Saturday, March 7, 2009

Three Heartbeats

In the middle of the night on January 14th, I did something I've never done before. I half woke from a dreamy sleep, rose up on one shoulder, reached across HeeJung, put the palm of my hand on the back of her head without waking her up, pulled her face to mine even while she slept, kissed her long and softly, then rolled over and went back to sleep. Even though it felt like a dream, I remember it vividly. I will never forget that kiss, because I believe that was the magical moment in which our baby was conceived. How do you explain such a phenomenon? I don't. I accept it. The spiritual world works in a very mysterious way, but I have come to believe with certainty that it does, in fact, work. The trick is to get it to work for you.

Finally, I am living life as I believe it was meant to be lived - not for myself, but for a future generation. Somehow, this lesson escaped me prior to my first marriage, which was entered into knowing full well that offspring was not an option. That was a failure in judgement I vow not to pass along to future generations. I intend to impress upon my children the notion that marriage and procreation are a duty everyone must (at least attempt to) perform for one's ancestors, if not for themselves. Asian cultures believe that one cannot achieve a peaceful afterlife (you could say "heaven") unless they leave someone behind to carry on the deceased's memory. I don't necessarily subscribe to that notion as worded, but I cannot say anything bad about it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

All About HeeJung (Part 3): Let's Be Practical

Ok, so I've learned how to put cool things like photos and videos in my blogs.  I'm getting there - slowly.  The first blog entry was fun - all I needed was a picture of a toilet plunger.  In the second one, you see HeeJung standing in my apartment in front of my now-ex-laptop.  In the third, you see HeeJung sitting in my apartment (yes, it's all one room) with some delicious boiled squid (it's good for us "stamina"), and now this one is of HeeJung sitting on a very cold marble slab at the head of the Cheonggyecheon river in downtown Seoul.

What were we doing in Seoul?  Well, this was our first attempt to get married.  It failed.  It was a Wednesday, and the US Embassy is not open past noon on Wednesdays.  So, we're goofing off trying to make the best of a day in the city.  You can tell by her expert English as well as her body language (ha!) that her bottom (eong-deong-ee) is very, very cold.  I think her gloved attempts at warming her bum look hysterical, and nearly have a heart attack laughing.

My schedule being what it was, our next opportunity to be married on my day off was December 17th.  But there was something special about getting married on our 100th day together, which was one day earlier.  It didn't take much thought to put together that, if we hurried, we should be able to pull it all off on December 16th and get me to the university on time for my 3pm final exam.  That's right:  finals week.

I don't think it could've gone smoother for us on the 16th.  We were one of the first in line when the Embassy opened.  We had our paperwork in order, so they stamped our stuff and sent us to the Seoul City Hall (Jong-ro Gu-cheong) in no time flat.  Again, we sailed through.  The only glitch I've heard foreign men have while marrying a Korean woman at Seoul City Hall is in response to the question, "What is his job?"  They need to make sure their young women will be properly cared for, apparently.  It's a noble gesture, and we have the certificate of employment from the university to put that question to rest.

Very quickly, we are married in Korea.  Now back to the US Embassy to make sure our marriage is reflected in the US.  Very quickly again, we are married again.  Ok, our marriage is recorded is perhaps a better way to put it.

So, at the age of 42, I'm well on my way to fulfilling my life's dream:  to have children.

Problem is, by the time we've paid all the paperwork, we now have a total of roughly 150 USD to live off until my next paycheck.  Which is all the more reason why I'm a little freaked out when HeeJung asks me to give her my ATM card and bank book.  She senses, on account of my rising voice and furroughed forehead, that I'm less than willing to do so without some reassurance from her as to her intentions.  She explains that we need to open an account at another bank that pays a guaranteed interest rate if we agree to put "x" amount of cash into it every month for one year.  This sounds reasonable to me, so I agree to the savings account.  But why do I have to give you my ATM card?  Don't you trust me?

