But sitting in yet another overpriced cafe in swanky-ass Apgujeong reminds me of why I love Korea -- kindness.
I have three stories. Each made me fall in love a little bit more.
My first day of work was pretty much a bust. I arrived late, met a new batch of seemingly normal coworkers and then headed out for my health check. You know, the part where they check me for dirty foreigner diseases like swine flu, AIDS and marijuana use. Wait, that's not a disease. But I digress. So I trekked all the way up to Dongdaemun, dutifully peed in some cups, scarfed down my usual Korean lunch of a Coke and some chips and headed back to Seocho. Only the subways have changed. Where once a kind old man issued tickets there now stood a cold machine. And I could not, for the life of me, remember my stop. In English or Korean. I stood staring at the machine. God, why didn't I write this down?
And then I saw the kindest looking ajjoshi. Now this is not to say they are always kind. Or sober, for that matter. But this one was. I showed him my map and pointed to my destination. He nodded, smiled and did his damnedest to get the machine to issue me a ticket. But he, too, was having trouble. So he enlisted THREE more ajummas. Yes, three. And apparently that's how many people it takes to figure out the Seoul Subway Ticket Issuing Machine. With ticket in hand, I bowed, said my kamsahamnida's and made to get on my way. After all, YBM wasn't paying my 30,000 won to chit chat with the locals. Ajjoshi had something else in mind, though. He grabbed my arm, pointed, and escorted me all the way to the subway platform, just to make sure I was headed in the right direction. How freakin' nice is that? I cannot, in my wildest dreams, imagine an elderly American extending such a helping hand for a foreigner. I was grateful.
The night I arrived in Korea also happened to be the last for my good friend Erica. Needless to say I dumped my luggage, showered, rifled through my bags to find something suitable to wear and headed to the bar. My apartment was already a mess. Swell. And it stayed that way. I had more pressing social matters to attend to.
Anyway, Saturday night Amanda and I were marveling at how spacious my new apartment was when there was a knock at the door. WTF?! I answered it to find the Building Ajumma. In broken English she introduced herself, told me where she lived and offered me some grapes. Double swell. And that was the end of our exchange. Amanda and went back to marveling and I *assumed* Building Ajumma went back to mopping and separating trash. Nope. Twenty minutes later Building Ajumma returned with two boxes of toothpaste and soap, some hand towels and a hot pink hand-knitted potholder. This was when she discovered the Shoe Travesty: a pile of shoes, three deep, all stacked in the walkway. She gasped, I laughed nervously and Amanda just smiled. Then Building Ajumma got down on her hands and knees and artfully arranged my Shoe Travesty. Oh god. But she wasn't done there. She invited herself in and gave Amanda and I the full Korean Shower rundown, demonstration included. Yep.
I got an apple from my neighbor. It's nothing special, but I was sitting on his stoop at 2 AM, chatting to America, watching a man take a nap in the street. My neighbor winked at me, made to walk past me, then thought better of it. He stopped, apparently to reconsider me. Then he tore open his bag of red delicious apples and offered me one. A tasty late night snack. Thanks, neighbor.
I feel better already.