I sit here today at Incheon Airport after having spent 9 days in South Korea. What changed from 9 days ago to now? Nothing much in retrospect; just that everything I may have believed about people is now everything I do believe.
See no Evil
My brother, Sharad (Shiv, Sanu, Kraze ..whatever you call him) surprised me at Incheon Airport. Before I arrived he sent me an email detailing the steps I have to take in order to get to a small town called, Sangdong in Yeongwol. There were roughly 30 steps I had to follow. To be honest, I was worried I'd end up in the DMZ and put myself on a trip up and across the border!
After meeting him we decided to have breakfast. I gathered I'd be having a traditional Korean meal as my first culunary experience in the country - I was wrong, he took me to MacDonalds. After breakfast we headed off on, what they call here, a Limousine. The normal buses here are equipped with recliner leather seats and double the chair space of any economy airbus seat you may have sat on. It was freezing, by the way. We headed off to Yeongwol, a town of 40,000 people (from memory), and then Sanu drove us back to his town in Sangdong.
To say that it were possible to describe the beauty of South Korea, especially that of Sangdong, with mere words would be a fallacy. Though, I'm going to try. The drive back was amazing. We drove through mountains (literally) on roads that had four lanes on each end and not on pothole in sight. In one one-and-a-half hour drive I saw hundreds of apartment buildings 30-40 stories high next to each other in a huge city, to hundreds and hundreds of mountain ranges as far as the eye can see. The feel you have when you're here is very different to that of any other country I've been to. On my second day here I saw it snow...soft, white, fluffy snow. It was incredible.
Hear no Evil
The most amazing part of Korea are the people. The way they go out of their way to help anyone. When Sanu and I arrived at Yeongwol we walked down the road to Cassie's car; it was so cold all we wanted to do was sit in the heater. We got in and Sanu turned the ignition and nothing happened. Sanu had left the headlights on for the past 3 nights and the battery had gone flat.
Sanu picked up the phone and called Joey (one of his Adult-class students) who came without any hesitation in 5 minutes. He had a look at the car, and because he couldn’t do anything, he called his dad. Joey's father left his restaurant to come help us. He pulled out the chords and tried to jump-start the car, nothing happened (his car was significantly smaller than Cassie's). So he looked in the dashboard, called the Insurance Company who came within 10mins, jumpstarted the car and left with no payment.
This was my first, and by far not the only, good gesture by a Korean person. Simple things that matter in our "culture" are forgotten or not mentioned to them. They're from a culture where necessity is actual need, and want is something you might get in life; however, no matter what happens, you do what you do with pride, respect and genuine happiness.
They will go out of their way, drop whatever they're doing, to help you. It has nothing to do with whether you're a foreigner or a local, it's simply who they are. They don't litter; not because it's against the law, but because they don't deem it right. They will respect you; not because they'll get shunned, but because you showed them the smallest amount of respect (even if it was the way you said hello).
They are from a way of life I've only been fortunate to experience within my family and close friends; but, this is an entire nation I speak of. There is no "They" and "Us"; we're all one, no matter who you are or where you're from.
Speak no Evil
I've been brought up with one piece of advice I'll never forget, and what has probably put me where I am today, "language is your biggest asset ...if you can talk the talk, you can make it anywhere." The amount of respect I have for Sanu because of what he has done and achieved, not only for himself but all those lives he would've changed along the way, amazes me. I'll dedicate this segment to him and what he's done, simply because of "language".
To go from walking into a country - blind - where you know no one or the language, to today where he can speak, read and write the local language is something so admirable I cannot begin to explain it. For the past 14 months he's lived in the town of Sangdong and has nothing ill to say about it. But my question is, why?
I understand the tranquility and beauty Sangdong has to offer, but how long can all this matter for? When you wake in the morning, go to work, can't speak to anyone because your language skills aren't good enough to hold a conversation with a co-worker, spend the whole day doing nothing (or have one or two classes), come home to no one but your computer, cook your own food for one, sleep, and the next day do it all over again ...isn't this the recipe for mental illness?
And this is my point, above all and everything - what Sanu did and has achieved with his time in Korea is beyond the realms of anyone I know. He didn't do this out of necessity, he could've picked up his bags and come home. He didn’t have anything to prove to anyone, nor did he have anything to prove to himself. What he had in Sangdong and for the past 16months was all he needed, and that itself is a true testament to who he is.
To be honest, on my first day I was so sad to see Sanu's lifestyle; where he lived and how he lived. But spending time with him, seeing how much his character and personality is exactly the same, how having "gone through" everything he has he's still the same brother who left 18 months ago ...I now know who he is.
So if you ask me what the past 9 days has showed me, it is this: "everything I may have believed about people is now everything I do believe."
On the first day I felt so sorry for him; today, every ounce of me envies him.