On the Ferry...

South Korea, 1987. From Wando to Chejudo

Somehow I managed to get a spot for me and my backpack on the green turf-covered floor where I had a reasonable 5-square feet of personal space. All around me Koreans sat in groups small and large. Some sang, most smoked, others slept, and some drank Soju. In my closest proximity was a middle-aged Korean fellow and two female travelmates. I got the distinct impression that neither was his wifely figure.

Not long into the ferry ride, he untied the knot in a plastic baggy and revealed a still-squirming, mostly alive, octopus. Another bag produced two bottles of Soju. He used a pocket knife to slice the octopus into bite-sized bits of tentacle and hood. The girls giggled and the man did most of the eating and drinking. Ahh, good times. For as much as they ignored the rest of us, they might as well have been in a private room. It really is uncanny how Koreans are able to treat others whom they know not as if they were a telephone pole or tree. I was a tree. A lone white tree planted in the corner on a field of plastic grass.

I got up to wander around and check things out. I went on deck and looked out at the ocean. Nothing looked back.

By the time I returned to my little corner, a Korean fellow was asleep using my backpack for a pillow. I didn't feel like rousting him so I went back out and used the potty. It was dark out by now and the lobby area was deserted except for a bench with one sleeping gentleman on it. I tried to sit down on the bench without waking this guy up, but the bench was rickety and even my body weight caused it to bounce one time. He opened his eyes and looked over to see who had disturbed his solemn reverie. His reaction was an emotionless pokerfaced stare for an uncomfortably long time. He drank in every detail of my face and head, and turned to stare at the darkness out the window.

I couldn't detect any stank of drunkenness and I figured that if he wanted to practice his English on me, he would have done so already so I stayed put. The two of us alone on a bench on a boat. Neither one speaking. Not moving. Trying not looking at each other. I cheated enough glimpses to notice he had shoulder length hair and a wispy mustache and goatee. He dressed in traditional looking clothes; the ankle-tie and waist-tie pants with the super low crotch, and a button-up cotton jacket. He carried a mendicant monk-style shoulder bag. I pegged him for an artist.

I was not far off...

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