me tweaking my pitch to get them to hear me out before they whiz past me.

      I’m encouraged to hear that the post was encouraging for you! Thanks so much for sharing your comment and please keep sharing your feedback through the blog! :)

  • Kat Bac

    Wow Celes Singapore people come across as very cold/rude/mean people, will have to rethink by trip over there for your weeding. You go girl :)

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Hey Kat, my observations pertained to people of all nationalities. (If you noticed I mentioned getting rude responses from a mix of Caucasian, Indonesians, and Singaporeans.) I received more positive responses than rude responses, and many of the positive responses were from Singaporeans as well. Hope that helps to clarify your original perspective! :)

  • Christine Keen

    I am new to this site but I love that you really live what you teach. It is so rare.
    I think it was very brave of you to walk up to strangers and ask for a hug, and I bet it made much more impact than just holding up a sign. My son and members of his youth group have tried a variation of this several times. There are many of them (at least 6 or 7) and they are speaking to the people walking by as well as holding up signs that say “free hugs”. They definitely get more positive responses than negative but even if they didn’t, in this case, the good feeling you get from just one person is much more powerful than the rejections. It is a great experience for them. Definitely opens them up to others, creates a connection to people as a whole, and gives them positive reinforcement for being kind and compassionate. Thank you for taking the challenge and sharing it, and thank you for another inspiring post. (:

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Hi Christine, thanks so much for your sweet comment!! :) I love that your son and his youth group have tried this themselves. Like you said, the good feeling from just one person is much more powerful than the rejections. Also, the good feeling which YOU spread to the ones who were receptive is surely impactful too, even if it’s in a small level initially.

      I know that my request to hug definitely brought smiles to people’s faces–at the very least, the ones who opened up and decided to get/receive the hug. Their smiles and joys alone make it worthwhile to go through all the rejections, even if nasty!!

      By the way, welcome to PE, and I hope you stick around here! :) *hugs you*

  • A Psychologist

    I think that some people might be legitimately repulsed by your hugging challenge. People who have been physically or sexually abused, for example. Our society has certain rules for behaviour in public with people that you do not know, and crossing these boundaries can be really anxiety provoking for people who’ve had their boundaries crossed in the past. Yes, they may be approaching you from a fear-based mindset, but they are entitled to do that, to keep themselves feeling safe.

    I’m not saying that you didn’t take this into account, but it might be something to keep in mind.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Hi there, you definitely have a point! It’s something I will take into account for future challenges like this.

      Though based on my assessment of the local culture, the nature of the location I was doing the challenge at and the individuals’ reactions, many of them were coming more from the angle of, “I’m busier than thou so don’t bother me,” or “Go away–I don’t know you and hence you are up to no good.” The fact that I’m a female makes that possibility a lot lower–not that it’s not possible that a male or female could have been physically/sexually abused by a female before, but abuse/skeptic concerns among an average crowd would probably be higher if I was a male than female.

  • Chris

    I was in Singapore for a holiday two weeks ago and I really loved the place. It’s a pity I wasn’t there then, you would have gotten the longest hug from me :) .

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Aw, that was a pity that we didn’t get to meet then! (Not sure if you were in Singapore during June 23 too? We were having our SG readers meetup on that day!) It would have been nice to get a nice, longggg, hug from you during the challenge!! :)

  • Hazel

    Should have told me abt this challenge and I can go pretend to be a passerby and give you a hug. :p

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Haha Hazel, do you work near the Raffles Place area?? That would have been nice to get a hug from you there!! :D

  • Stephanie Stephen

    Hi Celes!
    I’m from M’sia and I did this with some other volunteers in March in one of the shopping malls to raise funds for charity.
    Here’s the link of the campaign: http://www.peoplegiving.org/campaign-page?campId=33, just to share with you what the campaign was about. (:
    I got mixed responses too, but I was happy that there were more positive ones!
    I love how those hugs brought smiles to the people!
    I’d definitely do it again ! =D

  • Alys Goh

    Way to go peng! u shld tell me earlier, i would RUN there to HUGGGGG u! *love*

  • Stephanie Ayanna Costa

    Well I’m glad to see you didn’t get hurt.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Hehe. :) I think it would have been more dangerous if I was a guy doing this challenge!

      • Jennie .l.hnamte

        Wow.. and some of the ppl around u were very happy as well hugging u

        • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

          I hope so!! :) I was really happy to see their smiles when reviewing the photos. I could feel the joy in the air as well while doing the challenge!

  • Catatan Kecil Hidupku

    Well done, Celes. Thumbs up.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Thank you! :)

  • Alexandre Cruz

    Very nice.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Indeed it was a great experience! :) Everyone of us should try this in our lifetime!

  • Sugu

    Rock with your own style..:) Love you Celes

  • Hema

    Hi Celes, I missed your hug… :-)

  • Mia Utopian

    Well i’ve seen ppl standing in the street with a banner “free hugs” and those ppl who wanna hug just come and do so, so that could be an easier way, OMG this is sooo challenging. I don’t know if I can do this.

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Yep that would definitely be easier! But I enjoyed doing it the more challenging way–it’s also a way for me to step out of my comfort zone. Just holding the sign would be too easy actually!

  • JadePenguin

    I’ve been stopped by religious people before and shaken hands with them, so I’d probably be pretty easy to talk into a hug ;)

    Very fun experiment! It’s awesome how you push the boundaries of what’s considered normal. A while ago, I read Steve Pavlina’s blog post about giving hugs instead of handshakes but haven’t hugged strangers myself. I’m not really one to shake other people’s comfort zones. Maybe I should…

  • MattLeyva

    I like the picture “smiling sheepishly after a hug”. This was a fun article. I hope the video is made available online.

    Have you ever seen the music video to the song Everyday by the Dave Matthews Band? It reminded me a lot about your challenge. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXe8PFKsOIc

  • Katrina Dela Cruz

    I found out about PE a month ago and it has truly made me reflect on my life. You truly are inspiring! I look up to you! :)

    Oh, and Congrats on the engagement. :) By the way, your ‘hug article’ really got me. I think I’ll start off small, then big!