Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Helping Hand of a Stranger in a Strange Land - Guest Blogger Stephen Cornman

It is my pleasure to introduce Stephen Cornman. Stephen Cornman is an American expatriate teacher and writer in Daegu, South Korea. Atypical of the normal demographic of what we would find, Stephen has also served as a mentor, sage advisor, and friend to our wonderful fresh faced collegues; who realized there was life outside of the bottom of a soju bottle...Stephen Cornman, but you can call him Steve.

The Helping Hand of a Stranger in a Strange Land
By: Stephen Cornman

Six weeks after I arrived in Korea, in the fall of 2008, I hiked up and down Palgongsan, the mountain just north of Daegu, without incident. It was after that, in the always dangerous boarding-the-bus process, that I broke my face.

Upon demountaining, I walked a quarter-mile to the first pick-up point for the bus. I stopped at the men's room, then resumed walking to the bus stop. I hadn’t gone far, hadn’t even put my daypack on my back, when I saw the bus pulling out of the parking lot and up to the bus stop.
I have a tip you won’t see in Lonely Planet Korea: don’t sprint for the bus in clunky hiking boots, on a broken sidewalk (which is the default for sidewalks in Daegu), carrying your pack in front of you. You will break your face.
Running as fast as I could, I caught my toe on a loose brick (which you can see in the photo) and pitched forward at an impressive velocity. I remember a split-second thought: this is going to be embarrassing, almost falling in front of the people waiting for the bus. My next thought was: look at all the blood.

I fell on the left side of my face, broke my glasses, cut my lip a little, scraped my hands, ripped and bled all over my t-shirt, broke my watch strap, and laid open my face next to my left eye. It was the second time in my life that I had driven my glasses into the left side of my face; the first time was 35 years before, in my first, and last, attempt to play ice hockey. If you have to fall on your head, I recommend doing it on ice; it’s cleaner.

I sat there, not in pain, but utterly stunned, feeling humiliated, disoriented (if in fact it’s proper to use that word in East Asia), helpless, and very far from home indeed.

Thankfully, I had an angel. A Korean man in full hiking regalia came over to see if I was okay, wiped off as much blood as possible, using paper towels and his drinking water, stayed with me, tried to tell me where I was bleeding from (though as he had no English...), let me call my boss on his cell phone, and called an ambulance. I got frustrated that I couldn't tell him how wonderful he was being to me. I just kept saying "kamsahamnida" a lot, and shook his hand and bowed from the waist when the ambulance came. He must have taken 45 minutes out of his day to help me.

At the hospital, the doctor determined I had only contused my shoulder (yeah, that's a word. It is now, anyway.) He sent me for x-rays in case I had broken my crown.

As Yogi Berra said, they x-rayed my head and found nothing.

Eventually, I healed, with no permanent scar and no drain bramage.
My point here, though, is my gratitude to the anonymous Korean angel who took a large chunk out of his day, after a hard hike on the mountain, to care for a total stranger, a foreigner with whom he couldn’t even talk. I was simply someone who desperately needed help, and he helped me, beyond what I had any right to expect. Sometimes the Korean people en masse seem unwelcoming to a waegook, but on a one-to-one basis I’ve usually found them to be warm and welcoming. I will always be thankful to the anonymous man who threw me a lifeline when I needed it most.

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