by Robert Eitzen
Hunan Province, China
I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune to live and work in several countries as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. During one assignment, I lived in Prague in the Czech Republic. I often took weekend trips to nearby cities to explore the countryside.
One weekend, I took a three-hour bus ride to visit a city that boasted a fine castle and wonderful museums. Before I got off the bus, I checked the schedule for return times to Prague; I was only planning a day trip and did not intend to stay overnight.
After a wonderful day seeing the sights, I ate a leisurely dinner and had plenty of time to walk the half-mile to catch the 6:15 bus. When I got there, no one was in line for the bus to Prague. Through extensive sign language, I discovered that the last bus for the day left at 5:15.
This was a serious problem. About a month earlier, my pocket was picked and I lost about $100 US. To avoid having the same thing happen again, I only carried enough cash to cover my expenses for the day. I certainly did not have enough to stay in a hotel overnight. But with no transportation to Prague, and being an optimist, I decided to try asking.
I first checked the youth hostel, but it was completely full. Setting aside 5 Crowns for bus fare, I had 9 Crowns to spend. Every hotel I tried cost charged 22 to 25 Crowns, until I had only one more recommendation to pursue. If it was too expensive, I’d have to spend the night on a park bench, an uncomfortable idea for someone almost 60 years old.
The hotel looked much nicer than I expected. It would surely cost more than 9 Crowns. The desk clerk spoke some English, so I told her my story. She listened carefully, then asked me to wait. A woman came out and in very good English introduced herself as the manager. She asked what she could do to help.
Again I relayed my story, and made an offer. If I could stay the night, I would give her my 9 Crowns and mail the rest to her the next day. She said I was welcome to stay, and that she would accept what I had in my pocket as total payment for a room. Then she added, “If you need some money for dinner, I would be happy to give you some of my own so you can have a proper meal.” I was so moved by her kindness and generosity that I could barely manage to express my deepest gratitude.
I spent the night in a clean and tastefully decorated room, not on a cold, hard park bench. As soon as I got back to Prague, I wrote the manager a note of thanks for her thoughtfulness. She reminded me that kindness, unselfishness and benevolence are international characteristics, and as such, know no boundaries.