from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Random #46: Nomanakya Naranai, Part IV

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This is the last installment of the series. If it seems long-winded yet hurried, it’s because it is. It’s been a month since the trip and I need to get back to work.

     “Oppa, did you hear that Jeongeun had a baby?”
     Taka gives her a look out of the corner of his eye.
     “Uh… yeah, I heard it.” I heard it yesterday. It was Soyoung that had brought it up while I was working on my gyuutan curry. I take my beer in my hand and Taka clinks his glass with mine and we drink.
     “You know, she asks about you often.”
     I acknowledge her statement, but I don’t reply. There’s a brief, awkward break in the conversation which Taka breaks by offering me some of his “Garlic Pig” tonkatsu. “Try some. It’s really good.”
     I try it and I like it. It’s some of the best pork cutlet I’ve ever had. I had debated ordering it but thought that something garlicky wouldn’t go down well after last night’s binge. I ordered the normal ro-su katsu instead.
     “It doesn’t taste like garlic.”
     “It’s not cooked with garlic,” Taka explains. “They feed the pig garlic.”
     I take another sip of my Asahi draft. It’s not exactly a hangover meal, deep-fried pork and beer, but they took me here because they know I’m a fan of tonkatsu. I’ve only slept four or five hours—the girls at the hostel were loud in getting ready for their day, the door slamming next to my head every time one of them entered or left the room—but I feel bad for Taka and Soyoung. Taka was wrecked last night. After he got out of the taxi, he threw up in the stairwell in his apartment complex and fell asleep there. Soyoung woke up early and found him there. She put him to bed and then went out to clean up his mess. As she was cleaning it up, she added some of her own because of the smell. As we were walking to the restaurant, I told her we had ramen before we went home. “I know,” she said.
     The conversation turns to Soyoung’s newfound appreciation for alcohol and the couple’s first wedding in Busan, the year after we met during the summer program.
     “We should’ve stayed at the party that night,” Soyoung laments.
     “You were getting married the next day,” I offer.
     “Yeah, but I heard you guys had a lot of fun on the beach.”
     We had started out the night drinking at the hotel the Taka was staying at. Soyoung’s friends had come down early and GK and I were there for Taka. After the couple left to go to bed, the rest of us took the party to the beach at Haeundae. We picked up beer and snacks at a convenience store and sat in a big circle on the beach. It was dark but there was enough light from the street behind us.
     “I heard the conversation was kind of dirty.” It had been. Soyoung had done some modeling when she was younger and her girlfriends were of the same caliber. Add that to some lonely guys and alcohol and it was a natural conclusion.
     “Not everyone. Just certain people.”
     “Jeongeun-eonni, right?”
     I get the feeling that Soyoung won’t let it rest but I have no idea why. Who knows what goes on in the terrible complexity of the machine inside a woman’s head and heart?

