an empty bus and mariah carey

this was a jam-packed full month. i had an epic birthday week, david acted in 6 play performances as denmark, and we had a blast celebrating christmas. it’s a tough month to be away from home, but i feel like we weathered it better this year than the last. i feel like all our adventures deserve their own little posts, so i’ll try to write a few in the next couple days. for now, i’ll leave you with this piece of sentimentality:

i’ve said it before, but when you live in a foreign country, the actions of the strangers around you become magnified. a rude bus driver or angry ajumma or a gawking teenager yelling mangled english phrases at you can just crush your day. but on the flipside, if you get one kind person – a waitress who is patient with your halting korean phrases, a woman who lets you get on the bus before her, a coworker who gives you a ride home – then you suddenly feel so grateful your heart could flutter right out of your chest. these gems, these ‘diamonds in the rough’ (to borrow a worn-out phrase from the disney classic aladdin that i must’ve watched 6 times in the past week, but that isn’t exactly relevant to this story) can restore my faith in humanity (or at least in the nation of korea) on a daily basis.

here’s a story about one of the nice guys.

after a long, exhausting day of work and tutoring i caught the 35 bus home. as i boarded the bus, i noticed i was the only passenger. the driver greeted me in a booming voice, welcoming me to the bus with a big smile. sometimes drivers offer a little hello, but with this guy it was like he’d just welcomed me into his childhood home, he sounded so sincere. i settled into a nearby seat after greeting him back. i was so wiped out, my brain felt like tv static. then, i noticed the driver shuffling through the radio stations, until he found the english one. every once in awhile you get a cab driver that will do a similar thing – oh! there is a foreigner in the vehicle, i bet they want to listen to english music! but really, i think it’s a nice gesture. i’ve never had a bus driver do it before though. he grinned at me from the rearview mirror so i gave him a smile back.

we crawled through the streets of gwangju during rush hour – a sensory overload with glowing shop signs and red tail lights and horns blaring and jaywalkers everywhere. the song on the radio was a laughable classic: mariah carey’s “hero.” but as i sat there and listened, i suddenly thought she might be singing to me:

There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are

There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away…

oh no. mariah carey was definitely singing to me. i wanted to roll my eyes and move on with my night, but i was the only passenger on this nice guy’s bus in this overwhelmingly congested city, and he’d turn on the english radio station and there she was. singing this monumental ballad about how i was going to make it through and i was going to be okay.

Then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive

So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

the bus picked up a handful of passengers at each stop until it was full, and still the friendly driver kept it on the english radio station, and still the song kept building and building (i never realized how much this song builds) as i pushed the button signaling my stop. as i waited by the door to exit the bus, i couldn’t shake the feeling of gratitude, mingled with a little sadness. i was going to make it, i was going to be just fine, but soon this glowing, pulsing, dizzying city was going to be behind me, just a wisp of a memory, just a story to tell, just a feeling. it’s become my home, you know. a really strange home, but a home nonetheless. and i’m going to leave it soon.

i kid you not, right as the driver pulled up to my stop, mariah finished her song with that last, devastatingly good line:

That a hero lies in you.

and i stepped out into the cold night, and i walked up the hill to my home.

and i may or may not have wiped away a tear.


i admit, that story is about as hokey and cheesy as i get. but i had a moment, and i thought i’d share it with you. now, if you don’t believe me about the song, just take a little time to let mariah sing to you.



About breeanncowger

restlessly seeking, persistently hoping, remaining in awe of the world in which we live.
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2 Responses to an empty bus and mariah carey

  1. cheesy, maybe, but awesome nonetheless!!! thank you for sharing – sometimes life is hokey!

  2. lambojambo says:

    mariah’s impact 💜

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