Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Me and Aldaris (p10): Cheonha's Interlude

Cheonha had long ago stopped being amazed by Seoul.  Certainly when she'd first arrived there, it had stunned her that such a place existed -- that ordinary people owned cars, food was not only plentiful but on display, and that luxuries such as toys and fashion existed.  The shock wore off quickly.  For now it was just a city, too full of people all too eager to stare at the newcomer.  It wasn't that anyone was mean to her, and the worst anyone did was stare darkly at the northern stranger.  All the same, this place was alien to her.  She had no idea that the few miles that separated the north from South Korea was so wide.

There was little to complain about, truth be told.  Unlike her former government, Seoul's had given her more than just basic rations.  They'd given her an apartment in the city, right in the most crowded part where jobs were available.  They'd also given her clothes, food, and a monthly allowance, and she had just received her second month's check.  Her schooling was entirely free, and in the mornings she studied Korean history, literature, and math.  In the evenings she worked at the local Tesco, only two blocks from her school and three from her apartment.  Cheonha was glad it was within walking distance.  As cheap as it was, she still could not see herself paying someone money just to drive her around.

Cheonha liked her apartment.  It was about twice the size of her house, and had a full bathroom and bedroom, besides a living area and kitchen.  The room was neatly arranged, with a small round table in the corner near the back window, where Cheonha could see the street below -- she'd asked for, and somehow received, an apartment on the fifteenth floor.  And any free day she had was spent laying on the couch, varying between staring out of the window and doing her homework, when she wasn't hanging her clothes to dry on the balcony or hanging colorful pictures of people in traditional hanbok dresses on the wall.  This was her home, and it was going to be treated as a priceless artifact.

Cheonha blushed to think of her past.  How weird had it been thinking that some farmer and his wife were rich, and lived in a mansion!  Now that she'd gained perspective, it seemed that this man was just some redneck, living on the work of his own hands.  Well, Cheonha was determined to do the same!  Maybe she wouldn't be a farmer, but her hands would make her free!

Of course, her redneck "millionaire" wasn't the strangest part of her rescue.  How could she explain what had happened to her?  Could she really tell everyone that an alien had kidnapped her and some miguks?  Had left them in a room filled with boxes and random junk until it suited him to teleport them all away?  Aldarisu was a mystery to her, and she had hoped that some of the government officials would explain who this alien was, as if he was some kind of ally who rescued humans in need, or perhaps an enemy who had decided not to killed four unarmed people.

The government officials had offered her no explanation of any kind as far as aliens went, and in fact mentioned space not at all.  Cheonha wasn't going to speak up and look like an idiot in front of them, however.  When they asked her how she had escaped, Cheonha replied that she had been rescued by a miguk who had asked her not to give out details, claiming it would be good if the Chinese didn't hear about the escape plan.  The officers understood this, and it was easy enough with her short height and health problems to prove her identity.

I wonder how long it will take for me to get vitamins and grow taller.  I don't like being short.  It's too easy for people to look down on me.  

"Cheonha!  Are you doing that again?" said another Korean girl as they both walked together down the street, dodging another barbecue stand.  "You're thinking about things too much again.  Come on, I didn't invite you out to the PC bang just so you could think!"

Cheonha blushed.  "Sorry, Eunha.  I just have a lot to think about."

"I guess so, but unless you were thinking about how wonderful I look in my new jacket, you can think about it later." Eunha grabbed her bright yellow jacket by the collar and did a quick model pose.  "You do like it, right?  It's not too crazy when I wear it with this skirt, is it?"

"No, it works." Cheonha glanced down at Eunha's purple skirt and black stockings.  "On you, anyway.  I don't think I could wear that."

"I think you should wear blue.  No, make it red.  Remember, we have to go shopping on Sunday afternoon, and I'll help you find something nice to wear.  You never wear skirts, and the Bang Bang store is having a sale..."

That was the say that Choi Eunha always talked.  It was always about clothes, which member of the singing group JYJ was the cutest, or if Tesco got rid of her favorite kind of digestive cracker just to make her mad.  Eunha was that sort of girl, from her short spunky hair, to her shiny high heels.  She was the perfect sort of girl to work at the department store at Tesco, all colorful and just a little too shallow.  Cheonha didn't mind.  Sometimes she just wanted shallow talk, and she half believed Eunha acted that way on purpose.

Of course, she really didn't want to go to the Bang Bang store again, at least not for a year.  She cringed to think of what she'd worn in front of the employees there, and how embarrassing it was to be seen with a half-soaked miguk to boot.

"I probably should take you there tonight," Eunha chattered on.  "But there's a chat going on tonight for my french class, so I have to be there.  Anyway, I don't like to go alone, and maybe you'll actually make a friend!"

Cheonha didn't like the PC bang.  It was too crowded and too noisy.  There were easily forty computers crowded into that apartment-sized room, not divided by so much as a little plastic partition.  And yes, there were always many gamers at the PC bang playing all kinds of war games that Cheonha neither understood nor cared about.  All Cheonha did the last time she was there was set up an email account, study english on a website, and wonder how often all those computer chairs were cleaned.

