She said with a nonchalant smile that placatingly widened while she enunciated the extra aah sound at the end of that alien word that she threw at me.
“I’m sorry but I do not know what that means.”
“Kam-sa-ham-nida”, she broke it down for me.
“It means thank you in Korean”.
“Oh, you’re welcome, it is not that much of a big deal, I live a couple of
blocks down, and you looked like you could use a hand, besides it is
only two bags, it’s really no big deal.”
As we neared her house, she stopped and thought about something
for a while, she lightly bit her lower lip while she drifted.
I had been often running into her since I moved to Gangtok for my
studies and honestly, I found her really attractive.
“Would you mind waiting here for a while till I get these home?”
She yanked the couple of bags I was holding for her, and took them home along with the couple of bags she carried and disappeared into a gully which must have lead to her house. She came outside in a white dress, and wearing a pink hairband that had two brown fox ears on it. She walked with a sense of shyness with both her hands delicately held in front of her robed with an impassive shrug, as if she was not sure about herself.
She bit her lower lip again and turned towards me.
“Shall we?” She said with a confidence that I never saw coming.
“Shall we what?”
“Well, it is only fair that I treat you with a latte after the act of chivalry that you showed.”
“Oh, that was really no big deal, and also, I am more of a cappuccino guy.”
As we walked towards Café Fiction, I couldn’t help but notice certain mannerisms that felt kind of odd, as if she was not from around, little things about her, like using both hands while signalling a “no” or vigorously nodding her head while signalling a “yes”, sprouts of pensive silences and her saying “umm” or “uhh” while responding to some of my questions, yelling “chinchha” at some of the things I said, and the way she behaved all in all, it was something quite out of the ordinary. She spoke little as we walked but I didn’t mind as I was busy being amazed by the person I was walking with, I found myself coming back to my senses as she said something about her short aunt shopping. I felt like I was in some Korean drama. Her facial features, a genetic gift from her Mongolian ancestors, and a pale but fair skin, made it only more believable that she belonged to the Republic of Korea.
As we reached and sat down at the café of my choice, she ordered a latte but they only served filter coffee, so she asked for a kiwi shake instead and I asked for a coffee with cream for me.
“It means thank you in Korean.”
We both chuckled at the fact that I was taking notes.
“So it seems that you love South Korea.” I asked the obvious as I took a sip of the brew.
“Mmhh.” She nodded in agreement.
“My body may be born here, but my heart and my mind, geugus eun hangug ida.”
“I’m gonna bet my money that you meant it is Korean.”
“De. At first it was the Hallyu that reeled me into Korean culture.”
“Sounds delicious but I’m not even nearly positive that it is a sweet dish.”
“Hallyu means the Korean wave, Korean culture’s global vogue. I love the culture, everything that they do, at first I thought it was just the close to fairy tale dramas that I watched that was getting into my head, but then after years of it I found myself drifting to sleep nights after others, imagining I was in South Korea, practicing their culinary art, eating those dishes afterwards, walking those streets, enjoying their culture, being a part of their society, being them. This almost often happens, it still does before sleep, then comes the silence, followed by a voice, right before I drift into oblivion.”
“Have you ever stopped to listen to yourself in a silent room?”
I had never given it a try, not intentionally to think of it, before I could gather an answer she decided to give hers.
“I do, I started after I noticed the voice, do it now, close your eyes and listen. I’ll stop talking.”
As I did what I was asked to, the rustling of leaves, zooms of the passing cars down the road, the commotion in the library all fell into static, it almost felt morbid as I heard it. It was a brew of different voices at first, fractions of monologues I must’ve heard while looking at videos on my phone, or maybe a TV series because in the mixture of voices I could have sworn I heard Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, and Ellen DeGeneres speaking to me, and then I heard myself, my own voice, until I realised I was having a dialogue with myself.
“What did you hear?”
“I was speaking to myself.”
“In what language?”
“A mixture of English and Nepali.”
“I hear myself in Korean. The more I focus on the voice, it sounds different, like someone else’s voice, just nuances in texture, and at the same time I know that it is my own voice I am hearing.”
“Those are just thoughts, you making up your own dialogues in your own mind.”
“Dialogues that transpire in another language, that made me really think about how much I loved the culture, so much so that I had even started thinking in the language.”
“Wow, you’re really passionate about Korea aren’t you? Where did you learn the language?”
“Yes, and I learned it taking online classes that I got to know about after I learned about the classes from KCCI.”
I pretended to know what that was figuring it was some Korean communication institute online.
“I just know that K Pop means Korean Pop culture and I know about BTS, one of the many Korean idol bands and its fan base the A.R.M.Y., who took the world by a storm, their huge fan base made them one of the most popular artists, along with some big award that beat Justin Bieber, which was supposed to be a huge deal or something. I’ll google that last bit later. I know how the Korean thing has gained so many fans, and haters at the same time. I know some people who are livid at the act of fangirling in my circle of friends aswell.”
“What do you think about the obsession?”
“Personally, I couldn’t care less about what people like to obsess about. We have people literally living in a virtual world in this era, and me myself am obsessed with some relatably weird stuff that will come into light the more we get to know each other. So I know better than to be opinionated on the matter.”
“Aigoo, chinchha?” She said with flushed cheeks and a wide smile.
