5. 2023, The Wild Wild West


On a low-key Saturday evening, I finished up at the gym and threw on my clothes: baggy cargo pants and a men’s denim jacket.

I headed to the gym doors but suddenly spotted a handsome stranger at the water fountain. He was tall with big, expressive eyes and we made eye contact over his water bottle in what felt like an electric moment.

Well, that was nice, but nothing will come from it because this is Korea, I concluded, leaving and crossing the street.

Until I heard a voice in Korean say, “Excuse me.”

I turned around.

It was him.

He must have set down his water bottle and rushed out of the gym and through traffic to talk to me. Me, with unwashed hair and in oversized men’s clothing.

Am I… in a Korean drama right now? I thought. And then, is he crazy? They usually are. But we stood looking at each other, people passing by.

He asked in a breathless voice, “Can I… have your number?”

I paused. Did I want to take another risk on meeting a bad Korean guy? Did I want to risk having one more traumatizing experience before leaving Korea? But I looked into his open hopeful face, and his shaking hands, and thought, he’s probably sincere.

He nervously handed my his phone, and I typed in my info.

“Thank you,” he said, and then disappeared into the night.

I just stood on the street corner, waffling between hope and unease. I had been burned so many times before.

Suddenly a voice came from behind me and in English said, “wow, that guy just asked for your number.”

I whipped around only to be confronted with… Adidas track suit man/possible fire starter! What were the odds? He had been on his way home from grocery shopping and managed to witness my entire k-drama encounter. I decided to use his third party perspective to ease my worries.

“Do you think that guy’s crazy?” I said.

He shrugged and we walked up the hill together while he updated me.

“My dad had to kick out that guy who started the fire by the way. He’s been causing a lot of problems and that was the last straw.”

“Your dad?”

“Yeah, the landlord of your building is my father.”

I wanted to laugh. Not only was track suit man not the fire starter, he was also the son of my unhelpful landlord.

“You know my sister lives in the U.S. I took my parents there to visit her.”

I wanted to laugh again. Oh really? Well your dad didn’t want to rent to me, an American, because I’m a foreigner. The man with a daughter in America and a son who speaks English.

“If you ever have any problems with the apartment, just let me know.”

Dude, I don’t have your contact information, how do you expect me to do that?

We kept chatting and parted ways at the top of the hill; he was a landlord for a building nearby and had shown up the night of the fire to support his father.

About fifty feet away, he turned to me and shouted across the lit alleyway, “By the way, that guy seems okay!”

This time I did laugh out loud, and finally got home with no other dramatic encounters.

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