I was not supposed to meet her like this, not while I was still in love with with someone else. Plus, my shirt read, “I’ll flex for food.” Yet, here she was, up close and personal. She’s dancing with me to what must be the worst electronic music I’ve heard in Korea — that’s bad considering I’ve been to at least twelve different Ho Bars in Seoul.
The Bad Makes Way for Something Better
Almost two years ago, a break-up inspired me to write an article about dating expats in Korea. I advised expats to focus on developing themselves rather than dating while in Korea. After all, finding a functional relationship as an expat in Korea is nearly impossible due to people constantly leaving, the hook-up culture, and language barriers.
I regret what I wrote, but let me be clear; I don’t regret writing the article — it was good advice. What I do regret was being respectful; the ex didn’t deserve that.
Shortly after the writing the article, doctors discovered a tumor in my head. There was a chance it could be malignant, but we wouldn’t know until they removed it during surgery. She never called.
After the surgery, something surprising happened. Romance blossomed in my life. Some awesome girls swindled my heart, all who are still dear friends to this day. But, this girl who danced with me at Korea Burn remains. My final ticket from Korea even reads Sacramento, California instead of Jacksonville, Florida.
So, here I am. I can’t keep my hands off her hips. I can’t stop keep peeking into her eyes. I can’t stop imagining how nice it would be to fall asleep to the sound of her voice — not that she’s boring; she makes me laugh. Something about her voice resonates in my mind. I close my eyes and my heart slows to a steady beat, despite the adderall. It’s odd enough to find a girl who is fluent with body isolations on the dance floor, but to find to find a girl whose shoulder I can rest on as she tells me about her day — that is rare.
When we finish dancing, we make our way to the bonfire under a waxing moon. The air is cool, but it isn’t cold, at least compared to winter in Seoul. We watch people dance, laugh, connect, and even kiss. We see idiots try to jump over or through the fire. We secretly hope a few will fail.
We can’t see the ocean, but we know it’s there. A great black expanse stretches out before us. Occasionally, we see reflections of the moon on the corrugated surface of the sea. Occasionally, we spot nude expats in the water — they don’t tan well in Korea.
The Burning Man effigy burns to the ground. His charred remains keep us warm as we sit on the wet grass. She finds a small scrap of wood to sit on. I just sit on the grass.
As the effigy burns, people lower their guard. Korea Burn is a short event, so people might not be relaxed or accustomed to the event until after the burning of the man. But, wherever she and I are mentally this night, our walls dissipate almost immediately, either a result of fate or first touch.
I tell her about the tumor, my ex-girlfriend, and the change of heart that happens when someone tastes death. With a sense of dramatic irony, she tells me she survived chemotherapy twice. They even kill her bone marrow. With a bone marrow transplant, her body either dies or starts over — a rebirth.
She responded so well to her bone marrow transplant — she is full of so much life — her bones literally fissured and cracked open to replenish her body with white blood cells. Apparently, being full of life is really painful.
Yet, despite everything that happened, it was her heart that was damaged in the end — someone she loved left her on her deathbed. Except, she never died.
Now, she’s with me. For once, I just want to listen. I want to run my fingers through her hair — not out of lust — but out of admiration and comfort. We eventually stand up. My ass is soaking wet. We talk a little more as we walk back to our tents. We say goodbye and share a short kiss. It wasn’t even a kiss, it was more like an ‘I understand and know you’ kiss.
I didn’t see her for several months. When we did meet again, it was my 31st birthday, five days after the 5th anniversary of her rebirth.
My family always wanted me to marry a Christian, but I didn’t. I wanted to find someone to love me for who I was, not because we coincidentally shared the same faith. Yet, even in the end, I still managed to find someone who was born again — and that’s pretty cool.
And the Truth
Almost two years ago, I advised people to not come to Korea to date, but to come to Korea to live life. However, when you live life, sometimes you find love, too, even as an expat living in Korea.