Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Feel Good Korea

After spending 14 months living in Korea, I have found that recently, and all too often, I am letting the little things get to me. From dodging vomit piles everyday on my way to work, to getting bombarded at a busy subway stop by passengers getting on the train before letting passengers get off,  to the total diregard for line ups in any way, shape or form  (don't even get me started on this one), these small things tend to set me off really easily nowadays. Luckily, as fate would have it, the majority of the time when the things that make my blood boil happen, almost always, something heart warming comes next, just to balance the scales.

This is not my story but I felt I had to blog about it because it encompasses something so very Korean. My boyfriend came home the other day (and for the record he too comes home many a night with tales of woe from his daily Korean adventures), and he was just beaming. He said to me, "Alex. Today was a good Korea day". He was in the area of Gyeongbukgung, Seoul's most historic palace, also an area teeming with tourists. It is in the downtown core and there are many high rise business buildings here. He was lost, completely and utterly lost. Technically he knew where he was, but according to the directions he was following to get somewhere, he was left dazed and confused. After spending quite some time trying to make sense of it all he finally gave up to seek help. (On a side note and in his defense, the directions ended up being utterly useless).

The cloeset thing to him at this point was a tall office building with someone sitting at a large security/reception desk in the main hall. He popped in, with hopes of asking the location of a certain building on his map- just so he could gauge where he was and which way to head. After a bit of sign language and confusion, the woman behind the desk spoke no english and couldn't register anything on his map, she made a phonecall. Within minutes a polite, english speaking Korean business man came off the elevator and offered his services to Garry. Garry felt guilty for disturbing this man but explained to him he was in search of a little jazz bar he read a review on and had printed the directions. He showed the piece of paper hoping to be pointed in the right direction. On a day when the mercury was teetering at way below zero, this young man led Garry outside and walked him the 10 - 15 minutes it took, door to door, to this tiny little jazz bar. Wearing nothing but a suit jacket I might add. Amazing. He interupted his work day to help out some lost waygookin (foreigner), for no other reason than to be helpful.

Even I got all warm and fuzzy inside hearing this story. It sounded like the only thing nicer than his gestures were his words. Garry tried to tell him not to bother walking him all the way there, but this man said Garry was obviously a guest to his country (yeah, a guest of almost a year), so it was his duty to guide his way. Could you imagine this happening in Toronto? Or New York? Nope, never. But in Korea it does.

A nice ending to the story is after saying a heartful thank you and parting ways, Garry was in and out of his final destination in less than 2 minutes flat (We were considering it a potential place to spend NYE with friends but with a quick glance he realized it was too small a venue, and a little fancier than what we were looking for). So he bolted back the way he came and finally tracked this man down and insisted on buying him a quick coffee to say thanks, on his way back to the office building. Surprised by Garry's comeback, and after some convincing, the man agreed. They had a few more minutes of pleasant back and forth banter. Kicker? After Garry ordered the two coffees to takeway, he had to fight this man to pay for them, again the Korean business man was saying Garry was a guest in his country, and it should be his treat. How beautiful.

Honestly, this happens everytime. I will curse Korea when I am treated poorly or I witness some other small injustice and then by day's end, a random act of kindness sets me straight, and I fall back in love with my home away from home. And to be honest, back home in Canada, I am sure these small injustices are a dime a dozen (maybe just of a different nature), but for some reason I am quicker to judge here. Korea, like every other country in this world, is not perfect. It is very different from where I come from and with the those differences come things I don't always like or accept. So when those bad things strike I must constantly remind myself that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


a said...

Beautiful post! I feel the same way about judging the wrongs more harshly than I may in my home country. But everyday I am greeted with a show of Korean generosity that really makes me feel fortunate to be a "guest" here ^^

PolishHammer said...

What a beautiful post! Thank you to the Korean people for reminding us what just a little extra kindness can bring and makes us want to pay it forward to others.

philly pam said...

Such a great post! FYI: The same exact thing happened to us while in Japan this past June, looking for a Karaoke bar. (in that case it was 100 degrees and the fellow left his air conditioned restaurant, dressed in full kimono, to walk us there!!)
A world of difference to Toronto and NY, I must admit. Love,Mrs S