“The Tea House”
From May 1971 until
February 1972, I was a first lieutenant in an Army air defense unit stationed
By in large, military
personnel had weekends free to do as they pleased although now and again, an
alert would be called and all units in camp would have to collect all their
gear and equipment and head out to predefined locations. Sometimes these alerts
were called in the middle of the night and at other times at the start of the
day. With infiltrators from
One weekend, I slept
late and by the time I go to the Officer’s club, I could not find anyone I
knew. Apparently everyone had headed out in different directions for the day.
What to do? Hang around the bachelor officers’ quarters (BOQ) and read a book,
hang out at the officer’s club and maybe pickup a game of billiards or 2? No, I
would catch a Korean bus and ride the 30 or 40 miles into
Riding a Korean bus was
an experience in itself. Just about everyone on the bus was fully asleep. In
fact I noticed, while I lived in
After the cardboard dump, I could not go back to sleep and could tell we were finally approaching Soul as the density of housing was getting significant and then on the left, high on a hill was this large smoke stack with a white smoke pouring from it and it had the strangest odor. Come to find out later, it was the central crematorium for Soul and ran none-stop 24-7.
Finally, the bus stopped
at what appeared to me to be central downtown
Often I would just stop and attempt to take it all in. The sounds, the movement, the smells and would be overwhelmed. It was during one of these periods of just standing and absorbing that a Korean man approached me and in very good English said “Hello, pardon for intrusion but I am on lunch and alone and would like to invite you tea house for some English talk.” I looked at him. Sure, take me to some place to bust my head open and take what little money I had. “I know good tea house just down street. I pay. Just my English not so good and would like to talk with you to learn more.”
Not sure what about this small, compact, well dressed Korean man took the edge off my paranoia but I said “Ok, lead the way” and we headed down the street.
Now unlike many Koreans in the country-side and now in the city, he did not wear a face mask to shield his mouth and nose from infectious diseases, nor did he wear white gloves, which was a public “statement” that you were of a class higher than the “common peasant”
As he had said, it was
not very far until we came to a stairway leading up to the second floor of a 2
story building. Once upstairs, sure enough, it was Korean tea house and we
quickly sat down on pillows on the floor and he ordered us some tea from a
pretty little, smiling, Korean waitress. It was not long until she brought us a
brass tea pot of tea like I had seen in almost every Korean family’s home and
for sale everywhere in
For the next 40 minutes or so, we talked and he asked me questions and I him and I got to liking this little Korean man a lot. He was polite, honest, smiled, listened and tried very hard to express himself in English. He was married with 2 children and worked making lenses for eye glasses.
Finally, looking at his watch, he said they he had to go back to work and we got up and headed down the stairs and back onto the street.
He stock out his hand and I shook it and thanked him for the wonderful tea house and time spent with him and he headed off down the street.
What was this all about? I have no clue. Simply a Korean man, lonely at lunch and wanting to share some tea and English. For me, it was a great experience and I feel blessed that a Korean could sense that I was open to an invitation and would be open to any and all questions and also be interested in him.