Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Incredible kindness of strangers

As promised, a tale from the road...

An overwhelming theme I observed when traveling solo last week was the incredible kindness of strangers I encountered everywhere I turned. A true, big-hearted kindness that transcended language barriers and gave me more reason to believe in the inherent good intention of mankind. How refreshing!

In Tongyeong, on my way to the ferry terminal I met an old man on the bus who spoke about as much English as I spoke Korean (and that's not saying much). We walked together to the ferry terminal in an understandable silence. He walked with me until I reached the ticket counter where I bought a round trip ticket to a nearby island after finding out there wasn't a ferry going to my intended destination of Yeosu. I thanked him, we waved goodbye and I took off for my island cruise.

An hour and a half later when the ferry returned I walked out of the terminal to find my newly acquainted friend waiting for me with a car and his son for a driver. Hmm, he might be here to help me to the bus station so I can get to Yeosu. I did tell him I wanted to go there. How nice!Damn, I wish I spoke better Korean! Oh well, I'll just see what happens... He then says "tour Tongyeong?", so I throw my bag in the back seat and I'm off for a tour of the town with the locals. The old man obviously had great pride in his country and city and was going out of his way to share it with an outsider. We went first to the Tongyeong Fisheries Museum where we had a quick look at miniature constructions of Korean fishing boats, stuffed and plasticized sea creatures and some live fish in tanks and then we went back to the car where his son was waiting.

After the museum we drove down to the port to eat lunch. We were a very unlikely trio--an old man, his son in a wheelchair, and me-- walking through the fish markets in search of a kimbap restaurant. When we found one, a soju-intoxicated man joined our table and proceeded to have a one-sided conversation with me in Korean that lasted through lunch--he seemed to think I fully understood (maybe it was all the smiling and nodding that gave him that impression). After lunch we stopped at a temple for another quick walk-through on the way to the bus station.

There wasn't a single bus to Yeosu, my friend informed me. "Jinju?" he asked. Jinju, Jinju...what do I know about Jinju? It's North of here. I know next to nothing about it. Okay, sure, I say. Jinju it is! The old man then bought my ticket for me and refused to take my money. I didn't have time to argue about it though, my bus was leaving in a mere 8 minutes.

I rushed to my seat on the bus, sat down, relaxed and reflected upon the events of the day. An old man and his son devoted their entire afternoon to driving me around their town, showing off their small corner of the world... without even knowing so much as my name. Amazing.

Jinju eventually led me to Changhakdong, a.k.a. the Village of Taoist Masters, where I spent the night on the mountain. Story to come later though, I've rambled on too much already.