In a raffle at dinner last night I won a bottle of Vodka. I like to call it liquid-inspiration.
Last night, I went with Rachel and her friends to a restaurant on the outskirts of Seoul. For those uninformed Rachel is Korean, her friends are Korean, the people working at the restaurant are Korean, I am not Korean. When we got to the restaurant I was easily the only foreigner within a ten mile radius. I was also the only person who was not fluent in Korean. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!
Driving along the back roads of a small community outside of Seoul the GPS told us to turn left. Since I was not driving this did not concern me so much but I felt it was a nice lead in to this next sentence.
We turned left and came face to face with another car on it’s way out. The two drivers sized each other up and the other car, who was comprised of older Koreans, immediately gained the right of way. It was not enough for us to simply back up however. The car of older Koreans laid on their horn, letting us know of our age inferiority. The driver of our car in turn leaned out his window and bowed. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!
The contrast of the parking lot was startling. Lamborghini’s sat on an illuminated stage. A small river gurgled next to and along a foot path. A statue of Elvis playing a guitar with only 3 strings sat on a bench along the path. Traditional Korean style gardens littered the landscape. Statues of the Blue’s Brothers guarded the entrance. The irresistible force of American culture met the immovable object of Koreans past as they beat each other into a beautifully beleaguered mess of culture shock; stage 3.
Off to the right, in the distance, we heard the Neigh of a horse.
“Hay, Horse,” said one of Rachel’s friends. I doubt she picked up on the pun, but I started laughing anyway, which led to a one sided staring contest between Rachel’s friends and I. I kept looking at the horse. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!
With all the contrast surrounding me, the most startling was the air. Only a few miles outside the core of the city and air was crisp and fresh. It tasted of foliage and farms and a brief hint of diesel fuel. It tasted like something I once remembered.
But this was still the outside and I was becoming hungry. We snuck past the Blue’s Brothers and made our way into the restaurant. Music played. Music played very loudly. I recognize this song?
A video of the music played. I recognized the video of this song?
In a million scenarios you would not guess that the Saturday Night Live performance of Hanson’s ‘MMM Bop,’ would be the soundtrack to this restaurant. Which, like the gardens outside was traditional…except for Hanson of course. Would you guess the next video would be Santana and Rob Thomas singing ‘Smooth?’ Would you guess that after that they played the 20 minute video of Michael Jackson’s ‘Is It Scary?‘ One of the people I was with commented how lucky I was that I could understand everything that was being said. If only she knew.
We drank Bud Light. We ate noodles mixed with Octopus.
As if it happened when I was lost in a thought the music changed. The music was no longer recognizable by lyrics, but only by sound. The jealousy felt towards me and my English soon took a U-turn back as my fellow diners began to clap and sing along with the songs that they grew up with. I can smile. I can try to enjoy myself as much as the next. But then there is this, my ego, that prevents me from looking like the stupid foreigner and really involving myself.
Sitting back, I sipped on my Bud light. I listened for any words I recognized and I smiled when Rachel started to sing into her spoon.
I let her lean on my shoulder when she became tired of singing into her spoon. I nudged her when it was time for us to leave the restaurant.
Not to head home, but to cook sweet potatoes wrapped in tin foil, around a fire pit that was previously unseen outside the restaurant. Snuggled between Elvis and open air, we laid our potatoes onto the burning embers. Sweet potatoes are something relatively foreign to me. I know what they are but I am not used to grilling them over an open fire like a marshmallow. But I do know fires. Fires are calming for me. The embers dance and the conversation muddles it’s way around me.
And I notice…
Korean doesn’t have fill-in words like we do in English. There is no “um…like” here. They don’t have them because they do not feel the need to fill in every bit of silence with words. When I talk in the States, if I lost my place in my train of thought someone will quickly take it from me and I am left silent. Here, if someone stops in the middle of their sentence nobody is going to steal the spotlight from them. American’s speak loud so we can be heard. Korean’s speak quietly so others can listen.
So I listened and shared a fire roasted sweet potato with Rachel. She nibbled on it and I gulped. She asked me, in slowed down Korean, if I was having fun. I answered, in butchered Korean, that yes I was having lots of fun. I like fires. I like Rachel. I like Christmas, even when it’s half a world away.
Have a Merry One.