The Pleasant South Africans

A South African followed in the footsteps of Cobra Verde and refused to wear shoes while locked in the hotel in Gyeongju. Each leg was a treetrunk, and his vast feet seemed flat and comfortable on the cigarette-colored granite tiles, which are ubiquitous in Korea. Now that I mention it, Koreans have been known to suffer from from ‘Polished Granite Withdrawal’ (or PWD) on forays abroad. Symptoms generally include an unsure, bewildered gait; as though the world is too lumpy or tilted sideways, as well as a greater sensitivity to friction and velcro.

A more motherly South African with a far darker complexion and a completely different accent casually inquired how interested I was in fuller-figured women. A very pleasant small-talker, she caused me to go pale with terror when she said it looked like I’d be staying here longer than a year, and that the experience only gets better. She’d been here three years, the only woman I’d met to last so long, as women have a far harder time in Korea than men, according to some other female friends; time certainly moves very quickly here (as in a Siberian prison, according to Turgenev), and the place also seems to have accelerated the aging of some, but that may have to do with spending every weekend pickling one’s mind with soju for six years, rather than Korea itself.

One South African gave me a high-five and another told me I did a good job after the worst performance of my life, where I joined a chorus of misfits and mumbled and swerved my way through the Wonder Girls’ ‘Nobody‘ for an audience that should have rioted and burned the hotel to the ground after witnessing such a travesty.

The last South African was a great companion of many bus rides, an organist and proud owner of the strangest accent, half Australian and half god knows what, soft, quiet, difficult, but very charming nonetheless…each had a radically different look and feel. One, I remember, one I will never forget, had the widest and most excited eyes, and a deeply-serious face that could interrogate anyone with its beauty, or explode with joyous and addictive and contagious laughter at the slightest pretext.

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