|writings: dating a korean
|I had a Korean girlfriend. She was a student in my
class. The cardinal rule is : dont get involved with a
student. I broke the rule.
She wasn’t a kid. She was 42. It was an English
class--Adult Ed.The furthest possible thing from a
Korean is me--a guinea from the west side of
Buffalo. But it was love. It just happened.
The class was rolling along and she moved to a new
apt and decided to host a lunch for the class. The
lunch occurred and when it was over she walked
me to my car and asked if I could do for her a
favor (they tend to misplace the indirect object)
I said: yes
She wanted to buy a dictionary of slang for her son
and we made a date. I took her to Borders and
then to Ross Dress for Less and then to the
Farmers Market for Coffee and in this way we killed
a pleasant afternoon. It was so pleasant we
decided to do a repeat.
This time we went to the beach. I took the scenic
route--out Sunset via the strip and Beverly hills and
Pacific Palisades and
pointed out some of the sights--the mansion of the
Saudi prince who painted pubic hair on the statues,
an OJ landmark, and Will Rogers park in honor of
Senor Will who said: “I never met a man I didn’t
One day there would be a park in honor of Charles
Bukowski--Los Angeles writer--who said: “I never
met a man I liked”.
We hit the beach and went for a walk and returned
to the car and stood watching the sun--a huge red
blister--burn itself into
the water, filling the sky with a blazing wash of
She looked across the water. There was Korea--
7000 miles away. She missed her country and her
nieces and nephews.
She started to cry. I put my arms around her and
did what I could to comfort her--not much. She was
alone in a strange country in a bizarre city with a
none too steady grip on the language and she had
a teenage son and a host of other problems large
and small no one could help her with. She needed
someone to hold her--and if it was an English
teacher so much the better.
That’s how it began. I leave it for you to fill in the
details. A love affair is a love affair and they all
pretty much operate according to the same
scenario. This one involved a small detour: it was a
I had a friend who said: if this woman spoke
English you would never be involved with her. She
had a point. There were
1) the English made it interesting. You will never be
bored when you are involved with someone who
doesn’t speak the language. There is no such thing
as small talk. A sentence such as “Isn’t that an
interesting flower arrangement” just doesn’t occur.
You have bigger fish to fry.
2) It was exotic. I never had a Korean girlfriend. I
3) I could help her. She needed a friend--an
American friend. Someone like me who taught
English and had 30 years in Los Angeles under his
belt and knew the ropes.
And as I say--you will never be bored. For
example: she was meeting me at my apt. She was
coming from work. I had a broken
doorbell I didn’t know about that revealed itself to
me for the first time on this day.
I was writing, waiting for her to arrive.
When I am writing the passage of time is of no
consequence and the universe shrinks to the size of
The phone rings. Its her. Speaking to her on the
phone is impossible. The one thing that is clear is
that she is in an agitated state. We go back and
forth. I gather she is en route.
Back to the computer. The phone rings. Its her.
Her agitated state has been bumped to the next
level--the homicidal level. We
go back and forth. Gradually the story reveals
itself. She isn’t en route, she has arrived, she
arrived 20 minutes ago. She pulled in the drive and
parked in back and went to the door and rang the
bell and there was no response. She rang the bell
again. She tried the door. Locked. She returned to
the car and called me on the cell phone. That was
the first call where we went back and forth and I
gathered she was en route, etc. She gathered I
was coming downstairs to let her in, etc. But I
never appeared, etc.
She decides the romance is finished and she must
find a Korean boyfriend. She returns to her car and
tries to leave. But she cant leave. She got in but
she cant get out. Its a narrow drive and a narrow
turnaround in back and getting in is easier than
getting out--esp for a Korean who never learned to
drive. The car is wedged crosswise in the drive at
an ingenious angle with zero clearance between the
door on the drivers side and the corner of the
building. She is stuck.
There she is inside--steaming in her Korean juices.
I am tempted to laugh but this will be fatal.
I said: roll down the window please
She is wearing her green outfit. This was an outfit
only a beautiful woman--a beautiful Korean
woman--could get away with:
pistachio green slacks with a yellow green blouse
and lime green sweater and green scarf and shoes
and socks. It was a brilliant day and the effect was
I said: “You look very beautiful darling”.
I met the family. She had a brother who lived in
Diamond Bar and had a sourpuss for a wife who
took a dismal view of interracial dating. The
brother was a businessman. He owned a body
shop and a piece of a hotel in Koreatown and was
moving forward with an idea for business #3.
Business #3 was brilliant.
