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peachykeen says: man, i got so drunk last night

peachykeen says: two shots of plum wine, three white russians

D says: u and ur usual 1 beer a month

peachykeen says: z kept coming on to me and i finally had to beat him with my umbrella. he almost cried, what a bitch

peachykeen says: i’m so pissed at him

D says: poor guy

peachykeen says: but i am so tired of boys right now

peachykeen says: i mean, doesn’t z realize i am, like, ten times more attractive than he is???

D says: u didnt just say that!!!!!???

peachykeen says: no, i didn’t tell him that, but if he tries to come on to me again i swear i’m going for the nuts

peachykeen says: he kept trying to hold my hand–like whoa, i am SO not into you like that

peachykeen says: dumbass. i’m never drinking with him again

D says: lol you’re such a bitch

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Rear-Ended

I have just finished yogilates class and have one foot out the door when my instructor, “Seung-Eun,”  asks if I like tea.

“I studied in London for two years, and now I enjoy this tea,” she says, handing me a bag of Earl Grey.

Earl Grey is actually my favorite kind, but I don’t want to look too enthusiastic. I say thank you and tuck it into my purse. She watches me for a moment, hesitating.

“I want to tell you something in English, but it is difficult,” she says. “My English isn’t so good–”

“It’s excellent!” I protest.

“Thank you. But I feel I have a hard time saying this. For the last five minutes of class, we have relaxation on floor. I say how to breathe, but maybe you don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t apologize. Let me think. When you breathe out, it is very important to tighten this one muscle. Mmmm . . . I had it in my head, but I forget–forgot. Wait a minute . . .” She grabs her dictionary and flips through it. “I’m sorry. You see, it is my dream to teach yoga in English, but my English is so bad.”

“No, you’re very good! I’m glad I found you.”

“Ah, here it is. How do you say . . .”

I look over, and the color instantly drains from my face. “Anus?”

“Yes! A-nus. When you breathe out, it is very important to squeeze this. This is very good for you! It helps the muscles in that area. It prevents hemorrhoids. You should try it. Breathe in. Now, breathe out–tighten! Tighten.”

“I’m tightening.”

“Good. Now, you want to do that at the end of class. When you are out of class, practice very many times. Not in public. That might be embarrassing.”

“Hmm.”

“This is very good for you. And, are you married?”

“No.”

“Well, after you practice, this makes a good sexual . . . what is the word–”

“Experience?”

“It makes a good sexual life. Try again. Are you doing it right?”

“Uh-huh. Allgessoyo. Thank you. I will practice often.”

“You will have that tea in the morning?”

“Ne.”

“Remember, practice! Good night!”

I can’t get out of there fast enough.

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Wake-up Call

A week after I returned from Kyoto, we celebrated M’s birthday in Itaewon. I’d tired of the area’s nightlife, but it was the only place my brown and black friends felt comfortable.

Considering I only have one beer a month, it didn’t take that much to loosen me up. I was also on my period, and balancing on three-inch heels while inserting tampons in bathroom stalls didn’t lighten my mood.

The only upside was that I was hanging with the Nigerians that night. Most men leave me alone when I’m with Y’s group, and M’s husband had made it perfectly clear to all his friends that I was not available. (This didn’t stop them from asking him for my number, but Y never betrayed me.)

It was about one in the morning when I decided I needed to take a little stroll, all by my lonesome. “Gonna ur-in-ate,” I drawled to my friends. Once out of eyesight, I sneaked out, merrily waved to the bouncers, and walked out of Hooker Hill.

I turned the corner and sat on the bus stop, staring up at the sky. Not too much time passed before a shiny black car parked next to me. A well-dressed black man stepped out. I smiled sheepishly, thinking Y had sent one of his friends to look for me.

“Filipino?” he asked, smiling down at me.

My face fell. “Uh, yeah.”

“I’m in Seoul for a few days. Would you like to join me for a drink.”

“I’m sorry. I . . . I’m waiting for some friends.”

“I would appreciate your company.”

“My friends are waiting for me.”

“We can have a good time. Come on, just a few drinks.”

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, bowing my head. “I hope you enjoy your time here.”

He drove off. My mother’s words rang in my ears: The Filipino women there are prostitutes. All the men are going to think you’re a prostitute.

Humiliated, I stood up, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. I wobbled for a little bit, suddenly hungry for home. I entered the nearest convenience store.

