A Small Dish of Bird and Fish

bird and fish

Unlike Alice, Wendy Dale, (protagonist in Bird and Fish) is an American teacher who knows a great deal about Korea.  During her trip, she had hiked the mountains, shopped the streets in Itaewan and chowed down on enough kimchi to fill her gut with healthy probiotics to last all day.  Wendy is convinced she knows the heart of the Korean people and prides herself in her keen observations.  What she doesn’t know is one Korean man, despite his usual rationality, is falling in love with her.

From Bird and Fish, Episode 8:  A Quart of Milk

While sharing their spartan meal, he asked if she had returned to Korea since her first visit.  

“Janie became very ill two months after I returned, I couldn’t allow myself to plan another journey then.  While I fought to get her well, the years followed each other like train cars whooshing by,”  Wendy recalled.  “One day, I will do something extraordinary so I can return like a conquering hero, at least that’s my latest fantasy.”

Careful not to poke her painful memories, Jae asked, “What did you like most when you were there?”

Wendy daintily twirled her ramen into a bite-sized nest before answering.  “You read my piece in The Korea Times, so you know the most inspiring place was the DMZ, but I didn’t write why.  It was because of earlier memories.  The year before my father died, we took a family trip to Saratoga.  It was off-season and I was able to stand at the battle site alone.  But, I didn’t feel alone.  The ghosts of America’s first soldiers were all around me.  That’s how I felt at the Demilitarized Zone… surrounded by the spirits of families torn apart.”  She swallowed her noodles and took a sip of water before continuing.

“I liked the King’s Palace and the shopping in Itaewan, but my favorite time was walking with our host teacher.  We were hiking in the Kyeryong-San National Park and accidently separated from the others.  He used that time to talk about his country.  Truthfully, I still believe that anyone who comes to America would want to stay here.  In my defense, I’ve always lived among immigrants, so up until that very moment, I assumed everyone in the world longed to leave his homeland to be an American.  But Dr. Lee spoke with such passion and pride about his people, his government and his dream of unification, that I realized there were non-Americans who were just as patriotic as I am.  Our dreams may be different, but we all have dreams.”

“Was there anything you didn’t like?”  He asked, suppressing his desire to take in deeper breaths of her heady scent.

“Besides the coffee?”  She feigned a shudder while wrinkling her nose.  “I’ve always been a loner.  It was difficult for me to spend my days with American and foreign educators from dawn till dusk.  One group of Americans embarrassed me.  They complained about the food, demanded the guides follow their commands and whined all the time.  The term is ugly Americans. One morning a school principal from Colorado bad-mouthed teachers to me.  She called us lazy!  A few days before our return home, she led a collection to buy gifts for our guides.  I refused to chip in and had to send gifts after I returned home.  It was a stupid way to make a point.”  Wendy shook her head as she tried to erase her unpleasant memory.  “I don’t know, maybe those people weren’t so bad.  Maybe, I was just being a hard ass.”

“Hard ass?”  Jae hadn’t heard the term before.

“Stubborn.”  Wendy answered tersely to avoid further questions about the word, ass.  She busied herself by tossing their Styrofoam bowls into the trash.  “It’s getting late.”

“Wendy, if you go now, you’ll miss watching your drama.”  He needed her presence in his apartment-- in his life.

Wendy knew that as she spoke her VCR was whizzing into action at home, but she ran barefoot to his living room couch.

Jae would have eagerly watched dust settle if it was at her side.  He sat down next to her pretending interest in the TV family’s trials, while mind-sketching her profile.  Neither Wendy nor Jae Won stirred during the rooftop kiss scene.  Their bodies stiffly aligned in front of the screen like roller coaster passengers bracing for the drop.  At the commercial break, Jae allowed himself a furtive look at her to compile his facts:  She habitually abandons his slippers to walk barefoot in his house.  She was the only person he knew who was born with red hair.  She never respectfully lowered her voice for men or elders and refused to eat fish; the staple of his cuisine.  Everything that beguiled him, set them apart. 

In a moment of bravado, he smoothed an obstinate auburn curl back behind her ear.  Wendy didn’t protest.  She was fast asleep.

Jae watched her breathe until the KBS newsman announced it was 8:35.