My Home Until I'm Home | Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely
A version of this short non-fiction narrative is included in the book, "Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely."
My summer vacation was fun enough. I went to a beach; I drank apple martinis; I spent time writing; I slept late; I got really physical with a Korean woman in a damn sauna of a place called Club Maktum down in Busan on a night where I was a good wing man to a sexually frustrated friend, but slept alone. It was fun enough, but it wasn’t what I planned.
I was supposed to go to New York City where I would kiss my mommy, and hopefully get really physical with a Jamaican woman.
The summer vacation I planned was a trip back to a country that I dislike, but feel at home in nonetheless. Because of a company I owe money to, that didn’t happen, and at the end of my two weeks off, I had to work – like almost everyone else in the world.
To kick off a new semester my department goes out for a group dinner. The discussion on where to go, as well as what the curriculum for the next semester will be, happens in the English department office at the beginning of each term. It’s a modest room walled with bookshelves and washed out green colors that make induced a sense of boredom in me. This day was no different during this meeting that I was required to come to, but in which no English is spoken.
I leaned against a desk to the right of our department head Mr. Seo (서), and daydreamed about crowds of people who looked different from each other. To my right was Joy, my office crush. She is beautiful, speaks close to fluent English, and I was almost sure she liked me. From the casual conversations we’ve had, however, I could tell that if we dated I wouldn’t be comfortable being myself, so I let the idea of me caressing her sit in the back of my mind, along with the multi-racial crowds, and that Jamaican woman. I confined myself to stealing glances, and finding excuses to start a conversation just so I could look at her.
Joy, the summer that I didn’t plan, the Korean words in the meeting that I didn’t understand all began to weigh down on me like two extra sets of clothes. Feeling heavy from the minor disappoints that come with being human I looked down at my shoes, imagining myself somewhere else. As Mr. Seo conducted the meeting I asked Joy, “What are they talking about now?”
“They are deciding where to go. I think we’ll be going to a seafood buffet.”
"I was supposed to go to New York City where I would kiss my mommy, and hopefully get really physical with a Jamaican woman."
We drove in groups, and within fifteen minutes fifteen English teachers were in the waiting lounge of a restaurant named “C food." I had missed breakfast, and the grumbles from my stomach were audible. As we were walked to our table, the sight of the buffet display made my guts cry, and I looked side-to-side to see if anybody noticed. After making sure I hadn’t embarrassed myself, I grabbed a plate and quickly left to pile some salmon slices on it.
For the next two hours we talked and joked about nothing important.
They showered me with smiles and comments concerning my eating habits. “You like Korean food? Most foreigners don’t like it. It doesn’t sit well in their stomach.” “I have no problems with it. I eat all foods.” They seemed to like that response.
I found out that Mr. Yang (양) has a first name that is an M sound away from being the Korean word for animal. He said, “I kind of hate my name.” I laughed. “When I was in school the kids would sometimes make fun of me and call me animal, or beast, or something like that.” I laughed even harder. “Yeah! Also, my family name means ‘sheep,’ so in both ways my name means animal. Some of the students, when they want to joke with me, call me sheep beast or something.” After laughing some more I told him I would put that in a story.
I found out that another teacher, a Mr. Kim (김), has the nickname “penguin.” A nearby teacher tells me this, and to allow us both to get a better look at him Mr. Kim sits perfectly still. My eyes opened wide as I saw what I hadn’t before. I said, “Yes! He does look like a penguin!” We all laugh. “You look like a penguin Mr. Kim.” Matter-of-factly he said, “I know.”
“Penguin teacher” showed us a picture of his daughter. She was a round ball of cuteness that looked like her father. Those who looked at the photo ohhhed and awwwed, then laughed at the resemblance.
I tell Joy that I want an animal nickname – something that she can call me. What animal do I look like? She looks at me with a slight smile for a silent second or two and says she can’t think of anything. Says she’ll get back to me. She asks what animal she is.
*Image Courtesy Raoul Dyssell
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.