I had just chosen a Haagen Daas ice cream bar when the Nigerian stepped in the store. “We keep running into each other!” he said. Then, after watching me for a moment: “Am I stalking you?”

“Please leave me alone,” I said softly. He apologized and left.

I went up to the counter and paid for my bar. My fingers trembled as I opened the package. Finally, I looked up at the clerk (who’d been watching us silently) and said, “Do you speak English.”

“A little.”

“I’m . . . I’m a little scared. Do you mind if I eat my ice cream here.”

He blinked at me. “Please leave.”

The streets were still crowded. I sat across from the police station and tried to savor my ice cream. It melted, leaving chocolate on my new tote bag. I dumped the food in the trash and decided to walk back to the club. Barmaids watched me as I passed, foreigners coiled around their narrow waists. I averted my gaze and returned to the club.

One of the older waitresses scolded me in Tagalog. “Your friends are looking for you,” she snapped in English, after she realized I didn’t understand her. “Where have you been?”

I bowed my head. “Auntie. I’m sorry. I wanted to take a walk.”

“You stupid girl.” She slapped the side of my head.

After the girls hugged me and made sure I was okay, Y dragged me out of the club and up the hill.

“What is wrong with you,” he stormed, pulling me by the hand. “Going out by yourself at this time at night. And why are your hands so sticky?”

“Please don’t yell at me. I got chocolate on my new bag. I don’t know if it’s gonna come out.”

“Are you crazy? Give me your father’s phone number.”

“Why?”

“I’m going to ask for permission to beat you. What were you thinking? We were so worried. It’s my wife’s birthday, and she was so scared.” He stopped and turned to face me. “Pia, what’s wrong?

I stared at my heels. “Y, do you think it’s possible to have feelings for someone you don’t understand?”

He considered it for only a second. “No.”

I collapsed into his arms, sobbing.

After assuring the motel owner that I was not a hooker (I had to speak a few sentences first), he set me up in a room. My eyes fell on the condom vending machine on the wall, and I began to cry again. “Please don’t leave me here by myself,” I said.

“M drank too much, and I have to watch her. We have stayed at this place before, so don’t worry.” He tucked me under the sheets. I couldn’t stop sobbing. After shutting off the lights, he lingered at the door for a moment, then sat on the bed. “Pia, you have to tell me what happened.”

“You were right,” I said hoarsely. “I was stupid to let myself get attached to a Korean.”

“But you did, because you don’t know how romance works. You are Filipino, and Filipinos are too simple to understand what real love is.”

“I got too dark in Kyoto. Now everyone thinks I’m a whore.”

“But you know you’re not a whore. Why do you care what others think, as long as they don’t touch you.”

***

Hours later, Y barged into the room, pulled me up by the arms, snapped at the motel owner for calling me a prostitute, and shoved me on the first train out of Seoul.

I didn’t go back to the apartment. I walked down the hill, to the river, where some men were fishing with their children. I watched them for a moment before I grew hungry.

Picking up a bag of prunes at the pharmacy, I turned the bag around and found my hometown’s name on the manufacturer’s address. I sat down on the front steps and ate the whole bag in one sitting.

Around ten o’clock, the streets began to come alive. A woman in a dark, knee-length dress passed by, her hair catching the sunlight. A group of construction workers in her path turned to watch her.

She cut through their circle, right along the middle, her chin up, mouth pressed, gaze steady, shoulders back, heels clicking in time. Those men did not call after her. They did not follow her. They did not touch her.

They could not touch her. She was perfect.

Three hours later, I emerged from my bedroom, wearing an ironed white dress, buttoned from the neck to the knees. My hair was pin-straight and tucked behind my ears, from which hung diamond studs. My makeup was white, flawless.

My roommate starred at me for a moment. “You look beautiful,” she gasped.

“I know,” I said, my voice flat.

I put on my sunglasses and stepped into my heels. I shut the door behind me and walked down the stairs, out of the parking lot. I passed my old martial arts school without stopping, with dry eyes.

At the train station, a foursome in military fatigues stared at me with curiosity. Finally, I turned to them, my face expressionless. I stared right through them. They colored and turned in the opposite direction.

I had become untouchable. Invulnerable. And it was the most liberating moment.

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Had a great time at my first wine and cheese party. It wasn’t as “adult” as I feared–everybody brought their own coffee mugs.

