I adjusted the flip down desk thingy on the seat in front of me. The ajosshis around us had already decked theirs out with giant rolls of kimbap and cans of Cass. I check my phone, 8:43am KST. Seems about right.
I had nothing to put on my table except my phone and my arms which I liked to rest there. I already ate a roasted sweet potato before boarding, figured that would get me through the three hour express ride to Busan. I wasn’t sure what I needed to do to get me through the awkwardness of riding next to my ex. Especially since it was not a secret that I wanted to win him back. What better way to rekindle a relationship than being forced inside a steel tube travelling 300 km/h to a wedding for your best set of “couple” friends?
SoJung had figured it out. She knew how to make Tom understand all the things he did that were less than flattering about himself in a way that he wanted to change. She knew how to make it his idea rather than hers. I think there’s a class that Korean girls take in high shool or something. Their own version of Home Ec. At first this made me upset with her, just a little bit, especially when it meant Tom would stop coming out for poker nights. I loved taking his money with pocket queens. That was my hand- always played it. 99% of the time, won. It would be later that I realized I was simply envious that she got him to create better habits without looking like a controlling, raging bitch.
That’s why we broke up. His laziness, my desire to mother him. It was a toxic combination mistaken for love of stemming from opposites attracting. Yet, here we were, together on this train. Him in a suit, me in a dress. I visited the gym a lot since the breakup. It was my church. I prayed to my temple and worked so hard it gave me at least an hour everyday that I couldn’t think about him, about us together. So I know I looked good, I’m sure he noticed. Not that it would show on his face. That’s why he was so good at poker, we never knew what he was holding on to.
I got the group text which said we should meet at Gangnam station to take the train together to Jamsil Stadium. Unless people want to do dinner before the show. I was confused what the hell this was and wondered who mixed me up with who. Then I saw Rob’s name and a large rock-n-roll emoticon with the name Tenacious D underneath. Still confused, I looked at my calendar. Then again at the date on the wedding invitation. Then again at my calendar.
“I fucked up in the most hillarious way.”
Looking up from the MMO strategy game he was playing, “What?”
“Yeah, the Tenacious D concert is tonight. I completely forgot.” (Because I was more excited about spending 6 hours of alone time on a train with him, not to mention the wedding.)
“Shit. What are you going to do?,” as he taps his screen agreesively to fight off a rival clan.
“I don’t know. Maybe I can change the KTX reservation for the train back to Seoul? That would mean no beach-ee time though,” I sort of trailed off as I realized that he has to come back early with me because I have the tickets on my phone. Control. He could never figure out how to work the app. Eventhough he had been there almost twice as long as I had, my Korean was much better than his.
“I gotta take a piss.”
He seemed unfazed by this hillarious and somewhat inconvinient situation. I decided it would be wise just to change the ticket and assume he was fine with it. A part of me felt like he wasn’t even sure what he was doing here. He had been that way lately. Hot and cold. One minute I would be crying into his arms while he comforted me that just maybe we could start back up again but not right now. The next it was if I was a giant wart on his nose that made him somewhat crosseyed since it got in the way of his vision.
Was he good looking? No, not really. Had a face only a mother could love.
Did he have cash flow? Nah, he spent all his money before he even got it.
Was he super nice? Yeah, if it was clear what he should be doing. He needed a lot of direction.
Was the sex any good? See above answer.
So why was I waiting around for this love to spring eternal, again? What was I doing on this train? Why was I going to a wedding for my best friend with this guy who would likely just ruin all the pictures? All good questions.
“I manged to change the return tickets. Good thing Koreans like Vegas style weddings. Can grab some food at the ceremony buffet and then head back to the station.”
“Sounds good,” not lifting his head up from the Bill Simmons article he started reading in the bathroom.
The ajosshis had gotten louder. Most of them had finished the kimbap and replaced the space it took up with more cans of Cass. One of them wasn’t drinking. In place of an aluminum can, he was holding a rice cake partially wrapped in cellophane in his hand. His buddies would rip a piece off from time to time. He looked like he had to work pretty hard to force a smile.
