Unsolicited kindness abroad

My 4 years of undergrad was one hell of a trip. I got to travel to and lived in a lot of countries, enough to fill my fridge with souvenir magnets. I tend to find that my experience in a particular country is very closely related to how nice the people are – not just nice when you ask them a favor, but actively offering their help when they see you struggling. I call that unsolicited kindness – my most trusted metric to how safe and kind a society is, heh. It was very fortunate of me to have encountered a lot of such instances through my abroad years, and this post is a tribute to those kind people. This post is entirely from my personal experience – things that happened to me, so try not to make any generalization as you read.

I might be very biased here, but I love how naïve – yes I said it – the Finns are. It’s the naivety fostered by a lifetime of never having to haggle, being able to shop without the risk of being rip off and a reasonably high chance of getting lost possessions returned, damn you Finland and your safety.

Like this time when an older man approached me on my merry way to the grocery store and asked me where I’m from. There aren’t that many Asian people in Finland (in that particular town), so I get it. I told him I’m from Vietnam. Then he continued, Oh, North or South? I sensed we’re getting into controversial territory there, but damn it why should truthfully telling someone where I’m from be controversial in the first place? So I just shrugged and told him I’m from the North. His expression lit up and he was like, Oh we’re communist friends!

That was a bit weird indeed, but honestly though? I don’t mind a friend, communist or else. And who am I even kidding, I lean so far left politically that I might just be communist.

The weather is cold but the people are so warm

That trademark Finnish kindness probably shows up even better if you’re fresh off the boat and arent used to the Scandinavian ways. My cousin visited me once from the US – dragging with her a heavy suitcase. At the train station where we were transiting, it seemed obviously clear it was too heavy for us to carry up the stairs. This Finnish guy came and offered his help, but my cousin laughed and was like “No thanks we can deal”. She thought there would surely be an escalator or elevator. At that point, the Tikkurila train station had neither (it improved a lot over the years, lol). So we got to the bottom of the only staircase there was, sort of looked at each other and laughed in disbelief (now what??) The same guy turned around, saw us and immediately understood what was going on and offered his help again. Cousin finally relented and let him carry her suitcase to the train stop (LOL), before he sheepishly walked away – he didnt even need to get on that train uwuu

That trademark Finnish kindness probably shows up even better if you’re fresh off the boat and arent used to the Scandinavian ways.

Prague from the top, taken by me

My trip to Berlin was a short one, but Germans are awesome. Case in point: I and my sister were struggling with the ticket machine on the tram. For some reason we (mostly me) thought it’d be a good idea to try out this ticket machine for the first time on a running tram. It wasn’t. The machine (or our credit cards) wasn’t working, and I was panicking trying to get it to work, as the tram started running. A German guy approached, and he couldn’t get it to work either. So he just gave us his stack of tickets, I kid you not, showed us how to stamp the ticket, refused when I tried to pay him back and just got off the tram.

I mean, who does that?? Damn you Germans and your goodwill. I thought you guys were supposed to be humorlessly penny pinching!

Me pretending to be an intellectual in a Berlin museum

My trip to the UK was literally a trip. For one, Manchester was one hell of a city and the reason I swore off hostels, lol. First, I was flashed in my hostel room and had my cellphone stolen. The hostel was so apologetic and upgraded us to a better room when that happened. Then, the guy owning the used cellphone store that got my phone contacted me on Instagram. When I told him it was stolen, he just returned it to me – for free!! Kindness isnt dead guys, but what should I make of you, Manchester?

My trip to the UK was literally a trip

Forgive me for this, but for how relatively long I’d lived in Korea, I just never got the impression that Koreans are big on keeping to themselves, or their group. It doesn’t seem to be their thing to offer help to strangers (or I don’t know, not a Seoul thing? I did hear that Seoulites are known to be aloof even among fellow Koreans, there probably is some truth to that). To their credits though, services here is awesome (so basically Korean people are extremely nice to you, if you’re paying them, just like everywhere else in that regard) Take my visit to a Hera counter here for example: I went there only intended to browse. Objectively, I didn’t bring my A game that day, skin red and blotchy from a recent brow wax and no makeup. The Hera sales lady offered to give me a swatch of their cushion, so I sat down. I was expecting something more like a swatch, but Korean cosmetics sales lady saw my bare face and decided NO, she cant just let someone look like this, not on her watch. So what was supposed to be a simple foundation color match quickly became a full on makeover – she wiped off my sunscreen and got to work – I’m talking from the skincare steps (plural!) to foundation, concealer, powder, blush, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, lip, etc. So I was sitting there for my over half an hour makeup session, panicking to myself, wondering if Hera also do makeup services on request (like Benefit and their Brow Bar) and I had somehow accidentally given her the non verbal cue to go ahead (how much does this cost??)? Turned out, no, it was free, it was just I was so ugly the lady just had to. Hahahahahaha



Anyway, I walked out of there with expensive Hera skincare and makeup on my face, looking like a 10. 10/10 for the services.

And I like Seoul’s taxi drivers. I might be alone here though. My first ever taxi driver in Seoul, driving me from Incheon airport to the hostel told me that I’ll have an easy time here because I’m pretty. That’s the most flattering thing I’d ever heard! He also tried to tell me that the previous week there was a million people in Myeongdong, where I’d stayed and to be careful. I assumed he meant Myeongdong is such a popular tourist destionation. He didnt. He was referring to the candlelight protests that toppled Park Geun Hye’s regime during that period, early 2017. Turbulent times.

Overall, I loved travelling a decent amount. I’ve always felt that it’s not worth my time if an overseas trip isnt long enough to at least have a basic grasp on the local culture, but the people I encountered along the way really made it worthwhile. Until my next trip.