Today: Fred’s day gets an early start.

 

 

 

Cast of characters

 

 

 

Fred

 

 

 

Mr Go

 

 

 

Mrs No

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

Mrs Won showed Fred his room.

 

 

 

Its window opened out to the back of the building with only a parking lot below (full, but not as jam-packed as the one out front).

 

 

 

Beyond it the parking lot lights lit up the foot of a small forest.

 

 

 

Mrs Won got busy tearing the plastic off the quilt that Mr Go and Miss No had brought over.

 

 

 

I could get to like this, Fred thought, as he put his face up to the window and using his hand as a visor, tried to make out the scenery outside.

 

 

 

When his eyes adjusted, he could recognize the ridges of a few small mountains.

 

 

 

Ajumma had removed the wrap and scurried out of the room with the crumpled-up ball.

 

 

 

“Goo-night, Fred.”

 

 

 

He slid the window wide open to let in breeze.

 

 

 

It had been a long day as he’d been in transit for 24 hours.

 

 

 

The thought was still jelling in his mind: I’m in Korea. Amazing.

 

 

 

* Fred’s introduction to the Korean work ethic *

 

 

 

Clang! Clang! Slide, drag, bang! Clang!

 

 

 

Fred was semi-conscious and rolled over to look at the time.

 

 

 

6:45.

 

 

 

From the sounds of things, Koreans started work early!

 

 

 

The solid metal clanging noise continued so he reluctantly got up and went over to his window.

 

 

 

Down below in the parking lot and right near the base of the building, an expressionless man in his late 20s and wearing grayish coveralls was unloading compressed gas cylinders from a blue delivery truck.

 

 

 

For some reason, he slid them off the truck and banged them down on the asphalt as loud as possible.

 

 

 

Fred stood there in his 13th floor window giving the man a dirty look.

 

 

 

Oddly, after about the tenth cylinder, the delivery guy stopped to take a breather and looked right up at Fred.

 

 

 

The Canadian felt a chill pass right through him and backed away from the window.

 

 

 

You can tell a lot about a country by what happens the first morning. 

 

 

 

Mr Go picked Fred up in the parking lot at 7:30.

 

 

 

Miss No was in the front passenger seat and pre-occupied with applying a thick coat of makeup with the aid of a small hand mirror.

 

 

 

Fred climbed in the back seat.

 

 

 

Go had a cigarette hanging out his lips and the car’s interior was quickly filling with smoke.

 

 

 

For some reason all the windows were rolled up, so Fred immediately rolled his down.

 

 

 

“Please close your window,” No instantly responded without looking back, heavily immersed in padding foundation to her face.

 

 

 

* Koreans’ concept of clean air: Same as Canadians’ ? *

 

 

 

Fred was mildly irritated. “Why? It’s smoky in here.”

 

 

 

“This car has air conditioning,” No commented confidently.

 

 

 

Fred grumbled and wanted to shake his head in disbelief, but suppressed the gesture.

 

 

 

Back up went the window.

 

 

 

There was a nasty traffic jam.

 

 

 

Go abruptly cut into it without delay, waving to the driver behind.

 

 

 

Traffic remained heavy so he took a shortcut down an alley and literally bombed past two tiny, uniformed students who unflinchingly were weaving their way up the alley going the opposite direction.

 

 

 

Out of the alley and over a bridge, Go then swerved carefully onto a road, which ran alongside a serene river.

 

 

 

At that point his driving resumed a degree of sanity.

 

 

 

“Still Chinju?” Fred asked.

 

 

 

“Yes,” No answered. “The edge of town. This way is very scenic.”

 

 

 

* Do Koreans have an appreciation of nature? *

 

 

 

Fred was then amazed to spot several snow-white storks standing in a muddy bank of the river with their trademark one-legged stance, the other leg folded and tucked up.

 

 

 

“They are very beautiful and graceful,” No said objectively, as if narrating a nature vignette. “In the fall, they will migrate.”

 

 

 

She’d finished her makeup, put all her accessories away, and turned her head back to speak to Fred. “Mr Go and I own two Engishy schools.”

 

 

 

 

“He runs Central Institute and I run Riverside. We are driving there now.”

 

 

 

The overcast, hot and muggy weather was making it hard for Fred to perk up.

 

 

 

He felt drained and jet-lagged.

 

 

 

No caught him yawning.

 

 

 

“Are you tired?”

 

 

 

Fred stretched guiltily.

 

 

 

No:  “You are lucky to come to Korea in summer. Usually we start our business at 6:30, but now is summer vacation so we start later.”

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

Tomorrow: Fred is taken to the institutes.