They were all going to climb a mountain, probably Jangsan. This was apparent by the way they looked like a drunk ad for North Face. Hats, boots, pants, windbreakers, walking sticks- it was all there. The full ensemble. They were prepared to climb Everest even though all the mountains in South Korea had cleared trails, none of which required much gear to get up and down. I once climbed Dobongsan in a pair of converse. That day I also went to Jamsil, to a baseball game for the LG Twins. It was the day after a night I spent at his house. That time when I bled while we were having sex. I was so embarrassed, he was so cool and calm. Just went to the mart down the street and got me some pads to take care of myself. Acted like it was no big deal. I used to like that about him, that he was never emotionally heavy. But eventually that fed my beast and made it stronger trying to get him to crack. When he finally did, it was like a volcanic eruption. While I thought it would give me the satisfaction of popping a stubborn zit, instead it just made him walk away. Scared of the person he had become. How I had made him react. Of course, it had to be me. My fault. Always was.
The train slowed as the annoucement for Gupo station played overhead. This was the last stop before Busan. Simeltaneously a woman wearing a light cream colored pencil skirt and matching blazer with perfect makeup and perfect hair entred the car with a food cart. She stopped, bowed and said in Korean what would be translated as ‘thank you for letting me serve you’. She then came around to offer beverages or snacks.
When he asked me this, I was less focused on the question and more excited that he had thought about me. He was never the most thoughtful, unless he was and then it was like I was queen of the world.
“Aniyo,” I said with a big smile. He just went back to his MMO. My face reset back to a less emotional expression. Perhaps a little RBF thrown in there as I pout inside my head. I imagined myself getting up and going to have a beer with the ajosshis. Throw ’em back, have some kimbap and steal some rice cake from the sober one. They would welcome me as one of their own, invite me to go hiking with them. Later, the wealthy one who works for Samsung wold introduce me to his son. A year from now we would be married. Wearing hanboks. My parents wearing hanboks. Lots of bowing. Lots of confusion since my parents don’t understand any Korean. But lots of happiness because that means I didn’t need the school who would sponsor my visa anymore. I could find an office job. Maybe work for the new Facebook offices in Seoul. Maybe even have my father in law put a good word in for me to work at Samsung. We would have adorable babies. (Automatically all Korean babies are adorable.) They wouldn’t need to go to English hagwon but they would anyway because it’s how they make friends with all the other rich, successful kids. My husband would cheat on me. It would start at juicy bars, then eventually go on to escorts and getting his dick sucked by a prostitute before he would finally come home at 3am to tell me all about it. Oh wait, that part isn’t part of this fantasy. That’s what he did. And I forgave him. Why can’t he forgive me?
We reached Busan and decided to take the subway to the wedding. The Busan subway was so much different, it almost seemed like the Seoul subway system’s little brother or sister. Within 3 stops we reached the wedding hall. Went in, gave the host our names and took an envelope and stuffed it full of money. About 200,000 won. A little larger than the traditional offering but that’s because they were both our friends so we were paying to both sides of the aisle, and we put it together- like we should have been.
When you entered, the circular tables were decorated with lanterns and white linen. The ceremony was laid out in a cute, tri-fold brochure with a picture of the two as children on the cover. The runway running down the center was covered in white Christmas lights all the way up to the stage where the back drop looked like the wall of a generic office building.
We found a nice place behind Tom’s parents who looked nervous as hell. Surely not because their son was getting married; but because they were trying to remember the Korean cue words they would need to get through the ceremony without looking like complete fools. Who could blame them really? Oh, wait, Koreans. Because they rehearse everything and everything is perfect before it happens. Even if it’s not meant to look scripted, it is- especially if it’s in English. If you don’t live up to that high bar of expecations, your face comes right off. And in this case, because it’s a union of two families, you represent both. There’s already scrutiny without their performance in the ceremony to consider. Especially because it’s a good Korean girl and this goofy Canadian guy. Surely their children will just lead to more mixed race children who aren’t as good as pure-bred Koreans. No, they aren’t really even considered to be Korean. Shunned by a society so xenophobic that even Koreans who were adopted by Americans and then come back to their homeland are not welcomed. They are hissed and booed for not speaking Korean, or not really being Korean because they grew up in a place where you can show your shoulders or be gay. No welcome wagon for them here, and they often discover early on that even though their birth certificate says Seoul, that was just the orphanage they got dropped off at. Usually, they were born in a village outside the city and have no way of finding out more about their biological parents. Or worse than that, they find out they were the illigitimate child of a whore fucked by a Samsung CEO’s son and were given up to save the family from embarrassment. Perfect Koreans.
After dropping off my coat on the back of a folding chair covered in ribbons, I made my way to the bride’s room where folks can take photos with her. She can’t stand up to greet me, but I can see she wants to.
“Chukha hae! Jalisseosoyo?”
