Busan Love Dialogues

 

By Andrew Lawrence Crown

 

November, 2022

 

Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2022. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

The afternoon sun shone brightly atop a cloudless blue sky in the city of Busan, South Korea. The expatriate professors, Raymond from Australia and Nahid from Tehran, were enjoying a leisurely stroll on the walking path along the riverside in Dongnea. As the weather was brilliant on this early Spring day, the walking path was crowded with Koreans, many of them exercising and walking at a much faster pace than were Raymond and Nahid sauntering alongside the river. Running next to the walking path was a similar path for bicycles. Raymond remarked to Nahid as the two of them observed a pack of five cyclist passing by them at a quick pace, how with the Koreans, it is all about the gear. Invariably the cyclist sported expensive bikes, priced well over one million won, or the equivalent of one thousand dollars US, and they always donned similarly expensive high tech cycling helmets and clothing, complete with streamlined sun glasses and face coverings as they rode by speedily along the bike path. Many but not all of the Koreans walking on the footpath also wore high tech exercise apparel, in contrast to Raymond and Nahid clothed more simply in their blue jeans and sweatshirts.

 

The two English professors were out for an unhurried stroll, and so were neither exerting themselves nor walking at the quick pace of the Koreans out for a day of more strenuous exercise. Not all of the Koreans were similarly exerting themselves though, so plenty of them were proceeding at a casual pace, some of them walking their dogs and others supervising young children riding foot scooters or tricycles. Nahid remarked at how very amusing some of the Koreans appeared to be as they pampered their pets as if they were human babies, pushing them along the path in baby strollers. Raymond agreed that this was indeed quite comical, and cheerfully announced how every time they were approached by a baby carriage on the path, it was not possible to discern until the very last moment whether or not it was a human baby or simply another tiny poodle or other canine riding in the tram. Only when the tiny dogs in the baby carriages produced their high-pitched yelps and growls when one got too close to them, could one accurately ascertain the correct species of the passengers in the baby trams.

 

The man-made river, which flowed alongside the walking path and on its way out to the sea near Kwangonli, teemed with Asian carp swimming through the cloudy water in dense schools visible from the walking path. The fish were jumping on this particular afternoon as well, and one could hear them as they splashed back into the water after leaping as high up into the air as a large fish like a carp could. How nice it was, observed Nahid, for there to exist such a multitude of wildlife here within the densely populated urban environs of Busan, South Korea’s second largest city and one of the biggest port cities in the world. Together, Nahid and Raymond enjoyed watching the large grey herons and somewhat smaller white egrets glide atop the surface of the river gracefully with their impressive wingspans, and scoop up the smaller carp when they jumped out of the water. Other heron and egrets preferred to wade in the shallows with their thin stalky legs to feed on the smaller fish there. Ducks of colorful plumage and other water fowl were also in abundance in the area to which they were all drawn by the river, and there also thrived alongside the water plentiful gatchie or Korean magpie, as well as numerous more common city pigeons. Flowers bloomed brightly in profusion along the well kept and manicured path, and a favorite activity of the residents of Busan at this time of year was to pose among the bountiful scenery of radiant color for smart phone pictures taken by friends and loved ones.   

 

          Nahid and Raymond themselves were not yet lovers, though it was Raymond’s wish and intention that they would eventually become so. The two expatriate professors were well acquainted and even close with one another, as they were both regular members of The Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers, the small but intellectually ambitious group of writers and literati who routinely gathered in a local coffee shop one evening each week to discuss their writing and all of the numerous theoretical and philosophical issues connected to the art and craft of creating literature. Raymond tried unsuccessfully for months on end to convince Nahid to join him for an afternoon stroll at Dongnae, but the shy and modest Nahid, who had almost no prior experience with men in any kind of romantic sense, time and again rejected and refused Raymond’s repeated invitations. Not only did the mere thought of venturing forth on a date with any man discomfit Nahid due to her strict Muslim upbringing in Iran, there were distinctive elements of Raymond’s character and philosophic commitments to compound her hesitancy to accept his continued proposals for this first date for the two of them. Nahid’s distrust of her Australian admirer stemmed from his often pronounced brand of atheistic Nietzschean existentialism, a philosophical position and perspective on life starkly contrasting Nahid’s more traditional religious views and her firm and unbending commitment and faithful allegiance to her religion of Islam.

 

          Raymond’s indomitable persistence in the face of Nahid’s repeated refusals ultimately paid off when Nahid finally consented to join him on this extremely tame and, since it took place out of the open in public, rather than in a more private and intimate setting, this rather unthreatening manner of a first date. Nahid believed that so long as the two of them were to remain in public, where there was safety in numbers from any unwanted amorous advances her Australian devotee might have in mind, it was feasible to partake in this her first date with any man.

