“Why on Earth did they have to bring their stupid dog?” Sara muttered to her mother while watching Wes chase Lucky around the marbled floor of the arrivals area at the airport.
“You know how they are. That dog is their child.”
The dog ran toward a group of three Japanese girls surrounded by luggage, and immediately there were screeches of “Kawai!” as they all bent down to give the pug some attention.
“Damn mutt! Lucky! You come back here!” Wes hollered as he jogged toward the dog with Kat jiggling her way behind him. Two Korean security guards also spied the ruckus and started running in that direction as well shouting “No, no!”
“There they are!” Colleen pointed to the sliding doors from the baggage claim as three figures emerged. They all looked tired.
“Aunty!” Tiffany broke out into a run and catapulted her way past the assortment of baggage carts and new arrivals, throwing her arms around Sara’s waist.
Ryan and Rupa trailed behind her pushing two carts filled to overflowing with suitcases. Rupa was huge. It looked like she had been eating for triplets, but she was smiling brightly as only pregnant women can. She hugged Sara tightly and Ryan said “hey.”
Kat waved from across the terminal then motioned in the direction of the two security guards watching Wes as he attempted to shove the now angry Lucky back into one of those plastic-prisons that dogs stay in during a flight. The dog began to howl.
“Why the heck did they bring that dog?” Ryan asked.
Nobody bothered answering.
“Excuse me!” Colleen stammered loudly to an older Korean woman who had just shoved her out of the way to push past the group. “Good grief. For a race of such little people they sure are pushy!”
“Mom!” Sara exclaimed.
“I’m just sayin’ is all.”
Wes and Kat hobbled back with the dog securely back in its box. The howling had died down to a whimper.
“Where’s Bob?” Wes asked.
God, she hated that name. Joon-Yong had decided that he would use an English name with her family as he was CERTAIN they would never be able to pronounce his Korean name.
“You cannot choose the name Bob!”
“Why not? It’s a good name.”
“It’s a joke!”
“Why that name is funny?”
“It just is. Just use your Korean name. It really isn’t that difficult.”
“Foreigner cannot say my name properly.”
“Eh? Well, we have the word ‘June’ and we have the word ‘young.’ What is so difficult?”
“Those word are not the same.”
But he insisted…and “Bob” he became.
Sara’s mobile phone rang.
“Come outside Gate 7.” CLICK. Typical “Bob” behaviour. God forbid that you wait for any type of response. The clan was soon moving in a pack toward the exit. Kat immediately grabbed onto Rupa’s arm and started yet another of her one-way conversations.
“We flew in on one of the Korean airlines. Gosh, their stewardesses were so pretty! Not like at home. Oh, I’m not sposed to say ‘stewardess’ now, am I? What’s the word they use now…WESLEY, what do they call stewardesses?”
“What are you yapping on about now woman?”
“Ya know…stewardesses. What are they now?”
“What the tar-nation kinda question is that? They are human beings!”
“You know what I mean Wesley!”
“Aunty Kat? I think they call them flight tenants,” Tiffany explained.
“Oh! That’s it! Right. Anyway, their flight tenants are just so pretty! I think Joe and Tuck-Shin flew with them too. They were sooo good! Anyway, guess Bob is going to drop you guys off at the hotel. We are staying with Bob’s sister cuz of the dog. I don’t understand why they won’t let the dog in the hotel. Honestly, he’s just a little dog! But I think we’re all meeting his family later for supper. I just hope it’s not some funny food. Wesley can’t handle funny food and I have to be careful what I eat too. They eat real spicy stuff here, ya know? And Colleen says they don’t do wedding rehearsals here. Isn’t that funny? Oh, Sara, Selina is so disappointed she couldn’t come. But she sent you a real nice present. Ryan, did Ned send a present for Sara too? I know he wanted to come too, Sara, but ya’ know he doesn’t have much money. That Linda takes all of it, eh?”
“Kat! Little ears?” Colleen interrupted while covering Tiffany’s ears with her hands.
“Oh! Oh, Tiffany, I didn’t mean anything bad about your mom. She’s such a nice girl! It’s just that…well, I think she gets a bit greed…”
“Put a cork in it woman! You’re just digging yourself a deeper grave.”
