I spent my first full day in South Korea in March of 1997 getting acclimated to my surroundings. I met a teacher named Roger, and he showed me around my new home. The office building was split into two distinct halves. He lived in the nice half. It contained five bedrooms—two of which were very spacious. There was also a bathroom and a large shower area, not to mention a decent-sized kitchen.
Sadly, my half of the building was the ghetto. It contained eight bedrooms, but they were all tiny and windowless. Plus the ghetto had no kitchen or bathroom. I was afraid that I might be expected to defecate in a bucket.
Roger saw my disappointed expression. “If you need to shit, you are free to use our facilities. Furthermore, we all share the kitchen.”
“Well, that’s good to know.”
“I’ve been here the longest—just over a year.”
“Have you been enjoying the country?”
He shrugged. “It’s not too bad. But Korea isn’t for everybody. A couple of our teachers ran away recently.”
“Yeah, but one was an out-of-the-closet homosexual, and the other was an alcoholic.”
“Wow. So they just took off?”
“Yep. Koreans aren’t huge fans of the homosexual lifestyle. But drunkenness is actually celebrated in this nation…if you are into that sort of thing. In fact, you can get drunk off your ass every night, and nobody will even raise an eyebrow. It’s accepted behavior. However, I’ve never really liked alcohol. It just doesn’t agree with me.”
Those words were glad tidings. I used to be a heavy drinker back in my younger years.
It turns out that two guys named Michael were currently living in the office building. One was Mike the gay albino, and the other was Michael Freeman. Roger invited them both to breakfast.
Gay Mike accepted the offer, but Freeman shot Roger a dour look. “Are you taking them to the pancake place?”
Freeman said, “I hate that joint.”
Roger said, “Suit yourself.”
We passed the public restroom on the way to the elevator. The door was open, and it absolutely reeked. In fact, the entire corridor smelled like a giant wet fart.
Roger said, “It’s the kimchi. It makes their poop smell to high heaven.”
We went downstairs and caught a ride to our destination. Have you ever seen a group of clowns get into a tiny little car? Well, the bus we took was even more crowded than that. On the bright side, I was jammed right against a pretty little Korean woman who had an ass to die for. But, on the negative side, she stunk of garlic. In fact, the stench was so strong that my eyes began to water.
We arrived fifteen minutes later. The name of the eatery was Sacre Coeur. I believe it still exists to this day. It wasn’t my kind of place. Buffalo’s mom is a militant protestant from Glasgow, Scotland. Anything Catholic makes me queasy.
I said, “What’s up with Freeman? He seems to have a shitty attitude.”
Roger said, “He hates Korea with a passion. He was a corporate guy who got downsized. The experience turned him into a bitter asshole. But don’t tell him I said that. He’s supposedly good at fighting.”
I turned my attention to Mike the gay albino.
I said, “How come you’re not eating pancakes?”
He said, “I’m allergic to wheat.”
I said, “Wow. That sucks. Sorry.”
He said, “You get used to it.”
We arrived home at noon. I was scheduled to teach at four p.m. later that day.