FAR FROM HOME
Ordinarily, I would never help someone in need, much less a complete stranger. But the three Korean ladies in the parking structure at the Grove were so nice and so lost, and they caught me at a time when I was bored and in no hurry and seeking adventure. Plus, they walked up to me and said, “Excuse me”, so I was kind of stuck.
“Where you know is store?” the one lady asked me in broken English. She held out a crudely drawn map on a sheet of notebook paper. It contained a sketch of the Grove, which was basically a giant rectangle that said “Grove” on it. And inside, in no particular location, was a tinier rectangle labeled “T-Mobil”.
They had clearly embarked on a daunting adventure in an unknown land, and this sheet of paper was someone’s attempt to help them.
Below the map, someone had written for them a few English phrases: “Indoor mall”, “I do not speak English”, “I would like to pay my bill” and, optimistically, I thought, “Thank you very much”.
“Are you looking for T-Mobile?” I asked.
“Yes! Yes!” all three ladies said excitedly. “T-Mobile! T-Mobile!”
“I think there’s one here, but I’m not sure where.”
They stared back at me blankly. The lady with the paper took another look at it. “Indoor mall?” she asked.
“Actually, it’s an outdoor mall.”
“Oh… outdoor mall!” the lady with the map repeated.
But one of the other ladies — the mean one — was having none of it. “Indoor mall!” she insisted. “Indoor mall!” She pointed at the phrase on the paper to make her point.
The nice one stepped in to broker a peace. “Indoor mall?” she asked again, hopefully.
“Yes,” I said. “Indoor mall.”
“T-Mobile!” the mean one said again.
I waved for them to follow me, and we started walking toward the elevator. “There’s an information desk downstairs,” I told them. “I’ll take you there.”
“I do not speak English,” the mean one said.
The nice one was the only one brave enough to attempt to go off book. “My sister, Korea,” she said as we rode the elevator.
“Oh, she’s Korean?”
“Yes! Yes! Korean!” She got excited like this any time I simply repeated something she had said.
“Are you visiting L.A.?” I asked.
“Yes! Yes! L.A. Live L.A.!” she said.
“Oh, you live here?”
“Live Koreatown,” she said. “English not good. Never English talk Koreatown.”
“Oh, that’s okay. Your English is better than my Korean!” I said, with a slight chuckle.
Once downstairs, we waited patiently at the information desk, and as soon as it was our turn, the mean one tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the employee behind the desk until I walked up to him.
“These ladies are looking for T-Mobile,” I explained.
“There’s a cart by Santa’s house,” he said. “Make a right at the fountain, and it’s up by Barnes & Noble.”
I turned to the nice one, and she was looking at me, confused. She hadn’t understood a word the information guy had said. “T-Mobile!” the mean one shouted. I now realized it was my job to take them all the way to the T-Mobile cart.
I waved for them to follow me, and we walked down the paved pathway toward the Grove’s main street. The nice one looked at the other two and waved her arms to indicate the vast expanse in front of them. “Outdoor mall!” she said, then she looked at me with a smile.
We got to the fountain just as it was beginning its hourly water show, so that led to a slight delay. “Ooh! Ooh! Water!” the women cooed. They scurried up to the fountain like little children, eliciting a shriek of joy every time a gust of water shot up. Sometimes, they would say something in Korean, which was probably the Korean word for water. I have to admit, it was pretty cute.
Afterward, we started walking again. We walked in complete silence, because I didn’t know what else to say that they might understand. Finally, when the T-Mobile cart came into view, I pointed it out and said, “Look! T-Mobile!”
“T-Mobile! T-Mobile!” the ladies repeated. We were all grateful for the break in the awkward silence.
As we approached the cart, I thought about how funny a group we must’ve seemed. Three old Korean ladies and me. I was kind of hoping it would require a long explanation, and I’d get to tell the T-Mobile saleswoman the whole story. “They thought this was an indoor mall! Can you believe it?”
The T-Mobile saleswoman greeted us with a smile. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, these ladies want to pay their bill,” I said.
“I would like to pay my bill,” the nice one repeated.
“Okay, no problem,” the saleswoman said.
“They don’t speak much English,” I told her.
“That’s fine,” she said. “I can take it from here.” Obviously, my relationship to the women was perfectly clear to her. It wouldn’t take any explanation. She could take it from there. I kind of wanted to stay and help, but there really wasn’t anything else I could do. I had already given the saleswoman all the information I had, and it wasn’t like her Korean translation skills could be any worse than mine. This was my cue to leave.
So I waved goodbye to the women and wished them good luck as I headed to Barnes & Noble. As I walked away, even the mean one smiled at me.
“Thank you very much,” they said.