Holding a map of Seoul, we were planning which destination should we go next. We were standing next to the wall, avoiding the crazy stampede of people who was walking past us in different directions to catch their subway rides. As foreigners, we looked as if we were lost and trying to figure out how to use the subway.

Suddenly, a Korean man, around his late 60s, appeared next to us.

When we looked up, he was smiling. We smiled back, not sure if he said something earlier since we didn’t hear him. He began speaking but his mouth barely opened. It looked as if he was just murmuring, because we could hardly see his tongue. I felt l my neck stretching like a turtle out of its shell, trying to figure out what he was saying (as if I could magically hear him clearly, ha!). He kept on rambling, but we figured that this man was kindly was trying to help us. He began pointing the map, nodding, smiling and perhaps asked us, “where are you going?” 

We pointed at our next destination and attempted to tell him that we’re Deaf but he didn’t seem to paid attention. He began tracing with his finger of the subway routes, murmuring and tracing along the line to show us how to get there. Lilo and I looked at each other smiling, because we already knew what to do but were really touched how kind this man was to take his time to help us.

Instead of listening his voice, I read his expression and body language which I really did feel his sincerity.

We nodded several time, bowed respectfully to thank him for his help and went off.

After a long day with our itinerary, we went back to Hongdae (a nightlife area in Seoul) to go back to the hostel.  As we walked back, we saw a man walking toward us and realized that he was the same man who helped us earlier in the day at the subway station.

I mean, out of all time and place, what a coincidence!

We were shocked and waved at him. He also dropped his jaw and his eyes smiled. He laughed, “how was it?” 

We both nodded, smiling widely and used the thumb up gesture. He began rambling on again, and we had a difficulty to catch up with him.  Lilo and I were trying our best to help each other out, but the kind man appeared not to notice that we were signing to each other since he was looking straight at our face and looking away as he thought back his life.

We caught some few things and learned about his life but often lost track of his stories. He mentioned something about traveling at his younger age and encouraged us to keep exploring. Then his travel experiences eventually turned to his personal life.

I caught some things, such as “not married,” “my parents wanted me to get marry,” and so on. Before we knew it, he was sharing his personal life that lasted an hour. Unfortunately, we lost track of his story several times, attempting to find that track again. I mean, can you imagine not able to hear and just solely focus on lip reading? It’s not easy as many think. Imagine this:

you have a friend who mouthing you throughout the whole conversation with no sound.

Try that for an hour, even less!

It was really challenging to try stay on track; sometimes we also just nodded and followed his expression. When he smiled, we smiled. When he laughs, we chuckled. When he frowned, we frowned.

This is something that we, many Deaf and Hard of Hearings, commonly go through. Why is we don’t bother to ask him to repeat, you wonder?

We did. However, to ask to repeat several times would definitely test his patience, even for many Hearings for that matter. Perhaps even kill the mood.

That’s just the reality that we need to face every day.

Furthermore, asking him to repeat doesn’t necessary mean we’ll always understand better than the first time. So, sometimes we don’t bother asking.

Unfortunately, sometimes we also didn’t realize when a Hearing person is asking us a question, and then they would look at us as if we were stupid. And when following someone’s expressions, there are some mistakes that we go through sometimes.

Or at least I did this time, BIG TIME.

This kind man was talking about his parents at one point, and I caught “my mom wanted me to….” and then eventually I misread and misunderstood the part when he said “she went” because I assumed that  he felt relieved that she stopped nagging him to get married.

However, I made such an honest mistake, because I didn’t catch the trail when he began talking about his parents in different situation.

So, I went “ahh!” and chuckled. Lilo looked at me, her eyes widen. Gasping. Shocked.

I scrunched my eyebrows, asked “what???”  

I swear, I can see that she went so pale.

I remember thinking, “why are you shocked?” 

Ohhh, no okay, she just went paler. I thought. So….okay, whatever it is, this is not good. If she’s going white then…

I looked back at the man, he didn’t appear to be shocked (or perhaps I missed that part) but was a little silent for a bit.

“Oh….do you mean…your mom went… *pointed up in the sky*?”

He nodded and said, “yeah, my mom __(missed some parts) – passed.”

