Saturday, July 11, 2015

Daily Dose of Kindness in South Korea

My five days in South Korea was too short, but never lacked in the awe–inspiring kindness of the Korean people.

Day 1

My mind was muddled with the lack of sleep that I could not grasp the easy user interface of the ticket vending machine for the all–stop train. After two failed attempts, a stranger using the machine next to mine, without my asking him to, helped me purchase a ticket.

— o —

We found ourselves at the garden of a church while looking for our airbnb accommodation. In short, we were lost. We asked for directions from the first guy we saw. He wasn't familiar with the address, but he searched for it on his mobile, which took a good 10 minutes of his time.

Day 2

In a subway in Seoul, my friend and I stood in front of a sign for several minutes trying to decide whether to go left or right. A kindly old stooped gentleman, sensing we were disoriented, stopped and spoke in Korean. Not a word in English, but we, somehow, understood him, and I told him which station we were going to. He gave us directions through hand gestures. And to make sure we understood, he repeated his action–instructions twice more.

— o —

At Gwangjang Market, we sat beside a man in a black bubble jacket. We asked him what was the best food and, because he could only speak English in bits and pieces, he answered by ordering bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes) for us. Halfway through my bindaetteok, I looked over their plates and eyed green chili peppers stuffed with meat and vegetables (gochu jeon). My friend could not resist and asked if the green chili peppers were any good. We were to find out as man–in–black–bubble–jacket enthusiastically placed some of his gochu jeon on our plate. He also offered us makgeolli (a traditional rice liquor), but we declined.

Day 3

At Gyeongju Express Terminal, I was glad to find a locker to leave our heavy bags in before we went to see Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto...but the locker had no English instructions, just Korean words and a tiny drawing. I asked the nearest person I saw—an elderly gentleman—how to use it. Though he couldn't speak English, he patiently taught us, through actions, how to use the coin operated locker.

— o —

The subway system in Busan is different from Seoul's. In Nopo Station in Busan, we had to reset our brains while buying from a ticket vending machine and took longer than the normal time it takes to buy a ticket. The guy beside us noticed and, without our asking, helped us with the ticket purchase.

— o —

Unlike the subway tickets in Seoul which are RFID cards, the single–journey subway tickets in Busan are paper tickets, kind of like the tickets in an arcade. On our first night in Busan, at Nopo Station, my friend inserted her ticket at the turnstile, and continued on her way. The same guy who helped us purchase the tickets came running to her to hand her her ticket, which she had not taken back when she entered the turnstile.

Day 4

I was looking forward to seeing my friends who are based in Busan: SangCheol, Yong, and ByeongUk. I had met SangCheol back in 2010 when he studied English in Cebu. Yong and ByeongUk, I met in 2013, when they, along with SangCheol, came to Cebu for a vacation.

For my visit in Busan, to meet them over coffee or lunch or dinner would have been more than enough. On the morning of our first day in Busan, SangCheol picked us up at the hostel. I did not expect him to drive us around Busan all day. But that he did, with Yong riding shotgun. (ByeongUk was out of town on a business trip.) On top of that, he and Yong sneakily paid for everything: the Taejongdae tram ticket, lunch, snacks, and dinner. And would refuse our offer to pay. Every time.

— o —

At a parking area in Gamcheon Culture Village, SangCheol slowed down behind a car that was getting ready to park. But the car in front was just inching along though there were no other cars blocking its way. Yong, who was sitting shotgun, got out of our car and approached the driver's side of the car in front of us. In five seconds the lady got out and Yong got into the car and maneuvered the car into a parking slot. When I asked him if he knew the lady, he said he didn't. He just volunteered to park it for a stranger.

— o —

While walking along the main street of Gamcheon Culture Village, we saw a kid stop in front of a gutter and wail. His toy had fallen through the grill and he couldn't retrieve it. Yong approached him, stooped low and lifted the heavy grill to fish the toy out for the kid.

— o —

We had dinner with SangCheol and SangCheol's friend, Ji In, who we just met that night. (Yong couldn't join us for dinner.) After dinner, because SangCheol was too drunk, he apologized that he could not drive us back to the hostel (nor drive himself home). Riding the subway was not a problem at all for us. While I fumbled with my wallet to buy subway tickets, Ji In had already beat us to it, buying two subway tickets for me and my friend.

Day 5

ByeongUk had arrived the night before and it was he who came to pick us up at the hostel on our second and last day in Busan. SangCheol this time was riding shotgun. (Yong had apologized the day before that he could not meet us again the next day.) ByeongUk and SangCheol took us to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple which was more than an hour's drive away.

— o —

The day before, SangCheol had asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner. I said japchae (stir–fried glass noodles). It boggled his mind because japchae was just a side dish. He tried to think of a restaurant that had japchae but drew a blank. He asked his friends, but they, too, drew a blank. It gave him a headache. It was hilarious and embarrassing at the same time. But, the next day, after visiting Haedong Yonggunga Temple, he triumphantly gave ByeongUk directions to a restaurant where he was sure had japchae. And there we ate a feast...which ByeongUk sneakily paid for.

I really did not expect SangCheol, Yong, and ByeongUk to shove their weekend out the window to chauffeur and show me around. Much less pay for everything.

To SangCheol, Yong, ByeongUk, Ji In, and all the random strangers who have helped me, I am grateful. My debt to you is too big and the words thank you too small.

South Korea Quickie 2014
Wisdom from the Road #22
Seoul: Lessons From My Seoul Airbnb Experience
Seoul: Gwangjang Market
Seoul: Namsan: Park, Tower, and Village
Gyeongju: Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Grotto
Busan: Mr Egg Hostel (Nampo)
Busan: Scenic Sites of Busan: Taejongdae and Oryukdo
Busan: Wishes at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
Busan: 40gyedan–gil and Beyond
Busan: Gamcheon Culture Village
Busan: An Ignoramus in Busan
Daily Dose of Kindness in South Korea (you're here!)
Squeezing Three Cities and One Wallet in Five Days
Busan: What's in a (Business) Name? Busan

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