I seldom post any blog in English for my intention to start my own blog is to share my life with my friends and family, most of them are from Taiwan as you can image, for they care about me. Of course writing in Chinese is much easier and time-efficient too. Yet when I was sorting out my files this morning, I encountered this and all of sudden, tears welled from my eyes. I am too old to be a teary jerk (but old enough to have nostalgia), so I pull my coat and rushed out in a hope that the cold rainy day outside will help put myself together and calm me down. I then rode the bus to school. When I was on the way to my tiny office at school, I decided to share this in English so that my friend, BJ, the person this blog is designated for, can read it.
In honor of BJ, my best Korean friend.
Our first meeting was back in Seoul 1998 after several phone contacts. That was not my first business trip but it was my very first visit to Korea. I used to be a frequent flyer yet my fruitful traveling experience did not save me out of trouble. My very first experience, at least my first impression, about South Korea was very unpleasant due to the rudeness and dishonesty of the taxi driver. Yes I got ripped off by the taxi driver.
As planned, I placed a phone call to him after I settled down in hotel. I was tired and felt unease while waiting for his coming to dinner. As promised, he showed up on time. It was not difficult to identify him because of the briefcase and the blue shirts were just like what he had described over the phone. Knowing my fatigue, he decided to have dinner in the Hilton hotel where I stayed on that trip.
When we were waiting to be served, he introduced himself to me, from the university he attended, to his major and even his 3-month pregnancy wife at that time. In contrast to the taxi driver, he is like an open book which I just flipped through the pages with his introduction. His being so frank alleviates my unease. After dinner, he wrote down something in the back of his business card and handed the card over to me. “Show this to the taxi driver tomorrow. Also, the fare should be less than 5000 Korean Won. If it is more than that, just call me.”
The week passed by quickly and my day to return to Taiwan came. My flight was in late afternoon so I managed to join a half-day city tour. Without enough cash, I booked the taxi via hotel so that the taxi fee can be charged to my room. After a long line, finally I came to the customs. “You need to pay the airport tax,” the customs officer told me. As most of the international airports included airport tax as part of the flight fare by that time, I did not expect this. I did not reserve cash for this either. “Go downstairs, and you will find it at the corner,” the customs officer continued. “Ok, Thanks.” I went downstairs. All of sudden the merry from the sightseeing was replaced by frustration. “Sorry, but we do not take credit card. Korean Won only.”
Reaching out every single penny in my wallet, I was still 300 Korean Won short. I had no choice but gave BJ a ring. Fear and worry quickly filled me up. I was so afraid of missing my flight because the flight, which is the latest flight on the day, was going to depart within 30 minutes. I was equally worried because it was 5 o’clock in the afternoon on Friday and I was just not sure if he was still in the office. Witting my helpless, a girl went up to me, “may I help you?” in not fluent English she asked. “Would you please help me call this number? Thank you!” I indicated the phone number on his business card. Luckily BJ was still in the office. Once he realized my problem, he quickly made the decision. It was too far for him to deliver the cash to airport. Instead he asked me to hand the phone to the girl who helped me make this phone call. And I did. After short conversation, she asked me to answer the phone again. BJ told me over the phone that “the girl will help you. Call me next Monday. Have a safe and nice trip home!” he said.
The girl paid the airport tax for me and companied me to customs and even to the waiting lounge. We soon realized that we were taking the same flight to Taiwan; she would continue her flight to Bangkok and then Paris, France for her study. We tried to have some conversation but it was really difficult. Virtually the only English she could speak was “May I help you?” and sentences like that. She asked if I speak French, which I don’t; neither does she speak Japanese, which I do. In awkward English with the aid of body language, she told me “he say, you no money. I pay you airport tax. He say he pay me money. I say no. I am not in Korea, I am to France.” I figured that BJ must have asked her to pay the airport tax for me, and have asked for her address to return the money. Since the girl was departing for France, and the amount was not big, she told BJ no need to return the money. As that was the plane bounded for Taiwan, I easily exchanged my New Taiwan Dollars into US dollars and paid her back.
When I went to office the following Monday, I gave him a call, telling him my funny conversation with the girl and expressing my thank-you. Since then we became good friends. Our second meeting was of the same kind but in reversed form—he was on his business trip to Taiwan.
Two years after our first meeting, I changed my job and worked for the company that split off from the previous company I worked for. My boss at the time asked me if I could recommend anyone to work in Korea branch office. BJ’s name was of course on top of my head. After some contacts and some administrative work, he joined our team. The same year I made my second Korea trip. It was still a business trip but I arrived one day early on purpose.
It was a snowy and windy day so the flight was delayed. Remembering how I felt two years ago on a sunny day in June, I had no more fear but just excitement. He, his wife and his 2-year old son came to airport for me. We went to the aquarium together and had great fun.
Time flies. There were lots of reorganization and layoff but we both managed to survive. Lots of things happened in years: I made the third business trip to Korea and met him again. His wife couldn’t come because she was pregnant again. His first son rememberd me and liked my little gift for him. He had a second son. He learned some basic Chinese and I learned simple Korean so that next time I can communicate with his wife better. Time freezes-he lost his second son, an unspoken sorrow for which I could not help but only lamented; at almost the same time, I quit the job and returned to campus.
We are still in touch. We are on emails and some times call each other. When I was wild crazy, he is like a brother, asking “when on earth are you getting married since you are getting old.” "If you were in Korea, I am going to introduce you to my best friend.” And I know he would. He introduced one of our common friends to his college friend and they were married 1 year later. When I was off track and ready to give up my PhD study here, he is like a father or a mentor, coaching me “you were not going to US just for marriage. Don’t forget your initial objective to travel all the way there.”
Having his wedding gift in sight, his email warms me up in this cold rainy day. He wrote--
I'm not sure whether you can read my message before or after your wedding and would like to say again CONGRATULATION both to you and your husband. I'm so sorry that I can not attend your wedding ceremony but please understand it with our longtime friendship. My heart will be there in your wedding ceremony place.......
.......I just passed 8 years marriage life with my wife and the words which I'd like to share with you from my experience is "I'm married to make the happy life for us but not only for myself" That is I hope you always think about since sometime we are getting selfish...
I just mailed a small gift to you....... It is a traditional pendent trinket which is worn by ladies. I think you also have your Taiwanese tradition dress so you can put it in your dress or hang on the wall in your house. It will bring a good luck to you....."
Yes, longtime friendship. This is a friendship that I will treasure it in my lifetime.
In honor of BJ, my best Korean friend.