 

          The two of them looked quite at ease as they adhered to these preconditions during their afternoon stroll along the riverwalk. Both of them were casually attired, Raymond proudly wearing his University College London sweatshirt, while Nahid’s colorful red and black hijab, though it concealed from public view her long silky black hair, nonetheless accentuated the natural beauty of her face complemented as it was by her expertly applied makeup to highlight the mesmerizing loveliness of her large and oval, enticingly deep dark eyes.

 

          It was in graduate school in London where Raymond had found and developed his now soul defining interest in existentialist philosophy and literature, his doctoral thesis focusing on the influence of selected aphorisms in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil on the writings of Martin Heidegger, as well as on the literature of the Nobel laureates Sartre and Camus, whose work Raymond sought to emulate in his own writing and fiction. To his great disappointment, Raymond was never able to secure a full-time appointment to a university post in philosophy in the UK, Australia, Canada, or the United States, in spite of the fact that he had been universally recognized by his mentors at University College London as the star student and darling of his department, a true scholar whose potential was obvious to all who knew and worked with him there. Like so many other foreign academics one encountered teaching English in South Korea, Raymond always carried with him the burden and disappointment of his acknowledgement and realization that his settling for a career as an English professor in Asia was tantamount to settling for a second-best kind of life and existence. A persistent sense of disappointment and unfulfillment followed him constantly and placed a damper on his mood and general attitude toward life, from which he found it to be difficult if not impossible to escape.

 

          Nahid, on the other hand, was simply overjoyed to be spending her extended sabbatical, so generously granted to her by her university in Tehran, living and teaching in South Korea. The extensive amount of free time and the comparatively higher standard of living she enjoyed as an English professor in Korea, Nahid realized, was a singular opportunity and one not to be squandered, for her to write her first novel and make the transition from academic writing to the writing of literary fiction.

 

          The hijab Nahid routinely wore was a constant reminder for her of her Muslim and Persian roots, and she wore it proudly and purposefully during this, her first date with Raymond and her first meeting with this Australian admirer outside of the more structured weekly convocations of the Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers. The hijab was Nahid’s manner of reminding Raymond of her essential conservativism in all matters related to love and romance, as if to say to the free spirited, if somewhat dour and melancholy existentialist, “Fine Raymond. I have finally granted what you have long asked of me. I consent to spend this lovely Saturday afternoon with you for conversation and company. But mind you my friend, the hijab and I both declare to you unequivocally – hands off. There is a line I shall not ever let you cross, that is not until you convince me that your intentions for me are truly honorable. Before I permit you to even consider laying a hand on me, I must be certain your aims for the two of us flow directly from the heart instead of from that superior but fundamentally troubled mind of yours, so corrupted as it is by your insatiable commitment to this nihilistic brand of existentialism which appears to have taken possession of your soul, leaving you with only your hopeless stance concerning the impossibility of true love.”

 

          These very thoughts flowed surely through Nahid’s mind as she walked along the path with Raymond on this, their first date, filling her entire being with indubitable confidence in her own sense of resolve concerning her intention to protect and defend her honor, a steadfast determination only slightly tainted by a lingering sense of troubling confusion, regret, and even fear. For this exceedingly intelligent and handsome, but also unmistakably bitter, angry, and sullen man walking beside her at this monumental moment in her life, if he firmly believed there was no God nor any obvious and true purpose in life, as he so often had claimed there were neither during the weekly meetings of the Society, how then could it ever be possible for such a lost soul as he to bring himself to truly love another human being the way Nahid demanded to be loved, with purity and sincerity? Nahid was fully aware that Raymond was far too often overcome by an unhealthy and soul crushing measure of pessimism. Before she would consent to permitting their friendship and mutual admiration to develop further and evolve into any kind of genuine romance of the honorable kind Nahid could embrace without guilt or hesitation, she was resolved to discuss in detail with Raymond this matter of his capacity and willingness to give himself over entirely to a love which Nahid feared Raymond truly believed did not and cannot ever exist.

