Travelling from South Korea to get stranded in a Buffalo blizzard

NEW YORK – Mr Alexander Campagna and his wife, Andrea, lifelong residents of Buffalo, New York, were ready to wait the blizzard out. They had stocked the fridge and planned for a quiet holiday weekend indoors at their home in suburban Williamsville, as long as the power stayed on.

Then, on Friday at 2pm, with the storm already swirling and snow rapidly piling up, making roads impassable, there was a knock at the door. Two men, part of a group of nine tourists from South Korea that was travelling to Niagara Falls, asked for shovels to dig their passenger van out of a ditch.

And so an unlikely holiday weekend began, with the Campagnas welcoming the travellers, along with their driver, as house guests. They became “accidental innkeepers”, said Mr Campagna, a 40-year-old dentist.

Before leaving Friday morning from Washington, DC, the tour participants, most of them from Seoul, seemed unaware of the worrisome forecast, said Mr Choi Yoseb, 27, who is from Pyeongtaek. He was travelling with his wife, Claire, on the tour, which they had booked for their honeymoon.

A day earlier, he had grown concerned after receiving messages from friends alerting him to the coming storm. On Friday, the van ride was slippery and windy, and the passengers had become anxious, he said.

Then, after hours of watching the weather deteriorate outside the van’s windows, they ended up stranded near the Campagna house, Mr Choi said.

The Campagnas, well aware of the dangers the storm presented, immediately invited the travellers in, “knowing, as a Buffalonian, this is on another level, the Darth Vader of storms”, Mr Campagna said.

The visitors – seven women and three men – filled the three-bedroom house, sleeping on couches, sleeping bags, an air mattress and in the home’s guest bedroom. The other travellers included parents with their daughter, an Indiana college student, and two college-age friends from Seoul. Three of them spoke English proficiently.

They spent the weekend swapping stories, watching the Buffalo Bills defeat the Chicago Bears on Christmas Eve and sharing delicious Korean home-cooked meals prepared by the guests, like jeyuk bokkeum, a spicy stir-fried pork dish, and dakdori tang, a chicken stew laced with fiery red pepper. To the surprise and glee of the Korean guests, Mr Campagna and his wife, who are both fans of Korean food, had all the necessary condiments on hand: mirin, soy sauce, Korean red pepper paste, sesame oil and chili flakes. There was also kimchi and a rice cooker.

“It was kind of like fate,” Mr Choi said, remarking on the luck of arriving at the Campagnas’ doorstep with their fully stocked kitchen and unhesitating hospitality. He said the hosts were “the kindest people I have ever met”.

One of the guests, the mother of the Indiana college student, was a fabulous cook, he said.

“We destroyed so much food,” he added.

Mr Campagna said that the unexpected guests had been a delight.

“We have enjoyed this so much,” he said, calling it a “unique blessing”, and adding that the experience has inspired the couple to plan a visit to South Korea. “We will never forget this.”

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