I think it was in Paran, Hwaseong, Gyeonggi-do. I remember I was just new in this town and I was roaming around to familiarize myself with the area. It just got dark and it was rush hour. I was walking by a cross-road when I heard a child called, "Ajuma!" I saw the kid and she was across the street from me. I thought she was calling someone else so proceeded to just looking around. At the edge of my sight, I noticed the child risked her life crossing the street. There was no pedestrian-crossing sign nearby and she was lucky that the street was empty for just a couple of seconds. The sight of this scared me a lot. I remember I got hit by a jeep when I was young so this little girl running across the street really shook me. But there's more.
Apparently she was calling out for me. I had long hair that time so she mistook me for an old lady. She got close to a meter away from me before she recognized I'm a man. A foreigner. But I can tell she was desperate. Barefeet, dress a bit dirty, tears pouring down her face, and shaking voice. But she was desperate. Although she stopped when she saw I was a man, she was too worried to be scared of me then. That's when I assumed she was lost. But I was wrong.
"Ajoshi... noraebang odiyo?" She asked. Although I was a bit in shock myself, I mustered all I can to be calm and tried to look/sound as friendly as I could. I asked why was she looking for a karaoke bar. She said there was nobody at home when she got there and was told her mom was at the karaoke.
"Do you know which karaoke she went?"
"There's so many karaoke here."
This was the extent of my Korean. I was thinking I could escort her to the police, as the station was just about 10 meters from us. But I didn't want to scare this poor little girl with my lack of Korean language. I really want to help her but I couldn't concentrate enough to come up with a complete Korean sentence. Flashbacks of my childhood kept coming, as I have been lost many times before. This girl, though, wasn't lost. She's just scared 'cause she's alone and no one's home.
Less than a minute passed by and I was about to take her hand and lead her to the police. But she darted towards the station by herself, crossing the street again. I almost panicked but the thought of calling her out, or chase after her, might either scare her more or worse; a local might see me and suspect me of a bad guy. As a foreigner who stayed 4 years (at that time) here in Korea, I've learned that the locals easily suspect outsiders as a bad person. So I was cautious. I walked fast to get close to the girl while calmly saying, "wait... just wait... there are cars..." The only thought I have is if in case there really is a car approaching, I'd grab the girl to safety. Suspicion be damned!
But I was wrong. She wasn't going to the police station. She recognized her father who happens to pass by the station, walking home. I was in the middle of the cross-road and when I saw her comfortably holding her father's hand, I retreated and walked away. At that moment I didn't care if the little girl's father thought of me as a bad person. I just know she's finally safe.
Truth be told, I hate kids. Probably not hate but I get easily annoyed by them. But who would turn down a little girl so desperate, she'd come for the aid of a stranger? Who would turn down such a young child (I believe she's 6 years old or younger) doing all she could just to find her parents?
But now, 6 years later, I'm angry whenever I remember this event. I am angry that I suspect the father (or mother) might have scolded her for talking to strangers. Or going out the street at night. Or not staying home despite their absence. Or maybe coming home late in the first place. I am so angry that they should have been worried sick. That they should thank the stars she came to me. What if she happen to come across a pervert? A kidnapper? A child rapist? What if she asked help from a drunk who could just point her somewhere random just to get rid of her? What if despite my presence, she got hit by a passing car? She was just a child. Scared and alone. And that is the parents's fault.