After muddling through the last two weeks of my spring-term writing class at BYU-Salt Lake, the topic of my final paper at last crystallised, and on the day before it was due, I started throwing it together. I finished it about 30 minutes into the final class period, at the beginning of which we had been allowed a fifteen-minute window to turn in our papers. My teacher told me she would disregard my slight tardiness with it. We also gave presentations on our papers to the class on that day which served as our final examinations.
My earlier topics had been the political centrism of the LDS Church (which I thought to contrast with the apathy of true “neutrality”), and the current state of biofuels in America, particularly ethanol. Eventually I realised how my feelings on both topics would be unable to fill up ten pages or so of double-spaced text, and I found a topic I cared about more: Cantonese as a language of foreign study.
My idea was that Cantonese should be given less unequal consideration with Mandarin by Chinese-studiers. The arguments I provided were three: Cantonese represented a large, economically influential, and sensitive region of China; the presumed opportunities behind the study of Mandarin were mitigated by the competition arising from the increasing availability of English-Mandarin bilingualism; and Cantonese was a more linguistically sound basis for transnational Chinese, in the case of interaction with neighbouring languages.
The presentation, that I finished during class, went well; and then, in that familiar instant just beyond the ultimate deadline for class work, everything was over, and I was left bewildered, to ponder my next move.
In the week before, Myeong-Seon had visited me. She had returned to Provo from Kennewick at the end of last month. Boarding with my family, she accompanied me from Wednesday to Friday (we had missed the Thursday-night bus). On Thursday she went to school with me, though I ended up skipping that class to try to work on my energy topic. She became bored, so eventually we just left and walked over to the Gateway Mall, where we ate, and then around back to try to find the English Skills Centre I’d visited with Tugsuu before (it was closed). Ah, so… with my political topic, I’d become aware of Utah’s “Refugee Month” this June, and I and Myeong-Seon had visited a community meeting in town, which made me want to get involved again with that ESC.
On Friday, I went with her back to Provo and visited BYU again, picking up some necessary forms. It turns out that, thanks to my over-enrollment, my under-performance, and my kindly teachers’ show of confidence in their evaluation of my 2011 winter classes, my semesterly average grade had fallen short of the 2.0 (C) required by BYU, and I was placed on the “academic warning status” that I had already been on after my difficult and busy winter semester of 2010. Before the end of August, I will need to submit another “academic improvement plan”. This plan, of course, will be somewhat less relevant than it was last time, since I only need to repeat one final class before finishing at the school.
On Friday evening, Myeong-Seon treated me to the incomparable Cannon Centre cafeteria. We visited a favourite locale of hers, the Provo Temple, before I caught the last bus to Salt Lake.
Last week, she came again. She arrived on Friday. We unfortunately were off time the next morning to try to attend one of the Seventh-Day Adventist congregations in Salt Lake, as she had hoped. That night, I hijacked my mother’s car (they were in Wyoming-bordering Manila from Friday morning till Sunday) and Myeong-Seon and I went around. I checked two places for employment, and we visited Jang Soo Jang, a Korean restaurant, where she paid most of the bill. I had ordered (dol-seot) bibimbap, as I always do there.
On Sunday, we tried walking to the singles’ ward I’d gone to before, but aborted the visit in order to meet our bus and train schedule. That schedule too was eventually aborted, though, when she took up my semi-serious offer that she just return to Salt Lake with me, and jumped off the train to follow me back. We could still have taken the next train, as well as the last bus three hours later, but we decided to travel back on Monday instead, which we did.
On Monday, I met old Miyamoto Mai, our mutual friend who is currently in a neighbouring apartment. We ate a little on campus and again at Dairy Queen, then watched some t.v. on-line back at her vacated home (the place was to be remodeled, and the residents relocated to other apartments — she would move today, on Tuesday). I again caught the last bus back to Salt Lake, and rode my bike back home from the train station, since the last bus up is already gone by then. It’s a thirty-minute ride, about.
On this second visit, Myeong-Seon searched out my old favourite mini-series, the Korean drama “그저 바라보다가 (Geujeo baraboda-ga)”; in English, “Just Looking (That Fool)”. It’s freely available with low quality from the KBS web-site, though without subtitles.
