The Kindness of Strangers

Alex walked out of his hotel and headed for Haundai Beach. He passed the back-alley street vendors that populated the dingy recess behind the hotel, filled with stalls selling squid, eel, and bulgogi. He wasn't hungry, but sure as hell - he was hungover.

South Korea's Busan International Film Festival, arguably the biggest film festival in Asia, and Alex's first festival ever, had been less about watching films and schmoozing than... well... drinking. Lots of drinking.

The night before he had accompanied his director and producer to yet another party, this one hosted by the French Embassy's Cultural Delegation to South Korea. It's worth noting that the entire festival was hosted by Jameson Whiskey, which had massive booths located at each party, giving out free glasses of whiskey. Watered-down, on ice, straight... you name it.

They had arrived and immediately found a corner to speak at length with a loud-talking director from Austin, Texas, whom they had met earlier that week. They huddled together, grabbing strings of conversation from the air, sitting as comfortably as possible in the shared feeling of being strangers in a strange land. It's hard to get that feeling out of your stomach.

Later on Alex had become attached to a 40-year-old Czech Embassy delegate whom he had sat next to during the opening ceremony, and between whom a certain lust had grown over the week. By the time they took a taxi back to the hotel at 3AM, they had forgotten all decency in the back-seat and when they got back to Alex's room, it seemed like they would be getting down to it; another sexual escapade for this 23-year-old leading man. Unfortunately for him, she had second thoughts and kindly left, leaving him alone, hard as a toothpick, contemptuously eyeing the bottle of Soju he had only ever managed to drink alone.

That night there had been a typhoon, and as he reached the beach he noticed the fallout of it. What had up until then been a lavish, tourist-destination beach, famous for its endless rows of colourful parasols, had become a total mess. Torn down trees, fabrics here and there from ravaged festival media booths, untimely ripped up from the sand. There wasn't really anyone out here, and it was 11AM.

But there is a beauty to it, he thought. A beauty that can only be found on a cloudy day. The Japan Sea and sky were mirror-images of each other, creating a glass-work of silver and gray, with shades of blue surfacing from the water occasionally, like hidden scales. Apparently on a clear day you can see Japan from here, though he had been there on sunny days and not seen a thing. Perhaps it had been too hot and the mirages worked in reverse.

He continued along the beach, determined to walk the length of it and get to a small group of buildings at the far end that seemed of interest.

"Clyduh! Clyduh!" a voice called from behind him. He turned.

About seventy yards away was an old man, running towards him while wagging his cane in the air enthusiastically. An old woman trailed behind him, holding her hat.

Alex recognized the word "Clyduh" as the rough Korean translation of the title of the film he was starring in, called "Clydecynic".

The old man came up close and shook his hand, "Hello. I am Johnny."

"Hi Johnny, I'm Alex."

Johnny nodded, "I recognized you from your movie. You are a very talented actor!"

Alex did that stupid thing he does whenever someone gives him a compliment, shifting on his feet and looking at the ground.

"Is this your first time in Korea?" asked Johnny.

"Yes it is. It's very beautiful," Alex replied brightly.

"What have you seen?"

"Well I went to... Jigalchi?" Alex couldn't exactly remember how to pronounce it.

"Ah yes. Jigalchi. The fish market."

Alex nodded, "Yes. I actually ate some live octopus there."

It was true. He had eaten some live octopus. Not whole, however, but sliced into wriggling pieces of tentacle that clung to his teeth, holding on for dear segmented life before being slurped down into the acid hell of his stomach.

His greatest fear had not been indigestion, nor infection, but taking a shit the next morning, for fear that he would look into the bowl and see that it was still moving.

The conversation went on for another few minutes, at which point Johnny gave Alex his business card, explaining that he was an immigration lawyer, and that if Alex wished to come work in Korea down the road, he should let him know so that he may "turn the light on for him".

At this point, Johnny's wife came over, who had been sitting apart from their conversation that whole time. She looked Alex over with sad eyes.

"Why are you walking alone?" she asked.

Alex considered, "Well, I don't know... I don't mind waking alone. I like to look at things and think."

"Ah," she said, smiling, "you are a poet."

He wasn't sure why, but at that moment, it seemed like the nicest thing anyone had ever said to him. He smiled back to her.

They bade each other farewell and Alex continued on his journey down the beach.

Ah yes... I guess I am a poet, he thought.

끝 - The End