It was a frigid Monday and a holiday! I timidly put one foot in front of the other and slid out the front door. Slowly crawling into this strange world, becoming suddenly aware of the dark ocean around me. Like black mops swinging and bouncing as they flowed by. I looked closer. It was the hair of many Asians. My white Texas face shouted, “I’M NOT LIKE YOU. I STICK OUT LIKE A SORE THUMB!” The walls of my room could no longer shield me from the eyes of the passers by. Like the points of needles, I felt their stares as I swallowed the discomfort. I grasped my way into a small restaurant squeezing out the words,”nang-myun chuseyo.” as if their ears were made of delicate ceramic. I poured into the nearest chair. Time seemed to stop, until a smile greeted me carrying a spicy bowl of noodles and ice. She called it, “Nang-myun 냉면”, meaning “cold noodle”. The circular bowl was unfamiliar. Inside of it, I found sesame seeds floating on ice, slices of green cucumber, half-circles of Asian Pear topped with a slice of boiled egg and a strip of meat. Underneath it all, strings of noodles wrapped in a bun keeping everything afloat.
My stomach was going to burst as I hobbled around the block and explored more of the neighborhood. I could barely speak to anyone. If I got lost, I didn’t know the address to my apartment! I didn’t know the name of my school! I walked down blocks of gray square buildings laced with neon. I must remember the path I had taken. Loud music playing and smoky restaurants open to the street. Coffee shops on every corner. Asian faces warmly bundled. Occasionally seeing the familiar. A 7-Eleven! O thank heaven! The 7-Elevens were 24 hour, just like the West. Soon upon entering, the familiarity was gone. Things like black bean milk and squid jerkey hanging in the isles. The bean drink was known as “Kaman-kong (까만콩)”. It was refreshing!
I found the road back to my apartment after navigating the high seas, but upon returning, I noticed rectangular buildings lit up like Christmas trees. Some were castles, some looked like alien space ships. These buildings were hiding a secret. I could see myself in the lipstick red tiles, as I stood outside, pondering in the glow of their radiance. What was the intention of these bright buildings? The structures beckoned me to come inside, but I played it safe and stayed warm in my bed that night.