Shy Guy / Deceiving Appearances
Mary told me that one of the homeroom teachers was very interested in having me meet her son. I don't have any reason to interact with the homeroom teachers much, or the capability for that matter. Many adults do not have even basic English speaking skills...sadly this is true for the kids as well. I think the biggest reason for why English education is so lacking in this country is the crippling shyness of most of the students once they start to hit middle school. This is tied in with the bigger picture of the Korean culture of Saving Face as well as conformity. That discussion warrants a post of its own.
So come 4:30, the Two nice ladies, gym-teacher-bro and I are chilling out in the coffee/tea/candy half of our big shared classroom office when Mary walks in. Oh right, I had a play date coerced on me today. Right on, let's go.
Standing there in the second floor class room is that cheery homeroom teacher that wants to know me so much but can't speak a lick of English. Sitting on a desk is her son, a young man that looks as quiet as he sounds, with a mouth full of braces. I shake his hand the impolite way, but he's so deferring that it doesn't register.
“Hi, I'm Xin. Nice to meet you.”
“ah...Hi......I am shimhaechul...”
“Ehhhh just call me Shim.”
Well, we pretty much got the same name, off to a good start. I start asking him questions in Slow English to get the ball rolling. As a 22 year old (21 in American age, Koreans start the count at one, not zero), he's in the middle of his mandatory 2 year service in the Army. But they've just got him as a run of the mill CSR at the nearby Gimhae airport. He asks me what I want to do, and I'm like let's eat. I want some sam gyeop sal. So he hailed down a cab and off we went to the Hwamyeong district to eat delicious grilled pork belly.
I'd heard a lot about it, basically just a bunch of grilled meats with your standard 6 or 7 Korean side dishes that they always bring out. The meat that is traditionally used in sam gyeop sal is pork belly, which is like thick bacon, because its marbled with layers of fat. The sam in sam gyeop sal is the word for “three”, referring to the three layers formed by the muscle and fat. They brought us out a platter of meats, including some sausage that Shim ordered, as well as six side dishes. Lettuce, Perilla leaves, sliced raw garlic, some sauces, shredded green onion, green chili pepper, and two types of kim chi. They fired up the charcoal and the grilling began! We ate and ate and ate, and Shim cautioned me that this other meat he wanted to order was very spicy, but I got him to order it anyway. Koreans ALWAYS think their shit is spicy. None of these people have had a proper Thai curry. It doesn't bother me because I like non-spicy food, but I know what hot is, and Korean food is a fucking joke when it comes to being spicy, so when they warn me about it it just comes off as just another ethnocentric view they have.
Shim was a lot different than how he looked. His English wasn't great, but it got better after I suggested we get a bottle of liquor. He ordered us Chang ha, a much better tasting, and weaker alcohol than Soju. Eventually we started speaking in Japanese, though his was much better than mine. Prior to his military service, he had studied in Japan for 2 years. He loved it there, and not just because Japanese women were throwing themselves at him for being Korean (Korean dramas are very popular in Japan, I think that's why he was getting so much action). He thought that Japanese people were more selfish, more polite / less direct, and less conformist than Korean people, all things which he preferred. I only studied abroad in Nagoya for a semester, so I'm not sure how much I can comment. They were certainly more conformist compared to Americans. I actually see a nice variety of styles with Koreans, mostly sharp, high-fashion clothes with skinny pants to complement their skinny legs. The shitty overpriced North Face jackets that have the consistency of half-melted trash bags are played out sure, but so are Uggs and short pea-jackets with the epaulets. I don't doubt that in general, Korean culture values conformity to an even higher degree than Japan, which would make it the most conformist in the world, I just think that Americans aren't that creative when it comes to fashion either.
After he wined and dined me, I wanted to return the favor with coffee, so we went to a place called Dum Coffee. I'm not much of a coffee guy myself, so I got the most delicious kiwi juice in the world. The seats were heated from ass to shoulders, and then they provided us with big hot packs in case we needed more heat. I could hear my sperm dying.
Shim said based on our conversation in the sam gyap sal restaurant, there's only three topics worth talking about- partying, drugs, and sex. He asked me how many girls I'd been with at the sam gyap sal restaurant, to which I asked him to clarify if he meant I'd dated or fucked. Koreans are often quite direct with questions, most commonly about age, marital status, and parents occupation. Some have told me this is to establish not only a basic schema but also a basic status hierarchy since Koreans are quite occupied with status relationships. The roots of Confucianism run deep. He had some funny stories, only funnier due to the bad translations. Like when he was fucking his first Chinese girlfriend for the first time. They were on a shitty wool comforter, and he was on top. The lights were off, and she was holding him tight so he grabbed the comforter to get extra leverage. Only what he grabbed wasn't a handful of wool as he thought, but a handful of Chinese-girl armpit hair. He revolted in disgust after she yelped in pain and he put two and two together.
At this point in the story even the Japanese wasn't doing it justice so we got a pen and paper from the baristas and started drawing pictures. He drew a girl's body and arrows pointing to various areas. He said that in Korea, women have armpit hair 0% of the time, it's so exceedingly foul. This is in contrast to pubic hair, which he says they keep unshaven about 90-100% of the time, a more frequent occurrence than in Korean men. The arms and legs are also always hairless on Korean women by choice or nature, though not always on Korean men. He reiterated that the discovery of armpit hair on his (first) Chinese girlfriend was the craziest culture shock experience he'd ever had.
Of course Shim wanted to know about American women, to which I could only say that since America is so heterogeneous, it's hard to generalize. Then I made some generalizations because that response left him totally unsatisfied.
He feared that after being used to picking up women so effortlessly in Japan due to his race, he would be clueless now that he's returned to his country. I'm not sure if that's something he needs to be worried about, since an older woman and her friend who'd been checking us out came up to us and started talking with him before we left. I asked him what he said after he dismissed her and he replied, “She liked me.” Whatever his magic is, I haven't figured it out yet.
Much better than talking to females is broing out and playing Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection at an arcade though. This was a real piece of shit arcade at a movie theater Shim used to work at, above a bar he used to tend at. I played his ass like a fiddle in Tekken 5:DR and Tekken Tag Tournament, but he shamed me in the Noraebang box. Shim worked as a bar singer in Japan, so he's a few levels above most.
I'm glad to have met such an interesting guy who showed me that looks aren't always what they seem. He's also glad to have met me, since we have a shared interest in reading and writing whereas young Koreans are glued to the TV and computer. He said he also used to love computer games, more than school, more than girls, more than his parents. I can relate to that too. We've both traveled and want to travel more. To borrow something condescending said about me by an acquaintance after our first meeting, “He's very worldly for an Asian.” Is this how bromance begins? With stories of Chinese-girl armpit-hair and Tekken?