The drama tells the touching, humorous tale of Gu Dongbaek, a postal worker who accidentally becomes involved with a scandal between an actress, Han Jisu, and her boyfriend, Kim Gangmo, the son of a Seoul mayoral candidate who has become superficially connected with the daugher of a political ally. By sheer chance, I found the first episode of this show while living in Mongolia in 2009. Gu Dongbaek, a consummately endearing character, became an instant hero of mine, and I bent my schedule around the remaining 15 episodes. I laughed easily at the cute, basically clean humour, and my tears were also unhindered as I quickly connected the situations in the show with those in my own life story…
The drama had changed me, perhaps, that first time… and I persuaded Myeong-Seon to watch it with me again. That broadcast in Mongolia had English subscript, while this time, there was none, and I relied on her interpretation. We made it through six hour-long episodes on Friday and then Saturday night. I don’t think we watched it on Sunday. On Monday, back in Provo, we went ahead with the seventh show, but we only got 40 minutes into it before it was time to catch the bus.
It’s a bit different the second time, two years later. Now, I know the outcome of the story that gripped me so tightly in 2009. I also have a more authentic interpreter than the easily understandable but less-Korean translation of the subtitles in 2009; and I have a tradition-conscious friend beside me who understands the cultural nuances of the show.
More importantly, though, those characters in my life, identifiable with the roles in the show, who were so much larger in my mind in 2009… have shrunken. It’s a nicer experience, maybe, but this time I feel like a spectator and not a participant…
Any way, Gu Dongbaek has reminded me again to try to be formal and straight-forward with my Korean, and to make the best out of difficulties.
…I explored the idea in 2009 that I was really the very well-qualified but mentally distressed, socially and circumstantially burdened, and crushingly serious Kim Gangmo who failed so dismally to apprehend his own love, instead of the Gu Dongbaek I more naturally gravitated to — a shy, awkward, hapless, harmless, blameless, underappreciated person on the social fringe who couldn’t succeed romantically, but who took his heaping rejection in stride and, in his sincere and humble contentment, sought the sunshine of life. Dongbaek was a child, and Gangmo the more capable adult who had sacrificed his childlike joy.
As his difficulties mounted, anyway, I began to feel a tremendous sympathy toward Gangmo, and I became convinced he was my real representative, not the other.
Though the show is more distant from me now in social setting, maybe this time I’m actually closer to Dongbaek-ssi… This time, I don’t carry those heavy weights of before… and whatever else I lack, my heart is free to smile, and to laugh like a child.
Dear Myeong-Seon has related herself to… Park Gyeong-ae, whom Dongbaek once pursued but then lost interest in (I instead would place her as Kim Seung-eun, a beautiful family friend interested in Dongbaek who becomes jealous of Jisu). Myeong-Seon calls as my “Han Jisu” my former classmate, Kim Hyunjoo… whom I have admiringly imagined for a long time, and who certainly would fill the role. (After surprising me with her friendliness in May, she seems distant again; she hasn’t talked in maybe two weeks.)
The dynamic is very different from 2009, anyway, when I still yearned for Lee Bomie. I have no such ties today, pulling me to any one… and, live or die, I only hope for… peace in my heart.
My mom commented on the amount of time Myeong-Seon had been around recently. I’ll need to go to Provo, I suppose, to finish the seventh and then the nine other shows. At some point, I hope to find the series available for purchase with English and Korean titles. Myeong-Seon didn’t seem eager to transcribe the sixteen hours of dialogue for me. What a nice show it is, really…
Returning last night, pedalling up the nearly empty road, I thought of Myeong-Seon, and how sad she had been when we had parted recently. I don’t want to see her like that… I tried to apologise about not having avoided romantic inclinations with her, when I seemed decided against being with her…
Nothing has really changed from last year. I don’t think we will be together…
I’m perfectly happy to keep her forever, though, as my sister. She has become a bright star fixed in my night sky. I pray she will find some one… and I hope that when she does, he won’t replace me, and she won’t come to despise me.
Last week-end, she filled in the details of the story I had heard long ago at the Rock Canyon Park by the Provo Temple, of her break-up with her former companion. It wasn’t vicious or dark or anything… but it was quite dramatic, and very Korean; definitely t.v.-worthy.
She’s a rose to me…
I believe she will find her happiness…