Korean P.O.V. – Smiles and Dating in Korea (Vol. 1)
This is the first story in a series of shorts about, you guessed it, Sex, Smiles and Dating in Korea. I only have one other story in mind, but I may add others. These stories are real, but I make no apologies for the lies that they contain. Writers are liars and can’t be trusted.
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Me and a co-worker of mine started taking Muay Thai classes in April. His name is Mr. 김 (Kim) and since I arrived last December for my second year in Korea he’s taken to the idea of being my older brother – my 형님. He knows I didn’t work at a public school before, and he knows this is my first time living in Seoul, so he wants to give me advice and expose me to more of Korea. He reminds me that Korean foods tends to be spicey. “Oh okay” is all I say after living in the country for a year.
On one of our outtings together we were coming from training and talking about the possibility of me staying in Korea. Mr. Kim was of the opinion that I should stay. I politely told him my intentions to leave at the end of this, my second, contract. I had several reasons, but the one I mentioned, because he brought it up, was that I didn’t have anyone here that cared for me and who I could care for. I missed cuddling with someone, or just exchanging warm looks with hidden meanings. I missed having good sex consistently and frequently.
We passed by a sushi bar and I asked if he wouldn’t mind checking it out with me. I had at least enough in my pocket to get the cheapest thing on the menu. He said okay and offered to pay. I accepted hesitantly after he insisted, and we got two seats on the bar in the small, but bright and nicely decorated restaurant. We sat near the soju cooler. The scentless Korean vodka was well stocked.
He asked about a Korean woman I had met at Muay Thai training weeks before.
Her (English) name was Susie and while stretching I noticed her look at me from the side of her eye. After a few friendly smiles were exchanged I took a chance that she spoke some English beyond “nice to meet you.”
I said, “I think your the best Muay Thai fighter in the world.”
She laughed, “Nooo. I don’t think so.”
“I saw you on the punching bag earlier. I’m sure you could beat me up if you wanted to.”
She laughed again, and we weaved in and out of conversation for the next hour while learning how to cave in someone’s chest with a knee kick.
We met for coffee a few days later and I was surprised to find her genuinely interesting, although she still had what had calcified in my mind months before as typical Korean woman traits: most sarcasm was lost on her. She compared her physical appearance to other women. She constantly looked in the mirror, and she thought she was fat. I told her she was being ridiculous, and that she was pretty. I wasn’t lying and she smiled. I told her that her weight gave her a nice shape. I wasn’t lying, and she lowered her head coyly.
I gawked at her shape as she walked to the bathroom and felt confident that things were going on the right path.
On our second date we met near the gym and talked for about two hours while walking along a stream. Susie had just come from a ten months stay in Canada. She was there with an international language program that was supposed to help her sharpen her English skills. She was pretty fluent and liked practicing with me.
During our conversation she asked if I ever smoked weed. I told her the answer, which made me ask her. She didn’t answer, which made me smile. My smile made her laugh. Her laugh made my day.
On our third date we walked around the our shared nieghborhood and had some Korean street food that Susue said she missed while in Canada. I can’t recall the name, but it was basically battered and deep friend chicken meat. She wanted me to try some of these street McNuggets so we sat down and ate. She wanted to know if I liked it, and if I had seen much of Korea. She asked a number of questions about my impression of her country. I gave answers using the wittest language I could come up with, though I remained honest.
When Susie asked me if I might stay in Korea I told her it was possible. In my mind I finished the answer with memories of me coming back to Korea after being in the states for six months, partially because of another woman. That was over, but it was possible for that to happen again.
The fourth date was shorter since she made plans with a friend for that evening. We met for lunch at a cafe and after a few hours I walked her to a taxi.
On all of our dates, she seemed to shy away from being physical – if we bumped each other while walking she’d double the space between us. I noticed these small things, but thought that her aversion had been over come by that point.
Before she got into her cab I went in for a hug, which I was gonna turn into a goodnight kiss. She barely put her arms around me, and when I went for a kiss she backed away in barely concealed fright – as if she saw intentions of rape in my eyes. She waved me goodbye with an awkward smile and got into the cab.
After standing there for a full minute trying to figure out what exactly went wrong, I chalked it up to cultural differences and walked home frustrated and mentally fatigued.
Our constant back and forth texting trickled to almost nothing.
“I didn’t have anyone here… who I could care for. I missed cuddling with someone, or just exchanging warm looks… I missed having good sex consistently and frequently.”
The story was full of details – like my stymied sex drive – that I didn’t want to rehash with Mr. Kim, so I just told him that it wasn’t going anywhere. “Susie seems to like me. She’s always looking me in the eyes and smiling. There are a couple of other signals too, but we went out a few times, and I don’t know what’s going on. I’m not sure whether she wants a friend or a boyfriend, but I’m tired of it.”
“Umm…” he searched for the words, “Alex, uh, Korean girls, uh, they don’t throw themselves at men like American girls. I think she likes you.”
“Maybe, but I’m tired of thinking about it Mr. Kim. I’m really tired of dating nowadays, and trying to guess what other people are looking for. I’ve given up. At least while I’m here in Korea.”
He seemed a little sad, as well as frustrated with the fact that he couldn’t help. We began talking about school and he mentioned that it was “parent’s day.” Parents (mothers really) were allowed into classrooms to observe the learning process – such as it is. He found the whole thing annoying. I had no parents in my class that day, but I told him I probably would’ve liked it. I was contractually obligated to teach English to some of the nieghborhood mothers twice a week, and I told him that I enjoyed it. That it was, in fact, my favorite class.
He smiled and said, “I think the mothers, uh, they like you.” I just smiled back. “No,” he continued. His face then became quite serious. “Alex, you are very handsome, and strong.” My cheeks got a little redder but I kept smiling. He grabbed at my right arm and began to feel my bicep. I was wearing a t-shirt so it was skin on skin contact as he caressed me. “Ah! Wow. You are very powerful Alex.”
My threshold for the common physical contact among men in Korea is pretty high, but I was getting more and more uncomfortable the longer he rubbed my arm – at some points squeezing as well. In total it lasted ten seconds.
When Mr. Kim eventually let go he said, “Alex, women like a man who is powerful.” Whatever redness was in my cheeks disappeared as I laughed. Hearing my fifty-three year old co-worker tell me in his heavy Korean accent what women desired provided all the humor I needed for the night. I grabbed a shot of soju.
He smiled and continued, “The mothers, uh, I think they want you Alex. They look at you and they think ‘I wish Alex was sleeping with me and not my weak husband who cannot do anything for me. I want the powerful Alex.’”
My laughter filled the restaurant and turned the heads of the other two customers. Mr. Kim laughed too and patted me on the back while grabbing his shot glass. He said, “Too bad they are all married, eh? They are, uh, not looking for a boyfriend.”
He laughed and I said, “I think I’ll be alright anyway Mr. Kim.” He emptied his shot glass, and with a smile on my face I did the same.