Love in the Land of Morning Calm – Chapter 5

Love in the Land of Morning Calm – Chapter Five

Okay, accepting Jin Woo’s offer to go shopping wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never been to this store, or any store in Korea yet. Well, other than the convenience store around the corner from my apartment. I would love to simply wander around and explore it. How do I shop with a guy I don’t know? Most guys don’t even like shopping… My brain keeps a steady commentary running in my head as we drive the short distance to Home Plus about all the possible things that are wrong or simply strange about this situation. I’m my own worst enemy sometimes, okay, most of the time.

“You’ve gone quiet,” Jin Woo says as he pulls into the parking lot.

“Sorry. I was just thinking that this might be a little awkward.” I say… Holy crap, did I just say that out loud!? “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that, it’s just that most guys don’t like shopping and here I am, dragging you to a store and we don’t even know each other that well. I’ve never been to the store before so I don’t know where to find things so this might take a while… and I’m babbling again. Sorry.”

“You’re so cute!” Jin Woo states, laughing “Are you always like this?”

“No, well… yeah but I don’t normally babble so much. Truly, I’m not normally this much of an idiot but I think I’m just a little overwhelmed being in a new country, with a new job and on a date with a guy I’ve just met. Throw in the fact that now I’m worried about shopping with you and I’m back to being a babbling idiot.” I mumble feeling like a complete idiot, “Sorry!”

“Stop apologizing, I think you’re cute. And don’t worry about shopping with me, I like that I can help you. I would hate the thought of you carrying anything heavy when I could have helped.”

“Uh okay, I’ll try to stop over-thinking things.” I reply. What I’m really thinking though is I’ll try to stop blurting everything I’m thinking aloud. I seriously need a better filter on my mouth. Next thing you know I’ll tell him that I think he’s super-hot again. I’m so hopeless today. And yeah, being in a new place is a bit stressful but my silliness today is simply because Jin Woo makes me nervous. Why? Because he’s so sure of himself and us. I didn’t even realize there was an ‘us’ and yet he seems to be which makes me like him which makes me nervous. And yeah, I realize I’m an idiot and I’m talking myself in circles but I can’t help it. Dude’s hot and so damn confident about everything that I’ve become a silly girl. Next thing you know, I’ll be wearing pink! Seriously, the more in charge a guy is, the more girlie I become… it’s a curse.

We quickly gather the few things on my list like extra pillows (I love lots of pillows on my bed but become slightly embarrassed again, first date shopping for pillows… nope, don’t want to go there), some kitchen essentials and candles that would turn my tiny apartment into a home. The recruiting agency I was hired through and my friend, Amy who’d taught in Korea before both recommended personalizing my place to feel more comfortable and at home in Korea. With that in mind, I had brought some pictures of family and friends from home so I added a couple of cute picture frames to the cart. A kettle was the last thing on my list but in the same aisle were a few mini ovens. Hmm… I love to bake, should I pick up one of those too? I’ll be here for a year… is it worth it?

You see, my academy provided me with a nice – if small by Canadian standards – bachelor’s apartment. It came with a bed, shelves built into an alcove that I’m using as my dresser, a double bar hanging from the ceiling which serves as my closet, an apartment-sized fridge, a two-burner range (not a full stove, just two elements), a TV & DVD player and a small table with two chairs. Oh yeah, and a washing machine. It’s clean and cozy, and with my new purchases, it will start to feel like home too.

I do like my cute new place but there are two things about it that I find odd. The bathroom threw me for a loop when I first saw it. Why? Well, there’s no sink or tub, just a showerhead attached to the bathroom wall and a drain hole in the floor like you would see in public showers. I must have stared at it for a good five minutes trying to grasp the differentness. At least there’s a toilet! But I still think it’s funny that I have shower shoes in my place (to keep my feet dry, not to prevent athlete’s foot of course). The stove, or rather lack of a full-size stove is the other odd thing about my apartment. But after asking my new co-workers and friends, I found out that both were normal in Korea. Many apartments do have sinks in the bathroom but tubs are generally only in upscale homes or hotels. Hmm… checking into a hotel for a bath… now there’s an interesting thought.

“Debating about getting an oven?” Jin Woo asks. His question draws me back to the present.

“Not really, more like fantasizing. A friend of mine taught in Korea for a year, she’s the person who put the idea in my head to come here when I needed a change. Like me, she likes to bake and cook so she bought an oven and then didn’t really use it. She also said she rarely cooked at home in Korea, unlike in Canada. So while it would be fun, I probably won’t use it either. I think that’s it. I really just wanted a few things to make my apartment feel warmer and more like my home. Thanks for shopping with me.” I reply smiling shyly at him.


After we drop off my purchases at my apartment, we drive around Seoul a bit and I gaze out the window just taking in all the lights. Seoul has to be one of the brightest cities at night. It’s not just the neon lights that every store and business seems to have – although that’s a part of it – but buildings and bridges are also beautifully lit up. Did I mention that there’s a river that runs through the middle of Seoul? This city seems to have everything. I can’t wait to explore more of it. I bet it would be fun to run along the river, I wonder how far it is from my place. I think I need to get a map of Seoul.

