I’m not going to lie. I had a pretty rough day today. But even before things went wrong, I was planning to write something about the random kindnesses of strangers and how it can really affect your day.
Random acts of kindness seem so much more important when you’re a foreigner in a strange country. I think it’s because usually, as foreigners who can’t speak Korean well, we just walk around avoiding eye contact and breaking out into a nervous sweat anytime someone starts to speak to us in Korean. So, while I tend to walk around with a really cynical view that all Korean men think I’m a Russian prostitute and want to ‘ride the white horse’ with me, and that all Korean women think I’m a dumb Russian prostitute and hate me for dirtying up their country, I’ve found that most of the time, I am really wrong.
Usually these moments happen when I get into the elevator with an old person. It’s awkward enough being trapped in a small space with a total stranger, but when they just stare at you, it’s so much worse. However, 99% of the time the old Korean grandmother checking me out will politely ask me “Where are you from? Do you like Korea?” in Korean, or tell me I am beautiful. Today I got in the elevator going down with an old woman walking an adorable, fat little black dachshund (TIL: I have been spelling ‘dachshund’ wrong my entire life, forgetting the second ‘h’) and we exchanged smiles and I told her that her dog was cute.
When I got to school, the gruff old man who sits at the desk to mine, whom I have dubbed “Bear Teacher” because he is kind of gruff and grouchy like you would imagine a bear to be, and I think he is going through some kind of hibernation as he sleeps at his desk every spare moment of the day, told me “Good morning!” in his cute way. When I walked into my second class, which includes the three top members of my unofficial fan club, I was greeted with cries of “I love you” and “You are beautiful, Melissa Teacher! Your skin is as white as snow!” (They just learned that phrase in relation to polar bears, and I think that a Korean person telling you you have white skin is almost up there with having a small face.)
Then things took a turn for the worse when I read an email from my mother which said that my grandmother had put both her dogs down a few days before. I loved those dogs so much. The big one, Bear, was a scary-looking black mutt. She would bite the head off anyone who would threaten us, but was the sweetest thing when with her family. She was rescued from a life of hunger, neglect, and back-to-back pregnancies back when a family who didn’t deserve her had her. (SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR DOG. IT IS NOT THAT HARD.) The little one, Chauncey, was a mentally-slow cocker spaniel with huge feet and long eyelashes. Everyone always thought he was a girl because he was so beautiful. He was also rescued from a neglectful family who left him tied up and alone outside their house. He had a lot of damage to his poor ears because they had been frostbitten and parts had to be cut off by the vet after my grandmother saved him. So, I think you can tell from that paragraph that I really, really loved these dogs. I couldn’t wait to come back to America and see them. I was really worried that Bear wouldn’t make it, because she’s had bad canine diabetes for a long time, but she was such a fighter. She was still going strong even though her vet had told us about five years ago she would be dead soon. I miss my babies :(
Unfortunately, I opened this email right before class, and so I was a little red-eyed on the way to my class. Then, two of my afore-mentioned fan club members saw me and said “What’s wrong”? and then of course the waterworks came on and I was crying in the hallway as a crowd of students and teachers watched. It was so awkward and I felt like such a baby. But the students were so kind and they hugged me and the one girls kept saying “I understand your feeling, my dog also dead” so their kindness really touched me (and made me want to cry more! Seriously, if you ever see me cry, just be mean to me! If you’re nice to me I will feel so much worse.)
And then, coming home on a very crowded subway (and lugging a big E-Mart bag,) a nice old Korean man moved over for me and tapped my shoulder and motioned for me to grab onto one of the handles on the subway. This is kind of a big deal because this might be the first time anyone on a metropolitan-area subway has made space for another person.
So, I think random acts of kindness from my students or total strangers really got me through my day. I think I should start smiling at people more, and not just staring at the ground or my phone. I feel like I could make a better connection with people here.