They say the third month is when the honeymoon runs out. I guess it's fair enough, because in everything that's come before, I seem to operate on a different schedule. Today I think I realized that the honeymoon, for me, has finally begun.
When we were standing on line at Lottemart, the conversation shifted to what we should do on Christmas eve. It occurred to me that the most wonderful thing in the world that I could think of was sitting on the floor with the heat from the ondol beneath me on a cold Christmas eve in a small bulgogi restaurant. No shoes, a cloud of cigarette smoke, and meat cooking over an open flame right there at the table. Even soju is getting the pantyhose covered lens treatment with me in these visions.
We've been terrified to go into these little places (which are absolutely everywhere) without a Korean, due to the lack of picture menus and the necessary "yogiyo!" technique. But as we wandered around looking for the safe, Westernized version of bulgogi we ate a couple of weeks ago (special English menu and a business card handed to us directly by a man who appeared to be the manager), my fingers began to lose their feeling in the cold and Mike started doing the pee-pee dance. We crossed a street and there it was -- one of the menuless wonders I had been dreaming of. I didn't have the heart to think twice about it, and before I knew it, we were inside.
The waitress and I fumbled through the ordering together. It should have only been humiliating for me, but she was sweet enough to look sheepish as well. I don't care anymore. I'm tired -- exhausted, in fact -- of playing it safe with the English. We're not fancy, Westernized restaurant kind of people. As far as I can tell, these little bulgogi places are the Korean version of a diner. And if it kills me with shame, I will learn how to navigate them comfortably.
We made short work of the ssamjang, which our coteachers constantly remind us is probably too spicy for us Americans, smothering the beef with it as we wrapped them in green leaves. I even got up the gall to order a bowl of rice for Mike when he complained that he needed something starchy to help soak up the soju.
Later in the evening, I used a squat toilet for the very first time. I'm happy to report that it is not, as I had suspected by simply contemplating the situation as an outsider, impossible to do while wearing pants.
Too much information? Too bad.
I'm happy here. Really, truly happy here. And getting braver and bolder everyday. When I think of the things that used to intimidate me on a daily basis back home, I can't help but view the difference just two months have made as nothing short of remarkable. Coming here has challenged all of my weakest, most fearful points. I know there are thousands of us -- millions, if you look at the population of immigrants the world over -- and it's nothing special.
But I'm just one person. And for me, it means something.
Unfortunately, my little honeymoon is beginning just as Mike has had just about enough. He commented on this on Thursday as we sat in the same restaurant where a month before he had gulped down bibimbap while I pushed kimchi around with my chopsticks. On Thursday, I sat happily spooning my doenjang-jiggae, while he gave his bibimbap the evil eye. He still ate nearly twice as much as me, but only because he's stubborn.
Today I accomplished the shoe mission, but still gave the phone a pass. Mostly because these days I'm afraid to give Mr. K my phone number. And because those coiffed phone men with the microphones on the sidewalk scare the living shit out of me. Especially as they often seem to think it's absolutely hilarious to shout, "Hiiiiiiiii!" into said microphones as I walk past, and then laugh like a mad person while everybody stares.
And I got an electric kettle because I'm tired of boiling water on the stove for coffee, which just goes to show what a lazy snob I've become. We also saw the two most perfect bunnies in the world at Lottemart, who will hopefully still be there later this week, after I force someone at work to write precise directions to my apartment from Jakjeon in Korean for me, so they don't have to endure the winter weather/The Hill. They're way too tiny for that. Even Mike's cold stone heart was moved by these two bunnies, one of which, he's now decided, he has the right to name.