Through the haze of cigarette smoke, a familiar voice greets me as I stand waiting in front of Gangnam Station. I turn and see a smiling Tony and an excited DaWoon. A handshake and a quick hug, we immediately set out on our mission: Find Dinner. After a short debate over food options, pondering, and risks such as ‘fried v. broiled‘, mercury levels of fish, ‘is it moral for Koreans to like Japanese food?’, ‘Is the moon in alignment with the Korean peninsula?‘, ‘Will Mt. Paektu explode?‘, Tony had enough and just steered us toward adongkatsu (fried pork cutlet) place where we got a “bang for our buck” combo deal (We try to keep the bill easy on DaWoon since she felt it was her duty as the oldest to pay).
Munching on a particularly good piece of fried fish, I asked, “So DaWoon, what have you been up to since you graduated a month ago? How’s the real world?” Taking a long sip from her miso soup and a grain of rice or two, DaWoon pauses, shifts her eyes in thought as if scales were being weighed over my question. My question goes through a trial, a mistrial, and an appeals court. Finally, she manages to say, “FUCK-ing awesome!” (Wow, did not expect that…) “I have done absolutely nothing and I love it! Let me tell ya kid, the real world is probably a crazy unforgiving place. Always been and always will be. Let me help you understand it.”
“Imagine life is like that movie -uuuh, shit my English sucks right now. Uuuuh X-Men:Origins. You’ve seen it right?” I mention that I have and that it was pretty good in my opinion. “Well, you remember that part where Wolverine gets that indestructible metal in him and it hurts like hell?” I nod again. “I’m Wolverine and college is the metal. It was bitch to go through. You know what I mean? All the tests and papers in English. Granted I passed TOEFL with flying colors but hell, I guess the Korean blood is just too damn thick and too damn strong. After four years of this shit, it’s finally over! Just like when Wolverine passes out from the pain of the injections of the metal in his body! But my old life is gone. No more parties at the Lodge, no more dressing like Snookie on Campus Golf, and no more giggling with friends. I’m at the phase where Wolverine almost dies and is asleep in the water tank, ok? Bliss. Vacation. Nirvana. Whatever you want to call it. Life is the bad guy (Stryker) and the military generals trying to erase my good memories. Life right now is clinking glasses of champagne in anticipation that it could use me how ever it likes. To make me it’s bitch. Well, news flash, life doesn’t know that a shit storm is coming. Once I wake up, all those generals congratulating one another cannot stop me! Once I wake up, not even the greatest generals in history can do shit! Alexander, Napoleon, Custer, Patton, Zhukov, Peng Dehuai are just little pieces of soondae (Korean blood sausage) that I can just simply eat with no effort and no hardship. Once I wake up, life is gonna get it up the ass, no reach around, nothing. BUT till that day, I’m perfectly content to keep on sleeping until either my parents kick me out or I need money.” “Gulp” I say. “Yep, gulp indeed” replies DaWoon as she sips some water with a sanguine and relaxed expression on her face.
The heat from DaWoon’s analogy just evaporated all the miso soup in our bowls. “WTF?! What happened to my soup?!” yelps Tony. “Sorry maaang, no soup for you” responds DaWoon. The subject of Korean military service comes up in our conversation as Tony has to fulfill his two-year service in a month or so. The once chipmunk face of a friend I occasionally saw on campus is now a lean, fit, tanned living ‘statue of David’ with a killer’s eye. Which eye? I don’t know but this guy is a fuckin’ tiger! Tony the fuckin’ Tiger.
As we wait for an elevator that seems to never arrive, we start to behave like old Korean folks and talk about politics (minus the old clothing, greying hair, and lack of alcohol). ” Yea, my family doesn’t like Lee Myung Bak” (current South Korean president) says DaWoon. Interested at that statement, I jokingly asked if she was a communist. After all, just because you don’t agree with Lee Myung Bak’s policies doesn’t mean you are a communist. I was in the mood to push some buttons.
