30 May 2014


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia I had just bought the most perfect pants with beautiful indochina elephant patterns. I got back to our hostel dorm and quickly put it on. I was so happy, I was dancing around in front of the mirror hanging on the wall. Our roommate, a middle aged Korean who barely spoke English, was lying on her upper bunk bed, watching with a smile on her face. She asked me where I got it. In Chinatown I said, for 30 ringgit. She said she has the same pants. She pointed at a piece of cloth hanging at the foot of her bed, which she said she bought from Thailand for half the price. “Thailand, very cheap, very cheap,” she said.

I crouched on the floor to get something from my backpack. CREEEAAAK. My new, beautiful pants ripped wide open—at the crotch. I was so bummed. I didn’t want to take it off; I wanted to wear it everyday. I wanted to wear it that night when we went out for drinks. Ahjumma (as we call her) peeked from her upper bunk bed again, probably to see what all the fuss was about. I took my pants off and was holding it in my hands and showed it to her. Look, I said. It ripped open. Run back to the store and have it changed, she said with her broken English and acting it out as best as she could. She talked with her hands because she couldn’t speak English well. I can’t, I said. I love this design and they only have one piece per design. Then you should sew it up, she said, acting as if she was sewing something. But I don’t have a needle and thread, I said. “I have! I have!” She got up and hurriedly went down the bed (not an easy feat for her, we wanted to exchange but she didn’t want to) and bent beside her luggage which was always sitting open on the floor. She handed me the needle and thread, and I inserted the thread into the needle.

My friends poked fun at me. You can't do anything, they said. Do you know how to do that? Of course! I said. They taught this in home economics in high school, I bragged. And so I started. “No no no no!” Ahjumma stopped me, waving both her hands in the air. I was doing it all wrong, apparently. So much for Home Eco. Ahjumma took the thread, needle, and my pants from me. And she started sewing.

I watched her as she did it so quickly, and so well. I figured it's because in Korea, it's a norm to have their women learn to do household stuff. And then it hit me. A stranger is sewing my pants. It was weird and funny and amazing all at the same time. A stranger is generously making time for me, simply to help out. I watched Ahjumma carefully weaving through the beautiful white and green patterns on that piece of cloth. As I sat there, looking over, it took me back to all the times my mom warned me about strangers when I was a kid.

Sitting there on the floor of a hostel dorm in a city so far away from home, it reminded me of all the times my mom said to never talk to strangers. To never trust strangers. To always look after your things. To always guard yourself. Guard everything. And then I look at ahjumma, sweet sweet ahjumma, sewing my pants, and telling us about her solitary life traveling, avoiding where it is cold. And then I started crying.

I was doing all the things my mom warned me against. At that trip, all I did was meet, trust, and love strangers, and never in my life have I felt so happy. I talked to a bunch of them. Shook hands with them, hugged them, got in cabs with them, and believed the things they told menames, age, country they are from. I opened my heart so generously to strangers. I let them all in. I have a compartment in my heart now for all the wayfaring souls I have met. And I genuinely try to remember the names of each and every one though it is admittedly very hard to keep track.

I remembered all the strangers I met and made friends with for the past weeks that I have been traveling, and I cried again. Ahjumma must have thought, what a weird girl this one is.

After she sewed my pants, she climbed back up to her bed. I must have thanked her a thousand times. Why do you want to go to Korea? she asked. I told her earlier that I thought about finding a job there as an English teacher for a year or two. "Koreans, not nice, not nice." She said, shaking her head indignantly. Only in TV and movies, she added. "But you’re nice," I said. I saw the surprise in her face as I said that. I could tell she was a bit embarrassed, but she gave me the sweetest smile anyway.

That’s how I’ll always remember her.

I am a poor, wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world alone
And there's no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright land to which I go


  1. Such a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing this! You write very beautifully.

    1. Oh gosh. I love your blog so much. This means a lot. Thank you, Lois. <33

  2. I've recently discovered your blog through Infinite Satori. Great blog and post! Made me smile :)

    1. Aaaah, love Infinite Satori. Thanks so much. The mere memory of this never fails to make me smile, too.