*internally screaming*

I felt myself cringing; I felt myself becoming smaller and smaller.

Where’s the rock? I was dying to hide under a rock.

I felt so damn guilty and embarrassed.

While cringing, I gestured by waving my hands to him, “I’m so so so sorry. I thought…I thought you…your mom stopped nagging and finally left you alone.”


I was signing to Lilo, “OH. MY. GOD. WTF. LILO.”

Lilo signed back, “OH. MY GOD. YOU…YOU…LAUGHED?”


Lilo laughed nervously.

CAN YOU NOT  LILO- WHERE’S THE ROCK? I thought to myself

I apologize to him again but he didn’t pay attention – he began starring back and forth between Lilo and I.

“What are you doing with your hands??” he asked while attempting to copy our signs.

“Oh, we are signing to each other. We’re both Deaf.”


“Deaf….we’re both Deaf, so we use sign language to communicate with each other.”

“oh…” he paused. “oh…uh…” then he was lost in thought.

Awkward silence.

Okay, I didn’t care about his recent discovery; I just wanted to go under a rock. Now.

“Oh I see…” then he trailed on a little more about his personal life.While he was rambling his life, I was lost in thought

“Oh my god, Stacey. Okay, calm down. It was an honest mistake. But damn, why did you had to laugh!! Why did you –  f**k!!” I also can feel that Lilo was holding in her laughter, ready to explode at my face.

We then finally said our goodbyes and thanks, and of course, I gave my apology again. As we walked back, Lilo burst out laughing but was shocked at the same time; I had to deal with her constant teasing the next few days, “Make sure you don’t laugh when someone died.” My eyes narrowed at her, made a face “ha. ha.”

To this day, she still laughs about it. Although I know it was an honest mistake, I now laugh at that memory but still feel guilty.

Were you expecting a moral of a story?

Well, actually, there is no moral of the story.

I certainly do need to be careful next time; however, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m unable to make mistakes like this again.

Solely relaying on lip-reading isn’t always effective. Several words are mouthed and sounded the same (for example, “tip” and “dip”). One of the common ways to have effective communication with us and our community is to write or type what you’re saying, especially if you do not know sign language; otherwise always ask the person who to have an effective communication. That way we can have full accessibility to information and make connection within the society.

I may laugh inappropriately and unintentionally again, at your face. I may smile at the wrong time when I thought you were saying this but you were actually saying that. I may stare at you blankly, not realizing that you were asking me a question. I may mistakenly agree or disagree (by nodding or shaking my head) when I misread/misheard your question.

So this is why I want to let you know to not take it personally if you happen to meet Deaf or Hard of Hearing during your journey, even while you’re working or shopping at grocery store. This world is audiocentric, therefore we often confront different obstacles.

It’s imperative to remember that lip-reading isn’t a what every Deaf and Hard of Hearing is good at. Some are better than the others, but it doesn’t mean that they still can catch up

 every. single. word.

50 Responses

  1. Very much enjoyed this thoughtful piece. It must be hard to always ask people to repeat – you must always be conscious of their feelings and yours. I think this man must have really wanted to talk and for you to listen, and it sounds like you did that pretty well. We all need to be aware of others when we try to converse.

    1. Yeah, it was challenging to minimize asking them to repeat! He seemed a really kind man, and it appeared that when he realized how we traveled a lot, he just couldn’t reflect back of his life and share it. Thank you for reading! 🙂

    1. yes, it was challenging but had a great time learning some of his stories nonetheless 🙂 Yes, we lost a little patience, but we were too soft-hearted for it and just tolerate it the whole way >.< Thank you for reading! 🙂

  2. I love that you concluded that some stories have no moral, no conclusion, no epiphany. That’s life, but that occurs all the time when traveling. Things happen, and you never know what to make of them.

