A Short Story about Kindness; Missing flights, Breaking Bones, and Losing Bags on Christmas Day
In Ireland, they say bad news comes in threes, right? I can testify to that. But rather than dwell on what went wrong on my winter in Korea (a lot!) I am lucky enough to be able to tell a Short Story about Kindness instead. And how about my broken bones, my missed lights, and my lost bags showed me the good in the world. And I’m very grateful for it.
Long before I made money blogging, I was an English teacher in Asia. One winter, I was teaching English at a winter camp in South Korea, and it had been quite the ride. The camp itself was less than a month-long due to an early Chinese New Year so you wouldn’t expect too much to go amiss in under 30 days. But then you’re not an idiot. Like me.
Table of contents
I was broke. As usual. Teaching English in Thailand hadn’t exactly made me rich. At $700 per month, I had had the time of my life studying Thai and living in Chiang Mai, but now that my teaching contract was up, I wanted to travel the world. But I couldn’t afford it. I had spent all my savings, and the meagre amount of money I had scrambled together from teaching in Thailand had gone on my travels through Bangladesh, India and Nepal.
Broke once more, I was now back in South East Asia and had less than $500 to my name. I had to find a way to travel AND work. As often is the way, I knew a guy who knew a guy. And thankfully he offered me a lifeline. A one month contract teaching at an English camp in South Korea. $2k. And all expenses covered. Done! The bad news was I would miss Christmas with friends. I had to fly there on Christmas eve, arrive Christmas day and start work the following day.
Worst Christmas day of my life
So, I flew to camp on Christmas day. I sacrifice my Christmas, but I didn’t really have much choice. And besides, it could be fun. I was in Bangkok, so it was also only a 6-hour flight or so. And anyway, I could hopefully even make it to Seoul, South Korea’s bustling capital city, in time to having a cheeky beer in before Christmas day ended.
That plan sort of went out the window though. I flew from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to start the journey. Air Asia. $50. And just over an hour flight. Then I had to wait 4 hours for my connection from Kuala Lumpur to Seoul (Incheon), South Korea. This was before I knew about Priority Pass and airport lounges, so I thought I’d chill in the airport and the time would pass before I knew it.
I found my gate. And I set myself up 6 meters from the airport gate. I was checked in, and now sat with the gate to my back. The power socket was at a weird angle, so the only way I could access the powerpoint was with the Gate to my back. I snuggled in and began my Sopranos marathon on my laptop. 4 hours = 4 episodes. Easiest transfer ever!
But, of course, Malaysian time is one hour ahead of Thai time. But neither me, nor my laptop, recognized that fact so the 4 hours I thought had to kill was actually just 3!
4 hours of Sopranos came and went. I figured I better check on the boarding situation. So I turned around to meet my flight. I walked the 6 metres to the gate. But the flight had already gone!!
I tried to ask the staff why they didn’t call my name?! They said they had been calling my name on the tanoy for 45 minutes. Damn! I had my earphones in, and didn’t hear a thing. I’m a moron. I had less than $500 to my name. I literally didn’t have the money to book a new international flight. What was I going to do? Lose my Korea contract, stuck in Malaysia. This is a disaster.
Into Malaysia, I go
And that’s where the first leg of my Short Story about Kindness begins.
An exceptionally kind Malaysian Air Asia employee took pity on me. And single-handedly dealt with recovering my bag, which had been removed from the plane. He then led me to Malaysian immigration. Got me stamped in to the country. He walked me all the through arrivals, then back to the other side of the airport for departures.
He spoke with the other Air Asia staff and explained my (stupid) situation. Rather than make me book a new flight, which would have been fair, he managed to CHANGE my flight for the next day for only an additional $70 fee. What a lifesaver.
So although that meant I would be spending the next 18 hours (Christmas Day eurgh) sitting in Kuala Lumpur airport, at least I could still get to Korea the next day. And still get that job there!
My Christmas wasn’t the best, spent sponging free wifi from Mcdonalds in Kuala Lumpur airport. But I’ll always be thankful to that guy for helping me out. Cheers mate.
After the worst Christmas of my life, the flight finally came. This time I made it. And I flew to Korea.
Next up, I arrived in Seoul and had to make my way to the city where my English camp was being held. Simple. A 2-hour bus from the airport to one city. Then another 30 minutes or so in a bus to the next.
I got the first bus, no problems at all. 2 hours later, I hopped onto the next bus. 15 minutes into that journey, I realised I didn’t have my backpack!