 

          “Raymond,” said Nahid, breaking the long but somehow pleasant silence both of them had permitted to color their pleasant stroll with an aura of mystery and discovery. Each of them had retreated for a time into the solitude of their own weighty thoughts, while at the same time cognizant of that comfortable sense of togetherness and communion distinguishing this first date of theirs from all of the other moments they had previously shared together during the meetings of the Society. “I want to talk with you now about something quite serious and of the upmost importance to me. This is such a brilliantly wonderous afternoon with this cloudless blue sky up above and impeccable weather. How joyous it is to watch the big birds gliding through the air so gracefully above the river, and how lovely it is to simply be next to you as we walk in silence together along the path. I feel more relaxed and at ease than I have in quite some time, and I can see by the bright cheery expression on your face that, at least for the time being, you are left un-harassed in the present moment by your habitual melancholy brooding. Would you agree to a rupture and disruption of this soul elevating and pleasantly restorative silence in order to partake in, with me, a more serious and momentous discussion right now? There are certain thoughts which never cease to occupy my mind whenever I am near you, and I even find them lingering in the back of my mind when you are far away, so that my ideas about you, and the possibility of you and me together as one, never leave me fully at rest.”

 

          “Go right ahead then,” answered Raymond encouragingly. “Tell me what is on your mind. I promise to do my best to set your mind at ease and relieve you of this strain you feel. Such a brilliant day. No time or reason today for me to indulge in my habitual sulking. For some reason, with you walking beside me, even when we exchange few sparse words between us, I feel a strange sense of comfort which has chased away my characteristic bitterness which no longer, at least for the present moment, enters my every thought and rumination. Yes, Nahid, please do go ahead and ask me anything you wish, now while this sense of calm persists and continues to grace our presence. For, who knows how long such a fleeting placating emotion will persist?”

 

          “I want to know, I need to know Raymond,” said Nahid, “What exactly it is about me that makes you so interested in a traditional Muslim like myself? Obviously, you are in fact interested in me, and very much so. You seek something more between us than our current friendship forged though our time together with the Society, or else you would not have invited me to join you this afternoon for this, our first date together. You know as well as I do that you could quite easily, effortlessly in fact, find for yourself a beautiful Korean lover, instead of pursuing me to fulfill that role. You are handsome, intelligent, educated, and though you are no longer so young as you once were, you are neither too old to play the field, as the Americans say, here in Korea. It seems like almost all of the Western men over here in Korea have found themselves Korean girlfriends or wives. Why, I’ve heard from more than a few of my male colleagues at the university, in their moments of candid confession, that all someone like you has to do is look at a Korean woman in a certain way, or say a few kind words to her, and she will instantly fall for you head over heels. When it would be so much easier for you to find yourself a beautiful Korean lover, why do you persist in your attempts to woo me, especially when I have until now, staunchly resisted all of your repeated advances and proposals for the duration of our short but intense friendship? Why me? Why do you choose Nahid as your objective and goal? Please speak honestly to me now and tell me what you want with me?”

 

“So direct you always are Nahid, and always focused like a laser beam on the crux of the matter. This is one of the many things I admire about you. But of course, there is more to it than this. Nahid, you never fail to impress me with your innate sense of decency and honesty. I think it must be instinctual for you, your genuineness and integrity, the absolute sincerity coloring your every spoken word. The fundamental sense of honor pervading everything you do or say, this, even more than your immense intelligence and accomplishments as a scholar, this stands in such sharp opposition to the inescapable sense of dread with which I view my own pessimistic, indeed my nihilistic outlook on life. I believe that in some essential manner, your uplifting spirit might be the perfect antidote and medicine for my own embittered, diseased, and downcast countenance.”

 

“When I was a younger man,” Raymond continued, “Just embarking upon my undergraduate studies in Melbourne, I too, just like you remain today, was full of optimism about life and awake to a future of seemingly endless possibilities. That was some years before I delved into the study of modern philosophy in graduate school at University College London. It was my encounter with the academic study of philosophy that transformed me from the bright- and wide-eyed, God-fearing youth of nineteen or twenty years old, into the dour, pessimistic, I dare say angry grown man I am today as I approach my thirty-fifth birthday. Now and forever more, I carry with me a jaundiced view of life which infects my entire being, weighted down as I am with sorrow and regrets when I confront the utter futility of life. Sure, a light hearted casual affair with one of the countless beautiful Korean women surrounding me as I attempt to make a life for myself in this foreign land, such an easily attainable affair might help to alleviate some of the pain of my angst, at least temporarily. Nonetheless, for some reason Nahid, a reason which I have tried to but cannot clearly comprehend, I feel, I believe that you, and only you, can permanently cure me of this bilious, debilitating pessimism concerning the pointlessness of life to which I am enslaved like a man in chains.”

