Sunday, July 27, 2008

Travelogue #45: Why A Korean Man Told Me He's "The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA!"

<---Travelogue #44: How My Favorite Class Changed, Grew Up, and Said Goodbye
--->Travelogue #46: A Snapshot of Korean Pop Music, 2008

Note: This article was featured in an abbreviated form in the September 2008 issue of Eloquence Magazine (South Korea).

On Sunday it stopped raining and I went to Quiznos for lunch.

That was supposed to be the beginning and end of a non-story of a weekend afternoon: I would eat an angus steak sandwich and grade a mountain of bland TOEFL essays on how "clothes make people different." That was my plan...until he walked into the Quiznos.

"Hi," he said crisply. He was a middle-aged Korean man with a mischievous younger man's smile hiding under a baseball cap and an easy this-is-my-neighborhood swagger to his walk. A woman I later learned was his wife followed him closely. "Handsome beard," she told me. "Thank you." I said, thinking if only everybody used "Handsome beard" as a greeting, we'd all be happier people.

I returned to eating my sandwich and grading my papers. When I looked up to contemplate how in the hell to fix a sentence reading, "People behave differently when they wear different clothes, because the clothes make them act so, they make people remind of their position, and control people's mind," I found the man suddenly taking a seat at my little table. "Where are you from?" he asked casually. I told him Memphis, and he asked if that was near Seattle. I told him it was in the south of the U.S. and then I said what many Memphians say: "Elvis Presley is from there." My table-mate responded with, "I like American pop music." He rattled off the names of a few Beatles songs, and then turned our conversation to a more obscure direction.

"I'm the happiest... girl...
" he sang lightly but surely, "in the whoooo-le U.S.A....good morning, sunshine!"

Here I was on a Sunday afternoon at a Quiznos in Bundang, Korea, listening to an older man sing to me, "I'm the happiest girl in the whole U.S.A."

I didn't know whether to feel slightly uncomfortable or strangely patriotic.

"Do you know this song?" he asked me.

I didn't. "Who sings it?"

He paused. "A woman. Female!" He then reached across the table and took my pen and a sheet of paper. He scribbled down the following note:

I later laughed aloud at the "song by female," but as he was writing it, I merely nodded politely.

"Excuse you," he said, handing me back my pen.

"Oh, excuse me?" I said, cautiously correcting him.

"Yes, excuse me. It was a joke!"

We chuckled together and he started to ask me another question, before deciding to use the pen again:

"C.C.R....Creedence Clearwater Revival?" I asked. This time he did the nodding and I did the singing: "I see, a bad moon, rising," I sang.

"Tom Jones!" he countered.

Was Tom Jones a member of Creedence Clearwater Revival?

I didn't know. To be honest, the main factoid I knew about Tom Jones was that he once guest-starred on a very special episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

"...had a barrow in the marketplace..." my new friend sang proudly.

Was that a line from a Tom Jones' song? "It's Not Unusual"? It sounded so familiar...because as I discovered on the internet, it was from The Beatles "Obla-Di, Oblah-Dah." I also learned that Creedence Cleerwater Revival has nothing to do with Tom Jones.

But that didn't matter to my new friend and me. When his wife finally received her fruit smoothie, he arose from the chair and told me of the location of his restaurant. I told him I'd visit it.

Minutes later I sat in the same spot at Quiznos, mulling the bygone moment. And then he came back. Had he left something behind? Apparently he just wanted to chat up the Quiznos employees one more time, and then he was ready to leave for good. He glanced in my direction. "I miss-a you," he said.

I didn't catch his name, but I will remember him as...the happiest girl in the whole USA.

Related Posts:
Travelogue #35: The Usual Suspect at Dos Tacos in Gangnam (A similarly random mealtime encounter in Korea)

<---Travelogue #44: How My Favorite Class Changed, Grew Up, and Said Goodbye

--->Travelogue #46: A Snapshot of Korean Pop Music, 2008



Chris said...

That was great. I laughed out loud, which was painful, as I was eating a tuna sandwich at the time.

Cirila said...

Well said.