She's been busy all those days in my apartment while I've been off working.  She has already read my bank transaction register.  I had suspected this, but she smiles at me and says that she's already seen my spending habits in the months leading up to our first date.  Admittedly, I was on a tear, averaging about 100 USD per day in pointless expenses such as beer and food -- ok, beer and more beer.  Having no basis from which to argue the common sense of her proposition, I hand over my card and bank passbook.

From this point on, life with HeeJung has been a charm.  We had had our little ups and downs prior to our wedding day - to be sure.  But once she had her mitts on the money, she became the sweetest, happiest Korean woman I've ever seen.  And I still have a means to put the occasional gift into her hands, too.  Our agreement is that she gets the university salary, while I get anything else I make outside of the uni.  So, what's the first thing I go do?  Of course, I get myself another job.  January was, for me, my richest month yet in Korea.  In addition to getting paid my 2 Gs from the uni, I get another M-W-F gig for 4 weeks up the street from my house.  It, too, pays 2 Gs.  So it's like I never had to give up my bank card.  The only inconvenience is that I have to keep my horde of cash in an envelope at home - where she can keep count of it!

Over the following few weeks, my life changes more and more to what I had always wanted it to become:  I stay home nights and enjoy meals with my wife...and we get to work on fulfilling our mutual life's dream.  A month goes by, and no luck.  Actually, we'd tried and failed once before the marriage, and then again the month immediately following the marriage, too.  But, then again, I hadn't even met her parents, yet.  So, it wasn't as though we had their approval.  In a very strange way, I wondered if it was some spiritual law that we were being reminded to adhere to if we were to succeed in conceiving a child.

So now we're stressing up for the big date when I meet her parents.  She coaches me on all these strange behaviours that I fail to memorize very well, let alone comprehend.  I've never been so nervous, really.  Of course, it doesn't help any that her mother's initial text message says something to the effect that "you've disgraced our family by being seen in public with a non-korean".  Combine that with the fact that her father is supposed to be "old school", which means he believes no blood is good blood unless it's Korean blood, and mixing with anything other than Korean blood is the work of the devil (Yes, they're both Christian).

Thus, my unworthy-blood pressure is at an all time high when I eventually meet them, and her father makes it worse by banging away at a computer keyboard for 45 minutes in a closed room just off the kitchen where I am now sitting cross-legged on the floor that I am supposed to bow down and kiss in front of him when we first meet.  I've been coached not to smile or make jokes, in case he doesn't approve of me.  I'm sitting there wondering what implement he is going to emerge with to impale me and spill my demon blood on their dinner as gravy.  Asians love their swords!

Dinner is served.  He emerges from the computer room with no foul implements.  He acknowledges me and makes it clear that I am not required to bow and kiss the floor at his feet.  He cracks a joke that I don't understand after about 3 minutes, and I crack a smile in reply.  Another two minutes and we are eating, drinking and communicating very poorly.  But I  feel a warmth that is very reassuring.

Over the next several weeks, we have a standing date on Sundays to go hiking together to the top of a mountain the foot of which is within walking distance from their home.  The first time out, going up is uneventful, and we take some nice photos of her parents on the peak, which they seem to be very happy about.  Then on the way down, things get tricky.  I guess we must have left late that afternoon, or perhaps we spent too much time lunching and sightseeing up top.  Anyhoo, the sun sets midway down the mountain, and we've separated from them on account of the fact that we go a heckuva lot faster than they do.  It's getting quite hard to see.

But I've always been a bit of a freak of nature when it comes to my seventh sense of direction. However, after 5 or 6 decisions to stay on the main path, I am beginning to wonder if maybe I should have taken that right back there by that last signpost.  But some distant memory tells me that there was no signpost on our first turn when we started.  So we drudge onward.  She calls her parents, who are concerned that we may have gone too far and missed the turn off.  Just then, I see the small ravine that is our pathway out to the paved street.  She's hung up the phone after telling her parents that we may be lost.  I realize that this is her first time hiking with her parents.  Good thing I've bought her those hiking boots.