“Bob” got out of the minivan they’d rented and spied the group.
The “Bell crew” made a rather motley group. The look of terror on Bob’s face confirmed it:
A fat woman with a platinum bouffant, wearing a baggy sweater with Asian parasols on it, along with a pair of purple leggings.
Next to her, a tall man with glasses, a craggy face, a scowl, wearing a cowboy hat, and holding a plastic cage that was whining.
Next to him, a young girl whose hair looked like a rat’s nest, wearing what appeared to be her lunch on a pink jacket.
Next to her, an unshaven, younger man with tattoos up both arms which were holding onto two baggage carts.
Next to him, a more-than-pleasantly-plump Indian girl who looked like she’d swallowed a watermelon. Whole.
Next to her, an older woman who now had red streaks in her hair and seemed to have started shopping at the Blanche Devereaux fashion boutique.
And next to her, Sara.
Hands were shaken, hugs were offered, and a wet, lip-sticky kiss from Aunty Kat was given. “Bob” turned bright red and laughed his laugh, which was always a bit too forced and loud when he was nervous. He immediately grabbed one of the carts from Ryan and pushed it towards the minivan.
His hair flopped down in front of his eyes, and his arm muscles strained to push the loaded cart. Sara studied his large hands grasping the cart handle then realised he was looking at her. He gave her one of his rare, but ever-so-sweet smiles. God, how she loved him.
It had all happened so easily. She had finally decided to ask him out herself. She always caught him glancing at her in the office, blushing then turning away. Sometimes he built up enough courage to come chat with her when they both happened to be outside having a smoke during a break. There were only five non-Japanese staff in the office, so they were both “outsiders” somewhat. He had laughed his nervous laugh when she asked him out for a drink one Friday. Then there were dinners, movies, walks in the park, a day-trip to Kyoto, and a fun afternoon at Universal Studios. Finally, there was the first kiss…which not-so-surprisingly led to the first fuck. He was bigger and taller than Japanese guys. She teased him calling him her “Mongolian Warrior.” He started sleeping over more often. Soon, it was almost every day. Then he moved in. Weeks turned into months which became more than a year.
Bob was scared to tell his parents in Seoul about her, as he didn’t think they would react well to the news that not only was he living in “sin” but doing it with a “white devil!” Sure enough, Sara endured many an evening of “Bob” on the phone listening to his screaming and wailing mother. And when mother-in-law was told they were engaged, well, hell hath no fury like a Korean mother scorned. After some time, the storm calmed down. But then the idea of getting married in Korea came up. Sara was far from thrilled.
“I think it will help my family to like you more.”
“Could they like me any less? They’ve refused to even meet me!”
“Prease try to understand my culture, Sara.”
“I do understand your culture. Apparently, in your culture, racism is acceptable and parents are allowed to treat their children like their personal property.”
“You are so dippicult! They try to be nice and invite us to get marry in Seoul. It will make them be happy.”
After months of arguing, he wore down her resolve. Her family was informed, and mother-in-law-to-be took it upon herself to make all the arrangements.
“My mother says you will wear traditional Korea dress for reception.”
“And your mother too.”
“She want to know your dress size for wedding dress.”
“What? She’s NOT buying my wedding dress! I will be choosing my own, thank-you very much.”
“Sara, you are so dippicult! You must understand Korean culture.”
“NO. She is NOT choosing my dress.”
“I cannot say that to my mother.”
“Fine! I’ll tell her myself.”
“You cannot. She don’t speak English.”
When they had flown over to Seoul a few days before the wedding, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother, sister, and granny were at the airport to meet them. From the screaming on the phone Sara had expected mother-in-law to be a she-devil. But this little woman wearing enough make-up for Rupaul, short-permed hair, and a flowery blouse bedazzled in rhinestones hardly looked like a harpy. In fact, the smile couldn’t have been more gracious or genuine. The wedding dress, on the other hand, was the thing nightmares are made of.
Back at the apartment which was on the 16th floor of an apartment building amongst a field of identical apartment buildings, father-in-law, brother, and “Bob” sat on the floor of the living room while sister brought out trays of food, beer, and whiskey. Mother-in-law motioned for Sara to come into one of the bedrooms.