I donated a beautiful, plum-colored, fruit-covered cake from Crown Bakery. I should have taken a picture of it, because everyone was sorry to cut into it. We ate it on paper towels. Such is the life of an expat here in Korea.

But just because it was low-key didn’t mean I was going to show up in my yoga clothes. I wore a white, knee-length dress with blue print, a white braided belt around my waist and coral slingbacks. My mother’s diamond earrings (a gift from my father on one of the anniversaries, which I had shamelessly swiped prior to my departure) hung from my ears. I felt young, chic and eager to meet new people.

It took only one glass of fruity wine to loosen me up, as I pressed the virtues of country music to Canadian hipsters, big-city Americans and bewildered Koreans. “Like, the Dixie Chicks just speak to me,” I drawled after the hostess downloaded a few of their songs. “Play ‘Sin Wagon.’ Shit that’s a sweet song.”

I spent most of the night speaking to a young Korean man, who was particularly interested in my views on his country’s pop scene. Or maybe he just wanted to hook up. Who knows–but the more T watched me, the more I talked, my hands flying, my grin growing, my head swimming until I was sure I was going to pass out.

Parties always exhaust me, because I tend to get claustrophobic in large groups. I prefer small gatherings, in groups of four (at most) at familiar coffee shops or restaurants, where I can nibble at food if I don’t feel too charming or interesting.

A little past midnight I suggested we hit a karaoke bar. T stayed behind to catch some sleep. I belted “It’s Raining Men” with all my guts, swinging my arms about, rocking my hips, shaking the the tambourine. “I’m gonna go out,” I wailed, “I’m gonna let myself get / Absolutely soaking wet!”

After the song finished, I sat back and swung back a beer. “T’s a pussy for missing out,” I told Z.

“He has a date tomorrow.”

***

“Motherfucker!” I shouted the next morning, wrapping a new autumn dress around my waist. “The guy says he won’t give up on me, and then he gets a Korean girlfriend.”

M and Y snuggled on the sofa and laughed as they watched me step into my green heels, bounce on my toes a little, slip into my sandals, bounce again, kick off my shoes, shriek and throw myself between them. “Why am I so fucking short.”

“My poor darling,” M cooed, hugging me.

“How long has he been seeing this Korean girl?” Y asked, picking excess threads from my dress.

“Two or three weeks. Z introduced them. I guess T likes her a lot. Mothahfuckah!”

“You haven’t been very nice to him,” M reminded me.

“But it is good, you’re getting over that Korean,” Y said. “I just don’t know if you should be with a white boy who is weak for the Asian girls.”

“I don’t think I like him-like him,” I mused, leaning against M’s shoulder and resting my legs across Y’s lap. “I just like that he likes me.”

“Why do you have to hate on the white boys?” M asked her husband. “They’re in Korea, who else are they going to date. Besides, Pia isn’t even Korean. She’s a white girl who looks like a Chink.”

“True. But I’d like to talk to him before anything happens between him and Pia.”

“Oh, Dad,” I groaned, rolling my eyes.

“Don’t ‘Dad’ me. If you don’t like him, why are you getting dressed up again?”

“Don’t be too tough on me. I didn’t get that much sleep . . . All that cheese gave me diarrhea.” I laughed, raising my arms as they swatted at me. “Ah, not too hard, I still have gas.”

“You’re lactose intolerant, why did you eat so much cheese?” M asked.

“I always eat too much when I socialize. And, I have my period.”

“You are getting too comfortable around me,” Y sighed, distancing himself and shaking his head. “Remember, you are a lady.”

M and I grinned at each other and rolled our eyes.

***

Z and T met me in front of my favorite Mexican restaurant in Seoul, eating chocolate. “That is one huge chocolate bar,” he said, taking it from me.

“They sell them cheap at this Indian market near What The Book. Do you want some?”

Looking a little surprised, he shook his head.

D joined us later, as we sat near the bar, chowing down burritos and slurping large glasses of lemonade. “Who’s the girl?” I teased, glancing at T and licking my fingers.

He wrapped one arm around the back of my chair and cleared his throat. “She’s nobody.”

“You’ve been seeing her for three weeks and she’s nobody?”

“What I mean is, I don’t like her that way. We’ve been on a few dates. It’s nothing.”

