Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Downright Magical

Before we came to Korea, I sat down with my sister-in-law, Angela, who lived in Korea for three years teaching English. It seemed the wise thing to do being that we were going into this whole thing blindly (as everyone does). She didn't have a lot to say. She found it hard to be specific. To condense her experience into words.

But she did say this: "Korea is a magical place."

When I asked her what she meant, she said, "I don't know," with a far away glimmer in her eye and a look over my shoulder that made me think her memories were just on the other side of the room. "It just seems that every time I was in need--help appeared."

While I doubt anyone could've related exactly to what she was saying in that moment, I have to agree that I get it now. In the last FOUR MONTHS (woot!) that Jeremy and I have been living here in Korea, we've been amazed/stunned/flabbergast at how many incredibly kind people have shown up right when we needed them.

So to celebrate this four month anniversary, we're counting our blessings in "magical" moments:

Like that time we were taking the bus for the first time to Home Plus (a department store). We didn't know where to get off. So I turned around in the bus and said, "Home Plus?" No one blinked. I repeated, "Home Plus-ugh?" Smiles. Ah ha! They gladly pointed us in the right direction.

Or that time I asked a co-worker if she knew where I could buy corn starch and the next day she brought me 6 bags. Another time, I asked her what were some traditional Korean gifts I could send home for Christmas. She said she'd think about it and then came the next day with a whole box of tea and wouldn't let me pay her for it.

Another time, a different co-worker handed me a bag of various packaged foods. I asked him what it was. He said he went to the store specifically to find some gluten-free foods I could eat. And then he bought all of them. All of them.

Or that time we were taking a bus to the bus terminal and didn't know where to get off. So I asked an older Korean woman with a shrug of my shoulders: "bus terminal?" (in Korean) and she nodded and pointed ahead. When the time came, she stood up, walked back to my seat, waved her hand at me to follow her, and led us right where we needed to be.

Or that time we were lost in another bus terminal and a woman showed up and said--in perfect English--"Do you need help?" The answer to that question is: always.

Or that other time Myeong-Hun, the man from the paper shop down the street, handed me a little wrapped gift and said, "Happy birthday!" I told him my birthday was several weeks before and he said, "I know, you need to buy paper more often."

And then there was that other magical time when we were settling in for the long walk home and a Korean couple pulled up in their car and said, "Ride?" Would we normally accept rides from strangers? Probably not. Did they invite us over for dinner sometime? Totally.

Or what about that day hike we took up Songnisan mountain? We had stopped for Jeremy to use the restroom. I sat and waited with our packs near a Korean group of ten or more people hiking the same trail. They were eating and laughing and drinking beer (in glass bottles, folks). One man, walked over and handed me a big hunk of rice cake and then walked away. No words. No explanation. Just because.

And then on the way down, we asked some fellow hikers if they knew what time the last bus left. They didn't know. But without our knowledge, they looked it up on their smart phones and chased us down to tell us so we could make it in time.

And then last week, in an unexpected rain downpour, I stood at a stoplight without an umbrella waiting to cross the street and a stranger came up behind me and held her umbrella over my head so I wouldn't get more wet. Of course, I tried to talk to her and say "Thank you.". Of course, she couldn't understand. Which makes what she did incredibly brave.

And I consider each of these people to be brave.
To reach out without the guarantee of a common language.
To reach out with the chance of being misunderstood.

And that, my friends, is indeed magic.


Anonymous said...

Such a sweet post. I have lived in Korea for almost five years and we are preparing to leave at the beginning of 2014. Everything you wrote made me smile and I was left with tears in my eyes. Korea is a truly special place. :)

Helen said...

I've been living here for almost five years now and it's so nice to see a post on the kindness of people here. It isn't something I think about often enough and your stories reminded me of SO many moments of kindness I've experienced over the years. One comes to mind I want to share.
I was on a bus in Incheon when it started unexpectedly pouring rain. This was shortly after the nuclear disaster in Japan and people were talking about how the rain could somehow contain nuclear fallout. Anyway I was alone and umbrella-less about to get off the bus and the bus driver gave me HIS umbrella. Full on insisted I take it to protect myself from the rain. I forgot about that moment until reading your stories. Thanks for that.

Fader T Rizna said...

Aww! Great post. We have experienced so many similar acts of kindness since moving to Korea. It is truly a magical place.

Lindsey said...

I know I'm commenting on all these posts at once- but I love this. :) Thanks for sharing!!