We wait at the end of the ravine as it gets darker and darker.  A couple of flashlights begin dancing through the trees as they descend the ravine towards us.  Astonishment is the emotion as they emerge to see us waiting for them.  They seem to consider this the final proof that, perhaps I am worthy after all, since I successfully navigated the woods after dark to bring their daughter home safe.

I point to my head and say something I hope they understand.


Laughter and warmth, all around.

Monday, December 22, 2008

All About HeeJung (Part 2): Wtf?!? A New Roommate?

If you were to hear HeeJung tell the next chapter in our lives, she would tell you how she woke up in a strange place next to a strange man (though pleasantly surprised). As I tell it, I didn't wake up, because I never went to sleep -- despite a strong physical need to do so. I prefer her version of that...night(?) -- no, late morning/late-afternoon -- because, although she went to sleep in the middle of what I perceived to be my first real opportunity with a Korean woman (not a very good sign of stimulatory prowess on my part), she claims to have awaken only to find her "prayers answered". She had found her Leonardo DiCaprio.

Thus began the second chapter in our life together. Of course, we are now married, but that is way too big a jump to take in storytelling, so here are the intermediate details...

After she woke up I noticed that she was a much different person than she had been earlier that day at the restaurant where we met. Now she was actually smiling at me, sometimes holding my hand, and when we met some friends at the Dak Galbi restaurant for dinner, she jumped up and loaded our table with side dishes before I even understood what was going on. Talk about service!

The rest of that first day and night together proceeded very much the same as the night before -- we ended up meeting a bunch of my friends and further tested the limits of our livers. The big difference now was that I had a constant companion who did not necessarily share my skill at nor my enthusiasm for alcohol-incented, conversation-oriented socializing. So, as she began to feel more and more out of her element, I suggested we call it an early night and go get some real rest. After all, I was still very much sleep deprived from the previous allnighter's events. So, we took the ginormous leap from motel to my house and proceeded back to my still-very-new apartment and more or less slept a good nights sleep. Or at least as well as can be had by two people in a single bed.

Sunday was as normal as a day could be for someone who had not spent 2 consecutive days with a female companion in over a year finally doing so. It was nice. I can't remember at all what we did, but I am sure that HeeJung did not go home. This was, of course, something that would be put to the test on Monday, when I had to go back to my new job (of two weeks!) and continue teaching English to college kids. The one thing that I do remember, quite clearly, was that my students were much better at English than she was.

Now it's Monday, and time for the test. I'm quite fond of her at this point, and so despite the weirdness of having a girl at my side for what is now Day #3 with no change of wardrobe, and no personal time for reflection on my part, I allowed her to stay in my apartment while I went off to do my 2 hours of teaching. The idea did make me feel a bit uneasy, because we were still, in our own way, not speaking to each other very well. But I allowed it anyway. I also remember feeling a kind of uncertainty as to whether she would be there when I returned from class, because I wasn't yet ready to give her the combination to my doorlock.

Well...of course, she was still there.

And she was there all week, with one small exception. Thursday nights were my long nights -- I didn't get home until 11:00pm -- and she was not there. I remember calling her, because we didn't exactly communicate our plans to each other, and I still hadn't given her the combination. Imagine talking to her on the phone! Impossible! The only thing I could understand was that she was on her way back to my house. When she arrived, it was clear she had gone home to grab some clothes to expand her wardrobe from the single outfit she had been wearing, and, apparently, cleaning during the day when I was at school.

Phew! I nearly thought I would have to spend a night alone!

So now it's Chuseok weekend. Chuseok is like Thanksgiving for Koreans, only much more important because they pay respects to their ancestors by preparing an elaborate meal that they place at the gravesite. (I won't go into Korean spirituality here, but it is a fascinating topic I may approach at some later time.) I'm thinking: this girl has got to go home to be with her family during this holiest of Korean holidays. Saturday turns into Sunday -- the actual day of celebration marked on the calendar, and it's clear I'm wrong. She says something to the effect that it is our first Chuseok together. It's becoming clearer that this one is not going anywhere. She's here to stay.

