August 16, Fresh Air

I drove to meet some friends for archery, all the while wanting to turn around to crawl back into bed and bemoan my stupidity at eating the fried chicken for lunch that gave me tummy troubles the night prior.

“You know this will make you feel better. Meeting people when you’re in a funk always makes you feel better. Just go.”

I did have to use my emergency Starbucks napkins in the dingy archery range toilet paper-less bathroom while I waited for the two public transit users to arrive.

It was… good. As my rational brain promised.

The older archery lady asked me to translate her instructions to the other two which I did gleefully, although incompletely. She let us shoot an additional ten arrows for free, partly as a complimentary service and partly because I got confused with numbers and she took pity on me.

As with surfing, I felt the rising tide of my perfectionism take over, but I allowed myself to recognize that it’s useful. I enjoy getting better. My arrows got closer and closer to the center and I preened whenever the archery mistress looked over between setting up new couples. She traded my lady bow for a big man bow and I felt that I could actually shoot someone mortally with it. Such power!

My gym routine has progressed to actual pullups and pushups so my left arm (surprisingly the holding arm is much more strained than the pulling arm) was sore but not useless after 50 shots. It felt nice to be good at something, and to be mildly useful for my limited language skills.

The three of us then trekked from the archery range to Starbucks, after the mistress of arrows gave us lollipops and a coupon for five free arrows next time, plus a punch card. Much like the arcade near PNU, I’ve found another spot to relieve stress.

One of the friends told us happily that she’s leaving Korea in November to pursue higher education in airplane electronic panel installation. It made me want to go to grad school. For what? Ha, I don’t know.

We parted ways, my stomach still in tatters from questionable fried chicken, and I vowed once again to catch the sunset. En route, a sign pointed to the “Marine Filming Site”. I had been meaning to take a peek ever since I saw its marker on the local map and decided to kill time before sunset wandering the grounds.

Here at the park, dozens of dramas I’ve never seen have been filmed. Mr. Sunshine, Hwarang, and more. The architecture didn’t seem to belong to one particular era which boggled me a bit after spending two days in a city modeled after distinct Joseon era housing.

It was almost like a bible camp experience. Few areas were roped off and I could go in and out of these building constructed specifically for filming. I imagined a chase scene here, a betrayal there, a reckoning in the town square. The most interesting building looked a lot like the smithery from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. There was a towering clay chimney in the middle surrounded by giant wooden wheels and fire pits. What was filmed here? It must have been terrifying.

The mood was briefly punctuated by a group on a speed boat zipping through the bay blasting pop music.

One pair of friends seemed mildly surprised that a foreigner had rolled up; I hoped they hadn’t witnessed my atrocious attempt at parking in the most horrifically laid out parking lot down the road. Other than that, I was free to take pictures without gawking and sent out thanks again that the people of Gyeongnam had more manners than those in Seoul, who always felt the need to urgently point out to their friends that I was a foreigner. Um, I can hear you and yes, I also know that I am? Why are you so shocked in the capital city where you can see foreigners every day?

So odd. I never figured that out. Very rarely have I ever felt like a sore thumb in more rural areas, which is ironic. Maybe manners are at play, or non-Seoul folk just don’t have time to worry about that when they could be at the beach.

After I satisfied my fill of photos, I continued the drive through Masan to a highly rated cafe. My compact car screeched in defiance as I pushed her up a 45 degree hill to get to the parking lot.

We were not disappointed.

I almost thought the cafe was deserted until I pulled the glass doors open. Two large men stood shoulder to shoulder behind the wooden counter, nearly too big to make espressos without knocking elbows. They looked like bouncers and should I spill a drink, they could pick me up by the back of my shirt and easily toss me out.

The two stood there at full attention while I perused the menu, pretending like I wasn’t going to order what I always order. I thought back to the name of the cafe which means “Cafe Chubby” and wondered if the men named it themselves. They happily took my order while I looked out the glass walls and decided where on the balcony to sit. A couple slouched in one of the many bean bag chairs took me by surprise. Were they sleeping?

I carried my order out to the lawn, in the opposite corner of the couple, and snapped a dozen pictures. A family soon rolled up with two young boys, the youngest about three and so much like S’s son that I wanted to text her immediately.

