The steam from the sake swiftly swathes through the air. Seoul is alive with the sound of cars eagerly maneuvering through its tight backstreets. The night sky is lite from the vivid street signs that attract night walkers into restaurants and bars like moths to the sun. Sitting beneath the neon glow of a Korean street sign creates a ballet of colors in my sake that imitates the Aurora Borealis. Mr. Im and Ms. Kim are sitting on either side of me as I enjoy my first meal in Seoul. It is late and they enjoy a small drink with me while I shovel my chopsticks into the yakisobanoodles in front of me.
Boarding the flight to Tokyo plummets my senses in to a state of regression from my past experiences in Asia. As I take my seat on Flight 092 from JFK to Narita, Tokyo, I look around briskly and notice that I am the only non-Asian in visible sight. I suddenly sneeze. Silence. I’m reminded that the instinctive chime of “God bless you” doesn’t ring out on this side of the world.
There maybe no proper way to acknowledge someone sneezing in Asia, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a manner of faith. Within my immediate area I have counted at least four churches with large spires that scream into the sky besides towering modern apartment complexes. Over 90 percent of Seoul’s citizens are Christian, are not strangers to Western utensils and the latest European fashion.
My burp is warm and dry from the sake. The bellowing noise from my throat would be distinct if not for the slurping sounds of noodles from the local patrons. Nevertheless it does not draw any stares and Mr. Im watches on as I finish my meal promptly.
I was contacted by an advisor from my school where I will be teaching a range of English related courses over the next several months and told that a man named Im Hong Bin would receive me at Incheon International Airport. Upon arrival, with my luggage cart in motion, Mr. Im greets me with a simple smile while a tiny lady appears at the base of him extending her hand upwards towards my droopy travel-worn face. Ms. Kim is Mr. Im’s translator and as I will find out later, the Assistant Principle to the new facility that is being built in Gangnam, Seoul where I will be working. Ms. Kim has spent the past 14 years in New Jersey of all places and speaks with a precise American accent. Mr. Im speaks only in Korean and I quickly realize that his English is less than superior causing me to wonder why his presence is required at all.
Ms. Kim traps me in a much welcomed conversation as Mr. Im disappears into the distance outside the arrival terminal. Ms. Kim’s tan dress pants and light blue blouse are appropriate for the warm summer night breeze. Mr. Im pulls up right in front of us and quickly jumps out of his black Sonata immediately popping the trunk and lurching my two 50 pound suitcases into the boot. Ms. Kim looks on while I offer assistance to the pale man that is nearly suffocating is his heavily bound black neck tie. After quickly organizing my baggage Mr. Im jumps into the drivers seat again and I sit directly behind Ms. Kim who enters on the front passenger side. I’m starting to get the idea why Mr. Im has come along. Mr. Im starts the car and the center dashboard glows with life as the built-in GPS navigation map starts up and we take to the road.
“If you have alcohol do you think that you will sleep better,” asks Ms. Kim. I reply with a concerning grin.
I down the last bit of the sake and step outside with my two Korean companions. There are absolutely no non-Asian people in sight and I haven’t seen any since I spotted a Russian family on line in immigration. If I wasn’t being catered to so attentively this would all feel very overwhelming and lonely. However after Ms. Kim picks up the tab from my late night diner and drink my two escorts return me to my new abode and bid me farewell.
And as it turns out Ms. Kim guessed right. I close my half-drunken eyes and fall asleep quickly to the calm sounds of the summer breeze stirring the Seoul night.