Two nights ago, just before I slip to sleep, I recalled a memory I had of an old couple I met when I was touring in Korea two years ago. It felt strange because I wasn’t the kind who recall things or events clearly. But I remembered that encounter I had with them in detail – or at least in more detail than I would have with any other memory:
I was travelling with two other friends, and was lucky to have a Korean buddy take us around. His girlfriend had helped us book an apartment at a condominium for a couple of days while we were there. I remembered the weather being slightly cloudy, or maybe it could have drizzled a bit. Right in front of its main doors, there was a statue of a hand, as if it struck out from beneath the ground and was reaching out for something. The staff wore black formal suits and I remembered thinking that the male staff looked very smart in the suits. We were in Busan, and the air smelled of the sea.
While we waited for our Korean guide to help us check in and settle other administrative matters, I looked around and couldn’t help but notice curious stares directed at us. Everybody in the lobby was Korean. So I guessed it was because we were foreigners, and the condominium apartment wouldn’t have been accessible to foreigners like us. They were probably wondering what on earth were we doing there, like a bunch of donkeys trying to blend in with a herd of horses. As I combed the lobby with my eyes, there was an old lady seated at a couch nearby who was looking at us. She didn’t look away like the others did when I looked straight at her. Instead, she smiled.
She gestured for us to come forward. I was puzzled at first and turned to Sarah, who was the only one among us that could speak Korean. Sarah caught on and pointed at us. Speaking with our bodies, we “asked” if the old lady was referring to us to go to her. The old lady nodded her head and gestured even harder, urging us to come. Cautiously, slightly taken aback by the sudden request, and wondering what to do with the language barrier, we went forward. “Oh my god, what does she want with us? Oh no,” we mumbled to ourselves.
When we approached her, she started to speak in Korean, and I could only make out a few familiar words (thanks to Kdramas).
“You guys don’t look local, are you guys Korean? (We shook our heads) Where are you from?”
“We’re from Singapore,” Sarah replied. The old lady’s eyes lit up and she spoke faster with more enthusiasm.
“Oh, I’ve been there before! (At this point, Sarah was translating for us) My husband and I went there lots of times because he has business there.” I was just nodding along, as if I understood every bit.
“I see. Is it fun?” Sarah asked.
We were all expecting a polite reply; The kind most strangers would reply with. Things like “Oh yes, it was divine.” or “Oh yes, it’s a beautiful country.”
Instead, she let out a frustrated sigh with a frown, “Oh, it’s not interesting at all! It’s really boring!” Her refreshingly honest reply got us all laughing. She started talking about our weather and really bad fashion so there wasn’t anything to buy from there. And just when we thought the conversation has ended, she switched the topic and talked about our health. She used to practice Chinese medicine and knew a bit of acupuncture, something about pressure points on the hand which Sarah could not understand completely.
She told us that she noticed us from afar and from our faces, she could see that our health wasn’t doing so good. (At this point, I was wondering if she was about to sell us some Chinese medicine. I looked at my other friends and I could tell they were thinking the same thing.) We simply nodded.
Turning to me, with a worried expression on her face and raising her tone for emphasis, “Oh~! Your body constitution is the weakest among you three!” My two other friends laughed. And as soon as Sarah translates that, I went “eh.. EH?!?!”
Without any notice, she took my hand gently, like a mother would with her child, and started talking about pressure points again. Sarah wasn’t completely sure of what she said, but the old lady went on anyway, thinking we could understand. Something about heart or the liver, Sarah was trying her best to make out bits and pieces of what she was saying.
Then, I guess the old lady figured the only way was to show us. She pressed her finger on a point on my hand, where the joints of the thumb and index finger meet. It was painful at first, but as soon as she released it, I felt a strange calming sense of pleasure, if that was even possible.
“If you keep pressing this point, your health will improve,” the old lady said. We all followed and went, all bright-eyed, giving enthusiastic responses, “Ohh! Wow! Whoa!” At this point, I thought we were acting like kids.
My Korean buddy joined us, wondering what all the fuss was and why we were all crowding a poor old lady. We updated him on it, and he started conversing with her for a bit. Then came an old man. It was her husband and he spoke fluent English with a slight British accent. He had the presence of a successful businessman. In a suit, he stood with his hand in his pocket. Yet, his stance was not of arrogance. He was firm and collected. Such presence, I thought. Calmly, he spoke. And somehow you knew he spoke every word with careful thought put into it. He, too, talked about his experience with Singapore (“… It’s so boring!” the old lady chided as soon as the word Singapore was mentioned). I couldn’t help but think they were an adorable couple.
They seemed like two different individuals – one is warm, kind and honest. It feels like there’s still an inner child in her who’s still seeking adventure. The other is strong and silent, like a tree, firm and dependable. Yet, here they are, spending time together. I wondered if they had children. It seemed like all they have are each other, and that’s okay, because they have each other. And I thought that was rather sweet. Without a word, I watched him help her up from the couch with care, and gently held onto her arm. She looked like she didn’t want to say goodbye. But we did so anyway, and went to settle down in our apartment.
I didn’t tell my friends. But for the rest of that day, I couldn’t help but think of the old lady from time to time, like how kind her eyes looked when she smiled, how nice she is to strike up a conversation bravely despite knowing the language barrier, and how her love seemed so simple and sweet. Though it was a short and simple conversation, I felt like I was allowed a small glimpse into someone else’s life. I don’t know just how to describe it completely, but perhaps it was this sense of ‘unity’ that overwhelmed me – I felt her happiness in that moment. It almost seemed like she wanted to share a bit of that with my friends and I when she decided to strike up a conversation with us that day, and consequently, I was happy too.
It warmed my heart. And I couldn’t help but think how nice it would be if people were less afraid of each other, pass on a smile instead of a frown, and be able to strike up random but genuine conversations with each other, despite the differences.
I think I’ve forgotten about that for a while – that we are actually capable of touching someone’s life and pass on happiness with just a small and simple gesture. Amidst the hectic pursuit of success, I’ve grown skeptical and cynical about people in general. I became disenchanted with everything around me. I kept people at arm’s length away from me because I thought to turn my back on the world before the world turned its back against me. Indeed, it seems I’ve lost and missed out too many things along the way.
But somehow, two nights ago as I laid there on my bed waiting for sleep to happen, as if I’ve received a spiritual touch of some sort, I remembered the old lady. I remembered that moment of pure happiness, and that I was capable of being happy for someone else even if I might not be on my own.
Maybe it was nothing special for the old couple, they may have long forgotten what we’d looked like, or that we even met at all. But I’d like to remember them for years to come because as cliche as it sounds, they gave me something really important, and I want to write this down so that I won’t forget again. That, and I also want to share this moment with whoever stumbles upon this blog, and I hope this’ll make them take a moment to remember those moments again.
And I do hope that wherever that old couple is right now, that they are healthy and happy. I wish for only good things to happen to them. I really do hope so.
Travel often. Meet lots of people. Share your stories. Make connections. Be bold. Be nice. Be good.