 

“You lavish praises upon me more than I deserve,” responded Nahid. “I fear I will disappoint your excessive expectations if you believe I can cure you of your diseased outlook on life. No man has ever before spoken such words to me as you do now. I have always thought of myself as just an ordinary Persian girl, one with all of the native modesty a childhood steeped in religion and tradition has imparted to me. Yes, I am a bit different from the rest and the crowd due to my superior intelligence, and I fully acknowledge how my innate potential for a life of scholarship and academic excellence always set me apart from, and in a way above all of my peers growing up. But regarding my modesty and fundamental conservativism when it comes to questions of love and romance, I am no different from a veritable multitude of Persian and also Muslim women from my homeland. I fail to comprehend why you consider me to be so different and so special compared to the typical women of my milieu and upbringing. What are you really saying Raymond? Are you trying to tell me that you love me? In the past you have always confided to me that you believed true love to be a non-existent fantasy for foolishly deluded dreamers caught within the grips of a false vison of the world which simply does not conform with the reality of all of the suffering and pain fully surrounding us.”

 

“Yes. Yes Nahid,” said Raymond. “I have always contended that the lovers on this forlorn earth are caught within a nonexistent world of sheer fantasy. Such a world it is impossible for a hard-core nihilist like myself to recognize an anything more than a childish illusion. Still Nahid, I feel something for you and about you, and I especially feel this way when you are near to me and in my presence as you are now. Ever since I began to pursue the study of philosophy in earnest in graduate school, I became aware that there might be no escape for me from the numbing and soul-destroying solitude of my existential nihilism. Only quite recently, due to the pleasant treasured time I have spent graced by your delightful company, have I begun to seriously question my long-standing commitment to the philosophy with which I have guided my every move in life since those days of bleak self-discovery at University College London.”

 

“Unlike you Raymond, I have never questioned my faith in God, and neither have I wavered from my firm commitment to abide by the moral imperatives deriving from the theology guiding my every move and crucial decision in life. Yes, I am quite old, at least by Persian standards, not to be married already and raising a family of my own. Some years ago, I made the decision to prioritize my academic career over the call of tradition urging me to conform to the standard pattern in my country of early marriage, followed almost immediately by early motherhood. So here I find myself in Korea, still single and with minimal experience with men in any sort of way approximating love and romance. Back home in Iran my family tries to pressure me to marry and settle down, but until now I have resisted all of their considerable efforts to divert me from my career ambitions. They constantly try to set me up for arranged marriages, but I will have nothing to do with it. Thankfully they were not so domineering and determined to bend me toward their will by forcing me into an early marriage not of my own choosing. I am eternally grateful to them for that, since so many of my friends from my school days were forced by their families into arranged marriages during their tender years. Luckily for me, my parents respected my career ambitions enough so that while they continue to pressure me on every possible occasion, they have not as of yet forced me into a marriage with some stranger I barely even know. My brothers routinely e-mail to me photos and what amounts to dossiers of the eligible and successful men they know, men who my brothers tell me would be more than happy to have such an intelligent woman as me as their wife and who are willing to overlook the unhappy circumstance, as far as Persian suitors are concerned, of my advanced age. In spite of my resolution to maintain my independence for so long and buck some of the traditions of my homeland, I have never lost my faith in Allah and Muhammad his prophet. I believe the love a man and woman can share originates ultimately in the love God has bestowed upon the human race through the gift of creation.”

 

“All of this brings me back to the most pressing and fundamental question I must ask of you Raymond, now that you have confessed to me in your own peculiar way your desire to have me as your own. Is true love of the kind I have denied myself so far in life, but have longed to experience ever since I was a teenager immersing myself in the novels of Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters and other such Victorian writers, does such a love, as God’s gift to man and woman, exist within the realm of possibilities for a committed atheist like yourself, Raymond? I must know your honest and candid answer to this question before I permit the companionship we have enjoyed for so long to proceed above and beyond the status of the mere friendship we have so far contented ourselves to maintain between the two of us.”

 

