[This post is another from the archive of mass emails I am retrieving from deep in my PCs guts. Copied from hard drive to hard drive by zealous, microscopic scribes. My original title for this was "Horyon," but this strikes me as being a bit more legend... wait for it... dairy. This is an early account of how I met Horyon. Spoiler alert: we ended up getting married.]
Well, it's the letter that some of you have been waiting for a long time. But first, allow me to complete some Nepal ideas: I want to say thank you to all of you who responded in such a supportive way to my Nepal experience. It will always be tough to deal with some of those issues, but a good friend reminded me that everyone has things to deal with in life, and mine are only different in that they are more visible. I don't know if it does you any good to see my struggles to coexist with poverty in the world, but sharing helps me to deal with it. And the responses I've gotten also remind me that I'm not entirely in the habit of building a wall around my past, I'm just lazy. I've gotten replies from people I've known all my life, people I've known since university, people I've met in the last year, and people who've known me since I was a little tyke. No replies from any Nepalis, because none of them have email access. Writing an actual letter feels something like pulling off of a freeway into a school zone–an uncomfortable shift in speed.
In actuality, a Nepal 3 letter would probably be a good idea; escaping from the Eastern hills of Nepal was quite an adventure, with a few pleasant surprises and many tests of patience. But I'm not going to. At least not now. And so, on with the letter.
A funny thing has happened to me recently: my house has been feeling empty. I've done a quick stuff count and found that everything is here, but it still feels empty. After living in this apartment for a year, why does it suddenly feel like something is missing? Well...
I got back to Korea at the end of January and taught in February. In the evenings I had one class, a high level class with very few students. Our average attendance was three or four students, and sometimes there were only one or two. One of those students was Horyon. She was the most enthusiastic student in the class, as well as being very talented in learning English. And pretty. But a teacher isn't supposed to notice things like being pretty, so I'm not bringing it up again.
I must apologize for neglecting the other students in this class. I didn't neglect them at the time, but my tendency now is to push them into the background, even Sunyoung, who had been my student a few months earlier.
Anyway, in the first week of class, we found out that Horyon was engaged to be married sometime in the fall to a Korean guy studying in Ohio. And so, despite the fact that she was fascinating to me, as well as attractive, I wrote her off. I make it a point not to get involved with women who are in relationships, and "engaged" is definitely "in a relationship".
Again, this was a small, high level class, so the format was usually just free conversation. I would bring a topic or idea, and we would just talk. Sometimes I would clarify grammar points, or nail down new vocabulary, but usually we all just sat around talking. Informal and friendly.
Then, about a week and a half before the end of class, I had invited Jason and Sora, a couple who are friends of mine, over for dinner on a Saturday. I had intended to ask someone else over, to avoid being the third wheel, but it was a busy week and it slipped my mind until that Friday. I asked a couple of people, but everyone had plans. Then, after class on Friday night, Horyon needed a copy of something, so she came to the office with me. We chatted, and I gave her her copy, and she headed out. As she was going through the door, I asked her if she wanted to join me and a couple of friends for dinner the next night. I knew she would be a good conversationalist, and that she had been around foreigners a lot, and so I just asked. And maybe I was starting to feel the potential for something. Later she told me that she had felt the potential much earlier than this, and that when I invited her to dinner, she was very nervous and excited. I have to admit, I was, too.
She came over, and we all had a good time. Jason and Sora knew nothing about her, and were quite surprised to find out that she was engaged. Sora, being a somewhat straight-forward person, told Horyon that it sounded like a bad relationship. No matter that Jason and I agreed, that was an awkward moment for us.
Now Sora tells me that I owe her. Sora, I'm not sure about that. I think Horyon and I would have gotten together anyway, but thank you for being so honest and caring.
Jason's verdict, after Horyon left, was "Wow, Rob. You finally got a sane girlfriend. To bad about the fiancé thing." At the time she wasn't my girlfriend, but I've since then more than fixed that. Ditto on the fiancé thing.
During the last week of class, our class went out for dinner and a beer. During dinner, she said the nicest thing that any student has ever said to me. It went something like this:
"If you ask me to describe Rob, first I say he is a nice guy, then funny, and a good teacher, and later that he is a foreigner. With all of the other foreigners I know, even the family I lived with in England for three months, I think of them as foreigners first. It's very unusual, and I think quite good."