     Jeongeun was one of Soyoung’s friends who had come down early for the wedding. When we met in front of our hotel to head to the party that night, she was the one who had caught my eye. Long, flowing black hair, bright half-moon eyes, a broad, dimpled smile, skin like polished ivory, flawless and smooth. She had a sweet, unnaturally soft and high-toned voice, the kind you imagine a kindergarten teacher uses toward her infant students, and even that I found endearing.
     The things that she shared as we played drinking games on the beach were shocking. Not that she was a slut, but she was very open and brazen about her sexual history, rare for a proper Korean girl. Perhaps she was drunk. The contradiction between her soft-spokenness and the rawness of her stories and even the fact that she liked to drink drew me in deeper and deeper. At the end of the night, we left the beach and headed to a small restaurant on the pier for haejangguk and soju. I had gone to McDonald’s with Simpson and his girlfriend for my own haejang food and when we got to the restaurant, she sat next to a seat she had saved for me, her head in her hands. She was completely plastered. When Simpson and I talked in English, she woke up and spouted some nonsense about hating when people spoke in English and other things and I was in love. I have a strange thing for crazy girls.
     After the wedding, I called up Soyoung and asked for Jeongeun’s number. When I finally mustered up the courage to call her, Jeongeun had asked, “What took you so long?”
     We were like little kids in love, running around whenever we had the chance. It was the last relationship I had in which I allowed myself to act and love unreservedly. The lovemaking was like atoms colliding, the physical chemistry palpable. The next month, I had agreed to a month-long tour of Southeast Asia with Hole and annoyed him to no end with my constant long-distance phone calls and need to find internet cafés for long, webcam chats about nothing in particular with her. When I returned, I borrowed my friend’s van and took her for a romantic weekend out to the coast and we spent it entangled as if I had returned home after years at war.
     Things were great, or so I thought, but there was a seed of restlessness and doubt germinating within Jeongeun. I was taking her home one night and she was strangely distant, staring out the passenger window.
     “What’s wrong?” I asked.
     “It’s nothing,” she replied and gave me a sweet, melancholy smile.
     The next week, she disappeared. She didn’t respond to my text messages or answer my phone calls. It was during that time my mother came to Korea for some minor surgery. I got a phone call at three in the morning from my aunt while I was out at a night club with my buddy Evan, who was trying to get my mind off of Jeongeun. My mom was sick and so could I come down to Jeonju, she asked. I left Evan alone at the club and headed down to Jeonju.
     There had been complications with the surgery and a more invasive surgery was necessary, the doctor told me. There was a chance that a clot could get dislodged and block the blood flow in her veins. I told him I understood and went out for a smoke or three. I called Jeongeun. I texted her saying that I didn’t know what was going on but at least this one time, I needed to talk to her. I called again and again and no answer. I stamped out my last cigarette and headed back into the hospital.
     I later found out that she had been starting seeing somebody else during the disappearance and then pulled another disappearing act before reappearing in Japan.

     After lunch, Taka, Soyoung, and I took the subway down to Roppongi to go to the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills. The tickets for the museum are something absurd, $50 per person, but Taka’s company provides tickets and we get in for free. We take the elevator up to the sky deck first and take in the night scenery of Tokyo, dark buildings with bright eyes, the strings of yellow and red along the major roads, Tokyo Tower, brightly lit as if on fire, piercing the night sky. The exhibition in the gallery is on the Metabolist Movement in architecture, large-scale, avant-garde plans for an organic and futuristic Japan from sixty years ago. I let Taka and Soyoung go on without me while I take in the scale models of architectural vision. In school, I opted for fine art over design, but I’ve always harbored an appreciation for architecture.

Image sent to me by Soyoung. I don’t know where she found it.

     Taka and I want to see the DragonQuest exhibition, too, so Soyoung waits in a coffee shop while we walk through the exhibition surrounded by otakus and children. It’s a bit disappointing as a fan of the art of Akira Toriyama but I spend it half in people-watching.
     They let me have a smoke outside before we head back up to the northwestern part of Tokyo and we agree to have a drink, or rather Soyoung agrees to join us as Taka and I have naturally assumed that our night would end in drunken shenanigans.
     “Do you want to go to an izakaya that’s kind of loud or a bar?”
     I shrug and give my usual noncommittal answer. “It doesn’t matter to me. Whatever you guys want.”
     We go to the bar because it’s right off the subway station. Pronto is the name of the bar, a bar we have in Korea where I’ve had bad memories. I actually have no memories, having blacked out in less than an hour, but it was the start of a long night. Going to a bar with a two-hour all-you-can-drink policy with a fellow alcoholic is not a good idea, I’ve learned.
     We don’t have dinner first—Soyoung explains that Japanese people usually eat after they’re done drinking—and start off with beer and a bottle of Suntory for highballs. There’s a cute little thing in knee-high socks and a short skirt sitting at the next table, reading a book and drinking a glass of red wine. It’s not unusual for Japanese girls to come to bars by themselves for some alone time, Soyoung and Taka tell me. I consider talking to her but she’s gone by our second drink.
     I’m content. I’m having drinks with my favorite married couple and getting fairly toasted. We talk about the past, I apologize for always missing Taka’s birthday when he’s always called me on mine—“You’re the only person I bother calling on their birthday”—and they laugh and vent about married life.
     “It was tough at the beginning,” Soyoung shares. “I didn’t know anybody and Taka’s always drinking because of work.” She adds, “I don’t talk to Jeongeun much anymore.”
     “It must’ve been hard,” I respond to show I’m paying attention while Taka and I work on our highballs.
     “I talk to Taka’s mom all the time. She’s so cute and innocent.”
     “Yeah, it seemed like it.” The last time I was in Japan was last year for their second wedding in Taka’s hometown of Miyazaki. It was the only time I ever saw his mother.
     “It was hard before the wedding here because sometimes I would forget that our first wedding was a secret.”
     “It was?” I had wondered why Taka’s parents didn’t come to the wedding in Busan. “Why?”
     “My parents didn’t want us to live together before we got married and Taka’s parents didn’t want us to get married before we had lived together.” I don’t know if Taka’s parents are like other Japanese parents, but they seem like good, open-minded, wholesome folk.

