Smiles and Dating in Korea (1) | Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely

A full version of this short non-fiction narrative is included in the book, Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely. The book is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.

"smiles and dating in south korea" from the collection eating kimchi and nodding politely by fiction author alex clermont writes


A co-worker of mine and I started taking Muay Thai classes in April. His name was Mr. Kim (김), and after I arrived for my second year in Korea, he adopted the idea of being my older brother, my형님. He knew I hadn’t worked at a public school before, and he knew it was my first time living in Seoul, so he wanted to give me advice and expose me to more of his country. He reminded me that Korean foods tend to be spicy.

"Oh, okay," was all I said after having lived and taught in Korean the previous year.

On one of our outings together, we were coming from training and talking about the possibility of me staying in Korea permanently. Mr. Kim was of the opinion that I should stay. I politely told him my intentions were 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 in Korea 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 a sushi bar, and I asked if he wouldn't mind checking it out with me. I had at least enough money 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’d 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 exchanging a few friendly smiles, I took a chance that she spoke English beyond “nice to meet you.”

I said, "I think you're 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.

I got her phone number, and we met for coffee a few days later. I was surprised to find her genuinely interesting, although she still had the problems that had calcified in my mind months before as typical, Korean-woman traits: most sarcasm was lost on her; she liked things that had a childish cuteness to them; 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 things were going in the right direction.

On our second date, we met near the gym and talked for about two hours while walking along a stream. Susie had just returned from a ten-month 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.

As we talked, she asked if I ever smoked marijuana. 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 our shared neighborhood and had some Korean street food that Susie said she missed while in Canada. I can't recall the name, but it was basically battered and deep-fried 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 them; she wanted to know if I had seen much of Korea. She asked a number of questions about my impression of her country and I gave her answers using the wittiest language I could come up with, while still remaining honest.

A full version of this short non-fiction narrative is included in the book, Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely. The book is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.