27 February 2011

When you're strange, no one remembers your name...

A vignette:

On Friday, I ended up in Itaewon. I don't normally end up in Itaewon. This is not because I’m one of those snobby foreigners who think they’re too good for Itaewon, but because I live something like ninety minutes away from Itaewon and it really doesn’t seem worth all that effort to get there. As the foreign neighborhood in Seoul, it’s supposed to be useful for things such as large shoes and decent cheese, so I guess it’s worth going to if one needs footwear or gouda,[1] but I don’t find these to be items I need with any regularity.

It was a cool day, and I wasn’t going anywhere in particular, so when I decided to cross the street I did so more because it was sunny on the other side than because I had any real reason. While I was in the middle of the crosswalk, I heard a voice.

“Excuse me! Excuse me! Are you Canadian?”

I shook my head no at the tiny woman with far too much make-up who asked me this.




“No. American.”

“Ahhh! American! Where in America?”



“No, Cleveland.”

“Oh. I thought you were from Cincinnati,” she said. This confused me, primarily because only forty-five seconds before she’d thought I was Canadian, or Russian, or English. I guess that was all just a clever ruse, and all along she’d had me pegged as a nice Midwestern girl.

The woman went on to tell me that she lived in Cincinnati for many years, that she’d married a Frenchman and raised her daughter there. She told me she is divorced now. She told me it was her birthday. She told me she really liked my jacket. She told me her name is Kim.[4] She told me she is a Pisces, and asked when my birthday is.

“Ah! A Scorpio!” she declared.

She kept talking to me as I kept walking, and she repeated many of the same statements and questions over and over again. Finally, she said to me, “Pretty earrings! How much were they?”

“Um. Two-thousand won?”

“Ohh. They are not real then?” I’m guessing she meant the sparkly bits.


“May I have them?”


“It is my birthday!”[5] she said.

“But… I kind of like them. And they’re mine,” I said, and kept walking, quickening my pace. But the woman kept talking to me and following me. Eventually she circled round to the earring demand again. I refused again. We passed a Burger King.

“I’m hungry,” she said. “Let’s have lunch. I will buy you a chicken sandwich.”

Now… Even if I ate meat, I don’t think I’d eat at a Burger King. It’s been a long while, but I’m pretty sure their food tastes like sadness. So again, I declined, and tried to suggest that she go eat her lunch by herself as I made my way towards the bookstore next to the Burger King. She followed me up the stairs.

“Please… can I have your earrings?” she asked. “I will pay you for them.” She began to root around in her purse, looking for money. It’s at this point that I realized a few things that I likely should have realized earlier:

  1. She is crazy.
  2. She is not going to leave me alone until she gets my earrings.

Fuck it. I thought to myself. They’re only two dollars anyway. So I took off my earrings and handed them to her, and I told her not to worry about paying for them. Meanwhile, deep down inside, I was hoping that this would make her go away. But she continued to dig through her purse, finally pulling out a ring.

“Here!” She grabbed my hand and started to put the ring on my finger. It occurred to me that if this were a movie or a fairy tale, she would be some sort of fairy godmother or evil witch, and the ring would bring me either magical goodness or magical badness. But the ring didn’t fit my finger because I have knuckles the size of oranges, so I’ll never know if it had any sort of enchantment to it. She did seem satisfied with getting the earrings though, and let me escape after that.

I really need to stop talking to people.

[1] Ahh… Gouda… it makes me think of my too-brief time in the Netherlands and my unfulfilled longing to move there and become a sheep farmer’s wife. It is also delicious.

[2] I swear, the next person who asks me if I’m Russian is going to get punched in the nuts. I haven’t figured out what I’ll do if said person has no nuts. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

[3] I’ve given up explaining that I haven’t lived in Ohio in many years. It’s not worth the effort, and it really feels disingenuous to say I’m from anywhere else. Also, it gets too explain-y after a while, and no one really cares anyway.

[4] Of course it is. Do you have any idea how many Kims I have in my cell phone’s contacts? Yeah, me either. It’s that many.

[5] There’s something wrong with adults who believe they are entitled to something special because it is their birthday. Don’t get me wrong; I think life is sometimes difficult and frequently awful, so surviving another year is certainly worth noting. But beyond that? Meh.

1 comment:

  1. Hey my birthday is next week, can I have some earrings too?? Jk Wow, I know it's weird and frustrating sometimes, but I love hearing your adventures!