Smiles and dating in Korea (2) | Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely

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 2" from the collection eating kimchi and nodding politely by fiction author alex clermont writes

It was a totally new building with glass walls and a wonderful view of the woodsy campus behind the main school. I sat inside this new cafeteria with six other teachers who, because of the new lunch schedule that accompanied the new building, weren't used to eating with me – the foreigner. I ate kimchi and occasionally sniffed the queer-smelling chemical scents given off by the building materials.

The oldest staff member in the school, an in-house truancy officer, sat some seats away and glanced at me between mouthfuls of a squid dish that I made a point to avoid. Red and raw looking, it was also a new addition to lunchtime.

Like many Korean seafood dishes the squid’s preparation consisted of a brief kiss with fire while on its straight-line path from the sea to my chopsticks. I find the style a bit disgusting, but Koreans love it and I don’t judge them.

A tentacle hung from the truancy officer’s mouth.

Up to that point our relationship had been comfortably confined to a few exchanged nods in random hallways, but I noticed him point at me as he spoke Korean to another teacher.

I just smiled and prepared myself for a conversation.

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With a thick accent he asked, "Are you married?"

I said, "No. No I'm not married."

He asked, "Girlfriend?"

My smiled widened as it often does when something is saddening and funny at the same time. I answered, "No."

He asked, "Do you like Korean girl?"

I answered, "I think they're beautiful."

"Would you... marry Korean girl?"

"Maybe."

"If you marry Korean girl, you stay here in Korea or," he pantomimed a plane taking off with his left hand, "...America?"

"I think I would take her back home with me. I would miss my home country."

"Ah." he nodded his head deeply and continued eating, satisfied with the squid and my answers.

I wasn't the only one to consider the string of invasive questions to be an odd breach of lunch etiquette, and I could see many of the other teachers laughing a little. Mr. 양(Yang) – who sat across from me, and two people away from the truancy officer – jokingly said, "You know, he has a daughter."

I wondered if I should ask about her, but I didn't say anything. I just smiled.

_

*Image Courtesy Charlene Kelley


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.