Bitters with the Lads and Cherry Blossoms in the Spring
By Andrew Lawrence Crown
Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2021. All rights reserved.
Kwon Chan Mi was fast asleep on the couch again. She had become enveloped within a deep slumber once more, after staying up late waiting for her Australian husband Nigel to return home from yet another one of his long and late nights out of binge drinking with his mates from the institute. The pattern, seeming to Chan Mi to be repeating itself in endless permutations, was one she was all too familiar with and grown accustomed to, but not passively resigned to enduring. Nigel would leave home early in the morning to teach English at the hagwon, but only after a real struggle to recover from the hangover he inflicted upon himself habitually due to the prior night’s revelry. Yet again, the dutiful wife was unsuccessful in trying to convince her husband to eat the healthy breakfast of meyeokguk and bop, or seaweed soup and rice, a savory and restorative meal Chan Mi woke up early before dawn to prepare for Nigel so that he could have time to eat his breakfast without being late for work. The Australian needed to somehow find the whereabouts through the haze of his drunken stupor still lingering from the previous night of drinking, to make it out the door at seven a.m. in order to catch the subway on time to arrive at the institute by eight for his first English class of the day on the split shift.
After cleaning up and washing the dishes left over from the preparations for the untouched breakfast, as well as stowing away the meal in the refrigerator for another time, Chan Mi herself got ready for her workday of teaching yoga at the fitness center located in the Chuopdong neighborhood of the city of Busan, where the young inter-racial and international couple lived in their modest rented apartment. Following her last yoga class of the day ending at five p.m., Chan Mi habitually rushed home to prepare another healthy and nutritious Korean meal for her spouse, only to discover via a short text from Nigel on her smartphone that her husband planned to stay out late again with some of the mates from the institute and would not return home in time for dinner. The hot savory meal would grow cold before Chan Mi stowed it all away in the refrigerator for who knew when Nigel would actually be home long enough to eat what Chan Mi prepared with all of the care, concern, and love of a devoted young wife.
Next, slowly elapsed the seemingly endless hours wasted spent watching television dramas late into the night while Chan Mi awaited Nigel’s return home from the hoff or pub. Invariably the young wife fell asleep on the couch with the television on. The routine was already so familiar that one night and day seemed to blend into the next without distinction or originality, but the fact that it was all so ordinary by now did nothing to erase the intense anxiety and worry overwhelming Chan Mi while she waited for Nigel to return home at two a.m., sometimes not until three or four a.m. Three sheets to the wind the Australian invariably fumbled loudly with the lock on the front door for what seemed like an eternity to Chan Mi aroused from her slumber on the couch from all of the noise and commotion. She would awaken just in time to smell the alcohol on his breath, and full of her grief watch him struggle to remain upright and stand over her as she lay on the couch, Nigel swaying back and forth out of balance, like a tree blown to and fro from the strong winds of an approaching storm or typhoon.
On this particular night, a night like so many others full of the numbing pain of a humdrum and familiar dullness, Chan Mi struggled to comprehend the meaning of her husband’s speech, slurred as it was from the alcohol which only magnified the confusion of his thick Australian accent.
“Hello me love,” the drunk husband said to his wife while his tall frame teetered and tottered above her where she lay upon the couch. “Right good of you to stay up waiting for me again. Downright grand of you me love, but so unnecessary. You can go to sleep in our bed at a reasonable hour and I assure you I’ll make it home in one piece all the same without you keeping your pretty self all bound up in worry and fear about my whereabouts and wellbeing in till three o’clock in the morning. I always make it home safe and sound eventually, don’t I now love. Yes, me deary girl, I always return to you me love, and I’ve never spent an entire night away from home during all the time since we were wedded and bound together in holy matrimony. Even when the mates and I from the institute are living it up and having the time of our lives, I always make it home before dawn like Dracula. Like I tell the boys, I’d love to stay with you all here in this pub drinking together until kingdom’s come, but I’m a right married man now I am, and the misses is awaiting my return back at the ranch, worrying her dear little heart to pieces over my absence from hearth and home. And then don’t I always return to see me life’s true purpose and meaning before the sun climbs up over the horizon?”
“I made you a healthy Korean dish for diner again Nigel” Chan Mi mumbled softly, half asleep. “Since you did not come home in time for dinner, I stowed it all away in the refrigerator. You can take your meal to work tomorrow for lunch, like you always do.”
“So good of you me girl. All me mates at the institute are jealous of the home cooked meals I bring to work for lunch. A right fine cook you are deary.”