I scoffed and turned to Z and D, who were watching this exchange and looking exhausted. “You don’t have to act so cool around me. You’re crazy about her.”

“I’m not here to date. I’m here to work and travel.”

“And if you get laid, that’s a bonus, right?”

He laughed and removed his hand from my chair. “She’s okay. She doesn’t mean anything. I mean, we can’t really talk about anything. And, I want someone, but if I can’t talk to her, it isn’t going to amount to anything.”

“Wow, that’s so . . . nauseating.”

“Then join us today, if you’re so sure about how I feel.”

I smirked into my glass. “No thanks. Nothing would make me gag more than the sight of you acting like a lovesick puppy.”

***

“If I’d known he was coming, I wouldn’t have joined you,” D sighed after we sent the boys off in a taxi. “You are so mean to him.”

I was surprised by how disappointed I felt. When he’d invited me to come along, I was hit with the idea that this new girl was taller than me, better-dressed, smarter, funnier, nicer, prettier. I didn’t want to see him hitting on another girl, paying for her ice cream, trying to make her laugh, and trying to impress her with random cinema trivia.

Also, I was disappointed in myself.

I linked arms with D and rested my head on her shoulder, biting into my chocolate bar. “I know I’m a bitch to him. But I can’t help it. When I’m with him, I want to hit him, but at the same time, I don’t know . . . I guess I’m starting to like him a little.”

She rested her head against mine as we headed back to the station. “You scare me sometimes.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re still hung up on your Sabunim?”

We stopped at the station, and I let go of her. “It’s great that T’s seeing someone,” I said. “I don’t think I’m ready for anyone.”

“Nobody’s ever really ready for a relationship. I wasn’t ready for L,” she said, referring to her boyfriend. “I mean, we met on Myspace. I didn’t think anything would happen, and well, look at us now.

“I just think . . . Maybe you have this idea in your head,” she said after some hesitation. “About who you’re supposed to be with, and how it’s supposed to happen.” Pause. “And maybe you’re just going to end up hurting yourself.”

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Birthday Cake

My Birthday Cake! Hurrah!On Thursday my coworkers bought me cake.

We were decorating the school for the monthly activity event, so we didn’t get to celebrate that night. We had five minutes to pose for pictures and sing.

The lights went out, and I was left staring into the candles.

“You blew the candles fast,” C told me after I began to slice the cake. “What do you wish for?”

***

Two nights later I was celebrating my 25th birthday at an Italian restaurant. I was surrounded by my three dearest friends, their boyfriends, a co-teacher I could barely stand and her adorable son, and two admirers.

I tried to chat and entertain everyone, but I went out of my way to avoid T, who sat to my right. I didn’t know why I invited him. I suppose I wanted The Instructor to be at my side so badly, and any guy would do.

When he wasn’t looking, I stole a glance. Attractive, true–but in the cocky way I could barely tolerate. He dressed and carried himself off like he was from SoCal (he wasn’t), and for some reason that bothered me the most. After he professed his loyalty to the Lakers, though, I sat back and relaxed. Surely I would not fall to the charms of a Kobe fan.

He caught me staring and smiled. I swung my eyes in the opposite direction and frowned. He responded by buying me a drink. As I checked my cellphone for messages, he noticed the DVDs in my tote bag.

“You bought The Lover,” he noted.

“Yeah,” I said with a little laugh, embarrassed by how corny it sounded.

“I love that movie. Jane March was so intense as a fifteen-year-old.”

“I guess. I bought it for three bucks today.”

“You were here early, weren’t you? What did you do in Gwangwhamun?”

“I went to a cafe and read “Love In The Time of . . .”

“Cholera?”

“Yeah. You’ve read it?”

“Yeah. I enjoyed it.”

I sat up and leaned forward. “Have you read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin?”

“Not yet.”

“You should. It’s easier to get into. I tried to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it was too far out there.”

“Yeah, but I think the best books are like the best actors. A little eccentric.”

I sunk back in my seat. How pretentious! Pushing my plate back, I drawled, “I ate before coming here, and now I’m full. You can have my pasta.”

He’d already finished a whole pasta dinner, and I still had a half of it left. Truth be told, I was still hungry. But I wanted him to get sick.

We locked eyes, and I smirked a little, nodding at my dish, which weighed the same as a liter of water. Finally he shrugged and took my bowl.