The youngest was a true comedian. He came up to my pair of beanbags and drummed out a beat. I told the mom I didn’t mind to which she immediately said, “your Korean is good” and as this social contract dictates, I replied, “no, I’m really not.”

I looked at him and said hello in Korean. He mumbled, “hellmdmdlfafd” and his dad and I laughed.

Later, he danced to the beat of a rowdy group blasting music on a boat, unbelievably it was the same boat from the movie bay, now in the ocean far below. He also mimicked an elaborate greeting and bow to his parents, reminiscent of the Bare Bears clip, and I turned away so the parents wouldn’t misunderstand my laughter.

I waited eagerly for the sunset but had to block the setting rays until suddenly there was a rustling at my side.

“If it’s too bright, you can use this,” said the slighter of the two linebacker baristas. He produced an umbrella and a sun hat to which I squealed in delight.

Don’t mind if I do!

I was the only one to receive the offer, though I was also the only one conspicuously squinting into the sun.

Earlier in the day over iced tea, one of the friends had mentioned her cousin’s “pretty privilege”, which seems by her definition less about appearance and more about aura.

“Everywhere she goes, she gets free stuff. It’s always been like that. She even got Broadway tickets for $5 from a random guy on the street. She’s in Italy now and my other cousins are saying how even there she’s being showered with random gifts.” The cousin has a certain presence that commands, my friend mentioned, and calmly added that those sorts of things never happen to her. She didn’t seem envious, just quietly amazed.

“She asked me once in college to go to Vegas with her that day and fly back immediately. Of course I said no. Why would I only want to go to the airport? But she gets hyped about the thrill of it”. I wondered at the cousin’s bank account and thought it’s probably good she does get random free gifts.

So I sat on the fake grass deck taking selfies in my borrowed hat and marveled that maybe I, too, have some of this magic. I did get us extra free arrows at the archery range. And last month the male barista at the local cafe offered me free refills on coffee which is not at all Korean custom… Old people also give me candy or share their drinks with me on the hiking trail.

Can I maybe count myself among this special population with a presence that invites random acts of generosity? I like to believe just a little bit. All of these recent events have happened with my mask firmly in place so maybe my aura advertises my meager bank account and people take pity.

The male half of the couple canoodling in the far corner seemed suspicious of my thoughts, however, and kept looking at me like the Fry meme.

Create comics meme "futurama fry , philip j fry , fry me, or " - Comics -  Meme-arsenal.com

Surely he had heard all the comments about my Korean and couldn’t quite believe that a foreigner had made it to this faraway cafe. Take a picture, bro, it’ll last longer!

Despite my best efforts, sunset was missed once again. How? I was facing due east! Surely science must know!

For the rest of the year, the direction of sunset pivots about this westerly point, moving northerly in winter, and towards the south in summer. (In the northern hemisphere, the sunset tends more northerly in summer and more southerly in winter.)

Monash University

Well, that explains it! I’ll have to wait to the equinox to see the exact sunset I want; here in Gyeongnam province, mountains block my view so I have to plan far in advance what point I’ll go to in order to see the biggest chunk of the setting sun.

I rolled down my windows to hear the sounds of summer and drove carefully through winding mountain roads, praying the yellow light on my gas tank could hold out just a little longer. My little coffee bean of a car and I managed to roll into a station on fumes where two young men were carefully navigating a popsicle blue Mercedes into a clear-boxed moving truck. If you have to be towed, do it in style.

The little magical moments of the day had not ended; I decided to finally test out the validated parking for the gym but as easily as I pulled in for parking, the metal gate at the gym refused to let me pass, no matter how many times I scanned my fingerprint.

One older man, another regular and also someone I consider my gym buddy (he doesn’t know that) took pity on me and leaned over the child-proof fence to assist. He instructed me to enter my birth year but the password was six digits long. A tall willowy guy appeared behind me and the man passed me off in relief; the kid broke out amazing English and I wondered where in the world he’d learned. It’s not like Jinhae is a particularly international city. Maybe he’s a highly tutored high schooler, or a new navy recruit.

When I finally pushed my way through, I made sure to signal thanks to my gym buddy. It’s always the older people at the gym who have saved me from myself.

I’m back at the office today but feel like my head has been slightly righted. Whether by the fresh air, the kind helpers, the adventure of driving on near empty, the experience of shooting arrows and imagining myself to be riding a horse into battle, I can’t say.

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