“Let’s eat dinner” is written in English and Korean on a Post-it note stuck to the kitchen cabinet, so this is how I am summoned every evening. Also present are notes for “iron” and “lazy,” which is what I said on my way out the door one morning when my host mother asked why I hadn’t ironed my pants.
My host father hands me the electronic dictionary across the dinner table, says “Hun Chal’s father” and points to the screen. It says “night duty.” He has, apparently, reheated the meal on his own. His wife is at some kind of “association meeting” related to “woo-yoo” (milk) “production.” Dinner is the garlic stalks that were marinated in that obscene quantity of soy sauce yesterday, meat, a soup of radishes in soybean broth, which I’m coming to loath, and a pealed apple. We finish a bottle of some kind of Japanese alcohol made from, according to the dictionary, “glutinous rice.” He microwaves bowls of it. It is apparently medicinal and should be hot. Then he plies me with more alcohol to keep me at the table — just one cup of soju (out of a litre plastic jug) — so that he can ask me if in Alaska there are many American people. And how many natives? And do you grow garlic in America? Do you eat it?
Why do I feel like we’ve had this conversation before? Possibly because I now recognize the Korean word for native, and last time he had wanted to know if we grow bananas. I have trouble explaining that we eat only the bulb, not the stalk. I am not sure he got it.
After his wife comes home I come out to make a cup of coffee to counteract the alcohol so that I can work (damn that the computer in my English lab isn’t working, and why can I never refuse liquor, even when I should?) he points to his cheeks –“red!” and laughs more than the situation calls for. He had, apparently, been in that medicinal, Japanese rice liquor for some time before I got there.