I can't get over the smells. They're so different. I know that half the reason for this is the Korean's cooking ingredients and their famous barbecue-at-your-table-with-no-ventilation restaurants. Jim is absolutely gaga for these culinary experiences. He loves the grilled pork laid on a leaf of lettuce with sprouts and pickled onions. He marvels at every bite: "Oh, Pirooz," he raises his hands in exultation, "Look at this! Look-at-this!"
I do my best to hold my chopsticks correctly. I gently lower them to the raw beef on a metal plate by the grill. I squeeze the vice ever so slightly.
"No!" Jim shouts. "No, no, no."
"I don't want you to get sick."
I look at him with Bambi eyes.
"It's raw meat," he tells me. "You could get a mouth fungus."
"Disease," Jim says gravely.
I put down the chopsticks. I make a mental note to never touch anything meat-like with chopsticks again.
"You got to watch out," Jim warns, as the waiter offers me a fresh pair. "You don't want disease."
Jim points to the thongs in front of him. I use them to pick up a clump of raw beef in my best Operation (the game) facsimile, and put them onto the hot grill. The spices waft up with the smoke and tingle my nose.
"Hey!" Jim shouts suddenly. "What are you doing?!"
SY, Jim's girlfriend, a native Korean, is using her chopsticks to pick up the raw beef and put it on the grill.
"Di-sease," Jim enunciates. "You'll get sick."
"Oh, please," SY waves him off. "I've been doing this all my life."
"See?" Jim points to me. "The Koreans just don't care. She could get sick, but she doesn't care."
I laugh silently to myself. This has got to be the cutest couple on the planet Earth. I have met couples who ended up happy because they were so well matched, but I have never seen a couple that is so different but exactly right for one another in every way.
"Jim," SY says. "Why are we going to go drink Makkali?"
"Because I said so."
"Why don't we ask Pirooz what he wants to do?"
"Because I want to go drink Makkali."
"Okay, okay," Jim resigns. "What do you want to do, Pirooz? Do you want to go to some boring bar that you can go to any time or do you want to experience traditional Korean food and drink Makkali?"
"I am open to anything," I tell him with a chuckle.
"Okay," Jim nods affirmatively. "Makkali it is!"
"Jim," SY grimaces. "You can't decide everything. Remember Pirooz is here for a whole year. We talked about this. You have to slow down. You can't do everything in one day -"
"No," Jim interrupts. "All in one day!"
"Jim," SY ignores him. "You can go drink Makkali another time. Why don't we go to an American bar?"
"Because I want to take Pirooz to drink Makkali."
Now, ordinarily, I could watch this display of love for any number of hours. I wasn't about to though. I was ready to walk around. I also wanted to get away from the smell of burning pork.
"SY," I say. "I've got a way that you can make Jim do whatever you want."
"Well, first, you hold the back of his neck. You stroke his neck. Then you reach over and kiss his neck 3 times. Then say, 'Baby, lets just go get a drink. Then we can do whatever you want.' "
SY is all about it. She strokes Jim's neck. She whispers in his ear: "Baby, lets get a drink. Then we do whatever you want."
Jim laughs. He seems a bit amazed, but the technique has done its job. "Okay!" he shouts. "That works for me. American bar it is."
"Oh, yay!" SY claps her hands.
We all put on our jackets and head out into the cold, Seoul night. I walk ahead of the doting couple. There are hundreds of people on the narrow streets. I watch a motorcycle fly past. It careens half a foot away from me, barely missing a flock of Korean girls arm in arm and four abreast. They giggle as they walk past. I tip my hat like any American cowboy.