“Yaka-yaka, yaka yaka! Yaka! Puh-ree-tee! Yaka yaka yaka!”
Mother-in-law opened the door of a huge wardrobe made of lacquered wood and mother-of-pearl. Her little hands pulled out a pink, plastic, clothing bag. She smiled proudly as she undid the zipper. Out poured metre after metre of chiffon-looking polyester ruffles with “dazzling” rhinestones (although they looked even cheaper than rhinestones if that was possible). The bodice was floral lace with more rhinestones and plastic pearls. Two puffy sleeves shot out from the rather conservative-looking neckline.
“Yaka? Yaka yaka yaka? Puh-ree-tee?”
“Oh, it’s interesting.”
“Eh? Yaka yaka yaka? MI YOUNG! YAKA YAKA YAKA!”
She understood that “Mi Young” was the sister’s name. Soon, a “puh-ree-tee” girl in her twenties appeared in the doorway.
“Yaka yaka yaka…” mother-in-law quickly explained to her daughter.
“Sara, she want to know you like the dress,” daughter informed Sara.
“Ah, well, it’s, uh…” her mind went back to “Bob” pleading with her on the flight over to try and get along with his mother.
“Yaka yaka puh-ree-tee yaka yaka yaka,” sister-in-law translated.
“Aaaaah! Yaka!” Mother-in-law gave her a big hug. Then there was a pause. The little woman pushed Sara back from her clutches and stared at her chest.
“Yaka? Yaka yaka yaka?” Two hands, as fast as lightning, suddenly latched onto her boobs. Sara stood in shock while the woman pushed them down, then up, then to the left, then over her shoulder like a continental soldier.
“Uh, is there a problem?” Sara asked.
“My mother say you have very big bosom. Dress maybe no fit.”
Eureka! Such wonderful news!
“Yaka yaka yaka yaka yaka yaka.” mother-in-law chattered.
“My mother say no problem. Grandmother can sew very well. She make size of dress more big.”
“YAKA! HAL-MO-NI!!!” mother-in-law screeched again. Soon “halmoni” also appeared in the room. She was the most adorable granny Sara had ever seen. Her wrinkles were scrunched up into a constant grin, and her hair was pulled back into a bun held together by a thick stick of jade. She wore a traditional jacket and ankle-length skirt and white hose on her legs and feet.
“Yaka. Yaka yaka yaka yaka?” Mother-in-law grabbed halmoni’s hands and positioned them on Sara’s breasts.
“Ooooooh! Yaka YAKA!” Granny proclaimed. Then all three of the Korean women cackled.
“What?” Sara queried sister-in-law.
“Oh…I don’t know how to say in Englishee. Grandmother say many Korean mans like you because you are having prostitute bosoms!”
“I see. How nice.”
Back in the minivan Ryan sat with “Bob” in the front. Kat, Wes and the mutt were jammed into the rear seat and Tiffany was squeezed between Sara and Rupa.
“Wesley! Look there! Korean trees!”
“A tree is a tree woman.”
“They aren’t like the pine trees at home though. BOB? ARE THOSE KOREAN TREES?”
“Yes. They are trees.”
“I don’t think he understands me. Sara, can he speak English?”
“Yes. He’s speaking English to you now.”
“BOB? ARE THOSE TRADITIONAL KOREAN TREES?”
“For cryin’ out loud woman! They can hear you all the way to China!”
“TREES! TREES! DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORD ‘TREES’?”
“Bob” looked at Sara in the rear-view mirror and mouthed the word “what” to her.
“Yes, Aunty Kat. They are traditional Korean trees,” Sara answered for him, hoping to end the pointless conversation.
“See Wesley? I toldja so. Wow. Look at that. All the buildings look the same. I guess that’s because of the communism.”
“They ain’t commies here, woman.”
“What do you mean?”
“Good God, didn’t you learn nothin’ in school? This here is SOUTH Korea. Commies are up north.”
“I know that. And you don’t have to yell.”
“Then why didja say what you said?”
“I just got confused!”
“That’s the understatement of the century.”
“WESLEY! This is s’posed to be a happy occasion! Our Sara is getting married, and you don’t have to be so mean to me on a happy occasion!”
“Your own uncle and aunt fought in the God-damned war. You’d think you’d know better!”
