What outstanding news this morning, to learn that the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had crossed into South Korea for a Korean summit. It reminded me of my own profound moment in South Korea many years ago.
The year would have been 1996 and I was leading the marketing for Energizer through-out Asia-Pacific. While I was based in Hong Kong, I traveled all over Asia for work, several times making the trip to Seoul, South Korea.
During one of my visits to Seoul, my translator and the people I worked with took me to a market for a little shopping. While we were walking through the market, my translator was pulled aside and a conversation started. I wondered if I was the topic, as they kept pointing to me. After a few minutes, my translator came back to me and said that this gentleman would like to speak with me, if I was willing.
“Of course” was my answer, “what does the man want to talk about?”
“I will let him tell you himself” my translator responded.
The man was older, weathered, I might say. He was hunched over a little and his dusty white t-shirt spoke of all the work he did. He reached for my hand to shake it and I smiled. He started to speak to me, stopping periodically, so my translator could share.
“I have never met an American before” he began. ” I wanted to meet you, because you are American, right?”
“Yes. Yes, I am American. It is so nice to meet you.”
“I wanted to meet you because I wanted to thank you. I want to thank you for sending all the American troops over here to South Korea to keep us safe. I want to thank you for all that America has done for us. I wanted to thank an American in person. Thank you, thank you. Will you tell everyone in America how much we, in South Korea, appreciate that? Will you tell your President?”
I was so touched. “Oh, what kind words, thank you. Yes, I will share your message in America. I don’t know the President. I don’t know that I can get your message to him, but I will certainly share it.”
As I left the man I had this overwhelming sense of awe. I had no idea the profound impact America was having in South Korea. I didn’t know the number of troops. I didn’t understand what it meant to the people there.
But, it mattered so much to this man that he had to stop a stranger, an American and offer his thanks to her, through her translator.
When I returned to America, I told that story quite a few times. It was part of a larger narrative for me; that being to understand the impact that America has on the world stage. I had not known. I had not understood that.
So, as today’s profound moment in Korea occurred, I kept thinking of my own profound moment. I thought of that kind man and his words of gratitude. I thought that sharing his message of gratitude might be a perfect thing to write about and share today.