“Love. Love. Love,” Raymond repeated aloud as he pondered deeply Nahid’s words and searched within himself for the answer to her questions he hoped might be satisfactory for her high standards in all matters related to intellectual honesty and integrity. “The women always want to talk endlessly about love, no matter what country and where on earth they herald from. I do know for certain that I want you for my own, Nahid. I have confessed as much to you on many prior occasions, I am sure you remember well. I remain uncertain as to whether this longing and desire for you qualifies as the species of pure unadulterated love you have been reading about in your English romance novels for so many years now. This afflicted world we inhabit together with the countless billions Nahid, the Korean Buddhists are correct when they teach us that it is a world full of immense suffering and pain. According to the Buddhists, we suffer because we are consumed by an unhealthy measure and surplus of desire. Desire for pleasure, for wealth, for fame and recognition, for worldly success and achievement to fill the eyes and hearts of our peers with acclimation and praises of our very worth as human beings, all of these desires lead us astray from the true purpose of life. And yes Nahid, we also suffer incomparably due to our desire for love, the desire to give to another the love which we pray will be returned back to us sevenfold or more in magnitude. True contentment and peace, according to the monks I have spoken to concerning these matters at the numerous temples I have visited here in Korea, come only to those strong enough and enlightened enough to relinquish themselves from the self-inflicted pains of desire, even and perhaps especially the desire to love and be loved back in return. I am neither a Buddhist nor a religious man, not in even the slightest manner and extent. But I see the sense of this contention that it is desire, even the desire for love, that leads to the pain in which so many of the lost souls of this world, like the miserably adrift me, are all hopelessly floundering, drowning as we are in an ocean of sorrow.”

 

“Nonetheless beautiful and true Nahid, I am overcome by a prodigious desire for you. The way you deflect all of my advances with the wall of separation your traditional views of life has erected between us, your denial of my desire fills me with immense pain. Another man with more faith in humanity, even in his own humanity, might be able to find some way to tolerate this constant ache of unrequited desire with which I daily punish myself by calling it by the word love. As for me, I am too jaded by the dishonesty, the posturing and deception, the inauthentic embrace of all the illusions surrounding me in this life of suffering. I am far too tired and distraught, consumed as I am by an unshakeable angst, to be able to survive only for the same faith in the love that you seek, a love which I have neither the strength nor capacity to believe in.”

 

          “Then it really is hopeless and impossible, my inordinate plans for an intimate future between you and I. I will not permit myself to become the possession of any man who is convinced it is impossible to love me with the same great love I am capable of bestowing upon him. I respect myself far too much to allow you to use me in this way. If you sincerely believe true love is an unattainable fantasy, you will have to take all of your longing and desire for me that you say makes you suffer immeasurably, and direct it towards some other woman far less old fashioned than me.”

 

“If I consent to pursue this relationship with you further and in the direction you wish, you must realize you will be my first lover, and this will be my first experience with romantic love outside of the many vicarious relationships I have engaged in by immersing myself in the romances depicted in all of those British Victorian novels I have made the focus of my scholarship and academic career. You might find it difficult to believe, but in my country, women are strictly forbidden from engaging in any kind of premarital sexual relations. I already told you how some of my closest friends were bargained away by their parents into arranged marriages when they were so young as to not even have yet graduated from high school. I know you simply cannot believe an attractive, mature, sophisticated, and successful academic like me could be so inexperienced at my age. But it is all true Raymond. I walk beside you now in my early thirties still like a child due to my innocence and utter lack of experience in love. I am not certain what I can teach you about love, Raymond. I only know one thing for certain about these matters, taught to me by Jane Austin and other writers of her talent and time. In love, the giving is more important than the receiving. If I submit to your entreaties and agree to become your lover, you must promise to prioritize and focus on how you can help and bring joy to me, rather than focusing on what I can give and do for you. I will promise to do the same, and I hope I will be capable of alleviating some of the sorrow in which you appear to be enveloped. Perhaps the two of us together will escape from those troubles weighing us down which solitude makes doubly unbearable. This much I believe I know about love, even though I have never had so much as a single boyfriend prior to meeting you. These are my terms and these are my conditions. You must agree to try to love me selflessly in the same selfless way I will promise to love you. Do you think you can do it Raymond? How much worth does a promise hold for you?”

 

“Ah Nahid. You claim to be a novice, yet you speak with the eloquence of a seasoned expert. Already you show me you know more about love than I, who have endured more than my fair share of doomed romances and failed relationships, all of which have ended with my foreordained return to solitude and loneliness. I am conditioned by experience to expect failure in all of my relationships with women, and my jaded outlook on life prepares me to expect no more than a fleeting, short-lived pleasure from women. I doubt I can find within me the strength and fortitude to give myself selflessly to another human being, especially when I feel so empty inside with my perpetual melancholy tainting my entire view on life. There were brief moments in the past when I believed I could overcome my habitual bitterness, and so I allowed myself to fall deeply for a few special women, those rare true elevated souls, women of a pure heart and mind like yours. Invariably, even these veritable angels who temporarily graced my presence through their short and fleeting communion with the dour spirited malcontent that I am, were forced to leave me when they realized I was incapable of returning to them all of the affection and concern they lavished upon me. My inescapable boredom and indifference left them all feeling used and taken advantage of, so they always left me to return to the seclusion of my dreaded but familiar solitude.”

