Friday, April 3, 2015

Random Acts of Kindness

Life is filled with random acts of kindness. I experience it every day - someone holds the door when I have my hands full, strangers guarding each others' belongings at a coffee shop while they order or run to the restroom, a neighbor shoveling the elderly next door neighbor's snow or mowing their lawn. Yet with so much focus on the negatives of the world, we tend to not notice or hold on to these moments of genuine goodness.

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. 


  1. I think that we have all been the beneficiaries of the kinds of acts of kindness you describe if we just think about it for a minute. One of the main stumbling blocks in society today - especially American society - is a lack of trust. I used to think nothing of picking up a hitchhiker or stopping to help someone in trouble at a roadside (or sticking out my thumb myself, for that matter). If I stopped to ask someone if they needed a ride today, though, more than likely they would wonder what I was up to. Not that it should stop us from trying.

    1. I agree. I think in part, we do have a right to be more leery - with technology today, people can practically track you from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go back to bed at night, and possibly even then and it does seem to have made crimes where people are preying on others more prevalent. I also think that there are two sides to that. With technology, we hear about about every little thing from numerous sources, the instant it happens, blown up by the media. I remember even when I was a kid, we had the "don't talk to strangers" programs at school, and we had a code word in case someone other than a parent (or the person you expected) picked you up from school, that you shouldn't go with them unless they knew the code word (presumably told to them by your parents). So we were careful about strangers and such back then, but it was done in a more common sense way. These days, we're so terrified of EVERYTHING as a society if a stranger offers to give someone a ride, the person will probably tweet, FB, and instagram it and the person would be picked up with attempted kidnapping charges. Often times, this means they don't even offer, making it more rare, and therefore more "suspicious". Vicious circle.