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.



16 thoughts on “One Week in the Life of an Expat, Detailed in Trips to the Corner Store

  1. Wow… what kinda paradise has young attractive girls working at 7-11? All we’ve got here are middle-aged women and nerdy teenage guys.

    And are blankets actually hard to come by in Korea?

    • I know man! I’m ashamed to go into that place! She’s got to be like the owner’s daughter or something. It’s cool as long as I stock up on TP from the other place with the middle-aged lady.

      Blankets aren’t hard to come buy, but they’re typically, um, like either comforters or really thin. So what my sister sent was more like a nice warm blanket to curl up with. Stick deodorant, on the other hand, is nearly impossible to find.

      Keep on keeping on, Drew!

    • Thanks 1 Point! I’m glad you related to the TP bit, because I felt rather neurotic when it happened. The original concept of this was supposed to be a 250 word piece of minimalism…but apparently I can’t keep any post from ballooning to like 900 words. It’s a curse. Anyways, always appreciate the comments, brother!

      • I disagree. I’ve actually looked at your posts and thought, “He has the right idea here…short and snappy.” I think you have a good balance. But anyways, I guess the idea is that it can be tough to keep it short. Could you imagine if someone like, I dunno, Henry James tried to write a blog? Every entry would be like 20 pages. Not that we’re worth comparing to Henry James, haha.

        Peace, 1 Point!

    • Well, ladies need the tp every time they visit the restroom. It’s understandable. Not wasteful. Keep up the good tp use.

      They don’t use deodorant. One can buy spray deodorant, but even that’s hard to find (you have to go to HomePlus…not available at corner stores or pharmacies). That said, the spray smells quite nice. It’s the closet I’ve come to wearing cologne in 10 years.

  2. Hi topicless!
    The toilet paper story was so funny, at least for me. I didn’t know that men also have that point of view. Once I had that same experience. It was in highschool and I had my period then. I had to buy napkin at a nearby sarisari store. (That’s the thing in the Philippines. There are sari-sari stores at almost every corner of every block of where you live.) Then I saw a guy my age looking after the store. He’s the son of the owner. I chickened out and went home and asked my brother to buy for me instead. Then after a few minutes came my brother with the napkin. But what surprised me is when he said, “Ate, he’s asking how much you bought the same napkin last month because he lost track of the price.” At that time, I was so red faced thinking he remembered the last time I bought napkin from him. It’s just so funny now that I am retelling the story. Haha…

    It’s just so sweet of you to remember buying candies for the kids/students. I wished you were my teacher. And I wonder if I would do get a candy from you. Haha… Is that supposed to be a prize or a bribe? lol 😛

    And regarding your last story, once you receive something from family when you are away from home makes you homesick. At least, that’s how I felt when I worked abroad. One time, my sister took a trip to visit me and brought everything, every food I was craving for and every single thing which I can’t find in SG. As I was opening her luggage, her check-in was mostly things/food for me and she just brought a few clothes all packed in her hand carry. It was just so sweet of her that when she went home, I was eating chicharon (one of the food she brought for me) and I was crying until I finished it all up. I just can’t imagine how I looked like right then. 🙂

  3. Haha – nice Jepiner! Love the napkin story – hey, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Guys don’t care about those things and generally encourage women to keep getting their periods. And the story about your sister was really cute. Adorable picturing you crying your eyes out, while pigging out on pork rinds. : )

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