There was no way I could call the girl I had met over the weekend without asking my Korean co-teacher, Hye Jeong, for help. And because Hye Jeong is extremely inquisitive, I had to explain the entire situation to her.
“You see Hye Jeong,” I said, “when the girl put her number into my phone, she wrote her name in Korean. I have no idea what it says. So I need you to tell me what this girl’s name is.”
“You don’t remember her name?” Hye Jeong asked. I responded by making a drinking motion with my hand. “Oh,” she said, “you were very drunk.” I nodded. Thankfully, Hye Jeong didn’t have any more questions. She looked at the name entered into my phone.
“Her name is So-Mi,” she said. Then, because she’s nosey, Hye Jeong added, “You will tell me tomorrow if you have date.”
Calling a girl for the first time is always nerve-wracking. It’s even worse, though, when the girl is Korean and doesn’t speak much English. Normally, I would ask a girl out in a roundabout sort of way, making small talk and stalling, poking around the question until I had a fair idea of what the girl’s answer would likely be. But with a language barrier, there’s none of that. There’s no banter, no warm-up jokes to build character. There’s just the question, plain and simple.
I called So-Mi around eight at night, not expecting the conversation to turn out at all like it did.
“Hello?” she said, after about 10 seconds of silence.
“Hi, So-Mi. This is Bill. We met at Who’s Bar Saturday night.”
“Oh! So sleepy!”
“Sleepy? Okay. Do you want me to call back some other time?”
“No no. Oh, headache! So sleepy!”
“Really, I could call back later.”
“It’s okay. I’m sorry.”
“Okay, I’ll make it quick then. What are you doing Thursday?”
“Thursday very busy. No no. Very busy.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. Can I see you next week?”
“Next week very busy. We will go out next year.”
“I’m sorry? Next year? What do you mean?”
“Next year. We will go out 2011.”
“That’s four months away, So-Mi. How about Saturday?”
“Very very busy! We will go out January, 2011.”
“You’re not free anytime before that?”
“Headache! I call you then. Next year. Bye bye.”
With that, we hung up. It wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for. Looking on the bright side, though, I did have a date.
As it would turn out, So-Mi didn’t call me in 2011, but in November instead. “It’s party night,” she said, and we agreed to meet each other out at the same bar where we’d met the first time. It had been a long time, and I was worried that I wouldn’t recognize her (especially since I didn’t really remember what she looked like to begin with). Luckily, though, when I arrived at Who’s Bar, So-Mi was the only one there.
“Hey, So-Mi!” I said, although my facial expression surely wasn’t as enthusiastic. She was quite chubby, with enormous glasses and a gigantic green knit hat on her head. “It’s pretty warm in here,” I told her. “Don’t you think you can take the hat off?”
“Oh no,” she said. “It is my style. It is like college student.”
So-Mi didn’t go to college, but instead worked at Home Plus, which is kind of like the Korean equivalent of Target. She wanted to go to a university, though, to study cooking. We got drinks, and she slammed hers down before I’d taken two sips of mine. With her hands free, she began eating the rectangular squares of dried seaweed that the bar had set out.
“Boy,” I commented, watching her shove fistfuls of seaweed into her face, “you really like that seaweed.”
“I am very funny,” So-Mi said, smiling. Then she began taking little bits of the seaweed and sticking them to her face. “Ha ha ha! So funny!”
She put spit on her cheeks and stuck more bits of seaweed on. “Yeah,” I said, “that’s really hilarious.”
After we’d removed the seaweed off of her, we tried to have a conversation but it just wasn’t going very well. So-Mi put her head down on the bar after every sentence. “Oh, headache! So drunk!”
In horror, I realized that a friend of mine had come to the bar to watch the football match. I slipped away from So-Mi, who was alternatively putting her head down on the bar and whacking back more seaweed, and went over to my friend. I hesitantly admitted that, yes, I was with the girl at the bar and, yes, I would eventually have to go back to her.
But when I turned my attention back to the bar, So-Mi had somehow vanished. She was gone without a trace. That wasn’t really a bad thing, so I sat with my friend and drank. Two hours later, So-Mi suddenly re-appeared.
“Where did you go?” I asked.
“Hi! It’s party night!” She had no explanation whatsoever for where she had been, nor did she seem aware at all that she hadn’t been at Who’s Bar.
It probably goes without saying that she and I never had a second date. When people ask me about Korean girls, I usually end up telling them about my date with So-Mi the Seaweed Girl. It may be mean. Unfair to the poor thing. But I imagine that somewhere So-Mi is sitting with a group of Koreans, and perhaps they’ll ask her if she’s ever had a date with a white guy. And maybe she’ll shake her head in disapproval and tell them about the lousy guy she went out with once, who didn’t laugh at her humor, and who didn’t act in any way that made the slighest bit of sense.