“You never told me if you were still engaged to that naval officer,” he said after he finished, holding his stomach and wincing a little.

“One, he was a computer programmer. Two, I was never engaged. I only told you I was seeing someone to spare your feelings after I left you waiting in the bathroom on New Year’s.”

D, who’d been chatting with her boyfriend, threw me a disgusted glance.

T laughed, and I colored. “I must be more drunk than I thought,” I mumbled.

After we left, half the group had to catch the train back home. “Be easy on the poor guy,” M said after she pulled me aside. “Even after you ditched him on New Year’s, he still likes you. And you’ve been a righteous little bitch, to everyone, for the past few weeks.”

I hugged her tight. “I’m sorry, M. I just–”

“I know, darling. But you have to put all that behind you. You only turn 25 once! Just have fun . . . Try not to think so much.”

After they left he offered to carry my cake. I let him carry my tote bag instead.

“You aren’t worried I’ll run off with your money?” he teased.

“Cake is more important,” I said softly, hugging it to my chest. “It’s very sweet.”

As we walked to an ice cream shop, he said, “I wanted to apologize to you in person.”

“You? What for?”

“For ditching you and Z that night. I really wanted to eat breakfast at Gecko’s with you.”

“It wasn’t a big deal.”

“I didn’t sleep with her, you know. She kissed me at her apartment, but then it was really awkward, so I left.”

“You idiot. She was cute.”

“Believe me, I know.”

I shrugged. “Well, cute but not that pretty, really. Her accent made up for it. I guess I should apologize, for calling you a slut. I’m sorry. I guess.”

He nudged me with his elbow. “Let me buy you an ice cream and we’ll be even. They’ll sing and dance when you tell them it’s your birthday . . .”

***

I didn’t want to intrude on D and her boyfriend, so we slept at Z’s place that night. Z offered his bed, but I dragged a sleeping bag on the floor. “I’m more comfortable like this, really,” I insisted when T laid down across the sofa next to me.

“Did you have a good time?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, and it was the truth. It was, for the most part, a drama-free birthday. It had been rather nice talking to him–we have more in common than I’d suspected. We want to be writers (although I didn’t tell him that), think the Killers are awesome but way too overplayed, believe exercise is essential for the mind and want to travel through all seven continents.

I felt myself warming up a little.

Then, in the dark, he said, “Pia, did you date anyone here?”

“No.”

“That’s a surprise.”

“Then why did you ask?”

“You just look a little . . . uh, sorry . . . lovesick.”

I chuckled, careful not to wake Z up. “No, I haven’t dated here.”

“And you seem different. Do you still want to convert to Buddhism?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seriously thought about it for a while.”

“You seemed really happy about it when I met you. And how are your Taekwondo lessons?”

“I gave him up. Uhhhhhh, it. I gave it up.”

“Why?”

“Because I just had to,” I said through my teeth. I nudged his knee with my foot. “Anyway, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m way stronger than I look.”

Sniggering, he asked, “How tall are you?”

“Tall enough to kick your ass.”

“Just tell me this: Was he Canadian? American? The guy you fell for?”

“You mean, my fake naval officer-computer programmer-boyfriend?”

He laughed softly. “The guy you’re in love with.”

I rolled over, turning my back to him. “I have to wake up early.”

“Korean? Hey, Pia,” he whispered, reaching over and pushing the back of my head. “Was he Korean?”

I buried my head under my blankets and feigned sleep.

He shoved me one more time before giving up. “Happy twenty-fifth,” he said.

***

“You wished for him, didn’t you?” M had asked me on Thursday night. We’d had a drink at a little pub near our apartment, and I was gazing up at the sky, holding on to her for support.

“No. I wish I could speak Korean.”

“You know enough to get along.”

We sat at a bus stop to rest our feet for a moment. She pulled me close and I rested my head on her shoulder.

“I put my gold shoes away,” I murmured as the sound of frogs and insects enveloped us. “You know, those ballet flats I used to wear all the time. He loved those . . . every time he saw them, his eyes would light up.

“‘Pia!'” I laughed, lowering my voice, “‘Shoes! Pretty!’ And he would give them two thumbs up. That always made me laugh. Like, I couldn’t understand why these shoes were so amazing. And then I wore them so often, the paint came off, and now they’re this shitty brown . . . but even as they faded, I wore them for my classes everyday, just to see him smile.

