hamburger gim-bap and bus 1147 are 2 vignettes from the Korean-American writer, Mi Soon Burzlaff’s new book titled “Bravo your Life”.
Gim-bap is a Japanese import that has taken on its own cultural identity in Korean cuisine. It is seaweed laver filled with rice, strips of egg, different vegetables, along with Spam or ham rolled into the mix. Even though I don’t eat any kind of meat, sometimes Koreans don’t consider Spam, ham or hot dogs actual meat. Gim-bap is cheap and semi-healthy, and it’s served in small restaurants all around the country. In my neighborhood, there’s a popular place that’s famous for its quality gim-bap and tteok-bokk-i. After my first few visits, they got used to my Korean accent, and I learned how to ask for mine without ham.
It’s always crowded at lunch time, and they recently moved to a larger place, just a few doors down from where they were. Today is my first time eating in their new space, and it’s crowded with the usual lunch rush. I sit by myself in the corner, just happy to look like everyone else and blend into the crowd, a luxury that was never afforded to me in Minnesota. Since it’s at least three times bigger, there are a lot of new people working. A woman comes over to take my order, and I’m disappointed that she’s new. I say, “Gim-bap Ju-seo-oh. Ham Bbae-go .”
She looks at me impatiently, and loudly says, “Ham-bur-ger Eobs-seo-yo! Ham-bur-ger No! ” People are beginning to stare now. My face is red. I try to make my pronunciation better and say my order one more time, “Gim-bap Ju-seo-oh. Ham Bbae-go.” *
She really is frustrated now. Koreans aren’t used to anyone speaking their language as a foreign language, and she says even more loudly, “Ham-bur-ger Eobs-seo-yo! No! Ham-bur-ger No! Ham-bur-ger Eobs-seo-yo!”**
The place is dead quiet now, and I want to sink under the table, as everyone stares at the freak trying to “order” a hamburger in a Korean restaurant. Finally, one of the regular employees recognizes me and announces to everyone, “She doesn’t eat meat. She doesn’t eat ham!”
The lady chuckles a little and walks away. The restaurant returns to its normal frantic buzz as people shovel in their food as quickly as it was made and brought to them. My no-ham gim-bap arrives shortly after, and a few people give me curious looks; I shrink over it and eat it as fast as I can.
* Please give me gim-bap. Please remove the ham.
** We don’t have hamburgers.
Bus 1147 is out of control. The other night as I waited for a different bus, this bus drove by me so quickly that I don’t even think it could have gone any faster. In the darkness, you could see the inside of the bus brightly illuminated, and at the back, there was one lone passenger, bobbing up and down with each bump the bus hurdled over.
It’s early in the morning, and I’m tired. Even though I know I should take the ten-minute walk to campus, I can’t bring myself to trudge uphill alongside the crowded and polluted street, so I wait at the bus stop for either the 1111 or 1147.
The 1147 bus arrives in its usual fashion, barely stopping for you as you put out your arm, and taking off the second you step on to it. Today the bus is empty, and the bus driver gives me the meanest look while I use my cell phone to pay for the bus fare. I run to the back, not bothering to sit down because I’ll be getting off in a minute, but then the bus driver begins to yell at me for no reason in very loud and rude Korean, “Young lady! Why did you take this bus? You should’ve taken the 1111 bus! Why did you take this bus?”
I’m surprised, but I fight back, “What are you talking about? I can take this bus because your bus number is on the bus stop!”
He continues to yell at me as we pass the next bus stop with no one else waiting there, and I scream back even louder. Our faces are red and hot, like we are dusted with red pepper flakes, and we keep yelling the same thing at each other.
I push the button for the next bus stop, holding on to the pole as tightly as I can, bracing for the bus to halt, and he slams on the breaks so aggressively that even his body jerks forward towards the steering wheel.
Because my Korean is limited, but I’m so angry, I scream one last thing as I get off the bus, “A-jeo-ssi! I hate you!”
I walk to the left, huffing and puffing, ready to stare him down if he dares look at me when he abruptly opens the door and shouts, “Young lady! I hate you too!”