    1. Thank you! 🙂 I wasn’t sure whether I should add something like that but there is actually no moral of the story because it just happened. I mean, especially as a Deaf traveler with double barriers (language & communication), I can’t keep blaming myself! Thank you for reading! 🙂

  3. What a kind man, i think you find people like this in most countries, then you find people like this who expect to get paid for helping. Honest mistakes happen and as you say it must be so hard lip reading all the time. great read on a personal level

    1. yes, such a kind man! I love meeting local people, and I always would love to hear different stories of their life. It’s always fascinating! Thank you for reading! 🙂

    1. thank you 🙂 yes, exactly! sometimes we forget and don’t really think enough that it is definitely not the case. Thank you for reading! 🙂

  4. What an experience! And what a kind man to want to help you. I can only imagine the challenges of traveling and being Deaf. Mistakes are bound to be made, but it’s great that you are out there exploring the world!

    1. There are challenges and perks, which I’ll certainly post about it later! 😉 regardless, I’m happy to have a chance to explore the world, so you’re right! 🙂

  5. This is a great post, really liked reading it! I have a good friend who is hard of hearing, and I can only imagine it can be so hard and frustrating at times. But you really handled the situation well, honest mistakes happen!

    1. Thank you! 🙂 Yes, you’re right, honest mistakes can happen! I feel bad as I looked back but don’t beat myself up about it anymore. Nice to hear that you have a friend who is hard of hearing! It can be frustrating and challenging, especially since our world is so audiocentric. I’m sure your friend gets by everyday with so much strength!

  6. I join the chorus saying how much I enjoyed reading your post. It is honest and thought-provoking. It reminded me that we all have to be patient and nonjudgmental. There are so many reasons why a person could react not in an expected way: aside from what you experienced, it could also be a language barrier, cultural differences, even age difference might come into play. It is so important not to overreact and to be understanding.

    1. thank you, Elena! I appreciate your kind comment about this! All of these important factors indeed come into play. We’re all humans and do need to remind ourselves again and again. Certainly when we overreact, we’ll have to explore our perception and attitudes which are important.

      Thank you for reading! 🙂

  7. What a coincidence to run into the same man twice in a day. Thanks for sharing your story, sounds like a very awkward conversation. I find myself doing the same thing on occasion, giving a smile or a slight laugh if I wasn’t paying attention or didn’t hear what the other person was saying.

    1. right?!? I couldn’t believe to run into him twice in a day! I thought that was fascinating 🙂 It was pretty awkward, mostly at the end, haha. Thank you for reading! 🙂

  8. I really enjoyed this story. I love how you can meet someone and they can have a lasting memory. I’m sure part of you wants to forget it but I love how this man wanted to tell you his story. I’m not deaf but I struggle to hear people when there’s background noise, it doesnt even have to be loud, so i often end up trying to guess what people are saying and it is awkward when you get it wrong!

    1. A memory that I’ll certainly remember for the rest of my life! Although it was embarrassing, it was an honest mistake that I can look back at and laugh at myself too 🙂 So, many of us make mistakes! I love when local people try to communicate with travelers! Love to learn about their life!

      Thank you for reading! 🙂

  9. I am sure this isn’t the first or the last time this has happened (heck, I have had a couple of incidents where I know just enough Spanish to pass inspection but I am not fluent so I can miss things in conversations) . I really want to learn ASL. I know enough to say hi and spell my name but that’s it. Some people forget that not everyone speaks/signs their language and communication is more than just verbal.

    1. That’s correct! Definteily not the first or last time! I’ll sure make more honest mistakes. I’m glad you see it that way, it is more than just verbal! 🙂 Some people are just exposed to sign language for the first time and often was shocked – which is understandable, of course 🙂

      There are often ASL classes at colleges, local community, or even online! Let me know if you’re interested, and I can give you the links 🙂

      Thank you for reading! 🙂

  10. Wow, I can’t even imagine how hard that must be to lip read like that, especially if the person talking didn’t understand that you couldn’t hear them! I think the mistake about his mom is understandable–I can definitely see where you would feel bad about it, but it was an honest mistake, and at least it’s something to laugh at now!

    1. A memory that I’ll certainly remember for the rest of my life! Although it was embarrassing, it was an honest mistake that I can look back at and laugh at myself 😉

  11. Yikes that sounds like an awful situation to be in. I think its good that you wrote this down, so more people can be aware of and understand the difficulties the deaf community faces- so we can react better too!