“Yes. You always say it like that, the same way every night. I would like you to eat a meal with me in our home together, just the two of us sharing a meal together like a husband and wife should. But you prefer to spend all of your time with your friends instead of me.”
“You are right darling. I must confess it is my error again. I promise that tomorrow night I will head straight home after work and spend the entire evening with you. It will be just the two of us together, love, like the two peas in a pod we are, the way we are meant to be together.”
“Yes Nigel. You make the same promise every night. But every night I find myself asleep here on the couch with the television on after I endure hours upon hours of waiting for you to come home. You better get to sleep now because tomorrow is another workday. If you intend to keep your job and not lose it again, you will have to wake up early enough to get yourself in appropriate shape for teaching your morning class. Off to bed now Nigel. There’s no time for talking at this late hour. Off to bed with you.”
Nigel, bewildered though he was in his state of complete inebriation, somehow recognized the sense and meaning of his wife’s admonition. After a faltering attempt to bend down his tall frame to plant a kiss on Chan Mi’s cheek and hug her petite body in his muscular arms, Nigel stumbled off to the bedroom be-fumbled by his wife’s refusal to allow him to shower her with the overflowing affection he felt at the moment, those tender thoughts only magnified by the alcohol. Instead of receiving his embrace with the warmth her husband exuded, Chan Mi reached up from her reclining position on the couch, grabbed hold of Nigel’s broad shoulders with both of her hands, and steered him with a shove and push toward the bedroom. Once in the bedroom, Nigel immediately flopped down on the bed and soon fell fast asleep there fully clothed, while Chan Mi returned to the couch to lay down tired and exhausted, but unable to fall asleep. An agonizing sense of betrayal and hurt circulated through her thoughts as she ruminated over the events of the evening which were so similar to the events of countless other evenings with which she was all too familiar.
Why had she stubbornly refused to heed the advice of her family and friends when they all counseled her not to marry a foreigner, and certainly not a foreigner like Nigel? Lying awake on the couch until nearly dawn, Chan Mi recalled once again the conversation between she and Na Rim, her best friend from her, now seemingly, comparatively more blissful and carefree university days. Chan Mi remembered clearly the meeting with Na Rim at a coffee shop near the campus of Pusan National University where and when Chan Mi had excitedly and joyfully announced her engagement to be married to the Australian boyfriend she adored like no other man she had encountered in her entire life. True, she was not yet very old and could often be mistaken for a teenager when dressed a certain way in the latest fashions sported by all the youths who frequented the university neighborhood. But she was certain she was ready to commit herself to a long life and future with Nigel, in spite of Na Rim’s dire warning against such a reckless course of action flying in the face of simple common sense.
“Don’t marry a foreigner,” cautioned Na Rim in the coffee shop crowded with college students, as well as with young twenty somethings like Chan Mi an Na Rim. “You can’t trust any of these weiguksaram. These foreigners are not like us Koreans. They aren’t faithful, loyal, or responsible, and I am warning you Chan Mi. You are setting yourself up for disaster. They are all the same these foreigners are. Just a bunch of playboys taking advantage of foolish, naïve, inexperienced Korean women like you who stupidly allow themselves to be charmed, infatuated, and deluded by these handsome but deceitful weiguksaram. Silly girls like you never realize until it is too late just how terribly you are being used, lied to, and deceived by all of these Don Juans teaching English here in our Korea because they are a bunch of misfits too worthless to find real jobs in their native and home countries. Just wait and see Chan Mi. I’m warning you and you will be sorry someday if you don’t heed my warning. Marry that Australian playboy and your married life will be nothing but sheer misery and bitter disappointment.”
“But I feel so comfortable with him,” protested Chan Mi to counter her best friend’s dire admonitions. “When Nigel and I go out on the town together and find a nice spot to drink soju, I can share with him my true mind and feel completely at ease. I never have so much fun as I do when Nigel and I have a few drinks together and reveal to one another our deepest thoughts, our very souls. It is simply magical the way I feel with him when we are a bit tipsy and can confess our deepest heartfelt feelings with complete honesty and sincerity.”
“Don’t believe a word of his,” advised Na Rim sternly. “Soju is not a sound basis on which to build a marriage and a family. These foreigners may appear to be honest and true, and their drunken blathering might sound like poetry to a guileless woman like you, but you’ll soon find out that your fiancé is an irredeemable liar. Not that our Korean men are any better. They all lie to us through their teeth, these men do. All men are the same, at least that has been my experience, and I’m no simple, unsophisticated, adolescent-like, novice as you are when it comes to love and romance. That is why I’m not in any rush to get married anytime soon. It seems like nobody our age is getting married these days in Korea.”
