[Originally written on June 14, 2011]
Last Saturday was a rainy night in Sydney, so I stayed indoors and combed through all of my photos in South Korea and Taiwan for the best ones.
I was stunned.
It was like I discovered an enormous gap in my memory — I couldn’t believe I did and saw all those things. There were so many places and faces I forgot. So many amazing days. So many amazing evenings. So many amazing people. Just the freshness of it all left me speechless.
I could remember the feeling that possessed me when I first snapped those pictures. The wonder that swept my body and captivated me to press that button. That feeling in the air; the electricity of a warm Autumn’s day, or the crispness of a strong Winter’s wind. It was breathtaking. I could even remember the music that I heard and where I was at the time.
Even now, I still get goosebumps when I hear “Now and Forever” by Richard Marx — I reminisce to the music from my Aunt’s car radio while we drove through the streets of Kaohsiung. I remember listening to “This Plane” by Wiz Khalifa through my headphones at work in Incheon. Or jogging to “Oh” by Girls Generation while admiring the view from my gym. Hell, I can still hear the garbage trucks that screeched and echoed through the high-rise jungles of Taipei.
I reminisced about my haircuts near Bupyeong Station, where the gentleman was always so thrilled to see me. And always greeted me with an extravagant high-five. Or the many, mind-blowing and often-hilarious conversations I shared with strangers — for example, analyzing the butt sizes and shapes of two very cute girls while walking through the maze of stores and restaurants across from the Taipei Main Station. Or the simple things like walking through a quiet Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall on a still night, hearing only the wind and gazing at the moving clouds. Or the smells and sounds of a bustling night-market on a muggy, Taiwan evening.
All of the emotions and memories blew me away. And I smiled. And I remembered why I traveled. Why all of it was worth it: all of the struggles; all of the uncomfortable conversations; all of the experiences.
And I smiled some more.
Of all the sensational photos I took, I decided to share my favorite one (displayed at the top) because of the story that lies beneath. It won’t blow your mind, but it’s one that I hold dear to my heart. I hope it offers a glimpse of what travel and an open-mind can really do:
It was a rainy night in Seoul. After a long vacation with friends, a baseball game, and some microbrewery beer, I boarded a train and began my journey back to home to Incheon. I arrived at Sindorim Station to transfer, but it was quite late — so late that many of the trains were not operating. Confused, I asked a quiet girl on my platform where this particular train headed to.
Not my destination. Not even close to my destination — I knew I had to leave the station, search for a cab, and pay a good amount to return home. And it started pouring again.
When I alighted at Guro, I didn’t have a clue where I was going. I didn’t even have an umbrella. I followed a mass of people and walked across a crowded bridge with an empty feeling — oftentimes when I was lost in Korea, it was frustratingly difficult to get help. I couldn’t tell if this time would be any different. I remembered backtracking and desperately looking around for something or someone.
Suddenly, I ran into the same quiet, cute girl who I quizzed at Sindorim Station. Although she could barely speak English, at that moment, we spoke the same language. Taking me under her umbrella, she searched through the maze of taxis, the wall of rain, the barrage of honking, and the chaos to secure a taxi that would take me back home.
She haggled with plenty of cab drivers who either weren’t traveling towards Incheon or simply refused to drive to my suburb. I can still remember huddling under her umbrella, waiting anxiously after every conversation.
At last, we found one. I looked back to thank my savior and jumped in the car. Soon, we were off. While speeding through the rain, I snapped this pictured and thought about what just happened.
Who was this girl, and where was she going? Didn’t she need to get a cab too? What if she needed to grab a bus, and she just missed it? Or what if she just ignored me?
Looking back, the single most important thing I learned while traveling is how amazingly generous people can be. Time and time again, I witnessed how strangers willingly went above-and-beyond to help others. I caught glimpses of how we as humans can truly be — what we can strive to be. And for that moment in time at Guro Station, amidst all the cacophony, I saw how beautiful our existence really is.
And I smiled even more.