A Gangnam Souvenir

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I live north of the Han Gang, a big ugly river that bisects the city. Usually, I stay on the North side because it’s easier and I like it. Apparently there are expats who boast that in all the years they’ve lived in Seoul, they’ve been able to mostly avoid crossing to the other side. I am highly suspicious of such human beings. For one, you miss a hell of a lot of beautiful surprises when you keep yourself confined this way. It’s like living in New York and refusing to cross the Hudson. If I had adopted that attitude a few years ago, I would have never uncovered such an affection for Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Ham sandwiches, or the multi-sensory experience of a taxi commute to the Newark Airport. I consider these to be some of the finer attributes of a four-year existence on the East Coast.

Though truthfully, when you live on one side of the Han, the last thing you want to do is cross to the other side while everyone is trying to do the same. Yet I keep making follow-up eye surgery appointments that require an hour-long commute, three transfers, and a lot of undesirable skin-to-skin contact during the midst of weekday rush hour. Half the time, I nearly get on the wrong train. I wonder how many people can understand me when I swear as I realize what’s happened?

Today I walked up the steps from Gangnam station, and two American or Canadian tourists, presumably, were taking their photo in front of the entrance sign. PSY for President t-shirts next? Awhile later, I walked back through the station and followed my nose to a waffle kiosk. In a year of living in a land obsessed with coffee and waffles, I had indulged heavily in the former, zilch in the latter. I didn’t get it. They were everywhere, like cupcakes and cockroaches, and I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth anyway. I think it was one of the first things I noticed about Seoul, actually. Everywhere, people were eating fucking waffles. But as with other commodities I swear off for no reason other than the fact that everyone else is doing it and I feel more original if I don’t, I turned up my nose whenever a tortuous whiff floated by it. Oh boy, was I a fool. (In case you’re wondering, I’m sick to death of the song, but I love the video. Him, too).

My neck stretched to view a metal rack of a freshly fried batch, and I smelled the unmistakable combination of sugar, butter, and dough.

“Waffle bant hana, juseyo.” I nearly slurred. One plain waffle, please.

Cradled in parchment paper, it stood warm against my palm. Brushed with liquid sugar, it gleamed shamelessly in the cool iridescent lighting, the type of lighting that is brutally unforgiving to all things living and nonliving, except, apparently, to waffles. I wish I could tell you about each individual bite, but there were only three of them, possibly two and a half, and they all blended together. I stole the first corner hungrily, and the outer edge barely crunched before giving way to a sweet and pillowy interior. The tiniest bit of butter and sweet syrup greased the surface, my tongue, and the corners of my mouth. I dodged foot traffic, barely glancing down at the thing, and when it was over, all too quickly, I wanted more.

This, I decided, would become a ritual whenever I made the journey across the river. Whenever I headed to Gangnam, a waffle would be my souvenir.