“Yes,” conceded Chan Mi concerning this last point of Na Rim’s. “We all know how low the marriage rate, and consequentially the birth rate, have fallen here in South Korea. It is a kind of demographic crisis for our country, really. Our population is rapidly aging, and there are not enough young people to work the jobs and earn the income needed to pay into the social welfare system through payroll taxes.”
“That’s right Chan Mi,” Na Rim said. “Even though we graduated from university seven years ago, you are still talking like the economics major you were during school. What on earth are you doing working as a yoga instructor? You could be doing more, a smart college educated woman like you. That is another reason why I’m not getting married anytime soon, so I can do something with my life and make something of myself as a successful career woman. Here in Korea, there’s almost no maternity leave, and all the Korean men expect us to put our careers on hold or give them up entirely in order to take the lead in raising a family and caring for the children. I intend to continue to live the new single’s lifestyle that is nowadays more popular and common than marriage for people our age. Whenever I need a man, I can always easily find one to suit my needs for a limited period of time, but I’ll never tie myself down and forgo all of my dreams and ambitions as a career woman by voluntarily sentencing myself to the prison of marriage.”
“He tells me he loves me. Over and over again he declares he adores me. He says it all the time, and it does not sound like he is lying.”
“That’s the soju doing the talking,” Chan Mi. “You’re such a gullible and innocent woman, unfamiliar with the mendacity and duplicity of all men. Get any weiguksaram or Korean guy a little drunk and he will start talking like Romeo, but he’s more like a Don Juan (Na Rim pronounced it like this, Don Joo Ahn) and a player. You will be sorry if you don’t heed my advice, Chan Mi. You will come to regret it every day of your miserable married life.”
These recollections and many others like them circulated around and around through Chan Mi’s mind as she tried to fall sleep on the couch. Sleep and the fleeting escape from her troubles that only sleep could provide would not come, and Chan Mi only heard Nigel’s loud snores audible from the bedroom as she lay fully awake and tossing and turning on the couch. In just an hour or two she would have to get up and prepare the breakfast Nigel would probably refuse to eat again.
Later that same morning Kwon Chan Mi was fully awake in the small kitchenette of the modest apartment, preparing her husband’s breakfast of rice, seaweed soup, and pan-fried mackerel. All the while she labored over the stove, Chan Mi hoped that this morning would be different from so many other mornings like it. Almost every morning Nigel was too hungover to wake up on time for breakfast, which he invariably skipped before stumbling out the door on the way to work, still stupefied and half-drunk from the previous night’s festivities. Somehow, someway, he usually made it to the subway and then to the institute on time and in one piece and tolerable shape to teach his morning English classes.
Chan Mi was disappointed once again, but not at all surprised when her husband awoke at seven-thirty, found his way to the bathroom where he showered after neglecting to shave his two-day stubble beard, then threw on the clean work clothes which Chan Mi had previously set folded on the cabinet beside the bed, and rushed out of the door at seven-forty on his way to the subway station without touching or even noticing the morning meal his wife had prepared for him. Nigel worked the split shift at the institute. This meant he taught business people, housewives, and college students and recent graduates early in the mornings. Following his morning classes was a long afternoon break until he taught the same kind of students in the evenings until nine, and sometimes ten p.m. Chan Mi thought it would have been nice if Nigel made a point of returning home to rest, eat, and spend some time with her during the afternoon break on the split shift, but Nigel preferred to eat out with his coworkers for lunch, and would only return home on rare occasions in the afternoons to sleep off a lingering hangover.
Often, Chan Mi was busy teaching yoga at the health club and fitness center while Nigel was sleeping off the consequences of the previous night’s bought of drinking. Due to this routine and schedule the young couple had grown accustomed to, they saw each other infrequently and never seemed to be able to spend the quality time together which Chan Mi so desperately desired. Nigel did not work on the weekends, so sometimes the couple would have a few hours to spend together during the late lazy mornings and early afternoons, until Nigel would leave again to go out on the town with his friends from work, leaving Chan Mi alone spending her time awaiting his return from yet another weekend bender, the aftermath of which Nigel would spend all day Sunday trying to sleep off.
