3.3 Fall 2021

November 14, Salad

After class I wandered around looking for a suitable restaurant to no avail— the gukbap place had no open seats and nothing in the many blocks I weeded through was particularly appealing.

Until I came upon a new salad restaurant. It looked crowded so I swerved into the department store to browse discount sweaters and creep on the restaurant’s Instagram page for more info.

The prices were cheap, cheaper than most places nearby, and it was one of the few healthy options nestled between university student friendly options like grilled cheese and fried pork cutlet. There were several pictures of two different men scattered around the social media account and I found upon finally entering the restaurant that they were the owners.

One man with an unflattering and severe middle part kindly took my order and explained the menu while I wildly searched for the dressing options he mentioned. He waited patiently and spoke so politely that I almost had a physical reaction.

Keep it together! Do not cry in this salad bar because someone didn’t correct your pronunciation of basil!

He may have said I was good at Korean so I answered my usual “no, I’ve still got a ways to go”. He seemed slightly confused so maybe he was really just speed talking about my receipt. Oops.

I sat at a two person table that faced the counter. I wanted to watch them work but the distance was much too close to feel anything other than overly familiar.

The basil dressing was spectacular and I ate very slowly, romaine piece by romaine piece. I felt vulnerable and self conscious of my unmasked face and felt the weird social differential. There was nowhere to hide save for my chopsticks which I relished with smug satisfaction; I’m a firm believer in chopsticks for salad superiority.

The other man, with a more flattering perm and long eyelashes, was somehow even more broad than the first polite man.

When I felt eyes on me I looked up, only to catch him turning away.

I looked at the solid lines of their backs and was struck with a sudden and urgent desire for a big group hug.

As I picked through the dregs remaining in my bowl, a plan formed. I wanted to talk to them. I was going to talk to them.

I approached the counter. Striking up conversation with shy but willing strangers is a joy of my life. I feel powerful.

“Excuse me, may I ask a question?” I told the two men when there was a lull in customers. They both looked up at me and said in matching polite tones, “pardon?” The long eyelash man has his hand in a bucket of salad dressing.

It felt good to be the instigator. To make something happen. To be an agent (of chaos). The life force of the extrovert flowed through my veins.

I repeated myself but then a couple breezed in and we were separated.

I sat back down and waited until the couple and another customer finished ordering.

My hands started to shake. It’s been so long since I’ve felt nervous that it was good to be reminded I can still feel that way. That life has many exciting things in store.

I brushed away any stray thoughts that they might think I’m creepy for my question and I approached again. The first man dried his hands in his apron and came to the free end of the counter, accommodating.

I showed him a picture from the restaurant Instagram page. It was not of a menu item but rather of him sitting in a rooftop cafe overlooking the ocean.

“Can you tell me where you took this picture? It has a nice view,” I attempted, hoping that my Korean was strong enough to get across that I wasn’t commenting on his appearance or coming on to him.

Not that I would have minded the latter but I haven’t seen his face and it was possible that his business partner was his actual partner. Given my luck, I’m honestly more certain they’d be dating each other than be single.

Even if they’re in a relationship this is a win win! Pull yourself together! I chanted as I handed my phone over with trembling fingers.

I felt a sudden rush of empathy for every Korean I’ve talked to whose own hands shook in my presence. I could pretend it’s because of my magnetic personality or intimidating presence but really it’s just that communicating in a foreign is nerve wracking.

I haven’t had that feeling since Korean level 1, so maybe the universe was giving me a humility check.

Thus I handed him my phone blown up with his own picture and hoped he didn’t see my quivering.

He recalled with enthusiasm the café he went to, which is not far from the road I had to hike down when I met a friend in Haeundae for dinner but had to park fifteen minutes away by a construction zone on the side of a mountain.

Busan parking is no joke.

I flagged with relief that he had an answer to give me at all— how awkward had he not remembered.

Feeling self conscious that I may be holding him up from fulfilling salad duties, I said thanks and then goodbye to both men.

I exited only to go to the cafe across the street which was equally delightful. Chocolate scone, don’t mind if I do!

Have I found a new routine?

I think I’ll eat there next week, if not for the excitement then at least for the salad.

This is a thread I must keep pulling. Where might it lead? Friendship? Drama? A rewards card? I embrace it all.

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