 

“Today I now appeal to you as this same isolated and lonely excuse for a man, begging you to give me the chance to see if I can do this thing called love differently with you. Based upon my contemptible history of failure in this realm of human life I have never understood and do not even now understand, I cannot blame you for refusing my invitations. But something about you seems different to me Nahid. Your self-confidence and your determination to remain true to those elevated storybook notions of love acquired from your study of some of the greatest romance novels ever written, this strange combination of mature conviction and wide-eyed inexperience concerning a love you have only read about but have not yet experienced directly, all of these reasons fill me with a hope that you might be different from all of the other women who I chased away and forced to leave me, the sullen reprobate in romance that I am.”

 

Nahid listened to Raymond’s confession and plea with undivided attention. She was thinking of how best to respond to his strange but endearing manner of showering her with compliments, when her thoughts were interrupted by the sudden and unexpected approach to the two of them on the path of one of Raymond’s good Australian friends, Nigel the onetime star footballer and rugby champion, and his Korean wife, the yoga instructor Kwon Chan Mi. The young couple looked to be enjoying their own Springtime stroll along the riverwalk and amid the cherry blossoms and vibrant array of other flowers in bloom. Nigel seemed overjoyed to recognize his good friend Raymond as the two couples approached one another on the path, and the once great and promising football talent Nigel hailed his friend using the traditional Australian salutations.

 

“Raymond me old chum. G-day mate. Good on ya man and right swell to run into you here on this glorious Spring afternoon. What a pleasant surprise to run into you today, and what’s more, it is a special treat to see you accompanied on your mid-day stroll along the river here with this beautiful woman friend of yours. I don’t believe we have ever met before Miss, or should I say Doctor? My name is Nigel, and Raymond is one of my longtime best mates from down under, with whom I have spent many an enjoyable hour in the pub reminiscing about good old Oz over a few pints. Sometimes considerably more than a few pints, if you can envision the scene properly. This here wonderful lady at my side is my own true and lovely wife Kwon Chan Mi, an honors graduate of Pusan National University, the very same institution where me dear old chum Raymond is gainfully employed. The lovely lady, my wife here, is a sharp as a tack and wiser than an owl. She’s also a prime specimen of perfect health and physical fitness, the top yoga instructor in all of Busan. It was all her brilliant idea to embark upon this delightful little trek along the river to get some exercise while at the same time taking in the magnificent blossoms and flowers in their full springtime bloom. A much better way I am sure to spend a weekend afternoon than holed up in some hoff with nothing to do but lose myself again in the bottom of one too many pints with the football on the telly to magnify all of my disappointments.”

 

“G-day yourself Nigel,” said Raymond with some glee in his voice. “Afternoon to you Chan Mi. My beautiful companion here at my side is my friend from the Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers. I do not believe either of the two of you have met her before. Nahid is a young PhD from Tehran who already has more published books under her belt than I could dream of writing in more than a few decades of scholarship. She is here in Korea on an extended sabbatical leave from her university in Iran, and the two of us have grown quite close and friendly through our mutual participation in the meetings of the Society. I hope the lovely scholar here will not see me as too bold when I proudly announce to you, Nigel and Chan Mi, that the two of you have stumbled upon the two of us here on what I venture to proclaim is our first official date.”

 

“So nice to meet you Nigel, and you as well Chan Mi,” said Nahid with that tone of sophisticated charm continually gracing her presence. “The two of you have indeed unexpectedly found us on our first date together. Why, just a moment ago, before you showed up, Raymond and I were buried within the depths of the most serious discourse on the topic of love. Raymond, please be kind enough to tell me how you know Nigel and Chan Mi.”

 

Nigel took Nahid’s question as a cue to provide an answer before his friend Raymond could proffer one.

 

          “Raymond and I are mates from the pub, mainly,” said Nigel. “The minute I met him some years ago, I immediately recognized him as a true Ozzy through and through by his accent and the way he was glued to the football on the telly, and I instantly knew we would become fast and true mates. Many a late hour the two of us have spent together at the pub reminiscing about grand times back home in Australia. Over many a pint have I recalled the beauty and charms of my old Brisbane, while Raymond here rarely fails to wax eloquent with his laudatory recollections of his beloved cosmopolitan and artistically conceived Melbourne.”