I’d had left it on the first bloody bus! Aaaagh! At this point of my life, I owned nothing apart from that backpack and its contents. My laptop, passports, all the clothes I owned in the world. They were my whole world possesions. Also, I had flown from warm South East Asia to freezing South Korea in December. So I had no warm clothes either.
Hot flushes in the bus. I had to think of something. Sitting, stressing out thinking about the fact that my whole life was in my backpack I tried to come up with a plan. I decided to stay on the bus to the next destination. And when I got there I caused quite the scene. Trying to find people to speak English was a total failure. So it involved me dancing around like a madman pretending to carry an imaginary backpack and then acting surprised followed by distressed. I think the distressed charades worked though.
The Kindness of Strangers.
My Short Story about Kindness then ramps up a notch. An old Korean woman hobbled up to me and handed me her cellphone.
Somewhat confused I tentatively asked ‘ehh, hello?’. A lady, speaking English, starting asking me what was wrong. It transpired that the old lady saw me struggling so decided she could help by calling her niece in Switzerland because she could speak English.
We translated my missing bag issues through the girl on the phone and the staff at the bus station. They were so kind to me. I sat down at the station while the staff busied themselves with phone calls and radios.
20 stressful minutes later I’m handed the phone once more. The girl told me bus staff in the last city had located my lost bag, and they brought it back to the bus station in the last town. Wow.
Hitching a ride
I immediately asked to buy a bus ticket for the next bus to the last town I was in. But they didn’t want to sell me it. After some more confusion and their refusal to buy me a ticket, I was pretty perplexed. That was until the old lady grabs me by the hand and walks me outside.
She took me to her car, jumped in, drove me all 2 hours back to the other city. Throughout our long journey, she didn’t speak a word of English, and I spoke zero Korean. She had such a warm energy though. And for those 2 hours she was trying to calm me down about my lost bag. Smiling. Nodding. Once we arrived at the bus station, the lovely lady went chasing around the staff there and found my bag for me. I could have kissed her!
Before I even had the chance to buy a new bus ticket, she grabbed me by the arm and we jumped back in her car. Not only did she then proceed to drive the 2 hours BACK to where I met her. But beyond that, and on to the campus where I’d be teaching. Right to the front door of my accommodation. My awful Christmas had just transformed into a beautiful memory. What a superstar. Now that’s A true Short Story about Kindness.
Hospital in South Korea
Finally, after missed flights and lost bags, I was teaching at my English Camp and everything was ok, kind of. The kids were awesome, the staff even more. But there was just enough time for one last thing to go wrong. Day 2 of camp.
Showcasing my Beckham-esque football talents (read: showing off in front of 10-year-old Korean kids) I ran down a hill and face-planted into the frozen Korean grass. Classy move.
On the way down I managed to twist my (previously broken knee) and go over on my foot and ankle. I heard a snap. After a lot of attention and feeling rather stupid I got whisked to the ultra-efficient Korean hospital in town and within 2 hours I had seen the nurse, the x-ray technician, had 2 Xrays evaluated and seen the doctor twice.
I had a hairline fracture in 2 of my metatarsal and sprained the tendons in my foot and twisted my knee. Being broke, I didn’t have any travel insurance back then. But the staff at my English camp went against all their contracted insurance laws and just paid for all my treatment for me. Not part of my contract. And God knows what would have happened had they not done that. From there, each day they drove me to class until I could walk enough again with crutches. Another bunch of superstars.
So the doctor strapped me into a foot splint-brace and I was told I was very lucky the bones didn’t crack more severely, and I was to rest for 2 weeks.
Back to traveling to every country in the world
Resting my injuries was impossible. I was on my journey to every country in the world! With my newly earned $2k or so burning a whole In my pocket, I flew straight to Beijing. From there I took a bus to North Eastern China. Here I would connect from Dalian to Dandong, on the North Korean border, ahead of my trip to North Korea as a tourist.
Bad luck comes in three they say. At least that’s what the Irish say. So with my missed flight, my lost bags, and my broken foot, surely I’m all good now? Although to be completely honest I don’t believe in that.
These were 3 difficult situations but they all allowed me to appreciate the beauty of traveling and working in new countries. What could have been the most stressful trip imaginable for me turned into a short story about kindness. And you know, that’s often the case. They reminded me about the goodness in people (and also taught me to never get confused with time zones again). What a ride.
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