“My English is flim-flam.” The small, spunky Korean lady sitting next to me must have seen my confusion because she gave her smartphone an irritated shake and tapped the screen. She was on Google Translate. Words like abominable and terrible were mixing with things like satire and burlesque. I desperately hoped she didn’t try burlesque.
“My English is bullshit!” she declared next. Quite proudly, actually. She looked across the table at Erin and flashed a quirky smile, “Good?”
“Umm, aniyo, no,” Erin said. She spent a moment trying to explain what bullshit actually meant. The whole table erupted in a chorus of ‘Aaaaahhhhs.’
I was sitting in a barbecue restaurant, at a table that was roughly eight inches off the ground. Around me, Erin and three other ladies from her school and were discussing their day in a heady mix of English and Korean. Occasionally, Erin would give me a “I have no idea what they’re talking about” expression. Then she’d jump into the conversation with a short burst of Korean and everyone would laugh. I tried very, very hard to be unobtrusive. At roughly the size of Godzilla, this was not easy to do.
“Sam, you cook?” one of Erin’s co-teachers ventured, trying out her English.
“Yes. I enjoy cooking,” I replied. This was followed by looks of amazement and a burst of Korean.
Erin leaned across the table and whispered, “Korean men don’t do housework.”
The spunky one leaned across to Erin, “Erin, you say Sam handsome?” She had a mischievous look to her. The other two perked up their ears with interest.
“Oh yes. Sam is very handsome,” my lovely and charming wife didn't hesitate.
This caused a loud chorus of giggles. Then the spunky one got the excited look of someone trying to remember something… something that danced just on the tip of her tongue...
“Love is blind!” she announced, pointing happily at Erin. She began repeating it, much to Erin’s horror. The rest of the ladies dissolved into giggles.
“I just taught them that. Not about you, I swear!” Erin was giving me a look that was somewhere between polite smile and “oh-Jesus-I’m-sorry.”
“Love is blind!” the spunky one exclaimed again, proudly. She gave me a huge smile and a nod. I'm almost positive she didn't know this might have been rude. I am Sasquatch, after all.
Before I could respond, dinner arrived in a million small bowls that filled the table from end to end. The centerpiece was a hot stone piled with sautéed, barbecued pork. Chopsticks started flying. If you’ve never been to a Korean meal, then you should know that you don’t get a plate. Nobody does. Everyone just shares from whichever bowl they like in a chaotic, frenzied free for all. Like piranhas, frothing in a river. The effect is greatly accented when alcohol is added, though thankfully we were teetotalers tonight.
With full bellies, we departed for a nearby tea and coffee shop. The proprietor met us at the door and ushered us to tables. He was a handsome man dressed in a blue oriental shirt and dress slacks. Someone explained that he was a traditional Korean doctor. He spent a long moment studying us, then one at a time gave us recommendations for tea. All of this was in Korean, of course, so I just smiled and bowed and nodded.
“Remember! Don’t drink too fast!” Erin whispered urgently. In Korean tea or coffee shops, drinking rapidly doesn’t mean you really like what you bought. Instead, it means you’re bored with the conversation and ready to leave. It also, generally, means that you aren’t fond of your table-mates. Given that these were Erin's coworkers, it would put her in an awkward spot if I gulped and bolted.
The tea came. I gave a cautious sniff. Like flowers and fruit. I tried a sip. It was warm and sweet. Odd, but thinking back, I can’t easily describe what it tasted like. It was like someone distilled summer sunshine and mixed it with honey and citrus.
I’m saying it was good tea.
I settled back with my mug. Everyone seemed to relax and the table was full of smiles.
“Sam, Erin say you come to visit?”
“You mean to the school?” There was a nod.
“Yes, I would enjoy seeing Erin’s school!”
“Okay! Okay! You come tomorrow!” That was rather abrupt. I gave Erin a questioning look.
She leaned over and whispered, “I’m sorry. They only told me at the last minute. Please say yes. They've asked the Vice Principal and the Principal already.”
“Uh, sure. That sounds nice!”
The three Korean ladies beamed.
“Okay! Okay! And you teach!”