My buddies Tom and JW have both seen me several times in recent weeks and months, but they haven't seen each other in years. The last time JW saw Tom was probably before JW left, with his wife and son, for a four-year stint in India, courtesy of JW's company, POSCO. JW had been wanting the three of us to get together for some time; I suspect that JW, thanks to his stressful business schedule and the fact that he's also a husband and father, has harbored a desire to relive old times. But getting the three of us to sit down together has been a chore; we all lead such different lives now, compared to when we'd met in the 1990s. Somehow, though, a syzygy was arranged through JW's assiduous text-messaging efforts, and we three all sat down yesterday (Saturday) for a galbi dinner at Uri Nara in Jongno, followed by a Baskin Robbins dessert. I have no pictures of our galbi to share, but here's a snapshot of the very pink-themed Baskin Robbins aftermath:
JW, who has no sweet tooth, wasn't exactly avid for ice cream, but Tom, despite being an atheist, has a keen sense of ritual, so we had no choice but to hit Baskin Robbins, which is what Tom and I traditionally do after eating galbi. JW gallantly paid for dessert; I had paid for dinner to celebrate the fact of my recent debt-resolution.
We talked, and I noted with amusement that JW, after finishing his tiny cup of ice cream, gestured to me to indicate that he wanted a chunk of my pint of chocolate mousse. I smiled and handed some over to him, then texted his wife to say that he was stealing my ice cream. She wrote back that he was a pig and that it made no sense to be eating ice cream in freezing weather, anyway. After showing JW what his wife had texted me, I joked to him that this was the mirror image of the Korean notion of i-yeol, chi-yeol: eat hot, spicy food in the summer on the assumption that this somehow cools you down (there may actually be some evidence to support this notion, but I still don't like sweating through a hot stew in August)—fight fire with fire. So why not eat ice cream in the cold?
JW's son Ji-an took over his mom's Kakao text-messaging account and sent me thundercloud emoticons to indicate how unhappy he was not to be sitting there with us guys. I told him we'd all meet together next time. Otherwise, I was fairly quiet during dinner and dessert, mainly because I felt that JW and Tom needed time to catch up.
We finished our ice cream and headed out, but before we got too far from Baskin Robbins, I turned around and snapped two shots of a gross poster that Baskin Robbins was displaying:
As you likely know, a bris is a Jewish circumcision ceremony. The mohel who leads the ceremony is a trained foreskin-cutter; in some traditions, the mohel removes the blood from the cutting via oral suction. (Yes, I have trouble imagining that, too, and it's been the subject of recent controversy.) So when I saw "Café Bris" being proudly advertised, I imagined a mug of coffee with bloody chunks of foreskin floating around inside it like a morbid chicken soup. Pleasant thought, eh? I think these thoughts so you don't have to.
(Above, I've put up the pic I took with Tom in silhouette.)
It was good to get together. I'm not sure that we relived old times, but for a couple of hours, at least, there was something like a return to the old and familiar. Tom and I used to teach at Koryo Foreign Language Institute; that's where I met Tom in 1994. JW was one of my early students there, and he's the one who dropped everything to help me when I sued my Koryo boss after having been illegally fired. I owe him much, and I try to be good to his family. He's got a fine wife and two great kids. Now he works for POSCO, shuttling back and forth between Seoul and Geoje Island every week. Tom, who's married and has a toddler son himself, works for Sungkyunkwan University and teaches six or seven different private gigs; I'm now at the Golden Goose and doing part-time work for KMA. Getting all three of us together these days is hard, but JW pulled it off, and I'm glad he did.