A Monumental Weekend

Sitting, staring at the clock. How long have we been in here?

I sigh, try not to fidget. Erin's next to me. She reaches out, holds my hand. A small Korean woman sits on the other side of the waiting room, pretending not to stare. But she is. She can't really help it. We're crammed together in a space the size of an average American closet. Seoul National University is the premier teaching hospital in Korea. It's cutting edge, high-tech, and comes complete with an international clinic where foreigners can find help in a dozen different languages. But its waiting rooms leave something to be desired. Odds are, the Korean woman is just as uncomfortable in the close quarters as I am.

It doesn't help that we're the strangest couple she's seen all day. I'm easily two feet taller than she is, and I just shaved my skull so I've got that shiny-egg look. I left the beard, though. I like to keep Korea on its toes. It's bright orange-red, like fire. Erin isn't any less unusual. Sitting in my shadow, she's dainty, but when she stands up, it's clear she's still bigger than most Korean men.

The woman's eyes flick to our linked hands, then away. She seems almost embarrassed for a moment, like she started to intrude on something private. Which is silly in here. It's like being locked in a dressing room together. Nothing's private.

I check the clock again. Well, that burned a whole ten seconds.

Another year in Korea stretches ahead of us. We hadn't planned it. We were all set to move, until things got in the way. I shift in my seat and the fake leather creaks. I almost think about the reason we're here. Then my brain skitters away.

The clock gives another tick. The doctor's office shows no sign of opening.

I force my mind to wander. I'm looking forward to apartment hunting, at least. We could have stayed in our old place, but out of the blue, Erin's co-teacher offered to take us looking for something bigger. After two years in a one room, the idea of a bedroom that isn't also a living room and a kitchen sends me giddy. The deposit is daunting, but we'll manage. And if we have to be stuck here anyway, we might as well be comfortable.

The minute hand is literally not moving. I hear the phone ring in the doctor's office. I'm in hell. This is hell. By her sour expression, the Korean woman across from us agrees.

I force myself to look away from the clock. Camera shopping. We're going camera shopping after this. That'll be fun. Namdaemun market has a parade of camera shops. I stare at the doctor's door, wonder if it's stupidly optimistic to think we'll still be excited to do that after we get the results. Then I give a little shake.

Stop being an idiot.

Right. So I start cataloging shopping advice we've gotten from our Korean friends and from various websites. Make sure the camera you get in the box is the one you actually ordered. Make sure the clerk doesn't try any funny business, like swapping out your lenses for something cheaper, or dashing to the stockroom real quick and returning with a cheaper version of your 'new' camera. Namdaemun is infamous for shady dealings and people who will try and trick you out of your money. Foreigners make easy targets. They don't speak the language, they generally have a lot of money to throw around, and they're easy to lead into something dumb. Erin and I are determined not to be marks.

The doctor's office door opens and my head jerks around. A little old man hobbles out. He must have been the previous patient. I feel a tension build, like I'm on the edge of a long drop. But the door closes. Nobody comes out to gesture us inside. I glance up at the clock again and immediately regret it.

I'm a little worried about the Grey Market, but not much. It's a pseudo black-market, a steady stream of electronics bought at discount prices in China and smuggled to Seoul for resale. Namdaemun is supposed to be lousy with Grey Market cameras. They'd have no warranty, no guarantees, and plenty of risk. The benefit? They'd be cheap, as in a couple hundred bucks off market price for a brand new item. But if our camera was busted when we got it home, a couple hundred wouldn't matter much. Near as we could tell, the biggest way to avoid any of that was to stay away from anyplace offering steep, unreasonable discounts for new merchandise. Shop smart.

We can do that. We printed out a list of what we wanted. A Canon 600D, an 18-55mm lens for wide angle, a 50mm portrait lens, and then a 55-200 mm zoom. We're flirting with the idea of a super zoom lens that goes from 18mm all the way to 200 mm, but we're not sure we want to drop that kind of money. A good superzoom would be more expensive than the camera. Worth it once we knew what we were doing. Which is not today.

The door opens again. The nurse is waving us in.

Erin's hand spasms in mine. Thoughts of apartment hunting or cameras vanish, obliterated by that simple gesture. And then we're walking through. The doctor is smiling. Is that a good sign or bad? I can never tell. And suddenly I'm sure it's bad news.

He gestures for me to sit. I do. Erin stands at my shoulder. The doctor smiles again. His English is halting, but it's more than up to this task.

"You do not have cancer."

And I want to do about a billion things at once. I want to backflip. I want to scream. I want to buy a camera. I want to go apartment hunting right then and there for something palatial, damn the costs.

But all I manage is to find my wife's hand and give her a squeeze. She squeezes back.