July 4

Today was a busy day from start to finish that involved crossing off a bucket list item and squandering an opportunity to cross off a bucket list item. It was a wonderful 12 hours and 10 out of 10 would do again.

I had plans to meet with a friend for lunch and made my way to the gym in the morning. But at the train station, someone tapped me on the shoulder and a young man appeared. We started chatting in Korean and I punched him playfully in the shoulder and told him to slow down.

“How old are you?”

“I’m almost 30. How old are you?”

“I’m 23.”

An actual baby! Visions of noona romance flashed before my eyes until he asked for my number.

“I’m sorry but I can’t.”

“Why?”

There was no way to explain that the last Korean boy I gave my number to scared me so badly I had to change it, so I gave him tried and true “I have a boyfriend” with the twist “he’s a foreigner”.

“I don’t think you do,” he disagreed playfully but we parted ways at the platform which I’ll admit was a relief. What if he had tried to follow me?

He was likely harmless and I’m kicking myself for letting the ghost of Busan Boy ruin things for me.

Luckily the day was so far from over.

I met a friend and crossed off a bucket list item— light a prayer candle at the temple. She taught me how to bow properly and how many times and after wandering the grounds and gazing upon a huge Buddha, we ate jelly cake and traditional tea at the onsite tea house.

Through the window we even spotted some international guests doing a temple stay in their borrowed clothes. Both she and C have given me info on how to register for temple stays as an international guest. I plan to do it one day, hopefully when the weather is a bit less stifling.

I caught her up on the drama over 삼계탕 which is a whole chicken soup traditionally eaten in summer for health. There was also ginseng liquor because. Health!

We parted ways near Psy’s giant golden hands in Gangnam and as I didn’t feel like going home just yet after such a day, I aimed for Myeongdong and Namdaemun markets.

Myeongdong is a tourist trap but very clean and beautiful. Even with every makeup and clothing shop advertising a sale, there were still about a third of the people who were there when I went last summer. COVID-19 has done a number on everything.

I often wonder if I live in the same city.

Namdaemun was even more lackluster— I thought it was a night market but nearly every booth had been shut down and every food vendor was folding up shop. If this were my home country I’d worry about being out so late in an empty place but it’s Korea so instead I directed myself toward the secret alley parallel to the market where you can get roasted mackerel. Another friend had found this gem in her guidebook months ago and last time I ate mackerel stew.

The single surprisingly fit older man and four older ladies directed me towards a table in the small place, behind the couple but between the lone old man and family.

There were a few grilled fish options so I asked my attending lady which was best and ordered that (the menu was only five items but I like to be sure). This wasn’t the same restaurant as last time because there are at least ten serving the same dishes— I just went into one that was busy. Follow the crowd.

All for me!

I watched the little girl at the table in front of me with her dad and his friend (brother? husband?) eating fish at 9pm on a Saturday. She was the star of the table and they never excluded her from conversation. She said something clever and her dad, with one AirPod in his ear, leaned over to squeeze her face and kiss her on the cheek as she giggled.

And so I sat in this busy little restaurant, watching a girl being so well loved and taken care of, meticulously eating my grilled fish at closing time and thinking about how I got here.

I thought to myself, this is my life. And I’m so lucky.

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