People in Seoul are really warm, friendly and helpful. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve never met nicer people in my life.
In fact, the people are so nice I started to feel bad about it, like I was undeserving because I’ve never been so kind myself.
On two separate occasions, we asked locals for directions. Instead of just pointing the way, they actually took us there personally. That would not have been remarkable had our destinations been a short walk away.
It was remarkable because the first of our good Samaritans, two ladies, weren’t entirely sure of our destination. Yet, they beckoned us to follow them as they discussed animatedly in Korean how to get us there.
They even had to turn back and walk in the opposite direction from where they had come. As we followed them in a slow saunter, weaving through heavy human traffic on a busy shopping street, they occasionally turned around to make sure they hadn’t lost us.
The walk took about 15 minutes, during which time they tried checking the GPS on their phones and even calling up their friends to consult them.
We managed to find our location in the end. It would have been impossible without the Korean ladies’ help because the map we had was hopelessly off scale and inaccurate.
On the second occasion, we asked for directions to a famous cafe featured in the popular Korean drama, Coffee Prince.
We didn’t know it initially, but we were about 30 minutes’ walk away. Like in our first encounter, the two young girls we asked for directions from beckoned us to follow them as they took us right to our destination at a leisurely pace.
It’s, like, they didn’t even have to consider the amount of time and energy they would have to spend to help us. Helping people beyond the call of duty seems second nature to the Seoulites.
The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince (yes that’s the name of the cafe):
In both cases, our good Samaritans knew a bit of English, so they asked us a few polite questions about where we came from and things like that. Other than that, they chatted relaxedly between themselves.
My friends and I were unused to this treatment and we felt so bad about imposing on strangers, making them walk long distances with us in opposite directions from where they were headed, that we hesitated to ask for directions the next time.
We did, however, ask one more time at a tourist information booth in Insadong, an art and culture district. We didn’t expect the ladies in the booth to jump out and walk us to where we wanted to go, so we felt quite safe asking there.
Nevertheless, they were very helpful and did their best to make sure we got all the answers we wanted, and then happily posed for photos with us.
Right after we left the booth, we came upon a stall where an old man was selling traditional fans. You can pick a design and he’d write your name in Korean on it.
I picked this fan with a Korean phrase written on it and asked him what it meant. But he couldn’t really speak English, so he left his stall unmanned and walked to the tourist information booth to ask the girls for help in translating the phrase.
The girls had a bit of trouble finding the right words, so they started consulting their PC and debating among themselves.
Finally, they decided that the phrase said, “Every day first love”.
I thought that was nice so I bought it!
Then, there was this other time we were in a restaurant and decided to order some Korean alcohol that everyone else was drinking.
We observed how they shook the bottles, poured the contents into a kettle, then poured them into cups.
So, when we got our bottles, Nanny Wen and I started shaking them enthusiastically. She got a bit overly excited and started opening her bottle without waiting for the pressure to subside.
At that moment, the guy at the table beside us gave a soft cry of alarm and grabbed her bottle to prevent her from opening it further. In halting English, he managed to convey to us that we should wait a while. If not the drink will blow up in our faces.
He then proceeded to help us pour our bottles into our kettle.
I thought that was so cute! After helping us, he and his friend didn’t bother us for the rest of the meal, only once smiling at us amusedly and commenting that we had ordered so much food for just the three of us.
I really love how Seoulites are all so personable and approachable, and how they’d go out of their way to help strangers who can’t speak a word of their language.
When we first arrived in Seoul and needed a cab to take us to our guesthouse, we hired an authorised international taxi, which meant that the driver spoke English and would charge us an approved flat fee.
Our driver was a delightful middle-aged man who chatted with us amicably and offered us ginseng candy.
Towards the tail end of our journey, he started telling us about his son and joked about how he wanted to introduce his son to Wang Wang (photo above), whom he thought was very pretty.
“You meet my son. He’s nice boy. Handsome like his father,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
His son is apparently a 19-year-old musician. Nanny Wen and I, in the backseat, were scandalised and roaring with laughter while Wang Wang blushed furiously in the front seat.
“You take him to Singapore,” the cabbie said to Wang Wang. “I give you son.”
It was too damned funny.
When we arrived at our guesthouse, we were a little unsure of the exact building because it wasn’t exactly a hotel. It was a commercial building with units turned to accommodations.
Repeatedly consulting the address and looking at the rough map we had, the cabbie pulled his car over at the side of the street, told me and Nanny Wen to wait there while he actually walked out of the car to find the right building.
Wang Wang followed him.
Later on, she told us that he’d taken her up the elevator all the way to the admin office of the guesthouse to speak to the owner to make sure that he’d found the right guesthouse for us.
They were away for about 10 or 15 minutes.
When they returned, the cabbie helped us get our luggages out of the boot, gave us his card and told us to call him if we needed anything.
He also reminded us that he wanted to arrange a meeting for us to meet his son.
“I give you son!” were his smiling parting words.
I’m so in love with Seoul.