Helo welcom 2 my websight
This is a continuation of an ongoing story. Read the first part here.
After a slap on the back and a promise that a more experienced employee would tell me about my future responsibilities somewhere next week, I found myself back in the downstairs lobby in the best mood I'd been in for months. I nodded at the receptionist, who didn't notice me, on my way out and for some reason the sky seemed bluer than usual. It was still early in the morning; the entire ordeal hadn't taken longer than half an hour, and the morning sun was flooding Seoul's never sleeping streets.
I hadn't been up this early for some time, and I took a moment to marvel at the beehive of activity going on outside. Owners were opening their stores, errand boys were running up and down the street, delivery trucks that had the misfortune of being caught in the morning rush were honking their horns futily while businessmen hurried past them on their bicycles, frantically trying not to be late for work. Seoul was always busy, of course, but nothing compared to the chaos that is Seoul at 7:30 AM.
I never really knew what to do with myself when I was awake at times like these myself. Years of working irregular hours had made waking up at 6 a rare occurrence, and it was a strange feeling for me to have a full day ahead of me. Today, however, it didn't make me feel uncomfortable in the least. I thought I'd go have a cup of coffee at a little café not far from here that I once visited, head home to make a lunchbox, and surprise Soo-Min at work. It had been a while since I'd done anything romantic for her, so I thought I should put extra effort into it now that I had some time to spare.
Making my way to the café, I noticed the pushing and pulling of the crowds of Korean men and women on their way to work didn't bother me as much as it usually did. My height (average for someone from my country, but bordering on freakishly tall over here) certainly helped in keeping away the more physical residents of Seoul most of the time, but during the morning rush it was every man for himself. I was relieved when I found the café, and plumped down at one of the tables the owner had only just finished setting down. Because of the high amount of pedestrians in this area of Seoul, establishments weren't allowed to have more than one row of tables outside at any time, but since it was still so early all three tables were free.
Realizing the owner might not be expecting any costumers so soon after opening, I peeked my head around the door post.
An older man slowly made his way to the counter from the kitchen.
"Ahn-nyeong hasehyo ahjussi," I repeated, "are you open already?"
"Yes, yes, of course, young man."
I couldn't even remember the last time someone had called me 'young man'. The owner smiled.
"Ah, if it's not too much trouble, would you make me a cup of hot coffee please?"
He looked behind him to see if the coffee machine had warmed up yet.
"Oh, and could I also get one of those?"
I pointed to a bowl of Kaechal bread standing on the counter.
"Of course," the old man replied, "and since you're the first costumer of the day, please take it for free."
"This day just keeps getting better," I joked as I took one of the puffy looking dough balls from the bowl.
"Your coffee will be done in a minute, young man. The machines haven't quite warmed up yet. You'd think all that modern technology would be good for something, but it's giving me nothing but headaches."
I nodded and smiled to myself.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to take my coffee outside."
"Because I like looking at the people as they pass by," I added, afraid the old man might've interpreted my request as a less-than-subtle insult of his company.
I'd be the first to admit I don't really like people, and the few friends that I have can attest to that, but there's nothing I love more than sitting down and just looking at them. I enjoy studying them, like little ants living their busy little lives. They remind me that the world doesn't stop for anyone, and I could spend hours dwelling on the fact that every person that has passed me by in this life had a life of their own, as rich and complicated as mine.
So I sat back down at one of the empty tables, sniffed up the heavy morning air, and felt grateful for being right here at this very moment.
After spending a few hours just sitting at my table staring at people I'd never get to know, periodically interrupted by the kind old owner of the café who had ended up refilling my cup about three times, I decided it was about time to head to the market to get the ingredients I'd need to make a lunchbox for Soo-Min. Like me, and like most Koreans, she also loved all kinds of fish, so I thought I'd make her a Japanese style sushi lunch. Soo-Min was a good cook, but for some reason she could never roll the fish and rice into the seaweed without tearing it. Which if course also meant I was the one who had to roll the kimbap whenever we felt like having a snack. I didn't mind though. Where I was born, it wasn't unusual for a man to help out in the household in the first place. It seems Soo-Min keeps forgetting that though, since she unleashes incredible amounts of aegyo whenever she asks me to do something like that.
