A pair of white $4 slippers, given spontaneously to a barefoot stranger who boarded a public bus last Saturday, catapulted a South Korean undergraduate into the limelight.
Mr Choi Dae Ho, 22, may be a black belt in taekwondo, but instead it was his gentle act of chivalry that put him at the centre of online buzz.
Despite her initial objections, Mr Choi – who is here on a six-week trip – knelt in front of the old woman, who had teared up by then, took off his own flip-flops and put them gently on her feet.
Speaking through an interpreter yesterday, he told The Straits Times: “It was a small gesture on my part, and it was something I felt I had to do, or I would regret it.”
Said the Incheon native: “Ever since I was young, my grandmother took care of me. She passed away when I was 15, but I’ve always had a deep affection and respect for grandmothers.”
Mr Choi, who majors in taekwondo at Jeonju University, is one of four Koreans now in Singapore as part of the Korea-based World Taekwondo Federation Peace Corps.
The generous deed, which took his companions by surprise, took place on a rare day off from daily training. They were on board an SBS bus returning to their Farrer Road hostel after a trip to Sentosa with Mr Jason Tan, 22, captain of the Singapore squad.
Mr Choi‘s generosity left him with an unusual problem. After alighting from the bus, he had to sprint the entire eight minutes back to the hostel as the “pavements were scorching”.
One of his fellow Koreans, Ms Kim Jeong Hee, 22, took the photo – of him and the smiling old woman wearing the slippers – without his knowledge. It was uploaded on Wednesday to the Singapore Taekwondo Federation website, and was picked up by citizen journalism platform Stomp.
While some netizens were sceptical, most praised him for the good deed, drawing parallels with the unscripted act by New York policeman Lawrence DePrimo, who bought boots for a barefoot homeless man, Mr Jeffrey Hillman, 54, last November.
Mr Choi said he was surprised by the online reaction as he “did not think it was such a big deal”.
He said he has taken to Singapore, a country with people he describes as “very kind and nice”. He intends to take a gap year in his studies to train with Singapore‘s national taekwondo squad.
The secretary-general of the Singapore Kindness Movement, Dr William Wan, said it was a “wonderful gesture” that he hoped would “inspire a gracious society”.
Mr Choi, who is single and says he is not from a well-to-do family, wants to become a taekwondo instructor for the handicapped. He has yet to replace his pair of slippers, borrowing a teammate’s pair instead.