05 April 2015

A moment to remember




One of my most memorable moments in Denmark happens to be my very first one, in late November of 2000. I was in university back then, and studying in Oslo as an exchange student. Since it was my first time to actually live in Europe, I aimed to make the most of it with a Eurorail pass. On my way back from visiting friends in Paris, I decided on a whim to finally get off the train in Copenhagen (rather than pass through as I did before).

I stepped onto the platform that morning and was greeted by the excitement that comes with exploring a new city. My next train wasn't going to be until the evening, so I picked up a free map, and set out on my route to catch all the sights. By mid morning I saw that the battery on my MiniDisk player was running low. The thought of a long train ride without music wasn't appealing at all, so I stepped into what I thought was a cafe or restaurant to recharge it. The initial feeling was not unlike that scene in Back to the Future III, when Marty opens the cowboy doors to a bar and everything stops. Here I was, this Asian kid no older than 21, and everyone there clearly in their 60s or older, with their faces on me. Not wanting to look foolish, I pretended that I had intentionally walked into a pub in the late morning, and took a seat at one of the booths. When one of the staff came to greet me, I ordered a coffee only to find out that they didn't actually serve any, so I asked for a beer, because of course I'd want one. I then found a power outlet nearby, took out my sketchbook and cigarettes, and settled in.

After a few minutes, one of the elderly patrons came by to see what I was up to. Since I didn't speak any Danish, the older man quickly switched to very well spoken English (of course), and the questions came: Who are you, where are you from, and what are you doing here? After finding out that I was a student from Texas just passing through, he invited me to join him at the bar, where he introduced me to his friend (who was just as welcoming), and the owner (a very sweet lady in her 50s). The man then offered to buy me a drink, and although I refused, out came a half-liter of beer. Since I wasn't one to leave kindness unreturned, I bought the next round for the three of us. After a few more rounds back and fourth (and some lamenting on my part about the recent election), they then asked if I had eaten. The kind owner was offering to make us something, although they didn't serve any food there. Again I declined, but out came some fries and sausages.

I had initially planned to see all the sights of Copenhagen, but the laughter-filled hours just passed us by. Before I knew it, night had fallen and I only made it to the bar! I glanced at my watch, made the usual gestures associated with leaving, and asked for the way back to the station. They then discussed some things in Danish among themselves, and after consulting a little schedule book, they agreed the bus would work out best. With a smile, the woman put some money on the counter in front of me, and the man next to me told me to take it, as it would cover the bus fare. Stunned, my protests were quickly turned down again, and I reluctantly collected the coins she gave me and packed my things. On my way out the door, the owner stopped me, and told me to wait. She then grabbed her coat, and walked me out to the bus stop to wait with me in the rain. When the bus finally came, she sent me off with one of the most kindest and warmest hugs anyone could ever give.

I never knew it at the time, but that very same form of kindness would eventually lead my wife and I to move to Denmark, more than ten years later. Since then, we've made sure to do our part to return that feeling to others whenever possible!

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