A Power Outage

August 1987 Busan, South Korea

KHI Institute was on the third floor of an office building one block from the main entrance to BNU (Busan National University) so the majority of the students were of college age. Mr. Shin had sternly advised me against dating any of my students. "That would be too scandalous," he said. (Great word Shin!) Of course it didn’t stop him from doing it. Neither did the fact that he was married. But that’s another story.

One night after my last class I went downstairs to Miss Yang's Bar (the aptly named "쉼표") for a couple of unwinders. Miss Yang and I had become friendly, she was studying English upstairs, she owned the bar and gave me free sandwiches for lunch almost everyday (with the crusts cut off). I liked to talk to her because she would give me the straight dope on the subtleties of Korean culture.

As I sat alone at the bar one particular evening, there was a rambunctious tableful of young women enjoying a variety of alcoholic beverages. They smoked, laughed, drank, and had a good ol’ time. Such a scene is pretty rare so I stared at it—in 1987 it was the Korean men who were known as "the Irish of Asia," not the women. Picking up on the fact that I was intrigued, Miss Yang employed an age-old Korean hostess trick and promised to introduce me if I sent over a round of OB Lagers. I agreed.

"White, this is Ok-jeong. Ok-jeong, this is White. He is a teacher upstairs at the 학원."
"Hello Mr. White. Do you like walking?"
"Ok. We'll take a walk later. Don't leave."
Me, like an obedient puppy, I stayed.

That was pretty forward for a Korean girl at that time. Ok-jeong was tall for a Korean, thickset (dare I say big-boned?), somewhat square-headed with the popular shoulder-length bobbed haircut, the standard black, thick-rimmed glasses worn most likely for fashion. She looked more naughty than hotty but I was interested in spite of myself. An hour later it was stormy out and we were walking across the BNU campus, "Are you a student?" I nervously stammered in busted Korean.

"No. I work at the Levi's Corner at Spa Shopping near 온천장. Do you know it? I never went to college, just started working at Spa two years ago. It's really fun. Those girls back at 쉼표 all work at Spa with me, but only one of them works at the Levi's corner. She is Young-Sook. She is my best friend, the same age as me. We went to school together at On-Cheon Girls High School. We like to go out after work and drink alcohol sometimes, but my mother doesn't like it. My father is in Saudi Arabia right now. He has been there for one year and a half. Miss Yang said you teach English at KHI. Let's sit down. I'm going to smoke a cigarette."

I didn't think there was much more to talk about but she was on fast-forward and smoked and talked non-stop until she decided it was time to start walking again. "Let's hold hands," she proposed as the weather worsened. Soon we were at the front door of my apartment and the wind was kicking up. Before any awkwardness could set in I grabbed her and kissed her. She leaned in. Her flavor was a pleasant blend of smoky citrus and alcohol. She was a little drunk. I walked her in without asking. She gracefully found the floor in my bedroom. Around 2:30 a.m. the power went out.

"White, perhaps did you tell the power to go out"?


Matthew said...

you know, it really does beg the question: DID you tell the power to go out?? :)

as always, really loving these blasts from the past.

Anonymous said...

Great work! Thank you for taking the time to go through your entries and type them up - I can only assume that at times it may feel like a bother to transcribe but I really appreciate it!

White Rice said...

Matthew: lights on never hurt anyone. ;-)

wevegotseoul: The biggest bother is when I read something I wrote way back then and I have no recollection whatsoever of the event or the people. 아깝다!