“Camsahapnida. Ne~ jalisseosoyo.”
“Let’s take picture.”
Sitting like a princess, I am almost afraid to touch her. Worried she will break something. Put some makeup out of place. So I take with her what is probably the worst photo of my life. I have no practice at this. I usually only know the groom at these things. Or it’s a coworker I don’t know that well so I don’t bother taking a photo.
The ceremony was simply beautiful. SoJung’s rented dress fit her small body perfectly. Tom wore white gloves for some reason. I felt he should be wearing a top hat. About 30 short minutes later (have I mentioned how much I love Korean weddings?) it was finished. Time for pictures with the wedding group. Family first. Then, friends. No time for messing around, the photographer’s assistant will literally shove everyone to their appropriate places. Most Koreans take photos like you see from the old days- no smiles, great posture. I was grateful this was the type of setup where the guys were on one side and the girls on the other. Didn’t want to ruin their wedding photo by standing next to him. As much as I wanted us to be together, we weren’t.
“Is this not the best wedding buffet you have ever tasted?”
“It’s definitely fancy.”
Fancy. He used that word a lot. To describe things that were just a little out of reach for him. To talk about cars, to talk about big houses, to talk about dinners at nice restaurants. And he said it with so much emphasis on the first syllable, like he was trying to mimic a southern drawl. As if the only really fancy things existed in the south. He was just the right amount of discerning, he never overbought items to look cool or be ‘fancy’. But he secretly wanted those things. He told me once that he felt like a failure that he was over the age of 30 and couldn’t just drop $200 on a pair of shoes if he wanted to. That he had to think about it. I would remind him that people don’t get rich spending money but he wanted to have it both ways. The people around us, our closest friends, were great at making money. One worked for the US Embassy, he made lots of money. The wedding he would have about four months after this one probably cost four times as much. Then our friend Slappy who was always working, was a money hoarder. He lived simply, much to the dismay of his long time Korean girlfriend (which is rare because they usually leave after a year or two figuring it’s never going to be forever) who wanted to enjoy some of his earnings herself. Most likely in the form of a ring of some sort. You gotta work to earn it, then you have to save it to have it.
Of course, immediately following the meal he has to use the bathroom. It never fails. Our first date he almost made me think he had left me. I was sitting there at Mr. Pizza ‘Pizza for Women’, for seven minutes imagining he got trapped in the stall with no toilet paper. That was the first thing Abby taught me was to always bring tissue with you, just in case. Nine minutes later they boxed up the remaining pieces of Korean-style Hawaiian pizza. The Korean style implies they added corn along with the ham and pineapple. Every pizza implicity had corn on top. Pepperoni? Corn. Cheese? Corn. Supreme? Extra corn. Thirteen minutes later I was nervously trying to figure out how to pay the bill and get home. I had only been in Korea a few days and didn’t speak the language at all or know my way around. Finally he sauntered back to the table acting as if he had only been gone as long as it takes water to boil. At the time I admired that kind of courage, later I would figure out it was more of a sense of apathy.
I sat waiting outside the restrooms trying to figure out what to do about this concert. I was very overdressed, even wearing knit UGGs which would surely make my feet sweat uncontrollably while jumping around. So I was searching for stores in Seoul Station. Most subway stations that had shops had shoes. I was one of the lucky felame waygooks who could fit into the Korean sizes. They were also often cheap. But I wasn’t finding anything except the department stores that comprised one of the city’s largest and most toursit frequented stations. Korean department stores were not cheap, they were fancy.
The train ride home was disappointing because I couldn’t get the wifi to work. I mean, it connected, but the buffer was bad so we couldn’t watch the latest show (I forget. Walking Dead? Gotham?) together using my audio splitter. I had bought the splitter at a museum. It was baby blue and shaped like a tree so the roots were where the mini jack plugged in and the branches are were you plug your headphones into. That was the same museum shop where I saw the plush chihahua wearing a bright green shirt with the name Pepe on the front. I took a photo and sent it to my dad, nicknamed Pepe.
I tried to keep us connected somehow by creating conversation regarding my plans for the night. I got him to agree to hold onto my stuff and let me pick it up from him in the morning. This way I wasn’t carry a giant bag to the concert (and I could see him again in the morning). Once that was settled, I made an attempt at some other awkward topics but since neither of us had been drinking, we had no liquid courage. So I just sat and stared out the window wondering ‘what-ifs’ and ‘how things would be different’.
I had started taking my meds years ago?
I had hooked up with that dude Nick before I came to Korea?
