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.

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