A few minutes later we pull of the highway/major street/throughway… I’m not sure what we were on but it was more than just a street… and into a neighbourhood. Not long after, Jin Woo parks and we get out of the car. I’m super curious about the restaurant for two reasons. First, I have no idea what a normal first date is like in Korea and second, he hasn’t said anything about where we were going. All Jin Woo said was that I would like the food which makes me wonder how he would know. We’re on what looks like a side street in a nicer neighbourhood but what do I know, I’m new here.

“Here we are,” Jin Woo says as we come up to a building, “They make great risotto here.”

So it’s an Italian restaurant, although the name – Cavalli – was a bit of a giveaway. Maybe there are more similarities between dating in Korea and dating in Canada than I thought? Italian restaurants are always a safe bet for a date. Or maybe the similarities are because he’s familiar with dating North Americans from going to university in the States. I’ll have to ask the gang afterwards to find out how my first date in Korea stacks up with the norm.

We are seated and glancing at our menus in no time. It is a nice place and I’m thinking a little on the expensive side. Well, in Toronto it would be in the mid-high range – not truly expensive but not somewhere I’d eat regularly. I wonder what restaurant prices are like in Korea. Another question to ask about, I’m just so curious about Korea and not just dating in Korea, I want to have a great year here and it will help if I learn a bit about my new home. Hmm… maybe I can pump Jin Woo for information? Nah, I’ll just end up stuttering like an idiot again.

“Do you like wine? They have a nice selection if you do.”

“Hmm, yeah, I do like wine; although I generally prefer red over white.”

We order and our wine arrives at our table shortly after. Wow, the service here is amazing. So quick and efficient, it’s almost like they knew what we wanted before we did. I glance around the restaurant, taking in the muted lighting, candles, and soft music. Damn, he brought me to a very romantic place. Dude knows what he’s doing. I may act like a nervous girlie girl around Jin Woo but I’m not really an idiot. Okay, I’ve been acting like an idiot around him, I’ll admit to that but even when I’m staring at him like a starry-eyed teenybopper, I realize he’s a player. Dude’s too smooth not to be. But he’s a hot player who’s also been really nice and helpful when he’s not telling me how cute I am. Damn, I hate that. There is nothing I hate more than being told I’m cute but it happens all too often. Oh well, I suppose it could be worse.

But man, I’m so out of my league here. Shy, cute, slightly socially awkward girl meets hot, confident player… I’m not even in the same ballpark. Am I over-thinking it again? Probably, I do that a lot. Okay, deep breaths and just try to enjoy the date. It’s just a date. It’s not like we’re getting married. I smile to myself as I’ve finally talked myself into relaxing.

We eat our dinner and make small talk, slowly getting to know each other. I love food, it relaxes me; so as the dinner progresses, I get less nervous and more animated, more like me. I’m even able to ignore that slightly smug ‘I know I’m hot and you’re staring at me’ smile that Jin Woo is wearing for most of the meal. The food really is good, I need to remember where this restaurant is as I’d love to come back with friends.

“Would you like to go for coffee? I know a nice coffee house nearby.” Jin Woo asks.

“Sure, thanks for dinner. It was lovely.” I reply.

“My pleasure.”

We head to the coffee shop which really is nearby and as I enter my first thought was it’s quite beautiful in a kind of sterile, ‘should be a design magazine’ way. I glance at the menu written on old-fashioned chalkboard above the counter and just about gasp when I see the prices. I’m sure my eyes have gone all wide but wow, 9,000 won for a café au late (my go-to coffee choice). I don’t think I’ve ever paid that much for a coffee unless there was alcohol in it (Irish coffees make a lovely dessert). Hmm… all the prices are similarly expensive. Perhaps I’ll have to stop drinking coffee in Korea if this is what the prices are like.

“What would you like?” Jin Woo asks me as we near the counter.

“Umm, a café au late please.”

“Okay, why don’t you go find us a table and I’ll bring our coffees over,” he says.


I sit down at a table and take a minute to decompress. Looking around I realize that it truly is a lovely place, just a little cold with all the white and metal. Wonder what the coffee will taste like?

“Penny for your thoughts?” Jin Woo says as he sits down with the coffees, “You look like you’re deep in thought.”

Smiling I reply, “Only a penny? My thoughts are worth more than that!”

“So the kitten does have some teeth, I was wondering.”

I make a face at him. “Just when I thought you might be a good guy, you go and say something like that…”

He holds his hands up in mock surrender and laughs. “Alright, alright. I apologize, I’ll try not to say you’re cute or describe you as anything cute… can I say you’re pretty? Will you get mad at me for that?”

“Okay, maybe I’m being silly. Most girls would probably love for a handsome guy to say she’s cute and pretty is even better but being told I’m cute drives me crazy. Sorry.”

“Did you just say I was handsome?”

Damn, he’s made me laugh again. I’m so out of my depth here but I think I’m just going to go with it and enjoy spending time with him. There are worse things than a hot guy who makes me laugh…

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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