     Their second wedding was held in Miyazaki—“The Jeju-do of Japan,” Taka had said—but there were gray, overcast skies and heavy rains that entire weekend in May. I spent the months leading up to the trip studying Japanese, taking classes during my breaks at the institute I work at and night classes out in Gangnam. I told people I was studying so that I wouldn’t have to burden Taka with translating for me while in Japan with the implication that it was to be used to hit on Japanese women without my wingman. It was also because if I hadn’t, I’d end up having to talk to the disappearing woman.
     “Oppa, is it okay if Jeongeun comes to the wedding?” Soyoung asked me when they first invited me to the wedding, months earlier.
     “It’s okay. It’s your wedding.” Although I’m a child in a thirty-something’s body, I can be somewhat mature when need be. I didn’t want my childishness to mar their (second) special day.
     “If you’re uncomfortable with her being there, I don’t have to invite her.”
     It was a nice gesture but I assured her it wasn’t a problem. My plan was immature; I was planning to avoid her when possible. It was immature but it went along with my emotional stuntedness. When we got to the hotel in Miyazaki, GK went with Taka and Soyoung to get dinner with Jeongeun and the other guests. I stayed in the hotel with the excuse that I don’t eat seafood and went down to the hotel convenience store for cup ramen and worked on my wedding present which had broken into several pieces on the trip down. They came by the hotel room after dinner for drinks and I was civil, greeting her politely and answering her questions about how I had been. After Taka and Soyoung left, I went back to working on the wedding present with my beer beside me and let everyone else be merry.
     The day of the wedding, I spent most of my time hanging out with GK and Michi and when we went out to a bar afterwards, I spent my time using my Japanese to talk to Taka’s female classmates. It was getting late and GK, Soyoung, and the Korean girls decided to head back to the hotel and GK asked what I was going to do. Simpson and the rest of the Japanese entourage were down to drink and have udon so I joined them instead. As the groups were about to split up, Jeongeun walked up to me. Shit.
     “Can we talk?” Fuck. A tamer, but all the same dreaded version of that despicable expression “We need to have a talk.”
     “We can talk when you get back to the hotel. Let me know when you get back, okay?”
     “Okay,” I agreed begrudgingly, putting a damper on my night.
     The udon was good and Simpson was fucked up and raucous in his drunken state, his booming voice cracking jokes in English. Two delinquents at the next table started shit and Simpson was not one to back down, the girls yelling in Japanese and Simpson responding thunderously in English. The rest of our group apologized to the kids, bowing at ninety degrees, and I tried to take Simpson’s attention away from the girls.
     When I got back to the hotel, I was tired. I took off my suit and started packing. We were leaving early the next morning and I wanted to sleep in. I was packing when there was a knock at the door. I had completely forgotten about my appointment to talk but there was Jeongeun at the door. How did she know I got back to the hotel? I wondered.
     I looked out in the hall but there was no place to talk so I invited her in. I took two chairs and brought them near the door since GK was sound asleep.
     “I wanted a chance to explain what happened,” she said meekly, hugging her knees as she sat on the chair.
     “It’s not necessary. It’s all in the past.”
     “I wasn’t seeing someone else. It was this guy that was stalking me at my company. He hacked into my account and posted those pictures.”
     “Okay,” I said although her words grated at me. There was no need to lie to me. It had already been two years since and those pictures and dates couldn’t have been fabricated.
     She went on and I sat, stoically accepting her excuses. I was already tired, too tired to listen at length and so I cut her short. “Are you happy?”
     “Yeah, I think I’m happy now,” she responded, but there didn’t seem like there was conviction in her reply.
     “That’s all that matters.” I was trying to take the high road. “I knew that you were unhappy with your life back then anyway.” I had a feeling but I had thought that I could do something to remedy that. I had been wrong.
     “Look, I’m tired. If you don’t have anything more you want to say, I’m going to go to bed.”
     We got up and I opened the door for her. She lingered, hesitating.
     Jeongeun had a serious boyfriend—Soyoung had let it slip earlier—but I got the feeling from her that I got back then when we first met. I could have taken advantage of her, could have had that angry, break-up/make-up/see-you-never sex but it was over for me, had been over for a while, and I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t know what she was expecting—absolution, forgiveness, my dick—but I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction in any sense. Damn her for digging up the past.
     “Good night,” I said, gave her a polite smile and wave, and shut the door.

