It’s Buddah’s birthday! What serendipitous scheduling for this challenge. Kindness and compassion are so Buddah-esque.
Let me confess that the night before this challenge, I began to worry about completing it. I mean, it’s not like you can control the strangers you encounter. What if nobody needs help? What if my attempt at kindness backfires and I offend the person instead? My concern was amplified by the fact that I live in a foreign culture where misunderstandings and miscommunication are a daily occurrence. I tried to envision natural opportunities for kindness, but I couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t awkward. I started wishing there were bums where I live so I could buy dinner for them. If only I lived in San Francisco.
Then, I remembered that none of that is the point of this challenge. It’s not about me or how I will be affected. It’s about showing kindness to others in any way possible, from flashing a genuine smile, to letting someone go ahead of me in line, to holding a door open. I try to do that sort of thing every day, but today, I wanted to step it up a notch.
Turns out, it was incredibly difficult to find a natural opportunity to do that.
Buddha’s birthday (Seokga Tansinil) is a national holiday in Korea. Everyone has the day off. Colorful lanterns adorn the streets and temples, and Buddhists go to temple. There’s a big service, much like Christmas for Christians. Except, here, they give all visitors a free lunch. The only obligation is to wash your own dishes when you’re done.
So my friends and I went to Yakcheonsa, an enormous and beautiful temple nearby. We wandered around, took photos and enjoyed a picnic lunch, courtesy of the temple. When we were finished eating, we got in line to wash our bowls and plates, but we noticed a stack of dirty dishes next to the washing basin. Apparently, some people hadn’t followed protocol. So when our turn came to wash our dishes, we did some extra — and that was my big act of kindness for the day.
I tried to notice bigger and better opportunities to help someone out, but I found nothing. To make matters worse, yet better: A complete stranger showed kindness to me.
At night, the lanterns at the temple, much like Christmas lights, are all lit up. I L-O-V-E Christmas lights, but I’m telling you, I think those lanterns are even more beautiful. So I went back to the temple after dark, by myself, to take photos.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a tripod, so I was resting my camera on random surfaces and doing the best I could to get a nice photo. As I walked up the steps to the main temple, a man with a camera and tripod was walking down. I said hello in Korean and smiled. He paused. I paused. He said something I didn’t understand and showed me the photos on his camera. They were spectacular. I tried to convey my admiration with ooohs and aaaahs and “beautiful,” a word most Koreans seem to know. We smiled at each other and continued on our way in opposite directions.
A few seconds later, he came back up the steps, and with no language communication, offered to help me. I tried to gracefully decline, but he was determined. He took my camera and attached it to his tripod. I thought that would be the extent of his kindness, but then, he took the lens off my camera and replaced it with his fancy lens. He then proceeded to compose a shot for me that I never could’ve gotten without his help. Here it is. Isn’t it beautiful?
Come to think of it, random acts of kindness happen all the time here in Korea. I can’t count how many times a total stranger has done something nice for me, my friends, even my Mom when she came to visit. Maybe it’s the Buddhist culture here. I don’t know, but I think it’s amazing.
So, now, my goal is to make every day “Be Kind to Strangers Day.” Maybe, eventually, I can repay all the kindness that’s been shown to me.
What story would you like to share for Day 10?
Tomorrow’s Challenge: Eat Only Healthy Food
To see what else is coming up, check the 30-day Challenge List .