For this post, I wanted to highlight a situation in which someone went "above and beyond" (excuse the cliche, please) to assist me - a time in which I was basically shit out of luck without that person's help. As a frequent traveler, even with impeccable planning, I have often find myself in need of a kind act from locals or another traveler, and delving into my travel experiences seemed a good place to start. One event in particular came to mind.
About five years ago, I was traveling in Busan, South Korea. My travel companion and I set out to exploring the surrounding neighborhoods - including a famous nearby monastery - on foot, and enjoy a relaxing hike at a nearby mountain. We are active people, we had our maps, planned out our route, and were set. Without unnecessary explanation, we'd had to walk much further than we intended (as in miles and miles further) and as a result, finished our hike in the dark in a drenching thunderstorm. We finally made it back to some semblance of a town, and decided to hail a taxi at what looked to be a taxi stand. There seemed to be no other form of transportation around, we'd gotten turned around in the dark, and others were standing in that same spot, also seemingly intent on hailing a cab. But the best laid plans....
We stood there unsuccessfully for probably 30 minutes, freezing, exhausted, soaked through. No cabs stopped for us, or anyone else. Do they have the same taxi driver shift change laws in Busan as they do here in Philly? I guess they must. At this point, we should have been back to our hotel hours ago, and we were downright frustrated, not to mention cold and hungry. We were trying to figure out an alternate transportation plan when a local gentleman - probably mid-40s, nicely dressed, looking like he'd just come from work - asked where we were headed. When we told him, he offered us a ride to the train station across town (much too far to walk, especially in our current state). He said the station was on his way home and would give us easy access to our hotel. We were so tired and desperate to get back that we accepted. He dropped us off at the station, patiently explaining the train system as best he could in broken English, and made sure we were headed in the right direction. I think it was close to 11 PM when we finally got to our hotel.
Looking back, was it smart to get into a car with a man I didn't know, in a foreign city where I didn't speak the language, obviously in a vulnerable position? Probably not. I suspect if I'd been traveling alone I wouldn't have done so. I also suspect that if he'd approached us in a more remote spot with nobody else was present, I would have also declined. To be honest, I think if I'd been in the US I would have turned down the offer. Why it feels like I'd be more likely to get abducted or worse here, where I am familiar with the language and customs, I'm not sure. But it does. Perhaps it's the fact that as I've traveled the world, I have found as a whole that locals feel it's their duty and their honor to help visitors - to be good ambassadors for their town or region or country. I have been reliant strangers' help overseas more times than I can count, and have heard countless stories of others doing the same.
What I do know is, this random act of kindness still stays with me, even years later. I have to give the man credit - I consider myself a pretty kind person, but if I encountered two soaking wet strangers who I could barely communicate with, I'm not sure I would have offered to load them into my car, in the dark, at the end of an already long day, and drive them across town just out of the goodness of my heart, I'd like to think I would, but in reverse, in a less desperate situation, I probably be more focused on the safety issue. The man took a chance on us just like we took a chance on him, and though I would have gladly paid him more or less whatever price he asked, he didn't ask for a thing.