To the old woman on the bus, I saw you shuffle on to the bus with a calm demeanor that seemed to contradict the rushing, busy city around you. You lowered yourself on to your seat designated for the elderly, and I saw your eyes rest on me for a few seconds. It's no wonder, since I'm the only white face amidst a sea of Koreans, crammed on the lurching bus. It was standing room only for those who are not elderly or with children, so I was clinging to the bar on the bus as it jumped forward and screeched to a halt at the numerous stops on the route to my apartment. A smile couldn't help bus escape from my lips when I saw you nonchalantly and unashamedly lean forward to see what I had in my shopping bags.
After 45 long minutes, the bus had spit out most of its passengers, and you and I were among the 15 or so people left.. I was still standing and clinging to the bar, lost in my own little world. It had been a long day, and perhaps that showed on my face. I missed my family, my friends, and being in a familiar place. While living overseas can be exhilarating, it is also an exhausting and discouraging process at times. My day of shopping had been frustrating, and once again I hadn't found what I needed. This is one of the times where I just wanted to be home, and as wonderful of a country Korea is, it just wasn't cutting it today. Loneliness, discouragement, and homesickness crept its way into my heart today, and a long bus ride is the last thing I wanted to be doing.
When I lived in Indiana, I desperately schemed ways to travel the world, yet now that I'm following those dreams, I find myself daydreaming of our old apartment, the school I taught at, and family get-togethers. I think about how easy it was to call my friends and have them over for a meal.
Why am I so prone to discontentment?
Lost in my thoughts, I felt a tap on my leg, and looked down to see you smiling and motioning for me to sit beside you.
That small action broke the stereotype of the fierce, no-nonsense ajumma (elderly women) of Korea that seem to be the country's lifeblood. After I shuffled into the seat beside you, you grabbed my hand and patted it, further surprising me. Chatting at me in Korean, you asked where I was from, and I replied with "America". That's about all I understood, and I got the impression you knew I had not a clue what you were saying, but you continued to gently speak to me and smile. You patted my knee with a hand that reminded me of my grandmother's, and suddenly I didn't feel so lonely.
The bus finally lurched to the stop in my neighborhood, and I bowed to you as I stood to exit the bus. With a grin, you bowed your head back. I left the bus grinning, the gray cloud lifted from me.
Thank you for pulling me out of my loneliness.
It's these moments that I cherish when I travel. Small moments with small interactions that change a place from a destination, a sort of life phase purgatory, into a home.
To hear more stories from our life in Korea, click here.