Over the next few weeks I decide to really get to know this girl. By that, I don't mean physically -- that part I am content to discover over time. If she is going to be the one, then I need to know immediately what's important to her. There is no sense in dragging things out if there is no possibility of campatibility. I'm too old for that crap. Being the 42yr old divorcee that I am, I've pretty much got the qualifying application in mind, and if she answers too many of the questions incorrectly -- it's a no go.

Here are the criteria by which I measure the worthiness of the woman to whom I would entrust the future of the bloodline (to utterly and only somewhat sarcastically steal a Korean idea)...
  • Are you less than 35yrs of age? (Yes is required.)
  • Do you want children? (Yes is required...I'm running out of time!)
  • Are you close with your family? (Yes is required.)
  • Will your family approve of our marriage? (Yes is preferable.)
  • Are you a smoker? (No is required.)
  • Are you a drinker? (Yes is okay, but No is preferred.)
  • Do you use drugs? (No is required.)
  • Do you read a lot? (Yes is preferable.)
  • Do you have a college degree? (No is preferable.)
  • Do you have a job? (No is preferable.)
  • Are you willing to work, if necessary? (Yes is required.)
  • Do you have strong feelings against those of another race? (No is preferable.)
  • Do you believe in the theory of evolution? (Yes is preferable.)
  • Are you equally interested in saving and spending money? (Yes is required.)
  • Do you give a damn about politics? (No is preferable.)
  • Are you confident? (Yes is required.)
  • Are you curious? (Yes is required.)
  • Are you humble? (Yes is required.)
  • Are you able to admit when you are wrong? (Yes is required.)
  • Do you have a strong sense of purpose? (Yes is required.)
  • Can you clearly express your life's ambition? (Yes is preferable.)
  • Is your sixth sense your greatest asset? (Yes is preferable.)
Thus, during Chuseok, I grill her on each of these topics...and she grills me back. She passes all of the requirements with flying colors and only disagrees with me (i.e. contradicts herself) on those subjects that I am willing to let slide, for the time being. For example, she calls herself a Christian and has nothing but negative things to say about Buddhism (yet she has never spoken to a Buddhist monk); she despises the idea that we may have descended from apes (yet she was not clear as to whether foreignors urinated -- until she met me); as it turns out, she loathes both drinking (until she has two beers) and smoking cigarettes (yet she allows me to indulge if we are with an "older brother" who is smoking and offers me one -- a Korean sign of brotherhood).

Our second week together was just a bit strange. I wasn't sure what all of the excitement was about as she talked incessantly on the phone, but it turned out she did have a job. Or, maybe she had just found one. I still don't know. Anyway, the week after Chuseok, she went to work. She worked until Thursday, and then we went out again. We stayed out late, because I didn't work until 3pm Fridays. Needless to say, she didn't make it in to work on Friday. Then the following Monday, she didn't go to work again. As a stranger in a strange land, I'm willing to write off nearly all strange behaviour as cultural differences, but as a business man I found it difficult to believe her employer would allow such inattendance.

So she lost that job. Or, she decided to quit. I still don't know. The next week, no new job, but several job interviews. It seemed she was eager to have a job. Then her big break came in -- a job with Samsung handphones. This is the like working for the Google of Korea. Samsung is King, in Korea. Yet, as it turned out, exactly as rumors would have it, Samsung requires more from its employees than even your above-average human is capable of giving. Her new schedule was Mon-Sat 9am-9pm. After one week it changed to Mon-Sun 9am-11pm. I didn't know if this meant she was that good, or that the rumors of overworked employees had been that mild.

