I want to tell you all about this city that I live in, Chuncheon, but time is short settling in here, and lesson planning is hard for someone new to the game and teaching 700 students in three different grades and 22 different classes. So I will share this short story with you instead of anything too involved.
I ride the bus to work. After bundling up to brave the 20-degree mornings, I walk out of my 15-storied apartment building, weave between the half dozen other ones just like it, cross the road, and then wait for the bus. But today, I didn’t ride the bus.
Waiting under the bus stop covering, I looked up at the screen and saw bus 64-2, my bus, was 12 minutes away. On my right was a woman I see there often. On my left were two boys standing on the curb, seemingly waiting for the bus, and playing with one of their smartphones. But after a minute of waiting, a little red sedan pulled in next to them and they hopped in the back. No bus for them today, I thought.
But after they were in, the red car rolled a little forward to directly in front of the bus stop. The man behind the wheel, as the car inched forward, seemed to be looking right at me. I was sitting on a bench, so we were right at eye level. There was no doubting it; this man was staring at me.
He rolled down his window, kids in the back, and started calling out to me in Korean. I can speak some Korean, but I didn’t understand a word he said. I didn’t need to - most of human communication is nonverbal – he made his meaning clear: he wanted me to get in the car. What?! This man was offering to give me a ride. With that upward inflexion, which (Thank God) is also the signal of a question in Korean, I asked, “Chuncheon Jung?” (Jung means middle school). He spoke some more Korean. “Huh?” I repeated my question. He nodded and said “Ne.” So I got up, right in front of the woman who’d been watching the whole exchange and probably understood it better than me, and got into his car.
I said thank you as I sat down in the passenger’s seat, laying my bag in my lap. I felt I should at least give my name, since this guy, who turned out to be one of the boys’ father, was giving me a lift and didn’t even know me. If he knew my name, I wouldn’t be a stranger anymore. So I told him my name. I thought he might tell me his name, too, but he just said “Ne” again and drove on.
The boys were students at my school, I learned after he dropped us off. But in the first grade – I only teach second and third. I think the boy's father picks them up near that bus stop every day. He must have been seeing me, and heard from the boys that I teach at their school.
So I learned that in Korea, people don’t mind picking strangers up at the bus stop.
Have you ever given a complete stranger a ride?