Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

It was four o’clock p.m. I had called a moving company in the morning hoping to have a moving van come to my apartment. As I finish up a job in a few weeks I need to move and as I need to move I need to put stuff in a truck and have it towed over to the new place and as there is a lot of stuff to move I need a service, and so I called the service.

Four o’clock comes and goes and still no movers. So I call the company I had called in the morning.

“Where are you?”

“Ya, no, six o’clock.”

“No, now, you said now.”

My argument might have been more convincing than that but most of it was in Korean and from what I could gather I was not getting a moving service. I needed to move, and I needed to move in the next two hours. I was burning daylight and had to get stuff hauled.

I contemplated calling another moving service but figured I’d have about the same amount of luck. So instead I put on a look of absolute desperation and walked down the street looking for. I knew exactly what I was looking for.

I was looking for a grandmother in a shop window. Or any older Korean woman who might take pity on me, because, as the very famous Blanche DuBois would say “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” In Korea I am strange. I am a stranger. I can live with my status of stranger but it makes finding and communicating with other strangers a bit more difficult, but not impossible.

If you are willing to work for it, nothing is impossible.

If you are willing to be polite, nothing is impossible.

If you are aware enough to be a little self deprecating, nothing is impossible.

And if you are willing, just willing, to depend on the kindness of strangers, you will be alright.

Once, I was traveling in Japan with my friend Monolycus on a visa run. It was late, we were in Fukuoka and it was well past dark. My first time in Japan on Christmas day. The place lit up a neon jungle and the girls and boys stopping about beautiful, Japanese, strange. People spoke in an Asian tongue and I couldn’t understand a word of it. It was like the first day in Korea. It was like the first time all over again.

We wanted beer but couldn’t find any. Either our lack of experience or our general confusion had us wondering the street at eleven p.m. on Christmas day looking for beer. Finally Mono just stopped someone and asked him in English “Where can I get a beer?” The Japanese business man looked at us confused for a second, and then grabbed his arm and we were off. He ran dragging us up and down streets and we were a bit lost, neither of us knowing how to get back to the hotel. Into a restaurant we run and the Japanese gentleman runs up to the bar and starts talking quickly.

It took us a few minutes, but we stood and waited. And then the shop owner turned to us and said in English “My friend says you need beer. I have beer.” And he gave us four very large bottle of beer. And a bottle opener. The business man took us back to where he found us and from there we wandered through the pretty pretty lights until we found where we were staying. We drank ands smoked and toasted the Japanese.

I needed to move, and I’ve always depend on the kindness of strangers. At the end of the block I found an hajuma smiling happily out her storefront window and I went in.

“Chae-son-ham-ni-da” I began. And then I asked for a pen.

I drew pictures of what I needed, rather than trying to explain in Korean. She listened and smiled and shook her head, and then told her assistant and they made some phone calls. She asked me to sit and gave me a coffee. She asked me where I worked and I told her.

“My son is in your class. He speaks about you.”

I asked after the class, as the name is no good for me. Her assistant suggested a picture and so she found one and showed me her grandson who looks vaguely familiar but I can’t be sure. I am a teacher, and I am polite, and so we talked about his class number. I know the class he is in, the kind of work they do, so I could say with a fair amount of accuracy where he would be. We talked and a few minutes later the moving van showed up.

I moved my stuff with the help of the ancient Korean who was driving that truck. He lifted boxes like they were made of air while I struggled with my lot but he helped me and I moved successfully at roughly the time I had expected too. The move was all over much less painless than I had anticipated. I reflected as I unpacked boxes over wine that night with Australian chicky, that I should have just done that first.

I should have just depended on the kindness of strangers. It’s gotten me this fair. And if I know anything, it will get me a whole lot farther.

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