And so, the weeks came and went, and I began to think that I had found the one. Of course, there were advantages to having a Korean girlfriend, too. So I put her to work. The frequent reader will recall that I had a dispute with a previous boss over a months pay that he withheld from me. Well, I took the case to the ministry of labor, feeling a newfound sense of confidence as a result of having someone to go to bat for me. And go to bat she did. I never could have understood a word the labor minister said, and although we didn't get the full 2.1M won, we did settle for 1.0M. Had I better understood the proceedings, I would have taken the jerk up on his threat to take me to court. Maybe she fought so hard because I told her she could have half the money as a lawyers fee.

The next incident came when I bit a little too hard into an apple, and the tooth that was knocked out in a basketball game at the Wheeler High School gymnasium when I was 18 severed it's ties with the underlying jawbone.  The problem is, it's the tooth next to my two front teeth - very visible.  A gap there would be unsightly, to say the least.  I'm a bit nervous about attempting to negotiate with a dentist in a foreign tongue, so I ask her to help.  As soon as we got the 1.0M from the jerk in the aforementioned paragraph, we were off to see Dr. (you guessed it) Kim.  Within 5 minutes I was scolding myself for ever being nervous about using a Korean dentist.  Think about it:  he does this for a living.  He looked in my mouth for maybe 45 seconds...then he was done.  He shouted maybe 5 commands to his two co-workers, who immediately disappeared in different directions, and then they all returned a minute or so later.  One had a model of a "bridge" in her hand, and the other a porcelain crown.  Apparently, they were able to discover the missing molar crown I lost to a Charms Blow Pop back in San Antone in 2005.  In short, they reached the exact same conclusion it took me several weeks to reach - within 3 minutes.  That's why they are the professionals.

A little bit of Korean back-and-forth, and I was setup for an appointment the following week - the first of 3 (which turned into the first of 5, or 6, I lost count).  So, maybe they aren't as professional at procedures as they are at diagnoses.  Anyway, on the third try they got the color of the front tooth right, and I can smile again.  Part of that Korean back-and-forth I mentioned involved HeeJung bargaining again.  I got a frontal bridge, a molar crown, and a painful lesson in "scaling" spread out over 5 or 6 sittings -  all for 1,300,000 KRW.  I would've had to have gone to Mexico to get a better deal, but the airfare would have left me with a $2 budget for the teeth.

So, you could say the new roommate has come in handy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

All About HeeJung (Part 1): And Then We Met...

On Tuesday, December 16th, 2008, in anniversary of our 100th day together, Kim HeeJung and I were married at Seoul City Hall (Jongno Gucheong).  We then immediately went to the US Embassy to have our marriage recognized by the US.

So, who is this gal, anyway?

She is the daughter of two very Korean parents.  Kim KiHong (Mr Kim) is a "city boy" from Busan, Korea's 2nd largest city.  And Bak YeonOk (Mrs Park, not Mrs Kim...more on this later), is a "country girl" from Gunsan, a small port town on the west coast that is still home to more rice patties than high-rise apartments.  And so, within such a small country, polar opposites did still exist.  And nothing could resist the magnetically-attractive life forces that brought together two of the most remarkable people, who then, in turn, brought about the most remarkable woman in my world.

HeeJung's mother had always dreamed she would one day meet and marry a "city boy".  HeeJung also dreamed (and often prayed) that she would meet  her "Leonardo DiCaprio".  At the age of 32 (Korean -- 31 elsewhere), she was without a boyfriend, as yet untouched by any Korean mans hands, and was perhaps beginning to consider the prospect of a long, lonely life of service to her family -- father, mother and younger brother.  That's Korean culture for you.

And then we met...

But first, a (long?) note about my state at the time...

I had been living in Korea for 1 1/2 years.  In that year and a half, I had done my best to try to work in the environment of a small, private English institution (hagwon).  But, as it turned out, I am living evidence that there is a vein of sense (if not truth) to the Korean tradition that the young should respect their elders -- and not vice versa.  Another way to say this is that the young should work for the old, and not vice versa.  Case in point follows.