Sometimes, when she grew tired of waiting around the apartment alone for hours on end before Nigel would return to her, Chan Mi would find the time before her yoga class to meet with Na Rim in another coffee shop to discuss her lamentable predicament with her best friend. Na Rim never hesitated to dish out her stern advice to her old college friend, Chan Mi.
“You need to lay down the law, be firm, and demand that Nigel changes his ways, drinks far less, and spends more quality time with you instead of with his English teacher friends. Why did you marry him? So you could be his cook and nurse him back to sobriety every time he comes home drunk? I say you assert yourself and give Nigel an ultimatum. Either he cuts down on the booze and pays you the attention you crave and deserve, or you tell him, you will file for a divorce. Don’t go on allowing yourself to be used by him like some chambermaid. Enough is enough already. It is high time you show your mettle and get tough.”
“But I don’t want to get divorced. I know I hardly ever get to see him and spend time with him, but when we are together on those rare and happy occasions, even when he is inebriated at those times, he is so kind to me and says all the loveliest, most endearing, and charming things. I know my husband is a drunk, but he dotes upon me so full of love and devotion. Nigel is not an abusive or violent drunk. He has never raised a hand against me in anger, and he never really says anything malicious at all. It is true he is an alcoholic, but I love him anyway, and I want to figure out how I can help him find a cure for his disease. I believe if I try hard enough, I will eventually convince him to lead a healthier kind of life. I know I sound like a fool to you when I say this Na Rim, but I am confident I can save him.”
“Chan Mi, we are old friends and have been on good terms with one another ever since we first met freshman year of our university days. I know you will not be offended if I tell you what I really think and try to help you perceive the truth about your life which you seem to be too blind to see with your own eyes. You cannot change Nigel, Chan Mi. You never will be able to do it, no matter how hard you try. Nigel is a pathetic excuse for a husband and a man, and you are equally pathetic for tolerating his outrageous and selfish lack of responsibility. You believe you can save him, but that is just you holding on to old fashioned and outdated notions of what a woman’s role should be in a marriage. Why should you have to endure such misery and despair while he goes galivanting around town spending all of his money on booze and fast times. It is ridiculous and pathetic. Is that why you got married, so you could waste your time hoping and waiting for the impossible? Do you intend to go on with nursing him back to sobriety every night he comes home drunk and smelling like a garbage can due to the stink of alcohol on his clothing and breath? It is time to face reality and be a stronger woman, Chan Mi.”
“It is true my husband suffers from a kind of disease that is his drinking problem. But I am certain he has always remained faithful to me, that he has never taken a new lover, even when he is drunk as a skunk and half out of his mind with drink. His close friends from the institute confirm for me that this is true, that Nigel does indeed maintain his fidelity through all of his time away from me. They tell me that I am all he talks about when he goes out drinking with them in some foreigner bar or nightclub. There is a reason why Nigel cannot stop drinking. He has spoken to me of this on occasion, pouring out his pain from the depth of his heart. There is a source and cause of all of his desperate misfortunes, which if you only knew Na Rim, you would understand why I am not yet ready to consider divorce.”
Na Rim listened carefully to her friend’s rationalizations and justifications of her intention to stay married to Nigel, who Na Rim considered to be a good for nothing useless alcoholic foreigner. Chan Mi felt compelled to explain to her friend why she would not leave Nigel and tell her all about the cause of his hopeless misery. However, glancing at the time on her smartphone, Chan Mi realized it was time for her to leave the coffee shop for the health club in order to teach her afternoon yoga class. Yoga was another area of Chan Mi’s life about which Na Rim harbored strong opinions and misgivings. While a student at Pusan National University, Chan Mi had been the top student in the Department of Economics, and her top-notch grades placed her soaring ahead of her fellow students, who were primarily men thought by her professors to be more predisposed to succeed in their field of study. Na Rim wanted to know where Chan Mi’s former ambition had disappeared to, and she believed Chan Mi was wasting her considerable talent and potential as a top graduate of an excellent Korean university by settling for the undistinguished job of yoga instructor. Na Rim frequently reminded her friend that she could easily be earning a much higher salary as a businesswoman, and simultaneously be in the ideal position to meet a man who was a high achiever like Chan Mi truly and naturally was, and subsequently find for herself a more appropriate kind of man to marry and spend her life with than that Australian drunkard.
When hearing her best friend talk this way, Chan Mi staunchly rejected her advice, always protesting that she was perfectly content to be a yoga instructor, for now at least. What Chan Mi really wanted out of life was not the prestige and status found in a successful career in business or marriage to a highly paid CEO whose stellar achievements in school and life matched her own. Chan Mi’s more modest dream now was to, before too long, have a baby with Nigel, quit her job at the health club, and focus on raising a family.
