Still on the Ferry...

South Korea, 1997. Wando --> Chejudo

The stoic Korean gentleman next to me on the bench continued to stare out of the ship's window into the darkness of the sea for quite some time. He finally broke the silence by turning to me and asking in halting English: "Are you American"? It was as if he was debating with himself whether or not to engage me at all.

"Yes," I responded. He simply nodded and turned to stare back out at the black of night. I thought it was strange but it was not annoying. Again we sat in silence for many minutes.

When he again spoke, it was to ask me where I was going. I told him I was headed to Cheju Island. He asked if I had been before, and I told him I had not. This brief exchange, again in English, was followed by more silent stillness and more staring out at sea. As the ship neared port, he tore a scrap of paper from a notebook in his beggar bag and wrote his name and address with a black charcoal drawing pencil. I had not spoken one word of Korean, nor made any indication that I could speak better Korean than he could English, but his name and address were written in Hangeul.

I treated the scrap as if it were a business card; I thanked him and held it and stared at it for a moment before putting it in my shirt pocket. He then told me that I should visit him, "My house is a traditional Korean museum," he said.

"OK," I said. I left him with a slight bow and went to retrieve my backpack/erstwhile pillow. On the way off the boat I noticed that he had been joined by a woman. She wore the same style of clothes and walked a couple of steps in front of him. They certainly were a unique-looking pair, both in apparel and hairstyle. Other Koreans stared at them too. Thinking I would never see these folks again, I waved goodbye and exited the terminal into the salty Cheju night air.

The owner of the kindergarten in Seoul where I had briefly taught had arranged for his brother to meet me at the terminal and make sure I had a good visit. Since I was the only whitey in sight, I figured I would be pretty hard to miss. But nobody approached. I made a half-hearted attempt to call him, but nobody answered. Secretly I was a bit relieved because I didn't want to be beholding to anybody. I wanted to roam freely.

Lonely Planet said there were cheap motels (여인숙) aplenty near the terminal and I soon found that to be true.

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