The events of the months immediately following the 2007 Christmas Party and leading up to my first encounter with HeeJung were as follows:
  1. Several parents pulled their students from the academy, either because their children had "graduated" (i.e. completed the year), or because they were unwilling to commit to another multi-month contract in lieu of any substantial improvement in their children's English ability.
  2. (thus) In January, enrollment was significantly lower than in 4Q 2007.
  3. (thus) In February, the woman owner withdrew her own son from the institution.  (A very bad sign.)
  4. (unrelated) In March, the woman owner's niece left the institution due to family relocation, leaving the business without an owner-related "family" member.
  5. (thus) Also in March, the woman owner decided to transition the institution over to the head teacher, a 31yr old Korean man with (apparently) no relevant leadership experience.
  6. (thus) Also in March, I expressed concern about the state of the institution to the outgoing and incoming owners, because it was now time to renew my contract for another year.  Anyone with an 8th grade level math education could calculate that bills would soon pile up faster than income unless school enrollment increased.  I said this directly to the new owner, who decided to go out and spend what little cash remained in the business account (which he showed me) on a brand new, 12-seater Hyundai minivan (aka school bus) which he opted to use for personal use while at the same time increasing (diluting?) his role as the institution's "mere" owner to "owner-bus driver".  It was at approximately this time that I "lost it".
  7. (thus) In April, with ever decreasing enrollment, I found myself teaching fewer and fewer classes, with an ever more bizarre student mix.  You see, as students began to leave, the Korean teachers would argue to the new boss that it didn't make any sense to have two separate classes, when the "best" English teacher -- me -- could easily teach all the students in one classroom.  Thus, the number of students in each of my classes returned to their original number, while at the same time the Korean teachers, who were also presumably getting paid, retreated to the outdoor patio for what amounted to extended cigarette breaks.
  8. (thus) I suggested to the owner that it was very difficult to teach such a diverse class of students, no two of whom were at the same level, using a textbook.  He gave me blank stares in response -- truly a dolt.  So, I decided, on my own, to find some way to 
  9. (thus) Also in April, I began to spend more and more of my time with my friends after work.  While this awarded me a release valve, it did nothing for my health, since the soberest 3 friends I had could have easily outdrank any Irish Olympic drinking squad.
  10. (thus) In late April and early May, I began to miss a few days of work a month.  The new owner and I became increasingly distant.
  11. (then) In June, the new owner called me into his office for some bad news -- the money was gone.  He could not pay my May salary.
  12. (thus) In July, I sobered up enough to apply for two other jobs -- one an all-adult hagwon named Pagoda, and the other the University of Incheon position, which I now hold.
  13. (thus) In late July, I presented the new owner with a request by the University to "release" me from my annual contract.  At first, he balked.  But after I submitted, in writing -- and signed, promising to work at his hagwon at half-pay (what's half of zero?) for the remainder of July and until he found a replacement teacher in August, he agreed.  He even said, "It is a much better job for you."
  14. (thus) In early August, I signed with the University of Incheon.  Coming off a 3 night celebration, I could hardly sign my name due to delirium tremens, but was, nevertheless, awarded the position.
  15. (then) For an additional three weeks, I continued the behavior of the previous 3 nights, pushing my body to nearly the point of physical breakdown.  Water and food held a distant 3rd and 4th place behind booze and cigarettes in the hierarchy of my daily intake of substances.  Not exactly a wise move for someone with my newlyfound job security, let alone my medical background.
  16. (then) School started...and everything changed.  What a difference!  Students paid attention.  Some even learned.  My lessons were relevant and well-received.  I had arrived at a crossroads.

So, I cleaned up my act (a bit).  Either unwilling to give up a well-practiced lifestyle (very likely), or succombing to the beer pressure of an ever-present herd of friends with alcoholic agendas (equally likely), I found myself out until the way (7-ish) hours of the morning with a wonderfully gay man from South Africa and a fellow midwesterner from Green Bay, Wisconsin (both fellow English teachers), drinking beer and soju with a barbecue table full of pork and side dishes.  Of course, we had no business doing what we were doing, because we had almost certainly closed down two bars, already, in a country in which bars don't (officially) ever close -- their owners simply get tired of serving the 2  (or 3, in this case) drunks who seem intent to commit suicide by alcohol poisoning when simply quitting and going home is, while more affordable, not as appealing.