“What kind of a father will that irresponsible weiguksaram loser be?” Na Rim challenged her friend with this question. You are blind to the true reality of your marriage and situation in life.
“Nigel is a good man, Na Rim,” Chan Mi said. “Trust me. I know him inside and out. I believe I can help him overcome his drinking problem through my true love and compassion. My husband has a warm heart and will be a good father in the future after I cure him of his disease. Even when he drinks, he speaks warmly and kindly to me. Deep down his soul is the soul of a better man than he may appear to be right now. I will reach that soul and inner spirit with my love, and draw it out of him until he is cured.”
In addition to defending Nigel again, Chan Mi also requested her friend Na Rim to read her new and updated profile and bio for her yoga class page on the website of the health club and fitness center. Chan Mi hoped Na Rim would then come to understand why she was perfectly content to be a yoga instructor rather than the CEO and business woman she had the potential to become. Just enough time was left for Na Rim to read the bio on her smartphone before Chan Mi had to leave the coffee shop and make her way to the health club to teach her afternoon yoga class. Na Rim read the following profile posted underneath a stunning photo of Chan Mi looking like a natural beauty in her loose fitting and flexible yoga pants and outfit.
“Our top instructor, Kwon Chan Mi, leads our class on Yoga as Exercise. Yoga as Exercise is a physical activity, incorporating mainly postures connected with flowing sequences, accompanied with breathing exercises. Chan Mi’s classes frequently culminate with lying down for the purposes of relaxation and meditation. Yoga as Exercise is currently popular the world over, and especially in Europe and America. Chan Mi is excited to share her extensive knowledge of this form of yoga here in Korea, derived from her training in medieval Indian hatha yoga focused on the use of postures and breathing. Chan Mi’s classes also include instruction on body awareness, mindful adjustments, and heart opening accessible chants. She infuses her classes with mantra, mundra, and earth-based embodiment practices. Chan Mi’s vast knowledge of yoga and compassionate concern for the enlightenment of her students brings passion and joy to each of her practices. Her unique but accessible style of teaching supports awakening to mindfulness with the art and science of meditation and yoga.”
After reading the profile, Na Rim conceded that even if Chan Mi failed to realize her potential as a business and career woman, at least she took her considerably less prestigious and monetarily unrewarding career as a yoga instructor seriously. The two friends both agreed the profile was excellent, and then said goodbye to one another for the day, as Chan Mi needed to get to the fitness center on time, and Na Rim, who was something of a social butterfly, had a coffee shop meeting with another friend scheduled for the afternoon.
After finishing teaching her last yoga session for the day at five p.m., Chan Mi went straight home from the fitness center after visiting the traditional market which was a short walk of four blocks from the apartment where she and Nigel lived. She purchased some sam for the evening meal she had planned for Nigel. There was betchu or lettuce, cadnip or sesame leaves, both of which were required for a Korean meal of dakkalbi or chicken cooked with cabbage, onions, rice cake or duk, and spicy red pepper past called gokujong. One wrapped the dakkalbi in the sam with some rice and fermented soybean past called duenjang, and then ate the delicious and nutritious combination. Purchasing the required ingredients at the traditional market, Chan Mi could only hope that Nigel would return home from work at the institute to dine with her as he had promised he would, instead of skipping yet another one of her home cooked meals she prepared with love to instead go out drinking again with his friends from the institute.
The dutiful wife constantly worried about her husband’s health, with his undisciplined lifestyle and eating habits to compound the ill effects of his drinking problem and irregular sleeping patterns. Nigel often ate fast food for lunch instead of the healthy Korean box meals Chan Mi prepared for him and bid him take to work every day. The formerly athletic and fit Australian’s dissolute lifestyle was beginning to show in his expanding waistline and significant weight gain since the couple had married only a few years earlier. Like most Koreans, Chan Mi considered food to be identical to medicine, so her husband’s improper eating habits and lifestyle was a source of constant concern and anxiety for her.
When they were dating before their marriage, Nigel was the epitome of good health and fitness. Tall, broad shouldered, and athletic, the handsome young man had swept Chan Mi off her feet when they had first met at the health club. Now, after only a few short years of marriage, so readily apparent to all who knew Nigel, was the inescapable realization that the former footballer had entirely let himself go. Not only had he gained much weight, he routinely neglected to shave in the mornings because he usually overslept and had limited time for his morning toiletries, so that on his face at all times there was a perpetual shadow beard marring and diminishing he natural good looks.