I never helped him get that job for the school he hated or the one that hired him illegally and almost got him deported?
I didn’t have this brain tumor?
I went to the gym and started losing weight years ago?
I never found out that he paid for online sex chat rooms?
I was more open-minded about him using paid online sex chat rooms?
Abby was still in South Korea?
Layne was still here?
I knew how to make better friends?
I never got so drunk as I did that night at the galbi place?
we never started playing that game of ‘never have I ever’ where I called all of them out for having to pay for sex?
we never went to Shenanigan’s after dinner and drank even more?
that woman never came over to our table and used my boyfriend to play games with our other friend who is the one that wanted to take her home?
he understood why that made me so upset rather than got off on the fact that this anonymous woman wanted to chat him up?
I never quietly left out the back door hoping he would notice?
I never cried and cried when he didn’t answer my calls?
I never told him to fuck off when he finally did answer?
I stopped myself from going down there and telling him to come home right now?
the pushing and the shoving and the causing a scene down Itaewon street never happened?
our friends saw me rather than him as the victim- he broke up with me, he refused to love me after my worst even when I still loved him after his?
he could understand that we were meant to be together, our love couldn’t die?
There were only three ways to stop me from trying to win him back:
- He meets someone else and starts a relationship.
- He tells me to completely fuck off and leave him alone.
- I meet someone who sweeps me off my feet and makes me forget about him.
None of those had happened yet, so here I was reading all the articles about how to reconcile with an ex. Performing all their manipulative suggestions. Not realizing that in the process I was also learning how to take care of myself and for the first time, learning how to be alone. My counsellor made $300/week that winter. It paid off for me in spades. Sitting on this train, I didn’t know that yet. I was still confused why my patience wasn’t paying off.
Getting off the train, throngs of people walked on and off the platform. We looked everywhere but the only place to buy a pair of shoes appeared to be the department stores. Luckilly, Rockport was having a sale. I found a pair of boots there that would add a little sense of edge to my ensemble. They were motorcycle styled boots. Looked good, cost more than I wanted to pay but would be worth it compared to other alternatives. He took the UGGs and most of my belongings aside from my wallet. No keys because Korea is cool like that. Most every apartment, no matter how old, usually has keyless entry using a passcode. This proved to make for a fun adventure one night when I was at a party for Tom and SoJung. I met a guy there who couldn’t have been paid to more convincingly make my ex jealous. We took a little rendevous to the first apartment building I lived in after coming to Seoul. It was right down the street from their place. I still remembered the key code to get in the building. Went up to the roof and hung out for a bit. I miss those Seoul cityscapes. Lots of light, tall buildings and the mountains always in the background. By the time we got back to the party, it was obvious people were taking bets on what we had been doing while we were away. I managed to play my part perfectly that night, being just flirty enought that I didn’t look like a bitch making jealous. Then the guy made a comment and reached for my boobs. He was beyond beligerent at this point. SoJung made sure I was okay, but I was better than okay. It couldn’t have been planned better. Tom checked his friend.
“Just be easy man, no one deserves that shit.”
“What shit? She has nice tits, I wanted to grab ’em.”
He lunged for them again but I backed away, nervously giggling. Then he stood up with more anger on his face than I’ve ever seen. Everybody’s eyes widened.
“You’re drunk man! You don’t touch ladies (he always called us ladies like he couldn’t decide between girls or women) like that- it’s not cool! No one wants you here anymore, why don’t you just go sleep it off somewhere!?!”
“Oh yeah? And who the fuck are you asshole?!”
“You want me to come over and show you?!”
At this point every guy was up trying to avoid the fight. They were dangerously close to SoJung and Tom’s new large, flatscreen Samsung. I was secretly giddy. I couldn’t believe that he had stood up to this guy for me out of sheer jealousy, or possibly care. Either way, I went home in a taxi with him that night. I thanked him for doing something and rested my head on his shoulder. He continued to rage a bit about it and I loved it. He was close, I could tell. He walked me to my door, gave me a hug but sobered up enough on the ride home that I was not rewarded with a kiss.
“So I’ll call before I swing by your place tomorrow to pick these up.”
“Sounds good. Have fun at your show.”
There were many times like this. Where friends’ events would bring us together. Where altered fate would make me end up at his place or he would end up at mine. But we never did resolve our differences. He never could convinice himself that he was good enough for me, that he could’t help but notice how well I was doing on my own without him. He loved me enough to leave me, which helped me be ready for way #3.