Nevertheless, we found ourselves at this restaurant with our food gone, and our last few sips nearly so.  Charleton Witoobi (aka Her Majesty), excused himself.  Casey and I finished off the soju, and I retreated to the bathroom (hwah-jahng-shil) for what I hoped would be my final "release" before stumbling home to my wonderful, yet small, new apartment.  As I approached, I found the table empty.  As I started to head for the front desk to pay, I heard Casey's voice, "Hey, Jed!  Over here!"

And then we met...

Casey had been called over to the table directly behind ours by an attractive, young Korean girl.  Smiling from ear to ear, he gestured me to come over.  I looked at the girl opposite Casey and his new friend -- the one with the vacant seat next to her, and she totally ignored me.  I remember thinking, "What the hell?  Am I that unattractive...that old?".  Then I reluctantly sat down after a very brief, awkward and uncomfortable round of introductions.

Also ignoring her, I said to Casey "What's going on?", trying quite successfully to sound at once both tired and irritated.

Apparently, HeeJung picked up on my tone, and began talking very quickly in Korean.  Somewhere in her monologue, I thought I heard something like "sheeb-pahl", which is the Korean equivalent to "F**k you!", and I interruptedly said to Casey, something on the order of "Dude, let's get the F*** out of here!"  But he was clearly still interested in his new partner, who was noticeably more quiet and "respectful" (as if we deserved any respect, drunk as we were.)  So, I calmed down and watched the scene play itself out before me.  HeeJung was clearly agitated about something, yet it was impossible for either Casey or I to devise what her problem was, because neither of us understood a word of what she was saying, and she wasn't giving KyungSook (her comparatively polite friend) any opportunity to translate, which she couldn't have done anyway, because her English is about as good as my French (c'est possible?).

Then HeeJung's phone rang -- or she dialed a number, I can't remember which.  But the result was that KyungSook, Casey and I had an opportunity to try to understand what the heck was going on.  Over the next few minutes I was able to appreciate that KyungSook's English ability was minimal, that she liked Casey, and that Casey liked her, and that HeeJung was as crazy as she was disinterested in me.

Then the volume level increased -- not the three of us...HeeJung!  Who was she talking to?!?  In a fit of rage, she hung up, threw her phone in her handbag, and stormed out of the restaurant without saying goodbye.  Feeling quite relieved, I said to Casey, "Now that that's over, what now?"  He and KyungSook looked at each other, and then looked at me.  And then KyungSook said, "!  Go!"  And I was like..."You've got to be kidding me!"

I had heard about this type of thing.  Apparently, it is a custom that when a Korean girl meets someone she likes, she tends to give off all of the wrong (i.e. counter-intuitive), and often abrasive signals, and then expects you to just fly straight in the face of reason and shower her with your affection after an apparent display of the exact opposite towards you.  Of course, this being my first subjective experience, it caught me completely by surprise.  Could it be true that, in fact, she had been paying attention to me the whole time.  And so, being the good wing-man, and tapping into my nearly depleted reservoir of chivalry, I ran after her into the rain.

Exiting the building, I looked left.  No HeeJung.  I looked right.  There she was -- head down, walking at an even pace away from me towards nothing in particular.  I stopped her by stepping in front of her.  Feeling at a loss for any meaningful way to communicate with her verbally, I put on a hurt puppy dog face, and she spun around and headed back to the restaurant.  Nothing said.  No physical contact.

So, I followed her back to the table wondering, did I catch her, or did she catch me?  By allowing me to slide past her into the seat, it was the first time she had acknowledged my existence.