I said my goodbyes to the old owner, telling him I'd bring Soo-Min along the next time we were in the area, and leaving a tip that was slightly too high. I'm not really someone who usually does things like that, but I was in a good mood due to the promotion and the man had been nothing but friendly to me while I was hogging his table, keeping other costumers from enjoying the morning sun.
The market was quite far from the office district of Seoul, so I took the subway to Hannam.
Seoul has one of the biggest fish markets in the country, but because it is so well known, it's usually flushed with tourists. I went there a few times, but because of the color of my skin tourists would keep asking me to help them out when they'd heard me speaking Korean to the vendors, so I stopped going there altogether. It's not that I minded helping them, but after twelve "Oh my, your Korean is so good! Do you live here?" from not only the tourists, but also the vendors themselves, it starts to get on your nerves. So since then I'd been going to the less famous markets like Sockcho or Itaewon. It's not like the fish tastes any different.
When I got there, the place was already packed with people. Unlike in Noryangjin however, it was rare to spot a foreigner here,
so people tended to assume the few white people who were walking around actually lived in Seoul. Which, in turn, meant that there would be almost no pointless compliments to be made of my Korean.
Since the market goes on practically around the clock, the hall it was in was decorated with warm glowing lanterns hanging from friendly, colorful garlands. The floors were far from friendly though; during peak hours, you'd have to force your way through hundreds of people even in this market, shouting at the vendors to be heard over the crowds and being ever mindful not to slip on the many indistinguishable fluids that covered the ground. I had beaten the early afternoon shopping rush by a few hours though, so I had no trouble finding a good yellowtail and eel to use for my little project. I asked the vendor to cut off their heads (that's something I could never get used to doing myself) and hurried to get out of the crowds and into the sunlight. Our apartment was not too far from here, so I decided to walk the rest of the way there, stopping by the supermarket to pick up some sesame seeds and edible hearts to decorate the sushi with. The hearts were meant to be put on cakes and the like, but it seemed safe to assume they wouldn't ruin the taste.
After a short walk, I arrived at our building and put the grocery bag on the sidewalk next to the door. We live in a slightly older residential area, so you wouldn't run into
any 60 story high risers here. Our own building only had five floors, each floor consisting of two separate apartments. I punched in the security code on the panel next to the door, and a low pitched buzz indicated it was unlocked. I pushed the door open with my foot as I reached over to grab the bag from the pavement. Our building was well taken care of, and most of the neighbors knew and liked each other. I waved as I passed Manny, the Colombian janitor, who was mopping the lobby floor.
"Hey mister Park," he said in English, "You sure are up early!"
I checked my watch. It was 11:30. I felt a deep shame slowly creeping over me.
"Haha, yeah, I had some things to take care of," I responded jovially, trying to hide my embarrassment. It was bad enough that my friends, most of whom had office jobs, often made fun of my sleeping habits, but it was a whole other thing for people to be saying 'you're up early' while half of Seoul has already been at work for at least three hours.
"Grocery shopping, I see?"
"Yeah, I'm going to make a lunchbox for Soo-Min. I'm sure she's having a hard time at work."
"Ahhh, another story I can't tell the wife when I get home. She's jealous enough of how you treat your girlfriend in the first place. You're making the rest of us look bad!"
My cheeks finally flushed.
"Haha, well, I don't know about that. I do what I can, I guess." I gave Manny a pat on the shoulder and started walking towards the elevator.
"Next time we have you over for dinner, I'll be sure to treat Soo-Min like a servant!" I added.
Manny smiled, and turned his gaze back to the floor.