    1. I’m glad you said that! I was hoping this post will help the Hearing community to be more aware! 🙂 Thank you for reading! ^^

  12. Thanks for being honest in your article! Travel is not aways as easy at it seem, with all the language problems etc. You are brave and keep the every going! I enjoyed reading your piece.

    1. Thank you, Veronika! I appreciate it! ^^ Regardless of this incident, I’ll keep going! Thank you for reading! 🙂

  13. What an insightful piece into another world! I remember when I was learning sign language (I am not deaf but wanted to learn as part of my Masters), how difficult it was for me to keep up with the conversations. Whenever I was in a group conversation, I always felt like I was getting yelled at by all the signing that was going on even though the room is mostly quiet 🙂

    1. haha, I understand what you mean that you felt like you were being yelled us! Deafs are very expressive, most particularly facial expressions, and we sometimes sign big! That’s awesome that you took it for your Masters, Christina!

      Thank you for reading! 🙂

  14. This is such a great story! I’am sure that once the man found out that you was deaf then there would have been no hard feelings. I can’t imagine how difficult it could be at times being deaf whilst travelling to countries that don’t speak the same language!

    1. I’m hoping, yes! 🙂 Although I explained that I was Deaf, I’m sure he realized it 🙂 There are a lot of challenges but perks too! We’ll post more of that in the future 😉 Thank you for reading! 🙂

  15. Okay, I must say that this is quite funny although I’d probably drop dead already from embarrassment if it were me, haha! I have a cousin who is mute and deaf and while I can do (very basic) sign language, it’s still a struggle to communicate with each other. Lip-reading? I totally fail at that, hah! So I think I can understand the frustration a bit when you face situations like this – which is why you guys got my utmost respect for still exploring the world regardless.

    1. Thank you! A memory that I’ll certainly remember for the rest of my life! Although it was embarrassing, I still look back at and laugh at myself 🙂 Lip reading can be difficult – so some have various skills to do so. Although you said that you do very basic sign language, it is still very appreciative that you do that for your cousin! And I want to just want to let you know that it’s not appropriate to say “mute.” The term “Deaf” is commonly and widely accepted by the Deaf community. Even though you probably learned it form the society, I want to inform you that saying “Deaf” is better 🙂

    1. So bad did I want to do that during that moment! But I’m glad that I don’t beat myself up about it anymore and just laugh about it 🙂 Thank you for reading! 🙂

  16. First of all, this is one of the most inspirational travel blogs I have come across, as you are the first deaf travel bloggers. I love how in-depth you go into your conversational experiences eand how you point out the assumptions non-deaf individuals make that the hard of hearing are expert lip readers. The beginning story especially touching to me since it reminded me of the year I spent in Korea and no matter the language barrier even, the elderly were always willing to help me out. Can’t wait to read more posts!

    1. Thank you so much, Izzy! We really appreciate that! 🙂 One of the goals here to spread awareness that not all Deafs are expert at lip-reading! And in South Korea – I love how generous and helpful they are too!!

  17. Fascinating story!
    Sometimes I also wonder if I should repeatedly ask people to repeat what they said. I guess it’s much more problematic for you.

    1. It’s problematic, because we may need to ask them to repeat more than twice, and sometimes repeats doesn’t mean we’ll understand it, so it can be pretty challenging. Best way to to write it down! 🙂 Thank you for reading! 🙂

  18. This was a very interesting read. Honestly, I have never thought on these lines before. I must say you really did great even though it was tough to understand what the man was saying. Lip reading is tough. Keep traveling, have fun!

    1. Thank you! We did our best to manage this situation, and regardless, we always love learning about different locals’ stories! It’s fascinating 🙂 Thank you for reading! 🙂

  19. Wow! You go girl! I couldn;t even imagine having to rely on people
    s mouth movements. It reminds me of how communication is key and not learning another’s language is detrimental both you and others. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    1. haha, thank you, Chelsea! It was challenging but just a way we have to get by most of the times. Communication is indeed important! Thank you for reading 🙂

  20. Hi girls!
    I was on the internet when I found your blog and began to read it..
    Is really amazing the way you see the world and share with us your experiences…

    Sometimes we dont take care about the wonderfull life could be

    Thanks your blog now I fell more energized and powerfull…

    I hope you the best..xoxo

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