We ordered more beer and soju, and we more or less talked cross-corner for about a half hour or so.  Casey and I talking across the table to each other while HeeJung and KyungSook volleyed words across between us in yet another language.  Talk about traffic jams.  If our words were vehicles, then the center of the table was the Champs Elysees at 6pm on any given Friday.  But the traffic seemed to be getting to where it needed to go.  HeeJung settled into a rythm the likes of which I've seen only once or twice in my life -- truly the "Gift of Gab", and Casey and I rarely interjected or interrupted, each of us instead focusing our attentions and intentions on our respective "arm candy".

The conversation lasted until the drinks either disappeared or had their ultimate effect.  Things began to get fuzzy.  Not for me or Casey or HeeJung...for KyungSook.  After all, she weighs probably 90 pounds soaking wet.  I vaguely remember leaving the restaurant and saying goodbye to HeeJung.  I followed Casey as she carried KyungSook to a taxi, and then my phone rang.  HeeJung was crying.

Not knowing what else to do, I returned to the restaurant -- our only common point of knowledge.  There she was -- sitting on a curb, talking into her utter Englibberish.

But I understood her.  As I approached her, she saw me and stood up.  Her head dropped a few degrees.  She had tears on her cheeks.

It was now 10:30ish AM on Saturday, September 6th, 2008.  I was a long walk from home, and a very short walk to any one of a hundred or so "love" motels.

I said, "Do you want to go to a motel?"

She nodded.  And we went to the Zoom motel.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Paradise Found Plunging Headlong Into the Abyss

On September 6th, 2008, I began a relationship with a Korean woman.

Just when you'd think I would have run out of interesting things to say about this country, a new porthole opens up, and, being the curious dolt that I am, I, of course, step straight in.

Her name is Kim HeeJung. She is 32 years old and doesn't speak much English, although in the 30 days she's spent living in my "house", her English ability has easily more than doubled.

I need to say this up front. Korean women are absolutely amazing. The amazing thing about them is how utterly bizarre they can be. The most striking example I can think of off hand is her absolute insistance that I place my used toilet paper in the wastebasket, rather than flush it down the toilet. I've been happily and successfully flushing my streaks down the porcelain gullet for most of my human existence. I suppose if you factor in the sum-total-yet-still-few hours of unpleasantry spent plunging away at some mysterious clog, almost uniformly something(?!) other than TP, I may have to submit that a very, very small percentage of my human life has involved some dealing with the aftermath of a vomitous toilet bowl.

But she swears -- I have come to appreciate this through a charade-like-enacted explanation including sound effects that is worthy of -- she swears that if you continue to put toilet paper down the toilet, you will have a bathroom filled with shit. What's more, if her charade is accurate and not at all an exaggeration, then the walls will be covered, as well as the floor. Some of the regurgitated material may perhaps even drift as high as the ceiling. The thought of cleaning such a mess nearly scared me into believing her.

But then my senses returned.

It turns out her mother taught her this. Now, I know that she is not the only Korean who believes as much. In the Incheon University public john stalls there is a wastebasket next to each toilet. It only takes one encounter with a half-opened lid to realize that Korea deserves its age-old moniker: Country Most Unwilling to Part with its Personal Production of Waste (or something similar).

< another month has expired since the above section was written...>

It is November 3rd. Kim HeeJung is the one. There is no doubt about it.

Korean tradition is so strong that much of our future hinged upon the frightful meeting with her parents. Apparently, her father is of the old school Korean mentality -- i.e. marrying a foreignor is strictly forbidden, and any mixed-blood offspring are considered demonspawn. Nonetheless, I did meet my future mother-in-law. She must like me, because she is already planning a Spring 2009 Wedding.

I hope as many of you as possible can attend. I will provide a date in a future post, after more details fix themselves. It is considered bad fortune if a groom doesn't have adequate representation at the wedding. Cognizant of this, I have done my part to make slews of Korean friends, so the familial or comeradique pressure won't be so great on you to attend. Still, we'd love to have you! And I likely won't leave Korea now...or ever.

I have found my paradise. It is in the arms of HeeJung.