Good Times in South Korea

korean friends

My friend Lucy and me in my apartment having a girl's night in!

I have experienced kindness here that I have not experienced from strangers in America, and I wanted to take the time to reflect on that. Let me begin with Lucy. Lucy is the after school teacher at my school, and we hit it off immediately. She came into my class one day and we had a conversation about teaching. These days we have dinner together and talk on the phone all the time. She stops me often to look up words in her electronic dictionary. Speaking English used to tire her out, but I think that she’s becoming more comfortable with the language. We talk about everything from race relations, to dating. When I was sick, Lucy came to my apartment to help me pack. She actually packed up everything in the kitchen. She’s invited me to visit her hometown, and I can’t wait to go!

I have also had several random acts of kindness. When I first came to Korea, I got lost in the Seomyeon subway station, although the signs are in Korean and English. A lady who didn’t speak any English came up to me. I pointed to my destination on a map. She took me to an elevator, rode with me and walked me to the correct platform.

When I go shopping at small boutiques (like the beauty store) I usually get free samples. Once, I was trying to buy hand lotion and the shop keeper gave me a full-sized gift set of lotion and hand sanitizer in a nice-sized box. Another example that comes to mind is when I was buying hair dye and shampoo at this beauty boutique and the store associate gave me a free full-sized bottle of hair conditioner. Oh, and recently I wanted a tote bag, and although I needed to have bought $20 worth of stuff to get one the associate gave it to me with only about $5 worth of items.

An aujuma (older Korean woman) kneeled down and tied my shoe while I stood in the street. I didn’t know that my shoe was untied. She just did it and walked away.

There’s also the lady who sells street food who is always trying to give me free food to try with my usual chicken on a stick.

Every day after school the little old ladies who sit on the benches outside smile when I say goodbye. Children from my school say hello Claudine teacher to me in the street and bow. Sometimes tiny precious children with prompts from their parents say hello to me at the bakery in my neighborhood. Yes. The cashier in the bakery knows to search for chocolate chip cookies for me.

One of the most touching events happened recently. My grandmother died in October; we were very close. I went into this restaurant months later, and something about the aujuma who cooked up my fish and asked me if I was hungry, made me remember my grandmother. That happens sometimes. I started to cry spontaneously. I tried to explain that I was sad because of my grandmother’s death. She picked up my chopsticks and began feeding me my fish. I don’t know what made her do that. I heard her say baby. I suppose that I appeared very young, and very sad. Her actions touched me all the more when she asked me in faltering English to come back again.

15 comments

  • L'Erin

    sweetest post. i have an eternally tender, rich, open, loving place in my heart for elders and the last pieces of your story really touched me. thank you for sharing all aspects and elements of your experiences. they’re all so helpful and informative!

  • Cecilia

    That’s really awesome! It makes me even more excited to come to Korea this year! So it’s about that time of the year (end of your contact). Do you think that you will be doing it for another year?

  • My contract doesn’t end until August, so I have some time.

  • Jan

    Great post! I have to agree with you. Just reading your post brought back memories of how kind Koreans also were to me (a black woman).Human courtesty and kindness is often overlooked in general. But I have to say in Korea, it was pretty awesome! Very generous people. I got tears in my eyes at the end of your post where the ajuma fed you. WOW! So touching… Human courtesy and kindness is so simple but in the end means so much. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Long live the Diva! Seriously, nice blog you have here. Chris in South Korea here – I just discovered your blog via KoreaBlogList and wanted to say hi from one K-blogger – and fellow traveler – to another. I’ve added you to my Google Reader (the only way to keep up with several dozen K-blogs!) and linked to you on my blog (http://chrisinsouthkorea.blogspot.com). If you have the time, I’d appreciate a linkback! I know you’re busy – next time you have some time, let me know ­čÖé Take care for now — Chris

  • Avalon

    This post was so moving. Thank you again.

  • Fantastic post! I am glad that things like this are not isolated events. I’ve been treated so well here by absolute strangers that it sometimes boggles my mind. I remember once it was raining, rather pouring so hard that cars had trouble making their way down the street. I had to walk home in this without an umbrella or jacket. This couple dashed over and gave me their umbrella while they huddled under their remaining one.

    Things like that never happened back home.

    Thanks for sharing!
    .-= kissmykimchi┬┤s last blog ..Bob Ross Likes Touch Phones =-.

  • Jewels

    I really enjoyed your story, it was very touching.

  • wow, i completely agree. it was really rough for me when i first moved to my apartment alone after orientation. my friend told me that people were saying nasty things about me in Korean, especially about my hair smelling weird very loudly because they didn’t think i knew. i was really depressed about it, but other people’s kindness here have definitely helped me to move past that. i think there is a lot more good than bad, and i love it when people are randomly kind to me. :] great post!
    .-= neverknowsbest┬┤s last blog ..good rainy day song. =-.

  • Christille Broach

    Hi. Im Christille and I’m sixteen years old. My dream is to move to Korea so I’m trying to learn the language and culture because I love it so much. Your story just comfirmed everything that was in my head already. It was so touching. I would love for you to help me with some advice to moving to Korea. I got interested in Korea through their music. Music is my life and I have decided that I want to be in the entertainmaint business. But I have been scared that they wouldn’t accept me for some reason. Im just so lost on how to even start when I decide to move. Some advice would be nice. Thanx for your post.

  • Hi,
    My girlfriend and I are both EPIK teachers in Korea. We have also experienced an amazing degree of kindness since being here

    Christille,
    It’s great that someone your age has such a clear goal for the future. Be careful, however, not to build your expectations too high. Korea is a great place but it isn’t perfect, no where is.

    You will be accepted here. in fact, you will be accepted to such a high degree that it may become overwhelming at times. The most important thing to remember is that you should never let your insecurities inhibit your future choices.

    Good luck with your Korean studies.
    .-= Jimmy┬┤s last blog ..ESL Conversation Club Lesson Plan, Pre-intermediate (Korean middle school): Expressions and Questions about Food =-.

  • pearls

    This is very inspirational and moving! I, too, can relate to noticing unexpectedly, the mannerisms or features of a complete stranger that reminds me of a close family member that’s no longer present. Also, I’m ‘thankful’ that there are some beautiful people on this earth who aren’t a part of the cynical status quo! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • AmaGeeGee

    That’s really touching. I share the same feelings as you to Christille. I got into Korea because of the music and desperately want to go teach there. I’m seventeen and this job is my dream!

  • oh my gosh! your post brought happy tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. <3
    .-= Reaha┬┤s last blog ..Stiff Competition =-.

  • Noma

    The song mama by boys II men played in my head when I read the post about the woman feeding you and I got all teary eyed!
    I don’t know why
    great post though ­čÖé

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