“Hey, Mom, it’s me. My supervisor asked me if I could stay until the end of August.
“A Korean teacher is leaving, and she was only here for two months before she quit. So if I go at the same time, it’s going to look bad and we could lose a lot of students.
“They said if I agree to stay for three more months, I won’t have to reimburse them for my flight.”
“What did you say?” my mother asks sleepily. It’s five-thirty in the morning in California.
“I told her I’d tell her on Friday.” Five days. I should have asked for another week.
I’m in the market, picking through plastic bags of red grapes. Taekwondo class has finished, and it’s become my nightly ritual to come here and get as much fruit as I can manage.
I know pineapples come on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and the cheaper grapes (less than 4,000 won! Bliss.) arrive on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But I haven’t managed to get any strawberries for the past two weeks and the kiwis are still hard. I’m hopeful.
“Ajosshi,” I call to the clerk, holding up a bag. “Eolma eyo?” How much, sir? (Sometimes I pronounce this phrase incorrectly, leading most to think I’m asking if their product is dangerous.)
“What are you doing?”
“Hold on. Gamsa hamnida,” I say as he slaps a price sticker on the bag. “Annyeong-hi kyesoyo.” Thank you very much. Good-bye.
“You’re speaking Korean,” my mother gasps as I leave the store.
“Yeah, but my pronunciation is still off.”
“But that’s . . . that’s very good,” she says. Her voice is low–she’s proud, but knows what this means. “You’re still coming back, baby?”
On Friday I make a compromise: I will stay until the end of July. “I’d like a month in between jobs,” I tell my supervisor. She nods along, weary.
The director will think about it.
After Taekwondo class I meet my friends at a bar not too far from the school. C, a white boy from Idaho, has my Korean friend A in a headlock. They’ve been dating for two months and already have couple rings and couple shirts. She’s hot and energetic and has received two marriage proposals in the past month. He’s . . . well, he’s got stringy hair and a really loud Hawaiian shirt.
“I wish I could have seen them in their couple shirts,” I tell M after they’ve left. D told me that their matching attire read “He’s my boyfriend.” “She’s my girlfriend.” With arrows.
“I can’t stand the guy,” M grumbles as we leave. “He’s too rough with her. If my boyfriend punched me like that if front of our friends, I would have told him off.” Earlier the happy couple had been displaying their bruises from playful boxing matches. The idea of hitting your girlfriend is repulsive to my roommate, who is Samoan.
“I just can’t get over how mismatched they look together,” I tell her as we head into a bakery for cakes. “She’s got this gorgeous face, knockout figure and awesome personality . . . and he’s makes me think of those weird old foreign guys who hit on me in Itaewon. He told me I’m pretty. Now who would say that in front of their girlfriend–their Korean girlfriend?”
“He wants her to go back with him to Idaho in two years,” she tells me as we walk back home.
“Ugh! Has she ever seen Idaho?” I bite into my donut, which as red beans in it. Delicious.
“She told him she doesn’t want to go. She said, ‘I’m Korean, so why do I want to go to America?'”
Months ago I would have thought A was insane. But I’m hearing more stories like this–frustrated expats with Korean women who won’t to go west.
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