Cast of characters

 

 

 

Fred

 

 

 

Mrs Park

 

 

 

Mrs Kim

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

Fred was relieved at the token of acceptance. Park and Kim actually liked Fred.

 

 

 

Most waygook teachers they’d met seemed nice enough but were perhaps just being polite and not sincerely friendly.

 

 

 

Fred, on the other hand, seemed genuine and straightforward.

 

 

 

 

He wasn’t afraid to be honest about things and speak his mind, even though that frankness could rub people the wrong way.

 

 

 

Park recalled him saying at the dog restaurant that “Koreans are experts at putting up a front and hiding their true feelings.

 

 

 

 

The problem is they have to vent those pent-up feelings, and thus you Koreans are notorious for gossiping, rumours and backstabbing.

 

 

 

 

“At least that’s my opinion…”

 

 

 

A bit later in that meal Mrs Kim got mad when Fred said that Koreans were unhygienic because they shared bowls of soup.

 

 

 

 

Almost in tears at the insult, she defended her people by saying “eating together creates closeness and good feeling.”

 

 

 

When Fred saw how hurt she was, he apologized, adding how ridiculous it is that Canadians basically won’t touch anything that isn’t sterilized and wrapped in plastic.

 

 

 

 

“And I shouldn’t be so hard on you guys backstabbing each other either.”

 

 

 

“We Canadians are two-faced. People are scared to speak their mind because they don’t want to upset anyone.”

 

 

 

 

“We call it political correctness but it gets to the point where nobody talks to anyone except about stupid, obvious things. It can be so boring.”

 

 

 

The housewives respected Fred’s fresh views on things, even if they thought him a bit naïve and immature because he’d never had a wife or kids.

 

 

 

 

The good vibes they’d gotten from the hike and dog soup dinner had prompted this goodwill visit in the hope that they could further cement their friendship.

 

 

 

In Korea, having a foreigner friend is a huge status symbol.

 

 

 

Yet all was not right the moment they slithered into the office. They could feel it.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

Drum Dance          

 

 

                 

The housewives couldn’t believe how exhausted and emaciated Fred looked –

 

 

 

 

his eyes were shattered with blue, puffy bags underneath, and his face had a grey, ghastly pallor.

 

 

 

 

Usually clean-shaven, stubble dotted his jaw area making it look like a just-swathed rice field.

 

 

 

Yet something not visible struck the housewives most: Fred’s keyboon. His usual charisma was absent and he emanated an aura of defeat.

 

 

 

 

The housewives immediately took sympathy.

 

 

 

“My daughter is a student here,” Mrs Park said trying to cheer him up with small talk.

 

 

 

 

“Her nickname is Caffeine. She likes you very much.”

 

 

 

Fred nodded and did his Hollywood best to appear interested but wasn’t in the mood for Korean-style pleasantries and artificial politeness.

 

 

 

 

All he could think of now was getting that hot coffee in his hand.

 

 

 

His brain was screaming for caffeine. It was as if the staff room’s walls and ceiling were closing in on him.

 

 

 

The air was stuffier than being inside a car with the windows rolled-up on a sweltering day.

 

 

 

 

His armpits felt like wet rags and his palms were clammy; his hands mildly shaking.

 

 

 

The housewives had never seen him look so out of it. What was wrong?

 

 

 

 

Fred thrust his hand back into his trouser pocket for change.

 

 

 

“Nice to meet you ladies. Would you excuse…”

 

 

 

 

Yet he cut himself off, immediately sensing it would be rude to abruptly exit the office.

 

 

 

He reluctantly sat down at the round table. “Any special reason you two dropped down?”

 

 

 

* Why did they join him in the office? *

 

 

 

He hadn’t realized it at first but the housewives seemed to be giving him undue attention. “You didn’t come to visit … me… did you?” 

 

 

 

 

The thought actually uplifted him.

 

 

 

“Frankly speaking, yes,” Park said. “Do you have time?”

 

 

 

Of course he didn’t yet was taken aback and felt comforted by this small dose of pampering. “Time? Sure.

 

 

 

 

“I’ll make time for my favourite ajummas!”

 

 

 

They laughed. “How may I help you ladies? I’ve got all the time in the world.”

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

Tomorrow: Music is good for the soul.