forever hungry in Korea


If the one person in America who fits the data for Kim Sook Ja is the correct person, then Kim Sook Ja is a single mother.   She cuts hair for a living and has a 20 yr. old son.  They live in a conservative area of Washington State, plagued by the problem of nuclear waste.  They have almost zero internet presence, except someone related about 32.  The matching person me and my adoptee friends mistakenly thought might be the father (same first names, different middle initials) is probably a much older brother.  Probably Caucasian.  Like me, she is a second family.  Unlike her, I am a beauty-school drop-out, though I did end up being a single mom.

On the way home I didn’t think I’d make it to eating time at a Migook’s BBQ in Seoul, so I stopped at a different restaurant I saw on my walk home last time.  Only the thing, the picture in the window, that I pointed to with my parasol must not have been available.  Only I didn’t hear the ubiquitous “obpsoyo” that one always hears when something is not possible.  Instead, four ajummas all sat down to a dinner of cold noodles and laughed.

Oh fuck.  The doorbell is ringing for the first time and I can’t speak Korean.  three rings.  I’m not going to answer it.  I’m in no mental state for yet another miscommunication.

So I type into my cell-phone translator “anything” and they freak out because they can’t comprehend how whatever that word is in Korean has anything to do with the menu.  And in frustration and just the aftermath of having a bad day I go to their refrigerator and pull out a bottle of makkolli and start to drink it.  They get me some side dishes and then sit down and eat their meal, and it’s clear I will go hungry and they think I am just drinking my dinner.

Some students from school walk by and I grab them to help me.  Only they can’t comprehend what my problem is either.  I call the BBB translation service but at the same time they are, it turns out, calling my co-teacher.  In classic fashion, the translation service rings at the same time the co-teacher answers and the students take my phone and hang up on the translation service.

I explain how I’m just having a nervous breakdown and that at this point I’ll eat anything on the menu and the co-teacher asks what food they have and I suffer through them listing everything to her.  So she orders like the most expensive thing on the menu, a meal for two, and I just accept it.  By this time I am sobbing and the students don’t know what to think and the ajumma is patting me on the back and showing me how they hold their sleeve out of the way while she pours makkolli.

Other customers come in while I am talking on the phone and sobbing my story to the party giver that I’m supposed to go see in Seoul, and I try to eat while I’m putting pressure on all my sinus areas so I don’t look like a swollen monster. I’m using the finger towel to sop up my snot.  Gross in any culture.  I only eat one portion and slowly polish off my bottle of makkolli.  I want to throw down a buck and bum a cigarette from the other customers, but I know I can’t.  Instead, I just put on my sunglasses while they all discuss what is wrong with the teacher sitting over there by herself drinking makkolli.

I go to the bathroom, and it is an isosoles triangle.  Thank God the door opens out.  I accidentally drop the toilet paper in the pit toilet and there is a dry spot and I fish it out.  There is no flush handle and only a bucket and pail.  I fill the pail but it isn’t enough to flush.  There is no mirror in the smallest bathroom in Korea, so I just put my glasses back on and pay to leave.

I’m sure they wonder how unhinged the foreign teacher is.  I don’t know if they have any sympathy or not.  I hope they think my total loss of all composure is not about the food order, but about living in Korea.  I never get the appropriate opportunity to explain that I am Ibyung-a.

I get home and head straight to the veranda for that smoke.  At the daycare there is a worker, painting the  gutters with tar, looking up at this woman who dares to smoke half in public.  There is no downspout on the gutter.  There is no downspout on the gutter.

Every Korean I’ve met, no matter what their English level, seems to know the words “stress,” “burden,” and , ”  ”  (the makkolli is affecting my memory)  They hear that I am ibyung and instantly get a look of pity on their faces, which is clearly and immediately REPLACED with a look of, “Oh YEAH?”  You think you’ve got it hard?  Try living here and being Korean!”  And then I get this palpable feeling of envy and resentment that I was raised in the land of daytraders and MTV and Bill Gates. I am a whiney spoiled brat who should be grateful, no matter what continent I am on.

I am a solitary, totally isolated ghost no matter what continent I am on.

Maybe Kim Sook Ja is smart to just live her life in the shadow of the nuclear wasteland.  Maybe I am jousting at windmills.  Maybe I should just go home.

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3 thoughts on “forever hungry in Korea

  1. During my first months of adoption, I’ve wished my sister was here with me, I’ve wished anyone of my orphanage friends was here with me, and then anyone like me.

    Today, I wish I was there with you.

  2. Thank you. I wish you were too.

    I went from a cabin to Korea. It’s been the loneliest 3 years of my life.

  3. I love these posts where I kind of get lost in your world for a moment, then as I turn away from the screen to go on with my life, I feel the hair on the back of my neck raise as I realize everything you said.

    And I wave a fist at the Universe for not giving you everything you have earned.

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