I had the most interesting cup of coffee with my teacher’s old friend this evening who is a professor of finance at a university. She had pre-warned me about him, that once he started drinking, he would not stop. She takes me to the restaurant of this hotel where he is pleasantly surprised to meet me, and the old student of his that is accompanying him immediately shies away in the typical Korean guy style I have met so many times here. What is it with this initial social awkwardness with some of the men here? My initial thought is, well here goes nothing.
But this older man intrigues me. His English is superb, and his initial opening conversation is, “This restaurant is too noisy, I like makgeolli”. To which my teacher responds, “Alex does not drink”. And I just nod in agreement, a friend helping out a friend after all. So we head to a coffee shop instead. As we get settled, a party of 6 next to us is celebrating a birthday. Mid conversation, our dear old man goes up to the birthday man and congratulates him. I cannot understand all that is happening, but I do see that these people are marveled by this eccentric man and respect him immediately, bowing back. He returns to our table and jokes with us that maybe we will get some cake out of it. Truth be told, a while later the birthday man humbly comes over to offer him a large chunk of chocolate cake.
As any good social older man does, he immediately tries to set me up with the barista, and then his own student. To which I laugh and make it clear I cannot take him seriously. His smart alec reply is that he simply is an Introducer, once I point out that aside from being a business man is he also a matchmaker?
In all honesty, he is the epitome of the social networker, showing me the many business cards he collects from conferences and meetings he attends, and I note the small scribblings on them, notes for himself to remember. He does the same to my name, once he realizes I do not have a business card like the rest of Korea does, and thus I have to jot my info down on his planner. I see my name and he writes “Min’s friend, coffee, B.A.G, New York”. “Do you know what B.A.G means”, he asks. Nope. “ It’s beautiful and gorgeous!” which makes me smile considering I was not prepared to be out tonight, and wore sweats and looked a bit ruffled.
This man’s life is amazing, having been in America for 5 years where he attended Harvard, lived in NYC at one point working as a cab driver and starting his own construction export business, and then moving to Ohio for school again while working as a mortician and beautifying dead people. What an eccentric life. He delights in telling me of his travel adventures, laughing along at learning words like “foodie” and “mortician” from me, jotting them down always next to my name.
He tells me of a time he was in high school in Daegu, right near where I work, but was too poor to take transportation and was thus forced to walk 2 hours and a half every day to school. Then one day this American jeep is on the road with him and he stops it, and boldly asks, “Please let me ride with you”. The officer is amused and complies since his school is near the army base. A month later, the officer goes to his school and goes to the principal and tells the principal about the boy. The sergeant, as it turns out, approaches him in the class and tells him, “You have ambition, that will get you very far”. This inspires him to work hard at perfecting his English. He becomes a hero to his class that day. In the end, the words that strike me from this successful jack of all trades are the words he lives by.“Men think destiny is given to them, bah! You make your own destiny!”