Back when a long layover meant that you could leave the airport, explore the city outside and go on a date, maybe.
The waiter looks at the guy that I’m
sort of dating to solicit our breakfast order.
“Soondubu seh-geh ju-se-yo.”
He pivots to my voice.
The shock ripples through his body .
Later, “Your Korean is very good.”
but I know it isn’t perfect.
“Thank you. I am Korean.”
The disbelief on his face does not leave,
while our party goes
Where to next?
Coffee? A hot drink?
A coffee stall pops up on our wanderings.
I sound out the Korean aloud and then realise that it is
latte and cappuccino, written in Hangul.
Our group laughs. But when I order
I am careful to pronounce it in the written Hangul way.
No queries or raised eyebrows about my
I guide them to Gyeongbokgung palace
to gawk at the queues waiting to have their photos taken with hanbok wearers;
to wander the courtyards in the biting October rain;
to peer into the inner lives of the royals, now dead;
to play tourist.
We sit in the garden overlooking a lake.
I close my eyes and ears to the present
and imagine the past relived.
I wonder aloud at how restricted
the royal princesses’ lives would have been within these walls.
Out and in with another thought.
Were the lives of their counterpart sisters
outside of the palace any better?
Which would I have chosen 200 years ago?
Life inside this box or not?
Our stomachs growl that we have one more stop.
Gwangjang food market.
My phone contains a list
of stall numbers and names of foods foreign to me.
I trust my dad’s recommendations,
ask directions from strangers,
navigate through the noise
Everywhere, metal on metal
Biting into kimbap rolls, I silently peruse our group.
Do we stand out?
It is nearly time for the layover to end.
I hail a cab. “Suh-ool yeok.”
The driver asks me where we are all from.
Khmer-American, Polish-Canadian, a white guy
from the plane who my maybe boyfriend brought along, and me
Scottish Korean. And I say, “Three of us live in Cambodia.”
I belong here, with this nomadic crowd.
Exact origins unknown.
Forever a tourist, never a local.
Always a traveller going through.