Thursday, July 10, 2014

Gohyang

     He said, "I've been studying Japanese lately, been getting a real kick out of it, too."
     They were at a cafe that was situated above another cafe, looking over a busy intersection as umbrellas competed for space on corners not meant for the cars parked on them. Rain was in the air, not so much falling as existing, hovering, slowly being drawn toward surfaces like dust to a sheet of plastic wrap.
     As he spoke, she stirred the empty contents of her cup and watched him, noticing that his words left his mouth and fell straight down into his half-full glass instead of traveling up to meet his eyes. As he spoke, his gaze remained silent.
     He stopped and thought for a moment. "It's kinda ironic, I guess? I know what you're going to say: 'So when are you going to start studying Korean?'
     In fact, she was going to say that.
     "I've been here two years and I can still barely order chicken and beer." He chuckled. "But we're thinking of, you know, moving on."
     This was news. "Wait, hold on. You're going to leave Korea? And go to Japan?"
     She paused her stirring for dramatic effect, the director and only audience of a play staged between her chair and the middle of the table.
     A slight hesitation. "Not Japan, necessarily. But, you know, somewhere. Korea has never really felt like home."
     With the smallest suggestion of raised eyebrows, she quickly replied, "Well, of course it doesn't. No, your home is where your father was born."
     "What?" he asked, forehead wrinkling in confusion. "According to who?"
     "According to Korea," she answered, matter-of-factly. "That is, according to the traditional concept of hometown. Gohyang."
     "What, does that mean even if I live here for twenty years I still won't be--"
     "Right. 'You're not from around here.' You never will be, because your family isn't. But your real home, your gohyang -- what is it, South Carolina? Georgia? At least that will always be there."
     He paused to consider this, albeit briefly, and signaled this by glancing out the window, where green had just turned yellow, then yellow red. She looked into his eyes and, subconsciously, followed them outside. People had begun to cross.
    "In any case," he began, "we're obviously not going to go before our contracts are up, but we're, you know, keeping our options open."
     "And well you should!" she said loudly, causing his eyes to widen. "But look, permit me to give you some advice? As someone who has been here now more than half a decade?"
     She didn't wait for permission. "Forgive me if this comes across as condescending, but perhaps the reason you don't feel like Korea is home is that you haven't tried to make it your home. And no, I don't mean by making your parents move here and getting them fake birth certificates. No, just, maybe try to learn the language? Meet more people? Realize that there is a world outside of your apartment, your school, and your five favorite cafes downtown?"
     "I do do a lot of stuff," he countered. "And I really like my school, my kids. Maybe it's hard to explain how I feel. Things just haven't... clicked."
     "Korea isn't for everyone," she remarked calmly.
     He bristled, and immediately hoped she didn't notice. "Well, all the cafes are overpriced, anyways."
     "So where is your hometown, then?"
     "South Carolina was right." His eyes were a deep indigo blue. "And yours?"
     She thought for a moment with her mouth slightly ajar. "Well, it's complicated. Father's from Indiana, mother's from New York, but we've lived abroad for more years than we've been in the States. So uri gohyang... could be anywhere, really." She shrugged. "As long as it's not Eagleton."
     He gave a small smirk, finished the rest of his drink, and looked around. Every other pair in the cafe was a couple, communicating via a combination of texting and making doe-eyed faces. One girl had been taking photos of herself with her latte-sipping boyfriend in the background, pretending that his cuteness was candid. I will never understand this, he thought to himself. She cleared her throat.
     "You know how they say, 'Home is where the heart is'?" she said.
     "Not here, apparently," he replied. "I mean, who is the 'they'?"
     She had to think about this, but wasn't sure if she wanted to. So she met his gaze once more, saw that it had sharpened, and went with rhetoric instead.
     "Who indeed?"

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