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Sunday, March 27, 2011


I am in Seoul. It is March 12, the day I originally was to head to Tokyo. I await stabilization in Japan but as the hours go by it appears the news is only becoming worse. Yu-na’s family does not want her to go to Tokyo for the dinner on the 16th. Frankly, neither does mine.

On March 14th Sigmund cancels the dinner. He and Jenny fly on his plane back to Seoul. Jenny will spend the next several weeks working on a plan to help children displaced by the disaster over the long term. The mood is somber, but Sigmund suggests we keep the dinner schedule, but in Korea. We will dine at Pierre Gagnaire at the Lotte Hotel, Korea’s only Michelin starred chef named French restaurant. We’ll dine on the 16th, the day before I leave with my team for Hong Kong.

Meanwhile I’ve been meeting Yu-na daily.

Our first meeting is on the 12th at a small coffee shop in Seoul. Yu-na looks wonderful in casual blue jeans and a sweater with a tan jacket and a purse worn like a backpack. No watch and little makeup. Her hair is much longer and she wears it tied up in back. The weather is sunny but cold.

It is the first time I’ve seen her since I saw her receding backside at the JFK security checkpoint. I want to catch up. What has happened in the last nine months?

School is going well; her grades are good. Her parents are well. Her brother has landed and retained a good job.

The new event is that Yu-na has saved up and purchased a small pension (in the French sense, a rental property) in a developing waterfront resort island. It’s a small resort, new, not luxurious, aimed at the Korean lower-middle class family. It has a view of the sunset, is within driving range of Seoul with access via a new railway, and has a nice little community around it. The region is known for its delicious grapes and vines are planted extensively. The pension is one of the three nicest units in the neighborhood, with a small pool, a barbeque grill, and even a karaoke room. She plans to call it “Renaissance.” In June she will move to a small villa nearby to manage the pension. The villa is owned by a church and is half populated with local ministers.

She lights up as she talks about this project of hers, a small but important piece of her independence. She is looking forward to being in this little nowhere town, away from busy Seoul, commuting to her university three times a week by train. She talks wistfully about the sunsets, the vineyards, and view she will have from her study. Mostly she talks about having peace and quiet, as well as a small income.

On impulse I tell her I want to visit it. She is delighted.

The next day she drives me there. We listen to her music in the car. She says she always wanted to drive me some place. On the way she stops at what she claims to be the best spicy squid place in the region. It’s excellent.

We make it to the island and I see the pretty little pension. I see her empty apartment, small but comfortable. I see where she will sleep and where she will study, where she will eat and where she will cook. It is a charming cozy place. Empty vines dot the landscape. Rippling water fills the seascape with the setting sun. We arrive with perfect timing to see the sun set from the roof of her 5 floor villa and the rising huge moon.

And it’s there that I kiss her.

I am vaguely aware that others may not want to read the ravings of a person in love. So I will spare you the sappy syrupy prose I might otherwise secrete here. Suffice it to say that we reconnect and I am instantly in love again.

Is there some reserve in Yu-na’s eyes that wasn’t there before? Yes.

And does it bother me? Yes, terribly.

We talk about it, but the scars remain.

The days pass. We spend time walking among galleries in the art section of Seoul near the presidents house, talking about how a painting or photograph makes us feel. We compare notes. We drink tea. We walk hand in hand.

I spend one evening at a room salon with Park, Sigmund’s old mentor. This is the place Park had taken Sigmund long ago, the place where Sigmund met Jenny the very next night. He has brought his mistress of four years. I ask Yu-na if she is willing to accompany me to a room salon and she agrees. Eventually I have invited another co-worker and a business acquaintance, all my elders, and we close the place down.

Yu-na is an elegant and quiet girl. Sometimes too quiet for the others. At one point when the intellectual discussions have degenerated into drunken joking one of the other men asks her why she’s so quiet all of a sudden. I say to myself, but loud enough for the others to hear, “because she’s smart enough not to talk when there’s nothing to say,” which wins me a look of surprised gratitude from Yu-na but some slightly shocked silence from my elders before Park breaks the ice with another bon mot.

She had sang with me in a previous excursion to a karaoke last year, just the two of us in Japan. I ask why she doesn’t sing here. She tells me she sings only for me.

And that reserve in her eyes still haunts me.

On March 16 we have dinner with Jenny and Sigmund. As usual they are disgustingly perfect hosts. The staff at Pierre Gagnaire are impressed with four menu degustations plus wines and proffer excellent service. The prices are ruinous as befits Asia nabobs, fully 50% more than Per Se in Manhattan, for example.

After some light opening conversation we take to the meaty discussions, the situation in Japan. We opine on the events, the unfolding chaos, the nuclear issues, but mostly the action plans Jenny considers in light of her charitable mission.

By some unspoken protocol we hit a limit of heavy topics and switch to lighter conversation. By the time we are hitting the dessert courses we are in safer territory. And that is when Jenny casually says into the air between Yu-na and myself, “I am glad to see you two seem to have repaired what was broken.”

“The repair isn’t without seams,” I say.

“Then you’ll have to build on top of it something more beautiful,” she replies and waves the issue away as we turn to sample each other’s desserts.

That night Yu-na and I make love. I tell her that I love her. I thank her for coming back.

I tell her I want to come back after Hong Kong and take her with me to Europe. She agrees.


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