“And now I can’t wear them anymore. I’ll probably throw them away with tomorrow’s trash.”

“Just give them away,” M said.

I swung my legs back and forth. “I need to give myself away.”

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After a brief scolding from my mother, I’ve decided to add a new category to my posts: M is for Mature.

Sorry if I’ve offended or embarrassed my loving, patient and understanding relatives and friends. I considered setting up another (PG rated) site, entirely dedicated to my travels, but I spend enough time on WordPress and Flickr.

I’ve been lazy when it comes to categorizing my posts, but I will start the rating system immediately. I will work on placing the rating under all my less-than-flattering posts this weekend.

Under the title of each of my posts, you’ll notice one or more titles like “Uncategorized,” “California (and The Orchards),” “Food for Thought,” and “Friends and that Gray Area.” If I publish any posts that contain obscene language or other questionable content, you will read “M is for Mature.”

So if you feel queasy whenever I throw around the four-letter words, I strongly advise you to avoid these particular writings like the plague.

And don’t break out the holy water just yet. At least I’m not torturing puppies. (Yet.)

***

To make up for my foul language, I added more photos on Flickr. These new ones were taken at Beomeosa Temple in Busan.

I don’t like this set as much as the ones from Jagalchi Fish Market, but we reached the temple an hour before it closed. I didn’t have a lot to work with.

The Japan pics will come soon, promise!

***

In other news, C gave me the new schedule for next semester. Our prized student has a full workload, so we had to accommodate his schedule. He really is brilliant, and I adore him to bits, so I don’t mind.

This means that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I’ll finish my last class at 7 p.m.; on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’ll be done at six. (These past months I’ve finished teaching at 6:30 p.m.)

And I’ve replaced my Taekwondo classes with Yoga/Pilates lessons. Three months for 200,000 (that’s about 200 American dollars), not bad. I took a sample class today and the instructors impressed me. They’re a lot skinnier than I am (I’m not complaining, Mom!) but they are so tough.

One of them also studied in London, so she can speak English very well, although she appears self-conscious about it.

As you’ve probably noticed, I miss my Taekwondo school terribly. Not just the lessons and The Instructor, but my classmates as well. For most of them, I was the first foreigner they’d met (well, outside their English classes, anyway), and they were my first Korean friends. Because of the language barrier we couldn’t talk too much–just help each other out and laugh at our mistakes.

But I hold a tenderness for them that rivals the devotion I have for my own students. I miss their endless energy, their genuine enthusiasm for the sport, their glorious handsprings and their innocent sense of humor.

I have to wonder, will I ever see them again?

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One day after meeting my supervisor’s friends, and one has already sent me six text messages and an email.

I tell myself that giving him a chance might be good for me. I can’t do this lovelorn shit anymore.

So I pined and mooned and it didn’t work out. Whatever. The Instructor doesn’t speak English and I don’t know that much about him anyway.

I need to go out.

On Sunday night I meet Z, T and their coworkers at a bar in Itaewon. I spend most of the night sipping imported beers and chatting up his lady friends. To my delight, there’s a Filipina among them. I haven’t met any since I left Busan.

I knew Maria and I share the same ethnicity when she smiles. Ask anyone familiar with Pinoys and you’ll hear the same thing–we have the same smile. Wide and warm. All teeth.

She’s from Cebu and darker than I am, with bigger eyes and thinner limbs. Like the other Filipino women I’ve met, she works at a bar, as one of those women you pay to sit next to you, drink with you, smile at your stories, let your hands wander and pretend you’re actually interesting.

“I dance too, baby,” she says. “Shiny bra, little black shorts, high boots. Thank god, I don’t have to get naked.

“Before I come to Korea, I can’t dance. When my manager sent me here, I thought I was going to sing. Then the asshole tells me I have to dance. So I learn the sexy dance. Now I dance real good, but shit I hate my job.” We laugh.

“And before Korea,” she adds, “I don’t drink. Really, I was a bad girl in the Philippines, but I never drink there. Then I work and my customers buy five bottles of booze, each! They want me to drink with them and I can’t say no.

“I used to get sick real bad. Now, I can’t work without five drinks.

“I’ve been in Korea for a year. Before, I work in Busan. Boring! Every day I have to work and dance and drink. Then this one girl from Manila gets raped, and my manager gets scared and sends all of us to Seoul.

