Orange soju is smooth and potent and so I was hammered by 5:00. I was having beef barbecue with a Korean couple who invited me. We got to the place at 4:45.
The guy was in the bathroom and I told his wife I thought he was very nice, just to be saying something. She laughed cautiously and replied: no, he’s not.
Which was the read I’d gotten. He runs a sales division. Pharmaceuticals, I think. Corporate curbstomper, businessman in need of business English. He’d asked me to tutor him for $40 for an hour. That’s standard.
I said no but a smart man would have said yes. I said no to the money he was offering because money is a thing that I already have. Even a slight amount of money makes me drunk. I look at my four figures and see a golden parachute and think: no one could ever spend their way through all of this. Also, and no offense to you, good sir, but my money comes from drill-sergeanting small Koreans for eight hours and eight hours is far more than enough slow-talking for one day. A man sets boundaries. From 4:30 on my life is my own. They’d better be pressure-washing you out of the grill of a city bus if you want me to come see you after that. So: no, I can’t tutor you.
Then how about dinner with my wife and I, he asked, seeking a substitute victory.
Well sure. I need to get off my block more, see more. Because observations and insights are what I traffic in. After we killed the call I realized he’d won. Because dinner will be the same fucking thing as tutoring, because he’ll be practicing English. Only instead of earning $40 an hour I will be earning $0 an hour. Sales. Persuasion is what he traffics in.
The guy came back to the table. He had a calfskin belt of which Patrick Bateman would approve.
Why aren’t you married, he asked.
Because I’m ugly, I cracked. An easy joke to sling over the language gap.
He was working, this was business. He’d ask questions and I’d watch his mind pulling apart my answers as he analyzed my grammar and syntax. This is why they let you live in Asia, because they want what’s in your head. Intimate knowledge of this bastard tongue where every rule has seven exceptions. If they could decapitate you and download all your memories then they would. People keep coming up to you and you begin to feel like the Chosen One.
My turn. So, how long have you two been married.
And they knew each other for six beforehand. That’s standard. Being single past 30 is a felony here. Koreans just marry whoever they’re standing next to when the clock stops. And then they turn into this couple, two people who just sort of occupy the space next to each other. They don’t need to worry about running out of things to say someday because they already have. Seems kind of nice. You don’t suffer from the pressure of keeping the initial spark lit for fifty years. What a relief. I can’t imagine marrying a woman I actually care about. I mean, when my balls have sagged to my kneecaps I know I won’t be able to demand that she continue to love me like I’m still the young buck.
We drove back at 6:00. Five minutes from my villa and I didn’t know where I was. Korea will just put up a new city district in about five days. Pump concrete into the marshlands and stack something fifty stories tall on top of it. Gleaming CGI skylines just materialize. I was still riding a buzz and looking at the new bridges and canal with my mouth open.
They dropped me and said they wanted to meet again. The wife seems to think I’m interesting, in the same way the first alien to walk among us will be interesting. A man who turns down $40 an hour; who is this creature. I mean, I’ll be fine. I don’t have a good job lined up for the next half-century like you do but that’s a good thing, because if I did I’d probably kill myself. I’ll be fine, my life is good now and will continue to be that way if I can get a bit smarter.
I mean, unless I marry someone I actually care about, or unless you guys cut my head off.
Another Korean Snapshot piece is here.
And Fred’s other blog is here.