“We are to know each other better eh?”
“One can dream.”
“One can.” She said as she bit her lower lip looking at the floor, she drifted often.
“You know, a news company said that Korean Pop is the primary source of entertainment in the North East, which is not far from the truth.”
Her eyes lit as she lifted them up, I had seen this look in people when they talk about something that burns a source of energy inside of them, the look that is the very essence of the living, it was passion.
“It sure stands out. The flashiness, the style, their perfect angelic faces, and their angelic voices.”
“Aigoo! You sound like a fanboy.”
“Look who’s talking! Aren’t you one? From all I’ve sniffed out of this conversation, you’re a fangirl.”
“I do love Korean culture, and K-Pop too, I guess but not like mainstream hard core fans like the A.R.M.Y., I don’t like mainstream idol Bands that much, I still like listening to some of them in certain occasions, the famous ones anyway. As I said, I’ve fallen in love with the simplicity of it, with the life there. Sure I like their music, but I would prefer the sound of the Gayageum more than any electronically generated music anyday of the week.”
She took out her phone and started searching for something.
“Gayageum. It is a Korean instrument, looks almost like a Taanpoora, almost. There, I have sent it.”
I got a message on my phone with an audio file attached to it that said “Queen In-Hyun’s Man Gayageum”.
When I played it, it felt like a perfect mix of sorrow and contentment. As we finished listening to it we found ourselves in a suspended animation, just staring at each other, like the both trying to figure out something about each other.
She broke the staring competition as she took a scrapbook out of her side bag and handed it to me.
“This is a memoir of all the K Pop competitions that I have participated in; sadly I haven’t won a single one but atleast I do something to be in the community. I love singing.”
“This is really important to you isn’t it?”
I said as I turned the pages that held pictures of Korean celebrities, pictures of food, apparel, instruments, unicorns, some pretty hieroglyphics, and pretty things. There were pictures too, there pictures of her singing on the stage, with Korean celebrities and some of the participants of her doing the sarang hearts with her friends. The hearts that caught the world like wildfire, the thumb crossed with the index finger of the same hand to represent a tiny heart symbol, there is a mellow poetry to the act.
“Heck yeah! The community is a huge part of my life now, I do it because I don’t want to be put down by own peers who bully me for being obsessed with Korean culture, and all they do is follow the same stupid trends that everybody follows, they are obsessed with being Thugs, Queens, Savages, and what not, they are all “on fleek” for that,and I am the one in their crosshairs for being Jabardasti Korean. Aigoo!”
Indian K Pop Fan community outside a Korean event.
She made some weird noises that possibly emanated from her epiglottis which surely voiced her discontent.
“We humans have the tendency to do that, that’s why we’ve started off with tribes. Our state and the neighbouring have a tribal ancestry that makes us look bit like Koreans, look at you if you were in Korea, nobody would even suspect that you’re from India.”
“Certainly, but maybe it’s because of our similar Mongolian features, “Asian looks” as they say and maybe it is because we see something that we could achieve, alternate versions of ourselves speaking a different language and adapting mannerisms, maybe these are the reasons why it is so popular here. We have a community of K Pop lovers, I do not really like the music but I like the community, which is why I participate in so many competitions year after year. I also got to meet Mr Cho Hyun, the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to India and Mr Kim Guem-Pyeong the 7th, director of the KCCI, Korean Culture Centre India.”
“Wait, the Korean Culture Centre?”
“Oh, yes. I guess most countries have those for diplomatic relationships. Also they hold language, art, culinary, and other Korean culture oriented classes. They are the ones responsible for the K Pop contests held in India. There have been a lot of participants from all over India, but the heart of the culture lies in North East India. There’s a whole community that’s thriving here, a place where I belong, truly you know? I guess everybody deserves that belonging, but to be honest I don’t belong here, in this country, that is why I applied for a scholarship to go study Culinary Arts in the Republic of Korea.”
Before I could let it sink in her phone started ringing, so she excused herself to go receive it, it must’ve been important as her eyes widened with panic as she looked at me.
After her conversation she walked towards me with a pout and a sour face.
“It’s my aunt, she is coming to pick me up.”
“Why? Did something happen?”
“Earlier today I told you that it was going to be short, because my aunt would come to pick me up for shopping.”
She looked at me with those eyes, and I could feel the gush of melancholia, it was not just us, everything in that smoking area of Café Fiction was just melancholia.
“I got in, it is a reputed school at Seoul, and they have selected me along with two others from India.”
It hit me like an avalanche.
“Wow, that’s a lot to take in, but Kamshamida to you.”
Words had left the room for me, as I mustered the senctence up. I wanted to tell
her that I felt sad because she would be leaving, and I selfishly wanted to ask her to stay. I liked her, a lot already but I was just another human to stand on the way to her calling.
I could only smile at her.
“I hope you win the next one, the next competition and show your haters. As for me, I will be googling the Hallyu to delve deeper into it. You made it sound amazing.”
“There will be no next one, not in this country anyway. I am to leave in a couple of days.”
She sighed, and hugged me.
“Anyeonghaseyo, Hallyu. It means Hello, Hallyu.”
She waved both her hands at me.
It meant goodbye.
Article contributed by Rohonit Hang.