The Niceties of Strangers


I just feel like something must be said in the way of the general kindness I’ve experienced, from complete strangers here in Korea- despite only having been here for just under 2 months. I come from a far away land, where people walk their heads down, and tempers for the ready for the first car who cuts you off “I’m F’n walking’ here!!” If a foreigner looks lost people turn on their heels and walk away- because who knows what can of worms you’re opening there. “What if he smells? What if he tries to hit on me because I helped him? What if it’s all a big ploy to kidnap me, and then bring me to wherever he came from?! Don’t make eye contact, just keep walking.” No really, people in Boston hate it when someone talks to them. On the T- especially on the T! On the street, waiting in line for coffee. At least the last one is understandable- I don’t want anyone to talk to me until I’ve had coffee, and I don’t think you want to do that either. I’ve fallen victim to that, and have actually put headphones in my ears while someone may or may not have (but definitely was) trying to talk to me. Maybe it’s because Bostonians can’t seem to quench their caffetite (appetite for caffeine…I actually just made that up, and you’re just jealous). Despite the presence of  all the royally crappy Dunkin’ Doughnuts on every.single.corner. I know this is veering off topic a bit, and  it’s definitely Boston seeping out of my veins right now, but I mean, let’s get real here! Every time I walk into those places, they can’t even get the simplest of orders correct (coffee black, with a shot of espresso). On the off chance the unthinkable actually happens, it’s either going to be: burned if you ordered it hot, or lukewarm (at best) if you ordered it cold, because hot coffee has just been poured over ice. Kindergarten science teaches us that hot things melt cold things. If I order an ice coffee, I actually do expect ice in there. There’s only two ingredients people! Coffee and ice. OKAY 3 if you count the turbo shot. Point is, ice is one of the main ingredients in an iced coffee. This is a revolutionary concept, let me tell you. People in Boston are probably always really grumpy, because of all the snow that must be put up with. The fact that the most talented (but ugly AF) quarterback in history can’t play football sure doesn’t help. Anyway, lets fly back to Korea where people are nice and coffee is made properly at Dunkin Doughnuts. Which isn’t the place where your dreams go to die, but rather, a stylish cafe that makes good coffee and serves *healthy-er* breakfast sammies.

The first week where I was living in my apartment, I had to carry a big case of 2L water bottles from the store back to my apartment- which is roughly about a mile away. A Korean woman saw me, stopped and panting on the sidewalk. So she had her husband carry them to the top of my street for me. I initially thought I was being robbed, and that I would have to chase an ajumma and her husband down the street to rescue my water. But after they saw my confused and concerned face, she turned and said “home?” And in that moment, I knew, and she knew I knew. Even though we spoke different languages we spoke a universal language in that moment and we hugged. After that precious moment was over, a few weeks later I found myself completely lost in one of these humungous and ridiculously confusing subway stations in Seoul. I don’t even know which one I was at, or where I was trying to go, but I pulled aside a man and pointed on the map I was carrying. He walked me up 3 escalators (still confused at this) across the entire station, down another escalator and down the longest corridor I’ve ever been down, second only to the one in Super Mario before you meet bowser- you know the one. If you don’t, get out!

Another time I was out at home plus. It’s a huge, over priced grocery store that is kind of like a fancy Walmart. It’s 3 huge levels with a nice food court and contains all your homeward bound dreams. From high tech appliances, to clothing, to boutique cosmetics, to groceries. I didn’t know the Korean word for Yogurt, so when I pulled up a pic on my iPhone you can imagine my confusion as I watched the associate process my request in silence, staring at me- without blinking- who then burst into hysterics in the middle of the aisle. I immeadiately looked around for anyone who seemed like they might know English (a white person), and then I watched her approach a co-worker while motioning to me, who then very loudly agreed in Korean that I was, in fact, the biggest joke in Korea. Hilarious!! Which is ironic because K-pop is a thing. After that very public embarrassment, a woman who spoke broken English took my hand and guided me around the store. She restored my faith in humanity and my self esteem.

This past weekend though, I think I was most blown away with the kindness of foreigners. As you may have read in my last blog, I went on a 10 hour- 18 mile hike on Saturday. I knew going into it that it would be a personal hell for me. But I willingly put myself in that situation to prove that I could do it, despite the difficulty. Also because I wasn’t thinking clearly. I love to hike, but I hate mornings. Especially Saturday mornings. Those are meant to never be seen. On Friday night after a 7 hour work day, I went to get a fried chicken dinner with my boss and some colleagues. Probably not the best thing to have eaten but whatever, it’s Korea. So I got on a bus and fell asleep at 11pm and woke up at 4am on Saturday morning. To start hiking- without coffee; I know I broke so many cardinal rules. I wasn’t as fast as the rest of the group, which was fine by me. I was conserving energy, like the tortoise I’ve always been proud to be in the race of life. Which wasn’t an issue until after we approached the second peak, where I rolled my ankle. That day we were hiking Jirisan- the tallest mountain in mainland Korea; or as I like to call it- Mount Doom. Mount Doom has 3 peaks, all of which we climbed up, or in my case crawled over. I went down, and I went down fast. I was wearing good quality hiking boots with ankle support! With my history, I should have known going into it to wrap up those sorry excuses for joints. But it has been so long since I’ve had an outburst like this, so I got a little ankle-cocky. A woman in the group took pity on me, and offered an ace bandage. Another girl lent me her hiking stick which was truly the nicest thing. Here is a selfie:

osteoporosis

I finally made it to the top and met up with the group, but then I found myself crawling down the mountain- completely alone. This was not the first time where I noticed that I don’t exactly preform the best under fight or flight situations. Just imagine seeing a tired, caffeine deprived girl whose crawling down a mountain and crying. Half because of her bum ankle and half because she literally and physically cannot. Desperation and swearing and ensues, under my breath at the beginning of the slow downward decent, but gradually grew louder as I realized that none of these people can understand me anyway, and the fuks I had left to give were swiftly depreciating in value. Then it happened again. Like I’ve said before, my life is a joke. So somewhere between desperation and giving up, I met a woman who looked really thirsty…for water! I gave her the rest of my 2L water bottle, partly because it was holding me back, but for the most part because she needed it. A Korean group behind me saw that I was obviously struggling- hard- and their leader offered me chocolate, a pat on the back, and a number of high fives from the group. Then they left me with a mysteriously accurate “you can do it” impression of Rob Schneider. I now think back on that and realize- he was my mountain-top sage offering timeless advice. So I ventured forward and onward, and somehow met up with a couple in my group. The man offered to carry my backpack the rest of the way down, and the girl cheered me on. Then towards the very end, probably when I needed it most, another couple from the group met up with me and they gave me more chocolate, and physically helped me down the mountain. I cried silently, from exhaustion and also because they were the nicest but simplest things a stranger has ever done for me. I don’t know why everyone was giving me chocolate but I don’t complain about those things.

We finally got off the mountain, and the leader of our group finally saw my condition. He slowed down a car to drive me the rest of the way to where the bus was. I made the last couple get in with me, and while we waited for the rest of the group to catch up, they bought me a frozen water bottle to ice my foot. I was so floored by their generosity towards a total stranger. This would only happen in Korea. If it happened anywhere else I’m pretty sure I would swear off hiking for a long time. Because I know people wouldn’t be that nice to me. Korea is a beautiful country, but the people here are even more beautiful and it’s infectious. I’m becoming a way nicer person than I was in Boston. I said hello to a total expat stranger on my way to get lunch! If I was on the receiving end of that exchange, and back home, I would have thought “What’s wrong with you? Can I have some of those drugs? What’s your angle here?”

XoXo

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