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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The kindness of strangers

Having lived in Korea for nearly 2 months now, I continue to be impressed by the kindness of some people here. Sure there are plenty of examples of Koreans being rude, pushy and unkind, but there have also been many people who go out of their way to help a foreigner and make me feel welcome.

This was on display today as I did my Christmas shopping in Insadong, a neighborhood specializing in traditional Korean crafts and other souvenirs. It's the perfect place to shop for the holidays and, today being Wednesday, the area wasn't nearly as crowded as last time I went. Insadong is accustomed to tourists but manages to still be charming and most of the shopkeepers are friendly and helpful.

In two different stores, the owners gave me little presents after I paid -- a good-luck charm with a butterfly and chili peppers and a hand-made teaspoon. In a specialty tea store, the owner (who didn't speak any English but communicated with lots of hand gestures) poured me cup after cup of tea to sample and ended up giving me a small bag of tea leaves to try.

The tea shop was phenomenal -- such a wide range of teas, from dandelion and geranium to your basic green and black teas. One of the more interesting teas is Snow Dew Tea, made only in Korea.

The Snow Dew Tea came with an English description which, as usual, contained some unintentionally hilarious claims, my favorite being: "Snow Dew Tea can be used for students who use their brain a lot."

This apparently magical tea also claims help you lose weight, alleviates chronic fatigue, gets rid of "bad breathing," treats constipation, strengthens blood vessels, increases stamina and cures athlete's foot.


Going along with the "kindness of strangers" theme, I was at our corner store this afternoon buying milk for tea and one of the other customers, a stereotypical ajumma, put both of her hands on my face and said, "Beautiful girl. Migook? Beautiful." (Interestingly, while the term migook generally is used to mean "American," it literally translates to "beautiful country.")

I'll be sending out Christmas cards in the next week or two so if you want a Christmas card from Seoul, let me know. I'd love get cards from you all so maybe we can do a card exchange.