Chan Mi refrained from pestering her husband about his declining health and body condition, because whenever she mentioned it to him, Nigel grew silent and sullen, as if the pain and self-loathing he inflicted upon himself by acknowledging the manner in which he had changed was too much for the former rugby champion to abide. Nigel knew his wife was right to chastise him, but he simply wanted to avoid swallowing the unhappy truth, and he even avoided looking at himself in the mirror in the mornings, afraid he could not endure witnessing with his own eyes the transformation which he had undergone over the last few years since he had married Chan Mi.
Chan Mi hoped that with a new diet of healthy, home cooked meals prepared with the love of a devoted wife, Nigel would regain his good health and tip top shape. She was disappointed once again when Nigel failed to return until well after midnight, while she lay half-asleep on the couch with another television drama on again to stave off the solitude she felt whenever her husband was away from home. When he finally came home, he was drunk again, and the nutritious meal spread out on the dining room table was untouched and cold. Chan Mi arose from the couch to ask Nigel if he wanted her to warm up the food for him, but he told her he had already eaten his supper with the mates from the institute while they went out drinking again after he finished his last class on the split shift at ten pm. He was too tired to eat anything anyhow now, and the big Australian stumbled his way to the bedroom without washing up, and he crashed down upon the bed without changing out of his work clothes, and soon fell fast asleep within the short space of ten minutes. He smelled of alcohol and sour beer again, so Chan Mi returned to the couch to sleep with a pillow and a blanket she found in a closet. But sleep would not come. For more than an hour she tossed and turned on the couch, with the worry and anxiety for the ill health of her husband racing through her thoughts and keeping her awake.
A few sleepless hours elapsed before a soothing slumber finally released Chan Mi from the anxiety and burden of worry she felt due to the sheer misery with which Nigel’s behavior was destroying their marriage and eating away at the small, residual amount of happiness remaining in spite of his dissolute lifestyle as an irredeemable drunk. This rejuvenating sleep lasted only a short time before it was morning again, a morning just like so many other mornings in her life of trial and concern. She entered the bedroom to try to awaken her husband, but it was not easy task to rouse an alcoholic half dead asleep after a long night of drinking. Chan Mi grabbed him by the torso and shook him violently while speaking loudly for him to wake up until he finally awoke drowsily. She guided Nigel towards the bathroom for his morning shower, while he leaned against the wall of the apartment with one shoulder and tried to grasp the same wall and random pieces of furniture to steady himself. While Nigel showered, Chan Mi warmed up the untouched meal from the previous evening. She hoped Nigel would have enough time to eat before he had to leave for work to teach his morning class on the split shift. Again, she was disappointed when Nigel hurriedly emerged from the shower clean but still unshaven, threw on the clean work clothes his wife had laid out folded on the dresser again, and quickly made his way out the door without having time eat his breakfast. However, Chan Mi was somewhat consoled when Nigel took the time to profusely thank his wife for preparing the meal, mumbling half-sober about how much he loved her and how sweet and fine it was for his wife to take such good care of him.
“I know I’ve been bad lately my deary girl. I’ve behaved like a true scoundrel for a long time, for far too long me love. I’ll make it up to you Chan Mi. I promise you I will one day become the kind of husband a dedicated and faithful wife like you deserves.”
Then Nigel was out the door and sluggishly walking out of the apartment on his way to the subway station to catch the train to work at the institute. The rest of the morning and the afternoon following it proceeded like so many others to which Chan Mi had grown accustomed in her married life. After cleaning up the kitchen and stowing away the untouched meal in the refrigerator again, there was another meeting with Na Rim in the coffee shop. Like always, Na Rim dished out her stern advice she offered, unsolicited by and also unheeded by her best friend, who steadfastly refused to acknowledge that her husband was the hopeless case Na Rim believed him to be. After coffee, Chan Mi went to the fitness center to teach her yoga classes. Though her own life was one big mess, without revealing her inner turmoil to her students, she found some joy in leading them on the path towards relaxation and inner peace, even towards a kind of enlightenment, through which Chan Mi herself derived some sense of solace and a healing but fleeting kind of contentment.
Evening came and Chan Mi found herself once again preparing another meal for Nigel. She had resigned herself to the expectation that she would be eating her dinner alone again while Nigel stayed out late at some hoff or bar with his drinking companions from the institute.
