| by Katie Katona |
My brother had been teaching English in South Korea for two years before I was finally able to go visit. I purchased my ticket, packed up my bags and got myself to the airport. I was feeling pretty lucky because it was going to be my first time in an Asia, and I had my big brother to show me the ropes.
I landed in Seoul, took a bus right to our hotel, and Steve was there to meet me. We spent a couple of days sightseeing, and then my big bro had to get back to his school for a few days of teaching. Since I wanted to spend every moment of my trip exploring, I decided to catch a bus in the opposite direction and see where it took me. I booked a hostel in advance and figured I would meet some fellow travelers upon my arrival.
As soon as I boarded the bus my anxiety started to kick in. I was looking around and realizing I couldn’t read anything, couldn’t talk to anyone, and there was definitely no way I could use my phone. When the bus stopped for bathroom breaks, I refused to get off because I thought I might get on the wrong bus and not understand if someone tried to tell me differently. (A bit irrational, I know). As I got to my destination, I was the epitome of a tourist; holding up a map and looking back and forth. I did manage to get to my hostel because it was basically two left turns. That is where my luck ran out. I got to the front desk where they informed me that they only took cash, which I had none of. The kicker is that not all Korean ATMs take American debit cards. So I asked if they knew where the nearest one was located, and they drew me another map to follow. After finding two ATMs they recommended, and realizing that neither took my debit card, it started to rain. It was like a scene out of a rom-com movie, without any of the romance. I was getting panicky and drenched.
So I started walking, thinking to myself that I had gotten in way over my head. On my left, a Korean man started walking next to me. At first I thought he was just a little too close, but then I realized he was walking next to me with his umbrella held out over my head, making sure I was no longer getting wet. When I tried to thank him, it became pretty evident he didn’t speak any English, and soon we reached his destination. As he started to leave, he also insisted (with the use of hand gestures) that I take his umbrella with me.
It might seem like a simple gift, and I’m sure he didn’t know what a big difference it made to me on that particular day, but I was so grateful. Now, I look back on that moment as one of my favorite travel memories, and it’s possible he has forgotten all about it. I still use his umbrella and think of him each time I do. It also makes me hope that to someone I am “the girl who held the door”, or “the girl who paid for my coffee when I forgot my wallet” – just like he is forever “the man who gave me his umbrella”.