“I’ve been here for how long, and this is only my second night out. And now I have a boyfriend,” she says, nodding at her Canadian companion. He greets me in Tagalog and tells me has Filipino friends back home. He’s far more pleasant than the usual foreigner who tells me he just loves the Philippines. I approve.

“But now my boyfriend’s contract is finished and he must go back to Canada.” She lowers her voice and leans into me. “Baby, I think I love him. I only had one boyfriend, in the Philippines, and he had to go to the States because his mother hated me, because I was poor.

“Now maybe I lose another boyfriend.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell her. “Maybe you’ll have a long distance relationship.”

“I don’t know. Come on baby, let’s dance.”

Her experience shows: she swings her hips, she touches the floor, she wiggles and grinds. I bob my head, shake my hands and shuffle my feet, struggling not to look too self-conscious.

“No!” Maria cries when a guy places his hands on my hips. “Don’t touch her. Don’t. She is a good Filipino girl. You must dance our style. Filipino style, no touch.” She says this to every guy who tries to paw me, and it’s hilarious and I think I adore her.

We exchange numbers and promise to see each other again. “I will teach you how to dance sexy,” she promises. “We Filipinas gotta stick together.”

She reaches over and runs a hand through my big, wet hair. How does hers stay so smooth and straight? “Remember, baby,” she chides. “Only Filipino men can treat a Filipina right.

“The rest, they all think we’re whores.”

***

I’ve managed to avoid T all night. Just as well, because he’s been talking up some chipper, clingy Australian. Or he’s just sitting there while she’s stroking him and cooing about everything that’s wrong with Korea.

I feel him watching me. Soon our group has dwindled down to four: myself, Z, T and his admirer. I bring everyone bottled water and he reaches over to touch my wrist. I swat him off like a fly, smiling wryly.

What is so appealing about him tonight? He looks nothing like The Instructor. He’s too tall–six-foot-four–too jock-ish, too big city. And for a while I’ve only been attracted to Korean men. He looks nothing like Sabunim, he doesn’t act or talk or laugh like him in the slightest.

I want to kick him.

At half past four, security asks us to leave. Z wants to go to a PC room until the buses start running. I’m grumpy and hungover. The nightlights annoy me for some reason so I stand on the bar’s stairwell as the four of us talk about what to do next.

“I would invite all of you to sleep at my place,” the Australian giggles, looking up at T, “but my apartment is really small. Like, it’s the size of a closet.”

I blink and nod and smile. “But how nice of you to consider us!”

She chooses to ignore my sarcasm and turns to T. “The ATMs aren’t working. I have money at my place, though, would you mind spotting me. I’ll pay you back tonight.”

I turn my back to her, face Z and jab my tongue against my right cheek twice. He tries not to laugh.

“What are you going to do?” T asks me and Z, sounding a tad bit embarrassed.

“Eat pie,” I tell him.

“Pie sounds good.”

“You can’t find pie this late,” the Australian insists.

“You know, she might be right,” I tell him. “We could always have pie in the morning, after we’re all so well-rested.”

She hails a cab, and T lingers with me and Z, grimacing.

“You should go,” I tell him.

“Well . . .”

“You’re such a slut.” I immediately regret the words as they leave my mouth.

The men stare at me blankly. “Excuse me?” T asks.

Laughing, I tell him, “Oh, don’t worry, I think the world of her. She’s cute and oh so charming. It’s you I’m wondering about.”

Z edges away, babbling about the PC room in the next building. T blinks, confused. He ducks into the doorway, takes my hands and raises them to his chest.

“But I haven’t spoken to you all night. You owe me a dance.”

I stare at him for a moment.

Then I take my hands back and cock my head to the side. “Listen. If you do her, you’re a slut. If you don’t, you’re an idiot.” I pat him on the chest with both hands. “Happy fucking!”

“Oh my god,” he says, shaking his head.

She calls for him from the cab. “The driver’s getting angry!” she sing-songs.

I walk past him and out of the building. As the cab drives past, I see him look back at me from the backseat. She’s curled into his side. I grin brightly and wave.

After he’s gone I sit on a bench and watch people stream past. Have I just shamed someone into sleeping with a girl he doesn’t care about? What’s wrong with me?

And I know right away.

I want to spar.

I need to spar.

I smile to myself and cross the street.

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