The guy beside me was Korean was tall, thin and had a professional look to him — oxford shoes with tailored clothing. He asked if I wanted one of his pieces of kimbap and said sure — courtesy.
Kwan is an exchange student at Seoul National University Hospital from the University of Manchester. He is a 23-year-old medical student who was born in Korea but moved away when he was 10 years old and has come back for three months. The work is easy but the free time isn’t, he says.
He was cute in a lot of ways. Yes, I found him attractive but nothing would have come from it. My relationship with my love is too strong, but I was intrigued and curious.
Kwan wasn’t Korean because he didn’t have the connections to the country and the ways to meet friends through different groups like school or family. He’s fluent in Korean but being away from the culture and how the social systems run can be hard. It’s a reason why I left — even if I learned the language, I’d never been fully part of the culture.
I asked him if he wanted to do something strange and go out to a baseball game. He agreed. There would be 8 of us and mostly westerners. Again he agreed. Anywhere else; this would be weird, but here it makes sense. There was some suspicion he would cancel — but he didn’t.
We waited at the Jamsil baseball stadium ( 잠실 야구장), and Kwan came to his first baseball game. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. There was the dancing, singing, cute dancing girls. The game went extra innings. It was epic as we moved into the cheering section. Everyone in our group was talking to each other, and the whole experience felt like we had been together forever. Korea does that.
The type of work where there are so few days off. The work style of being overworked and not having enough free time sometimes forces people together. The relationships are intense, but they are great.
We sent messages back and forth after the game, and I couldn’t think. It’s been a long time since having this kind of friendship. Maybe the last time was back in Korea.
We all met up the next day. I was to have met up with old friends but secretly hoped they’d cancel. They did, and we met near Namsan in the center of Seoul.
We hiked the mountain and continued to talk, share and learn about each other. He loves running. My friends were pointing out different running trails and tracks as we continued to climb the mountain. It was one of the most beautiful days in Seoul with blue skies and white clouds after many days of pollution. It was also beautiful because of the people I was with.
We were down to four people when we went to dinner near Gyeongbokgung ( 경복궁). The others had plans already and some needed to fly the next day. It felt like a double date.
He was a nerd. If he hadn’t met me, he would have come home to his goshiwan 고시원 (A tiny apartment) and would have read and studied. It’s what he’s been doing since arriving two weeks ago. He runs, plays the piano & cello, sings and is sociable. I asked about dates and mentioned he had a girlfriend but didn’t work since she got in the way of his work. It’s where his passion lies and has a strong desire to make his mark to do something that he’ll never be forgotten.
When we were walking to his home, he talked about the family is middle class, no worries over housing or food, but gently pushes. When he was 16 years old, he did really poorly on exams and school work. His family was disappointed, and he worked hard to gain back his family’s respect. The work makes him lonely but dedicated.
We were standing in front of his place awkwardly looking at each other. He kept saying “I can’t believe I just met you yesterday.” It was incredible as we hugged again then separated. I walked down and caught a taxi home. I may never see him again bu twill always remember the time together.