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Column: Strangers on a train - with candy

5:34 PM, Aug. 2, 2013  |  Comments
Kang shows off his PFC Academy USA bracelet.
Kang shows off his PFC Academy USA bracelet.
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Author's note: I wrote the first draft of this column while still on vacation on the only paper I could find - the pages of my puzzle book. I wanted to remember as much about the train ride as I could, and although I had to edit out a lot for space, I tried to stay true to my original.

I told Tracy's husband when we got back from two weeks in Spain and Portugal, "You can't let her go anywhere alone. You have to watch her." I was joking. Sort of.

You see, Tracy and I met Kang on the train, only we didn't know his name right away. We were tired and punchy and ready to laugh at everything, especially after our ride there.

I sat across from him after we retrieved Tracy's lost luggage from the Barcelona airport. I turned my knees a little to the side, to be polite, although there was plenty of room. He pointed and said, "I have short legs." I tried not to smile.

He said he only spoke "a little English," but he managed well during the time we were with him.

He opened his satchel and pulled out a cellophane bag with Japanese writing on it. "Would you like?" he asked, taking one out for each of us. The clear candy had a dark-colored center. He said it was a fruit and tried to explain its taste, finally landing on sour.

I thought I might not like the flavor and wouldn't want to offend him by spitting it out, so I put it in my bag. Tracy had hers in her mouth and was talking about it tasting like a tamarind. Later, she told me she only wanted to smell the candy but realized after she opened it, she'd have to eat it. She hoped it wasn't something that would make her sick or incapacitated. She checked to be sure I didn't eat mine, just in case.

We laughed later about her taking candy from a stranger - and eating it. "Don't tell the kids," she said.

He asked whether we were tourists. Yes, we said, explaining we were in Europe for soccer tournaments.

"You are soccer coach?" he asked me. No, I said, laughing at the absurdity of me as a coach. "She," I said, pointing to Tracy, "is the mom. I'm the friend."

He explained he is a soccer coach at his university in Okinawa. "We play two times a week, but we are very bad," he said. "We lose all games." We laughed with him.

Tracy asked him if he played soccer. He laughed and said, "No, I am too old." But he did admit to playing on a senior league and even showed us a photo on his phone of him in his uniform. Tracy showed him a team photo with her son. Kang joked that he'd like his autograph in case he's famous some day.

Kang noticed our PFC Academy USA bracelets. Tracy gave hers to him. He was thrilled. She took his picture and told him to look for the group on Facebook.

Kang, who was born in South Korea, was in Spain for a conference. He's got a doctorate and is an associate professor in the department of information engineering. "Very smart," Tracy said. "No," he said. "Humble."

Tracy asked if his conference would be fun. He didn't understand fun. "You know, 'whoo-hoo!'" she said, twirling her hand around her head. I have no idea why this might indicate a universal symbol for "fun," but it worked.

"Oh, no," he said. "It is work."

Kang asked to take our photo. He promised to put it on the Facebook page. He gave us his business card, and I gave him mine. Tracy wrote her name on the back so he would know who we were - the two silly ladies on the train who kept laughing at everything and trying to find easy-to-understand English words with gestures to fill in the blanks.

As he prepared to get off the train, he told us he would go to his conference "for two days, maybe." Then, he said, he'd go have fun. We hope he did.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
15%
572 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
23%
852 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
27%
1011 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
34%
1268 votes

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