“Wesley! Language! BOB? DID YOUR RELATIVES FIGHT IN THE WAR?”
“Sara, I don’t think his English is so good.”
Rupa had to be woken up when they arrived at the hotel. Uncle Joe and Tak-Sin were there to meet the new arrivals. Soon the rest of them in the van were off to sister-in-law’s house to leave Kat, Wes, and the mutt. Arriving at an apartment that looked nearly identical to the one mother-in-law lived in, Mi-Young and her husband bowed to their guests politely. Yet sister-in-law’s look of terror at the site of her guests was even worse than “Bob’s” at the airport. Sara mouthed the words “sorry” to her sister-in-law before she got back into the minivan. “Bob” started driving off and Sara sat in the front seat with her mom behind her. Colleen started playing with her hair.
“I am so happy you grew your bangs out. Especially for your wedding. Are you going to wear your hair up?”
“No, I think I am just going to curl it and wear it loose.”
“Actually, mother will take you and Mrs. Bell to beauty shop tomorrow.”
Sara glanced toward “Bob.” “Thanks for the advance warning.”
“What? Don’t worry. She will pay.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about. I don’t want her messing with my hair!”
“Ah, you are so dippicult!”
Colleen reached out and put a hand on “Bob’s” shoulder.
“She gets her stubbornness from her father. Speaking of which, when do they get here?”
“I guess they’re here already. They’ll come for dinner tonight at the hotel.”
“You haven’t seen them yet?”
“Well, we just got here yesterday ourselves. We’ve been busy.”
“Mom? Just leave it alone. The fact that I invited them at all should count for something.”
Father-in-law was already passed out on the floor from too much drink by the time they reached the apartment in “Legoland.” Granny had gone to bed and mother-in-law was spooning out bits of bright red stuff into tiny, white bowls and setting them on the table.
“YAKA! Yaka yaka yaka yaka! Yu-bo! YU-BO!!! Yaka. YAKA!!!” Mother-in-law kicked father-in-law until he woke into a dazed stupor. Hands were shaken, and then “Bob” led Colleen into a guestroom.
Sara snuck out onto the balcony for a smoke amongst father-in-law’s collection of plants and orchids. Father-in-law was none too pleased when she had joined him for a cigarette on the balcony last night. Later “Bob” had said that father-in-law believed only women of low morals or prostitutes smoked cigarettes.
“He’ll just have to get used to it.”
“Prease try to understand our culture.”
“PREASE try to understand mine!”
Father-in-law scowled at her for several hours until she had given him the bottle of sake from Japan. His eyes lit up at the sight of it, and suddenly he became her best friend once again.
While “Bob” got Colleen settled in the guestroom, Father-in-law joined Sara on the balcony for a smoke. Unlike mother-in-law, he managed to get out a few words of English.
“You mudder? Beaur-di-pul!”
“My mother? Oh! Thank-you!”
“Sara beaur-di-pul because mudder beaur-di-pul.”
“Oh, I see.”
“No, I mean I understand.”
There were hints of “Bob” in his father. The eyes and the darker skin. He wasn’t as tall as “Bob” and he always pulled his trousers up halfway to his armpits.
“Joon-Young say you brudder marry dark-uh Indo woman. Yes?”
“You brudder wipe is Indo woman?”
“Oh, my brother’s wife? No, they aren’t married. But, yes, she is ethnically Indian. But she was born in Canada.”
A look of confusion crossed father-in-law’s face. Obviously she hadn’t been understood.
“Joon-Yong SHI! Yaka yaka yaka yaka yaka?”
“Bob” appeared at the balcony door.
“Uh, father say he don’t understand what you say.”
“Well, he asked if my brother was married to an Indian woman. I explained that they aren’t married but that she IS ethnically Indian, but she was born in Canada.”
“Uh, I cannot tell father that.”
“What? Why not?”
“That they are no married. Because they have a baby soon, my family not understand that. They are Christian people.”
“Uh, so is my family.”
“Is different for Korean people.”
“If you tell me to try to understand your culture again I am going to punch you in the balls!”
Suddenly father-in-law burst out laughing.
“Punchee! Punchee balls! Sa-La, you bery punny woman!”
Great. Of everything she had just said, he had to understand THAT!