One Week in the Life of an Expat, Detailed in Trips to the Corner Store
Sunday Night: It’s around six and I badly need to use the bathroom. I’ve been out of toilet paper for two days. That’s a slight inconvenience in having a girlfriend – toilet paper gets used up at a much more rapid pace. I head down to the 7-11 on the corner. There’s no point in delaying the trip any longer. It’s not like these things just go away. As I enter the 7-11, I’m surprised to see that the girl behind the counter is young and very attractive. Suddenly I feel embarrassed. All I have to get is toilet paper; I begin looking around the store for other things to buy. Maybe the toilet paper will seem like an afterthought, like I really came in to get a cheap sandwich and some cough drops and decided to buy a roll of tp just for good measure. A few minutes pass and I can’t go through with it. The mission is called off. There’s no way I can force myself to set down toilet paper in front of this girl. What would she think of me? I’d be a repulsive animal, that’s what. I turn my face away and leave. There’s another 7-11 down the street, and I’ll go to that one.
Tuesday Afternoon: In half an hour, my second class of the day will begin. Little kids. Then I’ll have three more classes in a row after that. I’m in a good mood. The sun is out and I went to the gym earlier. I rush out of work and head to the GS 25. My boss gives me a funny look as I sprint out of there, still on the clock, but it doesn’t matter. The lady behind the counter is a familiar face. She always smiles when I come in and seems pleased when I say ‘thank you’ in Korean. I grab two bags of ABC Chocolate, some fruit candy and some grape hard candy. The woman smiles at me again. She must know that I work at the school down the street, and she must figure that the candy is for my kids. Based on this limited impression, she must think I’m a very nice guy. I take all the candy, say my Korean ‘thank you,’ and leave. The whole trip takes four minutes, costs 11 dollars, and will later inspire the kids to think, if only for one class, that I’m a pretty decent teacher.
Friday Night: The week has been long and I’m exhausted. I go to the 7-11. The cute girl from earlier in the week is behind the counter again. I walk to the freezer section and grab two big jugs of beer. I can sense someone standing behind me. He’s too close – creeping into my personal space – and I am irritated. I look at him. He’s old and Korean, his face is red and he smells like cigarettes. I go to the counter to buy my beer, and seconds later he’s right behind me with a few bottles of soju in his hands. I pay and leave. It takes a few minutes to walk to my apartment, and maybe another minute to wait for the elevator. I step inside, but before the elevator doors close, the man from the store steps inside. I’m going to the 6th floor and he’s going to the 5th. The doors shut and he turns to me. ”We were in the store together,” he says in perfect English. He doesn’t even have a hint of a Korean accent. ”Yeah,” I say. The elevator reaches the 5th floor. I can smell the liquor on his breath. ”We’ll see each other again,” he says, getting off. ”We’re both drinkers.”
Saturday Morning: It’s eleven when I wake up. I go down to the Mini Stop to get some Gatorade and some microwavable rice. I recognize the man behind the counter. Way back at Christmas time, he was the guy who got my presents. My sister mailed me a Christmas package, using the address to my school since I didn’t know the one to my apartment. I came into school two days before Christmas and my boss, Leah, told me that the postman had left a note. ”There was package for you,” she said. ”No one was here, so postman left it at a corner store.” She didn’t know which corner store it was. At nine at night, I got off of work and went to at least half a dozen, searching. I tried my best to communicate what I was looking for. ”Packagee,” I would say, trying to use Konglish. ”Christmas presents.” The night was cold and it was snowing. I’d already been rejected by the man at the Mini Stop but I went in and tried again. This time, I saw the box behind the counter. He laughed when he handed it to me. I went back to my apartment and opened it. My sister had sent blankets and five rolls of stick deodorant. There was a letter, too, saying that she looked on the Internet and wanted to send things that were hard to find in Korea. The man at the Mini Stop rings me up and I think back to the holidays. I take the bag with the Gatorade and rice from him just like I had taken my Christmas presents and, just like back then, I leave thinking about people back home.