#1 Pop Song Fiction: The Seoulite Beast


Shillim Station has a grimy feel. There are no Manhattan-like skyscrapers and sparkling, not-in-Asia cafes as there are in Gangnam; in Shillim, there are old buildings, old shops, and old memories of a pre-Olympics Seoul. You feel life's pressures cumulating in the constant beeping of car horns and the roar of buses. You feel the hustle in the foot steps of rushing crowds. And the street music -- the mumblings of walkers, the muffled sale pitches over speakers, the hawking of spit on sidewalks -- is nothing like that of Cali.

Sometimes I enjoy this rush; it makes Seoul more of a foreign experience. But then there are days like today, when the chaotic vibe reminds me there's always something new to chase here; and, if you don't keep pace, the Seoulite beast will eat you alive, for Seoul is a journey, not a destination. It's this mentality of constantly upgrading every aspect of one's existence, which proved to be the straw that broke Abby's back.

I think of her as I walk by Cafe Noriter. That second floor cafe looks so cute and innocent with its sky blue wall and white framed windows, yet every memory it holds is bad like a Shakespearean dagger.

"Everybody wants to rule the world." 

I hear the 80s song blasting from an accessories store. I don't know why they're playing such an old song. Then I hear Korean; it's another remake. How easy it is to take the best parts and make them better. I wish it was really that easy, especially with the not so good parts. Cafe Noriter is proof of the difficulty we Regular Kims have in the remake business.


She likes Cafe Noriter. She likes paying to sit on someone else's living room floor and sip overpriced caramel macchiatos. I told her, I got a floor we can sit on and mixed coffee packages at my apartment. She said I was silly and cheap -- a bad combination to build a future on. Funny words for your girlfriend to say. Two weeks later she told me to meet her at Cafe Noriter.

We sat in the front booth. She had two pillows behind her, and I had two behind me. The wooden floor table was between us. She wasn’t happy and didn’t bother faking a smile. We were having problems. Well, she was having problems, which meant we were having problems.

“I want a future here, Danso. Not this expat bullshit. A real future.” Her eyes had started the sentence downward, but by the time she reached my name, she was staring at me. The agony was the same in her voice as it had been for weeks, but her eyes said something new -- "I'm tired, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

“I’m getting married in two weeks.”

I gave a sarcastic laugh. “What, you’re giving me a shot gun wedding on my birthday?”

"I’m marrying someone I've been seeing for a while."

“What the fuck is a while?” I yelled just as the cashier walked by. But true to Korean form, the cashier pretended not to see a fighting couple in the cafe.

“You don’t want to get married. You want to do this Itaewon-expat shit. You don’t want to shave your face like a normal salaryman. You just want to act like this shit right here is cool -- well shit Mr. Kim, Ms. Kim is tired.”

It seemed like minutes turned into hours as we sat across from each other saying nothing and not acknowledging the other’s existence.

Then she got up. She put on her high heels, some overpriced name brand shoes that matched her oversized purse. She was doing that trendy Korean thing. You see Korean women, the trendy ones, wear their skirts so short, they need those oversized purses to hide their butts when they're walking up the subway station stairs. Silly girls we used to laugh at. Silly girls she had become. 

“Fuck you, Ms. Kim!” I said as she left. 

“No fuck you, Mr. Kim!”

I heard the bells above the door ring. Then I heard them ring again, and she was back before a single tear could fall. She stood outside the booth, staring at me as I stared at the two pillows.

We were straight K-Drama-ing it.

“What do you want, Danso? I gave you a chance to marry me. But, oh no, not you. 'Why do we have to get married?' Because this is the real world, and in the real fucking world Mr. and Ms. Kim get married and have kids and schedule fuck sessions on Sunday afternoons after church.” She paused to let her breathing slow down. “We just don’t have to do the Sunday dinner at the in-laws."


Tonight I actually pay to sit on someone else's living room floor. I want to think she is still mine and only mine.

It’s easier to question why she needs the perfect public image that her marriage is giving her than to deal with my commitment issues. She was perfect, is perfect. It will get no better than Abby. Yet still...yet still.

I have played house with others, only to be disappointed. But with Abby...her love has lifted me higher (Jackie Wilson sang it right). Yet, somehow there was a misstep, a miscalculation, and she let go of me, letting me float endlessly in the freedom of the air.

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