Thursday, June 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Trees

The first time I met Chloe she wouldn't let me leave until I memorized thirteen words of Korean. No, that's not strictly true. That was the second time I met her. The first time she was very drunk and she didn't remember when I told her about it the second time. So for her it was our first meeting, but for me, it was our second. I don't suppose it really matters.

I was sitting on a bench on the veranda of the Original Backpackers on Victoria Street in King's Cross, Sydney, one late Friday night. I was talking to an English girl. We had long run out of things to say to each other. We'd talked of cigarettes, the weather and other boring things I find myself only talking about with English people.

Then along comes a funny-looking Asian woman holding a huge teddy-bear. She comes along like a vision in a bright red bathrobe, stocky legs and pink fluffy slippers. She's from South Korea but for some reason prides herself on her large and round Mongolian-looking face with its small nose and mouth. I think she's just peachy. She asks me if she can lie on my lap and rest. I tell her she's welcome to, so she sits down on the bench and puts her head on my lap and is unconscious in a matter of seconds.

The second time we meet there's a touch more conversation. The night is cold and we're sitting outside in the courtyard of the backpackers. It's late, and everyone has gone to bed, except myself and Chloe. To make conversation, I ask her to teach me some Korean. She says she could, but I have to take it seriously.

Chloe was in Beijing for ten weeks and learnt fluent Mandarin. 'I had a good teacher,' she says. She says if I really want to learn Korean I have to practice every day. I assure her I will. And with that we start.

Ne Joha yo.
Ch'an don.
Myut, shi ip ni ka?
Kap ni ka?
Wae yo?
Otto kai hai?
Ke nyang.

It was fun and Chloe was a good teacher. By profession she is a maths teacher, and Ilanit (Israeli, beautiful, intelligent, I love her, and her birthday is on the same day as the Jewish birthday of the trees celebration. It took me weeks to pronounce her name properly, by which time she'd left) and I secretly know she is a genius. Most people don't like Chloe. Ilanit and I think she's just fabulous. In particular, the three English girls who share Chloe's dorm with her don't like her. Chloe is aware of this but doesn't care; she hates skinny bitchy English girls. I'm on Chloe's side.

(November 1996, Sydney, Australia)

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