Later she told me that she consciously left out that she liked me, which is a big, and sometimes embarrassing statement for Korean students to make about their foreign teachers. Nevertheless, at the time I was almost moved to tears. Over the last year and a half, students have said nice things to me and about me, but the issue of being a foreigner was always there, even if it wasn't spoken. I was always aware of it, sometimes in a critical way, sometimes not. Having that overcome was a big shock, especially so because she did it first.
You see, I sometimes slip into being completely myself in class, but usually I also maintain a small barrier of nationality and formality. I do this because when you don't, you get hurt. People say things and do things that hurt. If I think of them as "Korean students" rather than "friends", then I'm not offended when they don't show for appointments, or comment about my weight, or ask why I'm not married. Yes, it's a kind of stereotype, but one that has had a practical use in my life.
Horyon's knocked a big hole in it. Left it behind. Reminded me that whatever the basis for our stereotypes, sometimes they're wrong.
That Friday I came to ELS about 45 minutes early, and found Horyon waiting out in the hall. I already knew what I was doing for class, so I asked if she wanted to talk for a while and record the conversation. We did, and I still have the tape. (I haven't listened to it yet. I think that some day it will be very interesting for us both.) A few minutes before class time, she went up to the class room, and then I joined her. We sat and talked for about 15 minutes before realizing that no one else was coming to class. Upon realizing this, we continued talking until the end of class.
Then I asked if she wanted to go have a beer. We went and had a two-hour beer, and talked. While we were talking, I reached across the table and started playing with her fingers a bit, stroking them, picking them up, and finally settling into a little digital dance. The conversation continued as before, with neither of us pointing out that our hands were being a bit more casual than we were.
It didn't take us long to catch up with our hands.
Horyon had invited me to dinner at her house that Sunday. Actually, her parents invited me. This is before they formed the conception that I'm the devil and ordered her to...
Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. Horyon came to church with me that day, and my church friends all asked me if she was my girlfriend. I said, "No, but I hope that will change!" We had a lovely dinner with her parents and some of their friends who were excited to meet a foreigner. Everyone had a good time, and we all expressed the hope that this would be repeated in the future. Hasn't happened yet, but as soon as my status changes to something less demonic, I'm sure it will.
Her father gave me a ride home that night, and Horyon sat in the back seat with me. I held her hand, and she seemed to like it. Keep in mind, at this point we still hadn't talked about this holding hands business.
We had two more days of class, and I think we fooled everyone into thinking that nothing was going on. Not difficult. Both of us are professional teachers, and therefore used to lying to our students.
That Wednesday, March 1st, was Independence Movement Day. We both had the day off, and we agreed to meet. We ended up coming to my house and talking. We sat and talked for a long time, then I delivered one of the most pitiful lines in the world: "Do you like to be surprised by a kiss, or would you rather be asked first?" She didn't say anything, she just kissed me. And we talked. We talked about the troubles mixed nationality couples have in this country. We talked about our plans for the future. And we talked about her relationship.
Two days later she came to my office five minutes before I had to teach. She was confused about what she should do, and I told her that she had to make up her mind about what she wanted. I spent the rest of the evening teaching with my mind elsewhere. And while I was walking home that evening, halfway across the bridge over the railroad tracks, I had a moment of clarity. Suddenly I KNEW that I wanted Horyon, wanted her more than anything I've ever wanted. I could picture my life if I lost her (without even *having* her!), and it seemed lonely and boring. I could also picture my life with her, and it seemed full, and happy, and interesting, and colorful, and exciting, and worthwhile. It was like being on a path that splits in two directions, and I knew that I couldn't delay this decision; it was essential to reach out to her before she could slip away. It was a moment that will be etched into my memory forever, a feeling so intense that it was physical, I had to laugh out loud, throw my arms in the air, and say out loud, "Oh God, is this real?" Feelings like this are for movies and books and songs, not *people*, like me!
And so when I got home I called her, and poured my heart out over the phone.
And that began the first relationship I've ever been in that hasn't felt like a roller coaster ride. It's felt more like coming back to a home I never knew I had.
Next time I'll tell you about how I proposed....