Consequently, Chan Mi was overcome with sheer delight when, unexpectedly, Nigel returned home from work stone cold sober at nine-thirty p.m. He came straight home from the institute after finishing teaching his last class of the evening, and in spite of the scruffy stubble beard on face and chin, he appeared well groomed and presentable, even tolerably handsome in his work clothes. The words he spoke to Chan Mi, after he took off his street shoes and put on his house slippers, filled her with the optimistic hope that their marriage was not doomed to fail and end in divorce, as Na Rim had predicted it would once again only the same morning at the coffee shop.
“I’m home me love, so give us a kiss,” proclaimed the tall, broad shouldered Australian as he crossed the foyer into the modest apartment. “The lads at the institute were filled with other plans for me tonight, but I dismissed them all with resolution. Yes love, all my mates from work urged me to accompany them to the hoff for to tie one on again, but says I to the boys, the lovely little misses is awaiting for me back at the homestead with a piping hot meal to warm my stomach and to set my heart overflowing with love. I’ve been dreadfully unkind to you lately my lovely one, so I told the lads I would take a rain check for the evening’s festivities, because I’m a properly married gent after all now lads, and I had better start acting like one soon or the good wife will conclude that I am indeed a lost cause.”
These words from Nigel, spoken in his thick Australian accent but more clearly and comprehensible now that he was fully sober, lifted Chan Mi’s spirits higher than they had been for weeks, or was it more like months, at that time. She bid her husband to wash his hands and join her at the dining room table to enjoy the special meal she had prepared for him with all of her love. Throughout the meal a deep yet simple sense of happiness seemed to course through her veins, and she was satiated with joy watching in silence Nigel consume the meal eagerly, with much fanfare and a plethora of compliments and adulations for the cook. No, she was more than a mere cook, Nigel corrected himself. The stupendous meal had been prepared by a true chef, not a sous chef, but a veritable executive chef worthy of five stars and a top Michelin rating. Bombastic with his profusion of heartfelt and genuine compliments for his wife, Nigel spoke throughout the entire meal, while Chan Mi silently basked in the delight of his flourishing praises. Sober or not, Nigel was never silent, and his true nature was to chatter away eternally like the tearjerker he was.
Though the former footballer and rugby star was at the time ashamed by the embarrassing and humiliating weight problem transforming his formerly athletic and fit physique, Chan Mi was overjoyed to watch him eagerly devour three large helpings of the dakkalbi. Yes, it was true, what so many of her older female relatives had told her. The surest way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. After she finished her own more modest portion of the meal, suitable for one as petite and in shape as she, Chan Mi patiently waited for Nigel to finish eating in between his long discourses on the usual multitude of subjects habitually filling his speech. He spoke of his deep love for his wife, contrasting her dignified fidelity, honorable respect, and sense of moral rectitude with which she lived her noble life with his own disreputable and dissolute behavior with the lads at the hoff. He spoke endearingly of Chan Mi’s limitless intelligence and proclaimed she was a superior being compared to him, who was just a footballer and regular bloke of limited intellectual capacities. Nigel announced and declared his intention to become a better husband and a better man, promising to spend more evenings at home like this one, and fewer evenings throwing away his marriage and future by squandering life’s precious time drinking with the boys from the institute.
The solemnly, zealously delivered pronouncements were almost like soliloquies, since Nigel lacked the capacity for self-awareness required to accurately gage the impact of his speeches on the mood and demeanor of his wife, who nonetheless listened intently to all of it while permitting herself to indulge those same fantastical hopes which had kept her sane through all the chaos of her marriage. These dreams of marital bliss Chan Mi harbored in the depth of her soul took on a new life while she bore witness to all of Nigel’s frenzied pronouncements of fidelity and devotion.
That very same night, after dinner, the young couple retired to the bedroom where they made love and slept together in the same bed for the first time in months. For Chan Mi, everything felt just like it had on their wedding night at the Hyatt Hotel at Heyundaei Beach only a few years prior. Nigel too was immensely satisfied with the entire experience, one which magnified the already expansive sense of hope and optimism captivating Chan Mi’s imagination and hope for a brighter future. Satiated with pleasure, man and wife reclined on their pillows and held each other fast while whispering endearment back and forth between them in the most innocent and pure manner of pillow talk imaginable, full of the same youthful yearnings which had bound them together in marriage.
