When we started going to Seoul every December (most Korean friends would always tell us it’s borderline suicide to be there during that time of year, when temperatures can go as low as -15°C), we never knew we’d enjoy it so much. As I’ve written in a previous article, the first wave of Koreans I’ve encountered when I started working for hotels weren’t very pleasant. The language can be a bit of a challenge as well, not to mention we were born and bred in the tropics…
So one can imagine how surprised we were to actually look forward to another December in Seoul.
Maybe this was because, after being exposed to the nicer sort (both in my husband’s office and our very pleasant next door neighbours), we’ve learned that contrary to the Koreans in Manila during the mid 2000s (and their winter temperature), they are some of the warmest, most hospitable people on earth.
Our last visit was somewhat of a showcase of their warmth. Most cab drivers that gave us rides overcame the language issue (some through means of tech, some using basic English and a whole lot of empathy) and made us feel welcome in their city (they never cheated us with the fare, unlike Manila cabbies, just saying).
My husband’s boss was another example. While he exhibits the hardworking characteristics typical of a man of his stature, he never fails to give importance to the value of family not just to his colleagues, but to their significant others as well. In fact, during one very authentic Korean dinner that he was so generous to invite me to, he taught me a couple of things: Korean braised pig trotters (which I do believe is called Jokbal, but I am welcome to be corrected), and soju etiquette.
Soju etiquette may seem complicated (I was so confused at the start), but I can break it down (as it was explained to me) as follows:
- The host (typically the highest-ranking person in the table) serves his subordinates in shot glasses. After he serves them, he is then served.
- One must receive his drink with both hands.
- A subordinate should face away from the host when drinking, as there is a risk of exposing his teeth to the host, which is deemed as an insult. In fact, in some K-Dramas, they even cover their glasses from the host.
- Nobody is allowed to serve himself.
- There are many toasts, so glasses are constantly filled.
- Soju may be substituted for beer, but the same etiquette applies.
- In the case of a family setting, the highest-ranking person is the oldest person.
Speaking of oldest persons…
Most people who know me are familiar with my quirk with kindly old ladies: I can’t say no to them. I’ve bought useless, expensive things from them, chased after them with an item left behind, been given stuff to randomly, helped them in and out of their chairs, listened to them even if I was running late to a meeting…
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to people that I managed to strike up a “conversation” with an old Korean woman in the Seoul subway.
It all started like this: I was sitting in the disabled section (with a game plan of getting up for a person who would need the seat more than I did… I’m not THAT much of a monster) next to the woman in question when she suddenly spoke to me in Korean while looking at the stops flashing on the subway screen.
After apologising and politely telling her I didn’t speak the language, I made a guess that she couldn’t hear the stops anymore and that it was hard for her to see the stops (I was surviving getting around via an app I downloaded).
So, I proceeded to tell her each stop we were at (with her correcting my pronunciation as needed). She asked me (note that the conversation was in broken English so there’s no way I could quote everything verbatim) where I was from, and what I was doing in Seoul. She was impressed that my husband works for the biggest South Korean multinational company.
I helped her to her transfer (we had the same one) and decided to keep pace with her. I ended up accompanying her to an elevator full of elderly people (who wondered what I was doing there, to which she explained I was helping her… Or she was helping me? I wasn’t sure who thought the other was lost anymore at that point, the lady seemed sure about where she was). The people were kind to me, and even asked where I was from.
In the next train (I needed to get off several stops ahead of hers), she asked me, “You Christian?” I said I was. She told me she went to church and prayed constantly, and that she especially prayed for her country. She requested for me to do the same.
Initially puzzled, I said, “I will, but your country is already so beautiful, and the people are so kind.” She shook her head and insisted that I pray for her country, and that the current situation made her sad.
Ah. The war.
As I got out, I asked her if she was going to be fine. She said she would be.
When I saw Chad that evening and told him about what happened, he told me, “I don’t know who she was, but I think God used her to say something to you. I think she was an angel.”
I know that this seems so far from our normal drink-related topics, but this being the holidays, I thought it would be lovely to share this story with our readers. Whatever your beliefs are, I think if there’s anything the people of Seoul taught me, it’s that kindness and warmth transcends all language.
So please be kind to one another this Christmas. Share what you have, be it a drink or a listening ear. Maybe you too will make someone’s holidays warmer. 😉
From all of us here in 2shotsandapint, Happy Holidays!