Friday, October 22, 2010

Blown Away by Hospitality

For some odd reason, I always get blown away by Korean hospitality.

Today just a few minutes after settling in my seat, waiting for the plane to take off, this Korean mid-aged lady next to me started a little chat with me.

"Are you Chinese?" She probably guessed that from the fact that I was browsing Shanghai Airline's in-flight magazine.

"Eh ... Yes. Well, I'm originally from Taiwan." - Yeah, for some reason, to say a straight-out "No, I'm not Chinese" sounds odd, but adding no further clarification like "I'm originally from Taiwan" is equally unsettling.

"Oh, Taiwan! But you speak English so well!"

"Well, I was born in the U.S. and also went to the U.S. for college and grad school ..." As I was about to explain, I noticed that she probably didn't understand very much what I was saying.

"You know - America, young," I stretched out my thumb and my index finger apart, trying to make a visual aid, "then Taiwan," another stretch, "then America again for university," finally, a third stretch.

"Oh~~~ I see~~~" She happily nodded, then repeating the same stretching gestures that I had just created. "You know, I also lived in America for 11 years. Then,2 years ago, back to Busan."

Her English doesn't really sound like someone who's spent over a decade in the U.S., so I asked - "Really? Where did you live?"


"Oh, my brother lives there too!" Immediately, I was reminded of the many many nice and cute Korean mom's that I had met in Seattle.

"And my daughter, she is at Smith College!" She said, beaming in smile.

Later on, due to a change of seating, this nice Korean mom moved to the row behind me and next to me sat another Korean couple. This time, the mom only smiled at me, apparently not confident enough to exchange words.

As I thought the rest of my flight was gonna go into napping and quietude, the light meal arrived. Each time, when the flight attendant tried to hand out something to me, the Korean mom quickly took it over before passing it to me with a big smile again. Then in the middle of the meal, as if suddenly remembering something terribly important, she fished through her purse and finally pulled out a gigantic fruit, getting around to cut it with that flimsy plastic in-flight knife.

A pomegranate! For a few seconds I couldn't believe myself, trying hard to hold my laughter. But before I knew it, boom, there it was, half a chunk of that gigantic pomegranate was placed on my tray.

"Oh, for me? No no no, you really don't have to!" I was honestly surprised, acting totally like a polite Japanese out of reflex.

Again, no words, but big smiles. She moved her hand and gestured me to eat it.

So there we went, she and her husband and I, sitting in one row, picking up the little promogranate seeds one by one, sharing something sweet and juicy in the midst of total silence. She even offered to take my trash after the flight attendant forgot to come back for a second pick up.

What is it about different cultures and people that some feel like it's the most appropriate thing to keep their mouths shut and one another's privacy intact, while some others feel like it's best to be vocal and smiley even if there are less than 5 words that the 2 people share in common?

It was like last time I was simply sitting on a bench waiting for the subway to come in Seoul, and two mid-aged Korean moms overheard my phone conversation in Chinese and later tapped me on my shoulder wanting to figure out who I am. To the Japanese, some might have the curiosity, while some might just assume my identity and bother no more to investigate further. To the Chinese, if the situation occurs with me engaging in a phone conversation in English, they might simply regard me as "one of thse ABC's" and equally move on.

But the Koreans, they tend to like to ask, with true curiosity revealed so vividly on their face.

I couldn't stopped smiling after the first conversation and after the pomegranate was offered. After so much "politeness" and "proriety" from Japan, I so happily embraced such "curious probing" and "unspoken understanding" from Korea.

梅ちゃん at 12:53:00 AM



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