25 February, 2007
The train was busy despite the late hour.
“Where are you from?”
I looked around as I always did when I heard my native tongue, though I didn’t know if it was directed toward me or not.
The carriage was full of drunken salarymen and preening teenagers. A few ajummas, older women in neon tracksuits, scoured the world with their eyes. I was on my way home from a party on the far side of Seoul, dazed from soju and beer cocktails. It took a few moments to realize who was talking. It was a Korean girl, early 20’s, who stared straight at me.
She had boarded at Seoul National University and hovered by the train doors, toying with her phone and glancing around cautiously. She was wearing large pink headphones that covered her ears completely, and had been bobbing her head to her music. I’d pretended not to look at her, but she caught me staring more than once.
“England.” I tried to look nonchalant as I swayed.
“England? I thought you must have been American.”
“Everyone seems to think that.”
“You have a big nose.”
I stared at her. “Thanks.”
The train pulled into Sincheon. As I offered a farewell smile and stepped off the train, she whispered to me, “Only 315 days to go.” She flashed me a smile in return, showing off pointed teeth the color of pearls, and returned to her phone. The carriage doors shut and the train pulled away.
As I approached the turnstile to leave the station, I found my wallet was missing. Cursing my bad luck, I tried to explain what had happened to the subway worker at the turnstiles. He quickly grew frustrated with my miming and ushered me through the gate, complaining with jagged tones.
I walked home, bemused. Despite the pressing issue of my lost wallet, one thought returned to me time and time again; what was happening in 315 days?