You had all these Koreans arriving in Los Angeles
on a daily basis and they were getting in car
accidents. Most of them had
insurance. The were very good about that. But they
didn’t know some of the subtle ins and outs of the
business. That’s where the
brother came in. He put this little operation
together. It involved a lawyer and some insurance
contacts. A Korean got into an accident and was
steered by the insurance guy over to the brother
for an estimate.
The bro said: tell me about this accident.
The Korean described.
Alex said: you know--my friend--this is law suit
material. You can make some money here. I know
a lawyer. He specializes in this exact type case. I
will call him. He will take your case and write a
nasty letter to the insurance company threatening
to sue and they will settle out of court. They will
write a fat check--you give the lawyer his cut and
keep the rest. It wont cost you a dime. What do
The Korean said yes.
And this occurred--exactly. The lawyer wrote a
letter to the insurance company and Alex’s contact
prevailed upon the company to settle the suit. A
check was written. The check went to Alex. He
controlled the whole thing.
The lawyer got his cut, the insurance guy got a
taste and Alex kept the rest.
Now he called the Korean. He said the case had
been settled. He had some money for him.
The Korean came over. Alex laid a few bills on
him--$500 or so. The Korean was stunned. He was
thrilled, delighted, amazed.
It was a classic. Everybody was happy.
The brother took me aside. His English was truly
vile. The grammar wasn’t too bad. It was the
accent. It was unspeakable.
He said: Jack--I must thank you. I was very worry
about my sister. She is lonely. she miss her family
and her son is making
her loco. She cries alla de time. But now you have
made her happy.
What do you do when you are involved with a
woman who doesn’t speak the language? You run
errands. There were a lot of errands.
Koreans have a problem. They are forced to shop
Korean because of the language problem and for
this they pay a premium.
But now she had a savvy American boyfriend with
3o years in Los Angeles under his belt who knew
the ropes and she could make an end run
aroundthe Korean business hustlers. I took her to
Trader Joes and Pic N Save and TJ Maxx and Best
Buy where I saved her $175 on a TV. I signed her
son up for a video rental account at Blockbuster
and taught him to drive. Then she decided to move
to Beverly Hills to enroll him in Beverly Hills High
and I found an apartment and moved her in and
arranged for telephone and utilities service. I got
the son registered at school and there was an open
house to attend where I got cornered by an
administrator who invited me to serve on the ESL
committee and wouldnt take no for an answer.
Sundays were for church. Koreans are religious and
she was hard core. She got up every morning at 5
am to attend church for
I was also religious. I believed in golf.
She said: will you go to church with me.
They have a service in English
I said: lets do the Korean
She said: why don’t you believe.
I said: I do believe. You are God to me.
So there we were: the Korean who prayed to Jesus
4 hours a day and didnt speak English and the
atheist greaseball from the west side of Buffalo.
We had nothing in common--zero. She didn’t speak
the language and had no interest in culture
generally; books and music, art, etc. There was
one book in her apt--take a guess. I introduced her
to some of my friends. it was like pulling teeth. she
was terrified. she said: “my English is too vile”.
I said: “That is the point”.
But it was love. When I looked deeply into her
Korean eyes, my heart pumped a little faster and I
would do anything for her.
I leave you with an incident--one of the funnier
things that has happened to me. Her mother and
sister arrived for a visit. I
went over to the apt. The brother was there with
the sourpuss wife.
Hi-Sook was on the couch with the brother and the
three women are squatting Asian style on the floor
eating. The mother
put together a plate for me--the kim chee, the
pickled radish, the potato omelet, the little spicy
Japanese cucumbers for $8.95
I threw it down while displaying my formidable
chopstick technique. They oohed and ahhed and
spritzed each other in Korean
Next occurs the funny moment. I am in a chair with
the sister sitting next to me on the floor and now
she grips my knee and begins squeezing her way
up and down my leg--like she is shopping for
cutlets. She spritzes a little Korean. Now the
mother--84 yrs old--scuttles over and feels me up
a little. I am looking at Hi-Sook--ready to pee her
I said: what gives?
She says: in Korea the leg is important. We look
for the good leg.
what’s the verdict?
That was the high point--the feeling up of the leg
like they were shopping for cutlets. Later there was
a low point. I wont go into
Details—not here. We loved each other but it wasn’
t in the cards
She was Korean. That was one thing
You can never underestimate the cultural
pressures. As someone has said--not Will Rogers:
It is always better to stick with someone of your
But there was another thing. One day she said to
me: I lead a sad life.
To hear that broke my heart. Its like a parent
raising an unhappy child. Here is this person you
most love in the world and you are doing
everything in your power to make them happy and
nothing is working. It breaks your heart and that is
why when one day the question of marriage was
under discussion—not for the first but for the last
time—to be resolved one way or the other--and a
little voice in my head said: don’t do it—I didn’t do
I never saw her again.