     Pronto closes early, around midnight, so we head to our second choice, the izakaya. It is loud; there are large groups in drunken merriment all around us. I’m guessing the reason is the reasonable prices of alcohol. If social etiquette doesn’t keep Japanese people from causing drunken scenes, alcohol prices will take care of it. But here, the alcohol is cheap and Taka and I take advantage of it. Soyoung drinks a bit but she’s reaching her limit and starts nodding off. Taka and I drink until Soyoung is down for the count, pay the bill, and take Soyoung home in a cab.
     The night is still young and Taka heads out to Ikebukuro with me after putting Soyoung to bed. Now that Soyoung is in bed, the periodic mentions of Jeongeun are past and Taka and I can play. We head to a “girl’s bar,” the equivalent of a modern bar or talking bar in Korea where you talk to the attractive female bartenders, but it’s packed and so we end up going to another kyabakura. It’s nicer than the place we ended up last night and I fall in love with one of the girls, Shiina, until our time is up and we pay and I put Taka in a cab and walk back to the hostel.

     The binging of the two nights catches up to me in full force the next morning but I manage to drag myself out of bed to check out, no time for a shower or shit, but the liquor shits come to me anyway while I’m waiting for Taka and I sneak back up to the seventh floor to empty my alcohol-ravaged bowels. Taka is late but he shows up while I’m having coffee and he’s in bad condition, too.
     He goes with me to Narita, we sleep on the express train, and after check-in at the Korean Air counter, we walk around, looking for a place to eat. Neither of us are in a condition to eat but it’s our last meal so we go anyway.
     The flight back to Korea is nice; I’ve been bumped up to business class and it’s an experience I’ll probably never experience again in my lifetime. Fully reclining seat with ample room and my own armrests, a larger screen to watch movies, more attention from the stewardesses. It’s only a shame the flight is as short as it is.
     When I leave the gate and step out into the brisk, Korean winter, I find myself longing for Tokyo. It was a good weekend, an expensive one and one with some memories of a slight and lingering pain, but one of the best I’ve had in a while.


2 Responses

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  1. Maybe this is just a long winded way of defending the cult of the loser, of which I suppose I am a high ranking officer, from further ignominy.

    Random Spammer

    March 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm

  2. The above is spam but I allowed it because it was creative. (I erased the links and corrected some punctuation.) I don’t see the connection between his comment and the posting, however.


    March 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm

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