And hospitality do not forget; for by this some, being not aware of it, have entertain Canadian Mystery Shopper – Job Listing And Training ed angels. – Hebrews 3:2
I love to travel. It never occurs to me that there could be unforeseen complications when galavanting around the country (or the world). My approach is to simply be prepared as possible, and then deal with whatever happens when it comes up. Of course, this technique doesn’t always work, particularly when traveling to a country by oneself where you don’t speak the language.
This is the position I found myself in a few weeks ago, when traveling to Seoul, South Korea for a conference*.
As per traveling for academic conferences, I had hastily booked the cheapest flight to South Korea, one that got me in far later than I realized; just enough time to catch the last bus to take me to my hotel over an hour away. When I was finally underway and waiting in Japan for the last leg to South Korea, that final flight was progressively being pushed later.
When making my plans about how this whole trip would be executed, the biggest hurdle for me was just getting to the hotel that first night. I may not be a worrier, but being dropped in a country where I don’t speak the language, by myself, at 9:30 at night…well, let’s just say I was hoping for the best and choosing not to really plan for the worst.
While killing time in Tokyo, trying not to imagine having to sleep in the airport overnight, or brave taking a taxi alone, I noticed an elderly Buddhist nun looking for a seat. I managed to shift some of my belongings to make room for her next to me, which she accepted. After a few moments of silence, she struck up a conversation, commenting on how crowded the airport was.
With her limited English skills, our conversation involved much restating, drawing, and gesturing, creating what I’m sure was an odd scene to behold. I learned that her name was Su Nim (and then later learned that sunim is how one refers to a Buddhist monk or nun, similar to calling a Catholic nun “sister”), and she was a retired Buddhist nun, having been in the temple since she was 12, making this year her 60th anniversary of service. She was returning from a month-long trip to Canada to visit another South Korean monk who has taken up residence at another temple there.
As we swapped stories about our respective itineraries, she caught on that I really had no idea what I was going to do once I landed in South Korea, even if we landed on time. I may not be one to worry much about the perils and setbacks of traveling, but Su Nim (correctly) sensed that I needed help. In broken English, she assured me that we would share a taxi if we got in too late for my bus, instructing me to wait for her after we cleared immigration. Although I like to see the best in people, this seemed inconceivable for someone I had just met, so I assumed she was miscommunicating. While we gathered our belongings to finally board our flight, she passed me a slip of paper with her name and phone number, just in case I needed anything while in South Korea.
A few hours later, having safely landed in Incheon (just west of Seoul), I found myself standing in what had to be the slowest immigration line in the entire airport. The hour was getting late, and I was getting increasingly worried about missing my bus. But sure enough, Su Nim kept her word; as my line inched forward, I saw the welcome sight of her patiently waiting on the other side of immigration, deep in thought.
After clearing immigration, I began to profusely apologize about making her wait. She smiled, telling me it wasn’t anything to worry about. Su Nim then inquired about my bus with the information desk, helped me to find my bus stop, and confirmed with the ticketer that we were in the right place. Sure enough, we were – the last bus of the night would be by in 20 minutes. We waited in peace for the bus; she enjoyed the familiarity that comes with being home, while I soaked up the foreign sounds. When the bus finally showed up, Su Nim not only paid for my ticket, but also bought one for herself, to escort me to my hotel.
And escort she did. After an hour bus ride with as much interfaith small talk as the language barrier would allow (unfortunately, not much), Su Nim walked with me through the back streets of Seoul, all the way to my hotel. She helped me get checked in, and made sure everything was in order for my stay. For the hundredth time, I thanked her, and she just laughed, saying she was retired, and that she has plenty of free time. She then proceeded to travel back to her temple – as I later learned, it was about an hour away, back near the airport.
Although I don’t exactly live in a popular overseas tourist destination, there are undoubtedly opportunities for me to be more charitable towards my neighbor every day. My encounter with Su Nim gave me a potent – if remedial – reminder that charity shouldn’t be about the bare minimum, but about being a helpful, humble, and cheerful face, often in the midst of a stressful situation for those in need. I was grateful enough to have her phone number, and was beside myself that she even helped me find the bus terminal and confirm it was still running. But waiting with me, purchasing my ticket, escorting me to my final destination after we both had been through 24 hours of travel, all at her own expense of time and money? That was far above any possible expectation I could have had, and greatly eased my anxiety. While waiting in Tokyo, I was just praying that God would let us get in on time; I meekly told myself that I could handle the transit on my own. Instead, He sent an angel to take care of everything.
How do you work to take charity and hospitality to the next level? Have any particularly inspiring stories to share?
* And the chance to celebrate Mass at 6:30 in the morning in Seoul’s cathedral with many religious sisters, and to visit the shrine dedicated to the Korean martyrs. Yes, I did work too.