Before they both drifted off into a most blissful and rejuvenating sleep, a sleep soothing and healing the young couple like some medicinal ointment applied to the wounds they had both suffered due to Nigel’s drinking, the repentant Australian waxed nostalgic for his halcyon days as a footballer, and then he spoke mournfully of the misfortunes abruptly ending his brief rugby career and leading him to Korea.
“I could have been a professional footballer, Chan Mi. I was on the path and well on my way to becoming a rugby pro. Ever since those days as an athletic and strong lad at the exclusive private school me mum and dad scraped and saved for to send me to, I was the true leader of all of my squads. My teammates routinely voted me captain, and everyone at my school knew I was the club’s star player, a great all-around athlete who could run like the wind and still carry the muscular stature and physical strength of a charging bull. Then in university, which the rugby scholarship made possible, my dreams of becoming a professional footballer were dashed and shattered by a series of debilitating head injuries. My life’s true ambition and career ended when I suffered one concussion too many. I tried my best to overcome the injuries and regain my former stature as the league’s dominant player, but on the pitch I was plagued by dizzy spells, nausea, and even vomiting as a result of the chronic, career ending concussions. The team’s trainer and doctor told me I would have to give up rugby for good because there was too much risk for me to carry on with the sport. One more serious concussion, the doctor told me, and I could be completely incapacitated or even die. The CAT scan and MRI confirmed the doctor’s grim diagnosis.”
“Since I had always focused on athletics rather than on my studies during the entirely of my education, the options for a rewarding career back home in Australia seemed limited to me. Perhaps I sold myself short and could have found a way to remake myself into some kind of a businessman or computer expert, to re-create myself and mold myself into a new kind of man with a financially rewarding profession to compensate for the loss I suffered by giving up football. But nothing captivated my interest, so eventually, after a few years as a knockabout doing nothing special and spending most of my time drinking me bitters at the pub with the lads and wallowing in self-pity, I decided to try my hand as an overseas English teacher. Some of my mates from school were doing it, and they all told me the only qualifications required for the job were a college degree in practically any field of study and the status of being a native speaker of English. Ozzy born and raised, and Ozzy proud, I realized I possessed all the required quals, and a few months later I found myself here in South Korea teaching at a hagwon. The learning curve was a steep one, but I soon discovered I had a knack for teaching and became tolerably satisfied with the job. It pays the bills, now doesn’t it me love, and we are provided with this modest but suitable apartment for our dwelling, as well as with enough funds for food, entertainment, and most of the other necessities in life.”
“Now as well, I am convinced I have found the silver lining behind every cloud. Though I had to give up on rugby, I never would have discovered you to love me so unselfishly and unconditionally had I never found myself here in Korea after being clobbered in the noggin one too many times out there on the pitch. The long train of events bringing you into me life would never have transpired had I never been forced to accept failure in the way of football, and I’m better off here in Korea with you methinks than I was wasting my time complaining about my regrettable situation drunk in the pub back in Oz. Recently I’ve come to harbor some new and perhaps easier to achieve and more practical dreams than were my ambitions to make it as a rugby pro. I’ve been talking about it with some of the chaps at the institute, and they have convinced me to look into doing an online master’s course in TEFL in order to become fully qualified for a university teaching post here in Korea. Of course, I’m not qualified for a course with Oxford, Cambridge, or University College London, but there are plenty of other online courses of study leading to the master’s degree more suitable for an ordinary bloke like me. I am going to try my luck and see if getting the old noggin kicked around one too many times won’t prevent me from an attempt to pursue the life of a scholar. I think I can do this, Chan Mi. I’m going to give it a try to make you proud of me and give us a higher social status and position in life if and when I can find a position teaching English at a university after I complete the master’s course. I’m not satisfied with the role of gansa, or institute teacher, and I am full of ambition for bigger and better things for the two of us me dear.”
Upon finishing announcing his big plans for the future to Chan Mi and eagerly awaiting her response, Nigel was disappointed to find that his wife had some time ago fallen fast asleep beside him and had not been witness to all of this, only his latest soliloquy. Slightly disappointed, but also immensely pleased to gaze upon his beautiful wife as she slept contentedly next to him in their nuptial bed instead of sleeping alone on the couch again, Nigel himself drifted off into the world of sleep and dreams. As he slept next to his wife in the bed, his imagination was filled with an entirely new kind of vision of himself wearing a professor’s tweed jacket while slowly strolling happily, lost deep in thought along a beautiful forested university campus path full of the vivid and vibrant greenery of picturesque juniper pines and the pink white colorful radiant explosions of cherry blossoms in the spring.