Last night I headed over to Tongil to visit Master and his family. I’m lucky I managed to escape alone, since Mother is afraid I’ll get lost on the subway, I won’t know where it is, and I’ll get so drunk I’ll blow all my money on a taxi coming home.
In fact, Mother told me over lunch that she wants to meet Master. I froze. “I am worried.”
“Why?” she asked.
“He knows all of my secrets,” I said. Like the fact that we don’t want to have kids.
“You have secrets? What secrets?”
But I had promised she could meet him next time. This time, I want to be alone. And she had finally relented, after I’d pointed out, on a subway map, where I would go and how.
Finally, a 70-minute ride across town, I walked out of the subway station and immediately felt at ease. Gwangmyeong is dirty, busy, and loud. I love it.
I headed up to the studio, stopping at the fruit stand I used to shop at to get a watermelon (~$12). It was a small class (because of the summer time) with four students and Sabeomnim the Man. Sabeomnim the Man immediately greeted me and we clapped each other on the backs. Then I heard a deep voice, “Amanda!” and then I heard screaming, “Amanda, Amanda, Amanda!”
I turned and saw the deeper voice was a student I haven’t seen in three years. I gasped. “You are so tall!” Then I felt hands on my legs and realized the screamers were Master’s kids. “I have gifts,” I said. I was surprised his kids remembered me so easily. Last time I saw them they were shy at first and then warmed up to me. This time they knew who I was right away. It warmed my heart.
I was a little early, and Master was busy prepping for an MT (small trip) that starts today, so I waited in the studio with the kids. They were just as I remembered, but taller. Daughter immediately got me some water. Son immediately took my camera. Then they fought over who should get the camera, and showed off a cup full of…something.
Daughter and the Fish (?)
I looked around the studio, which has been greatly remodeled. On my last trip here, Master was worried because a new studio had opened up down the street. I had noticed it was still there, but the remodeling made me think it hadn’t affected Master’s bottom line.
Soon enough, Master was ready. We headed to his home and the kids tore into their gifts. Before I left America, I went out with my coworker who took the belly dancing classes with me. She’s a kindy teacher, and Master’s kids are seven and turning-six this year. Since she teaches kids who are five and six, I thought she’d be good to go shopping with, and she was.
We went to a local toy store, which is always far more interesting than a chain toy store. We picked out two hand puppets (a T Rex and a crocodile), and stacking game that requires no English, and some eggs that hatch into toys after being in water for two or three days.
Daughter immediately started trying to smash the egg open. “No, no, I said, we need water.” We put them in the water and I showed her how to play the stacking game. You have wooden hedgehogs (or maybe porcupines) that you stack them up as high as you can.
“Daughter, how do you say this in Korean?” I said, pointing to the animal.
She nodded her head. “고슴도치. 고. 슴. 도. 치.”
I held out my hand and she wrote the characters out for me. I repeated after her, “고슴도치.”
Playing the Hedgehog Game
We went to the restaurant we’ve been to several times before, for dalk kalbi. In fact, this is where we had our last dinner together before I left for America, and it’s where we had our first dinner together when Good Man and I visited last time. I love this restaurant, and when asked where I want to eat, I immediately mentioned it. I paused and said, “After, I want ice cream. ‘My Mother is an Alien.'” Master laughs and I continue, “And I want soju. Mother told me not to drink, but when you meet Master, you have to drink!”
Master nodded. “OK!”
We walked into the restaurant. It was very busy, but when the owners saw me, they greeted me excitedly and asked where my husband was. Master explained that I was traveling alone and we settled down and started chatting about this and that.
When people in America found out I was going to Korea alone for five weeks, and was going to live with my mother-in-law at that, they’d say, “Oh! Well. That will be an adventure!” But the looks on their faces said something else, usually, “Hmm, I wonder if they’re having marital problems.”
At one point during dinner, Master’s Wife told me it is strange that I’m traveling alone without my husband. As a married woman, it is very weird. She is not being mean or rude, she’s simply telling me what other people are thinking, but won’t say.
I nodded in agreement and explained why I came alone. When I got to the part about wanting to get to know Mother, she said it’s a good reason afterall. I finished by pointing out, “I’m not going to meet another man. I’m sleeping at my mother-in-law’s house!”
Shortly thereafter, the server called out, “Whaa! I remember when Amanda first came here! She didn’t know a lot of Korean and now all of you are just speaking in Korean the whole time! Wow!”
Every (obvious) foreigner who chokes out a few syllables of Korean speaks Korean “well.” But to hear that improvement has been seen by someone who’s seen me sporadically, several times over the years, well that felt good, I admit.
I asked Master how the kids knew who I was. He said they remember me. I asked how. “It’s been a long time.”
“Amanda, you are the only foreigner I know,” he replied.
I looked at the kids. Daughter had found a comic book and was devouring it isntead of her food. Son was playing with the puppets. He had sparred with the T Rex so much, its head was already loose. Master took the puppet and looked at the tag. “Made in China.”
“I know. In America, everything is made in China.”
Sabumnim the Man, and Master with the T Rex