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The Kindness of Strangers – Jeju Island, South Korea

Captain and his son.

Captain and his son.

I’ve never been this hot in my life.  I did not know it was possible to live in heat like this.  But a few billion people do, so I must be a pansy.  It’s no fun to be a pansy.  I have learned that I will never settle anywhere with high humidity which is a great revelation because that eliminates at least half the planet from the running.

After a night of sweating I am summoned to breakfast.  We eat purple sticky rice with kimchee and all sorts of vegetable, anchovy, and seaweed accompaniments.  It is so nice to be included but it is quite uncomfortable for me not to be able to communicate with anyone.

I set out to try and find the Olle Trail.  After twenty minutes I find myself walking down the side of a highway, my blood curdling inside my body from the heat and I decide to give it up.  Back I go to the only safe spot I know, Coffee and Curry.  I wait outside until Captain and Laura arrive at 10 am.  They make me an iced coffee and tell me they have to go and will be back later.  I sit inside their empty, but air-conditioned, shop alone for an hour and a half.

When they return I talk with Captain and he tells me he’s a graphic designer.  Soon, his family arrives.  I meet his two sons. One son is going to the Korean army next week (a mandatory right of passage for Korean men that lasts two years).  I meet his mother.  He invites me to sit with them as they have a late breakfast and pours me a big glass of makgeolli which is a white, cloudy Korean alcoholic beverage made of fermented rice and wheat.  It tastes like beer at first and like white wine at the finish.  It’s early in the day but not one to quibble, I drink it happily.

I really have no interest in leaving the air conditioned confines of Coffee and Curry.  I realize there is the wonderful world of Jeju out there but the heat is making me angry.  I can’t handle it.  I hope that maybe Captain and Laura will adopt me and keep me in air-conditioned safety for the next five weeks.  Sorry Mom, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Captain says he’s going to the market and asks me if I want to go.  Yes!  We drive to the fish/meat market where flat pig faces lay under nylon netting and eels and squid swim half-heartedly in tanks.  Just give up now fish.  The end is near.

Captain’s son is with us and he tells me how much he wants to go to the United States.  This is a common theme.  I then notice that Captain’s glasses have no lenses in them.  Curious.

Back at the cafe, after I have overstayed my welcome by about eight hours, I leave Coffee and Curry and head back to my guesthouse, worried that I will be late for dinner.

When I arrive, there is another guest there and I know him!  He is one of the three young people that I met at Mr. Joe’s coffee shop several days ago!  His name is Yung Gi, he’s 24, and he speaks some English.  We chat and sweat and sweat some more.  Our host is not around.  At 8:30, still no sign of a host and so we decide to go out and get dinner.  And beer.

We find a tiny restaurant and are the only customers there.  Loretta Lynn is playing on the stereo. Yung Gi translates the menu for me.  He then teaches me about the Korean alphabet.  He shares his dreams about traveling.  He believes that Korean people make the peace sign or victory sign in photographs to announce their victory over Japan. But he’s not sure of that.  He teaches me about Korean customs and how one must hold their right hand over their stomach when pouring the beer for their elders.  That meant me.  He was great company.  I had the shaved ice dish (Patbingsu) that is popular here.  Each restaurant makes their own version.  This one had ice cream, candied fruit, a cookie, cornflakes and some nuts.

We return to the guesthouse, dodging gigantic cockroaches scurrying across the road and spiderwebs that could catch a Boeing 747.

When we get back, Mrs. Joe is there and she insists that I move guesthouses to stay with the women.  Kind of a hassle but I comply.  And I spend the night in a room with four children and two mothers.  As I lay on the bed sweating like a Chow Chow in a Texas summer, I wonder where I’ll go tomorrow.  And give thanks for my friends today.

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