 

          “That’s right Nahid. Nigel depicts it well. We are both Australians, so the two of us, Nigel and I, bonded together quite immediately, soon finding ourselves to be so familiar with one another that it felt like we had been true mates our entire lives. A few hours in the pub with a fellow Ozzy to share a pint with the football on the telly, and it’s almost like we’ve been friend since the time we were wee little lads in primary school. A true buddy like Nigel is exactly what one needs to help make the inconveniences and trials of an expatriate life here in Korea survivable. Speaking of the pub Nigel, I have not seen you out and about in any of the familiar haunts for quite some time, many months it seems. Where have you been hanging out these days my friend? I have missed your companionship, and I know I can speak for the rest of the lads at the hoff when I tell you your presence has been sorely missed. What are you up to these days?”

 

          “Funny you should ask that very question,” Nigel said with real gusto in his voice. “For I was on the verge of sharing some astonishing news with you Raymond. My brilliant wife Chan Mi here, is currently exercising her salutary influences on my less than admirable drinking habits. After me poor lovely girl has had to endure my inconsiderate and downright selfish inability to part with the sauce for far too long, she has finally convinced me put away the alcohol and remove it entirely from my life, and I should say, from our life together. I’m proud to announce that I’m on the wagon now Raymond, as the Americans like to say. You won’t be seeing me in the hoff or pub anytime soon, not if I can help it and live up to me deary girl’s high expectations for me. I only hope I can find the strength and capacity within myself to make this drastic and fundamental change in my life. If I succeed in my attempts to turn over a new leaf, I will owe it all to Chan Mi’s unflinching willingness to guide me to a higher path in life.”

 

          “Well, that is fantastic news Nigel,” Raymond conceded. “I must say you have chosen to make a sorely needed transformation in your life which I hope will work out for the best for the two of you. Have confidence my friend, and you will remain firm and unbending in your resolve to quit drinking. I am certain Chan Mi knows best why this is such a welcomed and sorely needed change for the better. Me and some of the regular boys at the pub have been wondering where you have been lately and what precisely you have been up to, since we all considered it was not like good old Nigel to miss the football and a few pints with the gents. But now it all makes sense to me. You have made the right decision to place your trust in Chan Mi. She did not graduate at the top of her class at Pusan National University for nothing, and I suspect she has often bestowed her sagacity upon you with many a wise counsel concerning the ills of your excessive drinking.”

 

          “Thanks for the encouragement, Raymond. It has not been easy these last few months, quitting the drink cold turkey the way I have. The booze and the swell times with the boys at the pub were such a central part of my life. The new me, Nigel the teetotaler, is so different from the person I allowed myself to deteriorate into. Well, I feel like I have taken on an entirely new identity. I’m not so different from one of those born again chaps we meet on the sidewalks passing out the ‘I love Jesus’ flyers and invitations to church on Sundays. Yes mate, I can honestly say I feel I too am a new man, born again so to speak. I owe it all to my one true love, Chan Mi, who never faltered in her belief in my worth and potential, even when I was the worst kind of sick slobbering drunk anyone else would have been in the right mind to write off as an irredeemable and hopeless case. My little angel never lost faith in me, and it is only because of her unfaltering love that I’ve been able to make it through these last few months of complete sobriety. Not a day passes by when I don’t fear I might revert to my old self-destructive ways, when I have only now just begun to embark on this long and difficult journey to a life of abstinence from alcohol. Never underestimate the power of love, I say, to heal and mend all manner of illness and pathologies. From your many prior drunken speeches at the pub, I realize you are committed to your philosophical skepticism concerning the possibility of true love to even exist. Believe me this moment when I tell you now Raymond, it is love and love alone that enabled Chan Mi to turn me in this new direction in life. It’s only because of her that I haven’t had so much as a sip of beer or a swig of soju, not even once, these last three months of trial and difficulty. If I do in fact succeed against all the odds, to stay the course and maintain the progress I have already made traveling on the straight and narrow path of sobriety, if I can defeat the demons of my past harassing me more than you can comprehend with all of those irresistible cravings calling me back to the pub, I will owe it all to the love and support of my little princess, my true souled wife Chan Mi.” 

 

          All the while Nigel spoke in his manner of boisterous and grandiloquent, but also eloquent adulation, concerning his wife’s love and loyalty and the healing balm it was for open wound of his drinking affliction, Nahid observed Chan Mi closely to see how she would respond to all of the praises of adoration flowing profusely from the mouth of her husband. Chan Mi remained silent while Nigel spoke, but a wide smile of appreciation and gratitude for her husband’s acknowledgment of the sacrifices she made on his behalf graced her pretty face with an appearance of immense contentment. Nahid thought the good wife might have something profound to say concerning this topic of love, the very same topic that had engaged Nahid and Raymond so deeply in their serious discourse on this afternoon.  

