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.