It's not often that I meet foreigners I like, but it was different with Manny. The moment I had met the young man when I had moved in with Soo-Min, there was something in his tone of voice that had connected with me. He barely spoke any Korean (and he still doesn't), so he was relieved to be able to speak to someone in English. I guess the same could be said of myself. There were many foreigners living in Seoul, of course, but most of them were corporate douchebags looking for other foreigners to 'network' with. Manny, however, was a clever young man who ended up here against his will due to a cruel twist of fate and was just trying to make the best of things. He married a Korean woman a few years ago. Initially, it looked like the marriage was just a ploy to prevent him from being deported, but I guess they really started to care about each other during their time together, and they have remained married ever since.
The elevator doors closed behind me with a loud clang, and I pushed the 5th floor button.
Living at the top floor of the building, I guess you could say we owned a penthouse. And I have to admit it does look a bit like those apartments you see on tv in shows like Castle or Secret Garden. We had a large, open living room, with a huge window directly opposite the front door, looking out over a little park behind our building and the homes beyond it. The kitchen was open as well, separated from the dining area by a cooking island. Off to the left side was a corner dominated by the television and a large, modern bookcase full of books I'd only half read. On the other side was the archway into the bedroom and next to that a room that Soo-Min initially used as a little office, but which had been taken over by me and turned into a gaming room. It wasn't big, but big enough to hold a desk with a PC on it, a large flatscreen and about a dozen consoles and their games. An on-suite bathroom and small washroom left of the front door completed the picture. Due to me ransacking the little office for myself, Soo-Min was often forced to do her work on her laptop or on my always paper-ridden desk, but I think she was just happy that I kept all my crap in one room.
I turned on the stereo, and it started playing the new SNSD CD. I can't say I was proud of still listening to girl groups meant for teens at my age, but luckily I could balance it out with the other, more mature, music I also liked, like classical works and Italian Opera. Today was clearly a more upbeat day though, and while the warm rays of the sun accompanied the voices of nine young girls, I carefully placed my ingredients on the counter.
Making sushi really isn't so hard when you get used to it. It took me about half an hour to grill the eel, cut up the yellowtail, prepare the vegetables and cook the rice. I even used the little fish eggs I found in the fridge to give the rice some extra punch. After rolling all of it up in the seaweed we always had lying around, I put a little edible heart on each of the sushi roles that I had also tried to make heart-shaped. That didn't work out as well as I had hoped, but at least three turned out fairly well, so I decided to just rearrange the rest around those. I cut another heart out of a piece of pink paper and wrote a message on it:
"My lovely Soo-Min,
There's not enough lunch boxes in the world
to convey Oppa's love, but I'll be taking it
one meal at a time.
I'll be waiting when you get home.
Do your best! '"
I placed it in the middle of the box and closed the lid.
Soo-Min's work was located in the Office district, back the way I came. I had to hurry, or I'd be late for her lunch break. Luckily, I got there just in time and asked one of her colleagues to put the lunchbox on her desk for me. I had planned to go home straight after that since I didn't want to bother my girlfriend at work, but now that I was there I had the strongest desire to see her response to the sushi I had made her. I semi-casually leaned my back against the wall in a spot where I could see her desk but my presence would still be hidden. It didn't take very long for Soo-Min to appear at her desk. Her wide, deer-like eyes were the first thing that struck me as she noticed the lunchbox. Soo-Min's appearance could probably best be described as 'Ulzzang', a Korean word literally meaning 'Best Face' that was often used on the net to describe our future idols.
Her eyes were so big most people assumed she'd had eyelid surgery, and her lips would make any woman jealous. She had the cutest little nose, like that of a child, and her long brown hair sparkled in the light of the afternoon sun.
I couldn't help but smile when she opened the lunch box and read my note, her face lighting up as she did so. Deep inside, I felt that feeling again, that my life was a fragile one, and that I should enjoy it for as long as it would last. Surely a woman like this wouldn't spend the budding years of her youth with an old man like me, but when I saw the sincerity and gratitude in her eyes a moment later, all my troubles washed away like a foul mood on a sunny day. Taking a bite of one of the sushi rolls and savouring the taste, Soo-Min turned her head in my direction and I jumped back i
n surprise. Then, everything went black.