Now pay attention dear readers, you all remember when I mentioned about Wolverine and shit storms? Well here is a little sample, a taste, a lick of DaWoon’s inner Wolverine/shit storm. “What did you just call me motherfucker?” says DaWoon. “A communist? My family members are staunch conservatives! Where I live is a hotbed of conservatism. So hot that if you step on my province’s soil, your shoes will melt and your feet will be branded: CONSERVATIVE. It’s so hot that you will surely remember how hot it was until you are in your grave, where no more hot stuff can reach you! We are the uterus, the cradle, a fuckin’ Mesopotamia of conservatism. Listen dongsang (little brother) and listen good. Read my lips- ” I manage to open my mouth and say, “But I-” but DaWoon just puts a finger on right in front of my lips and whispers like a Thespian in a particularly juicy role, “Read my lips: ‘I ain’t a fuckin’ commie’.” A staring match ensues and of course, DaWoon… is the winner. ‘Did Tony the Tiger just transfer some of his killer eye energy to DaWoon? Because I saw it in her eye. Specifically the right one‘ I thought. That shit storm smells pretty bad, huh?
We decide to go to a noraebang (literal translation: ‘music room’ but it’s place to do karaoke). It just so happens that it was my first time to go to one in Korea. We go to a really nice place that is a couple of stories high. “Try to go to the nice ones dongsang“, says DaWoon. I ask why. “Because the ones in the small rooms or in the basement smell like ass, it’s dark and gross” growls Tony. Now dear readers, it’s important to know that Tony is not only a tiger, but also a singer. A tenor to be exact. He is also in one of our school’s many a capella groups. Tony has the edge on all of us and DaWoon and I know it. We expect great things from this man. To add more spice to this mix, I so happen to mention that I too was also in an a capella group in high school as a baritone. With such elevated expectations, Tony and I shiver as the nervous sweat pouring down our faces freeze up from the A/C. Next thing you know, popsicles would be forming on our faces. However, in a quick, decisive stroke, DaWoon just picks up the mic and starts singing! Uuuuh what theeee…. Like a canary, DaWoon hits practically all the notes to her song and sings with such enthusiasm and life that Tony and I are stunned! Absolutely stunned. Who was this angel in our midst? What kind of person who doesn’t mention about any singing skills, sings will such intensity and excitement? No thought of messing up. No concerns of what other people think. At that moment, I knew that no one here will be judged, there will be no stupid urges for competition, no one needs to be scared. Just have fun and enjoy. At last, the gods stopped quarreling and the world was quiet.
As Tony the fuckin’ Tiger got going with his ferocious vocal skills, I got prepared to sing one of my favorites, Unchained Melody. Those who have lived with me in the Italian House know how many renditions I’ve sung in the shower. Now it was time to put me to the test. Sing it on the spot, Phil. No warm up, no 30 second listening. ‘Don’t think, just do it’ I say to myself. As my confidence grew, I was able to concentrate on the style of singing rather than being concerned about hitting the notes. I tried to imitate the Elvis variation and Tony and DaWoon seemed to notice. “Whoa, your voice just changed”, perks up DaWoon.
After singing until we were hoarse, the three of us headed to the subway station and got ice cream at Baskin n’ Robins (I don’t think I spelled that right…) where we got strange and exotic flavors in the ‘Single King’ size. Another “What theeee…” Single King??? We don’t have that in the U.S. But after looking at the size. I wish we did have that in the States. The perfect amount for someone who just wants a treat on his or her way home. The perfect amount for a king. We reminisce about the past, talk about people we knew on campus. Soon we went our separate ways after wishes of luck, fortune, and opportunities of grandeur.
“Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.” – Eugene Ionesco
(Disclaimer: I do not mean to offend anyone in his entry. Tony is not a feline character but an actual person. I don’t think DaWoon has ever watched X-Men: Origins. To readers who align themselves with the U.S. Republican Party, the South Korean conservative party has different values and thoughts than those in the U.S. so just remember that before you all get a hard on. Tony, good luck in the military. DaWoon, congrats on graduating.)