 

          “How lucky for us,” said Nahid, “For you Nigel to bring up the topic of love, the very same topic Raymond and I were just know discussing before being so fortunate to run into the two of you on this wonderous afternoon. Nigel and Chan Mi, I must admit I envy the two of you for the solidity and strength of the marital bond leading you both to a better place in life. Right now, I can think of no better philosophical argument in my attempts to convince the skeptical Raymond that true love does in fact exist, than the fine example of the perfect and unadulterated purity of Chan Mi’s devotion to Nigel, and Nigel’s perfect awareness of the meaning of all of his wife’s sacrifices on his behalf.”

 

          “I know full well I am not the philosopher Raymond is, and neither I am the scholar you are, Nahid. I may not be able to formulate in the most appropriate and sophisticated words the essence of the special kind of magic binding Chan Mi and I together. But I can tell you without any hesitation that I feel it and know it to be real, in spite of the fact that, due mainly to my misdeeds with drink, our marriage has not always been a bed of roses. Before I gave up drinking, my transgressions made my darling Chan Mi suffer terribly, what with they way I was throwing my life away with no thought for the future or how I was dragging the two of us through a gutter of filth and hopelessness. The way poor Chan Mi endured all of it so stoically is beyond all praises I can utter or conceive. Now it is only her unwavering confidence in me that keeps me out of the pub, though it still seems like every time I walk past a hoff or run into an old drinking buddy like Raymond here, I want to break free of all of the restraints I have imposed on myself and spend a late night out tying one on with the boys in some miserable dive of a bar. That urge to revert back to my former wayward path to nowhere but inebriated oblivion, I have to admit I have not yet fully shaken it. The only solution I can see to defeat the never-ending thirst threatening to destroy me and my marriage, is to place all of my trust in Chan Mi and all of the ambitious plans she is presently executing in order to realize all of those big dreams she has for a better life for the two of us.”

 

          “Where does it come from, Chan Mi?” asked Nahid. “From where have you summoned such confidence and faith in the ability of your steadfast love to heal Nigel of what ills him? I hope some wise counsel from you can give me some ideas concerning how I might be able to convince Raymond the skeptic here that true love is more than a naïve myth of deluded starry-eyed dreamers, and is instead an obtainable reality which he and I can, with your kind of exemplary patience Chan Mi, find together.”

 

          “I will try to answer your questions, if it is all possible for a mere yoga instructor like myself to be a teacher to an accomplished scholar like you, Nahid. It is for us who know and understand better than all of the lost souls one encounters in life who are trapped in a cycle of a never-ending seeking and desire impossible to satiate, it is for we the enlightened ones to always remember the Buddha and his ethic of compassion. With the Buddha’s compassion as my guide, I derive my capacity to endure all of Nigel’s undeniable and obvious defects and limitations, because the Buddha teaches me how to feel for my husband and empathize with the manner in which he is truly suffering. Only the compassion of the Buddha has enabled me to lead Nigel out of the dark place of illusory shadows and deception in which his cravings imprison him. With the Buddha’s help, my love for Nigel will lead him away from his futile seeking after the unattainable pleasures his lust for alcohol dangles before him like some forever unreachable and impossible prize. With my love I will try to show Nigel a surer path as I willfully accompany him on his journey through life. This is my answer to your question Nahid. I apologize if it does not meet your standards, as an accomplished academic, for clear logic and unclouded reason. I only hope you find my humble thoughts to be worthy of your consideration.”

 

          Nahid thanked Chan Mi for the sincerity of her answer to her question. The two couples stood silently on the path, pondering the meaning of Chan Mi’s words as the bicycles zoomed by them and the Korean walking past on the path turned to observe the foreigners, wondering why they were now just standing there on the riverwalk in silence, seeming to be lost for some reason in deep thoughts arousing the curiosity of so many of the onlookers. Suddenly, Nigel broke the long silence with his entire face beaming with pride for the wisdom of his wife. There was another matter he wished to discuss with the two professors, and thinking it to be an apt moment to change the weighty topic of the conversation in which all had been vigorously engaged, he invited Nahid and Raymond to give him their best advice concerning a number of questions Nigel had about some graduate school applications he was currently in the process of completing. Before he would hit the send button for the online applications, Nigel told his friends, he wanted to hear their best advice regarding the applications and a great number of other issues connected to his current ambition to enter graduate school and remake himself in the image of those two accomplished academics, his talented new friend Nahid and her new, if hesitant beau, the ever so skeptical Raymond.