It’s night, and our old mugunghwa train is barreling, clacking through the dark. I’m sitting under the usual stark fluorescent lights next to a young Korean woman, which is another way of saying that I’m sitting next to someone who will spend hours and hours of each day wriggling her thumbs over her cellphone—with impunity. We reach the endless, bulbous factories of Ulsan, which are just clusters of lights whirling in and out of the black window, and she motions for me to move out of the way.
A fatter, taller young man wearing jeans, a t-shirt, the sweet stench of hard soju, and the barbarous odor of cooked pig flesh, takes her place. He spends the first few minutes yelling at someone on his cellphone. And then something truly extraordinary happens (says David Attenborough)—he reaches forward to the back of the seat in front of him, where a single ticket stub lingers inside the black netting that forms a pocket for the back of the seat. He reaches forward to this pocket of black netting, plucks out the ticket stub, stuffs it in the netting in front of my seat, and then, quite promptly, passes out.
At this same moment ten stars exploded in the skies above us; one galaxy spiraled into another; life was forged out of lifelessness on the broiling surface of a distant alien world; two singularities bashed themselves together like cymbals and sprayed the universe with Hawking Radiation—in short, numerous events of incredible cosmic significance occurred.
And like the opening scene in the movie Contact, we see these nebulae erupting inside my eyes, and then zoom out of them, as I sit totally dumbfounded beside this man who reeks of pork.