And so as Choi Eunha, Cheonha's coworker and only close friend, dragged her up the stairs to the computer room, Cheonha forced herself to think of all research she could do on the quickest ways to learn a new language.  If she ever met Aldarisu or Beh....Betan...whatever her name was again, she was going to know how to communicate with them.

"Cheonha-shee, you can go faster than that!" Eunha laughed.  "You act as if going to the PC bang is hard work."

"No, I like hard work." Cheonha protested.  "Playing computer games is a waste of time, and I would rather earn money than waste time."

"You're off work today, so you might as well have some fun." Eunha opened the door to the PC bang, ushering her friend inside.  "Besides, I'm paying for you tonight, so you don't have to worry about money."

Cheonha entered the computer room, instantly cringing as she was met all the sights and sounds involved.  Walls plastered in kpop artists and video game characters, noises of dying computer villains, and the scent of a thousand instant ramen packs assaulted Cheonha's senses, hitting her like a dive into water.  And it made her nauseous.  However, Eunha just laughed and shoved her reluctant friend out of the doorway and towards the two people working the counter.

"Two people, two hours each, please." Eunha told the PC bang employees.  "Also, a brown rice green tea, and a jasmine tea."

"That will be 8,500 won." the lady said.  As Eunha handed her the money, the lady passed out two little laminated cards with numbers.  "Please go to computers number 20 and 21."

And so Eunha pushed her friend further into the cloud of overwhelming noise and directed her to the proper computers.  Eunha shoved the number 20 card into Cheonha's hand, and much to Cheonha's horror, there was a guy sitting at computer number 19, thoroughly engrossed in whatever game he played.  The implication was obvious, and Cheonha turned and glared.

"Choi Eunha!" Cheonha hissed, trying to be quiet even though the guy was wearing his gaming headphones.  "I do not need a boyfriend!"

"Lee Cheonha!" Eunha giggled.  "Yes you do.  This guy is very cute.  Why don't you talk to him?"

"No!  What am I going to say, 'hi, I am from the north and I am looking for a southern boyfriend'?"

"No, no, you ask him about the game he's playing or something."

"I do not want to talk to him, and if I did that would be my choice.  Sometimes, Eunha, you just don't think about things enough!"

"I didn't mean any harm, Cheonha." Eunha patted her on the shoulder.  "I just want you to be happy, and I think a boyfriend would make you happy."

"I think that letting me get used to living in Seoul before I think about such things would make me happy."

"You're using that as an excuse, and you know it." Eunha quickly sat down at computer 21 before Cheonha could take it.

Cheonha reluctantly took the other spot, trying to scoot her chair a little further away from the guy at 19.  She was going to sit next to him, but she wasn't going to pretend to like it.  "You need to mind your own business sometimes."

Eunha laughed.  "If I always did that, you would never see the outside of your apartment except at work and school.  Now let's stop arguing.  Here's the agashee with the tea."

Now that was something the girls could agree on.  Eunha accepted the teas with a polite kamsahamneedah and passed the jasmine tea to Cheonha.  As much as she wanted Cheonha to socialize, Eunha knew when to leave her friend alone.  She logged into the computer and went to her french websites to go speak to other college students, whoever would be online.   She wanted to go to France for university, and she could already speak french almost fluently.  The somewhat jealous Cheonha logged into her computer, wishing she had someone she could talk to in a foreign land.

Oh well.  Cheonha shrugged.  I need to know how to speak to foreigners first.  Now what was that english website I went to before?  I don't remember the link.

Cheonha activated an internet search, settling into her chair as she browsed through the links.  That was the one good thing about the PC bang.  It had those nice, comfortable chairs with the high backs and roller legs, perfect for letting the true gamers sit and play their silly games for hours and hours.  Cheonha glanced over at the guy at computer 19.  He didn't look like a bad guy, and if his hair weren't crammed under a thick pair of gaming headphones, it might actually be attractive.  Of course, Eunha still didn't know what she was talking about.  Cheonha knew that there was no way she could ever date someone that spent hours and hours at a PC bang, no matter how cute he looked.  This guy didn't seem to be interested in anything but his game, anyway.  Cheonha, a little bored, glanced at his computer screen.  And she gasped, her eyes nearly falling out of her head they grew so wide.

"Ah, shillyehamneedah..."  Cheonha tapped the guy on his shoulder and pointed at the screen, far too curious to be shy.  "Who is that?"

"Eh?" The guy pulled the headphones halfway off his left ear.  "What did you say?"

"I just wanted to know, who is that on the screen?"

"Haven't you ever heard of Starcraft?" the guy asked.  "That's Tassadar, and that's Aldaris.  They're characters in the game."

"What game is that?"

"Starcraft, of course."

The guy glanced at her, his annoyed eyes softening as he realized how short she was.  Cheonha tried not to visibly cringed, wishing her origins weren't so obvious.  For the time being, however, the guy said nothing about it and simply pulled out his headphones, leaning over toward her computer.

"If you want to play, it's probably installed on the computer."  the guy continued.  "Go to the start menu, and I'll show you where to find it.  Do you want to play the new version?  I'm playing the old version right now, but there's a new Starcraft with better graphics, if you want."

"No, I will start with the old one first." Cheonha said.  "Now, where is this game?"

"You have to get the game disc from the workers up front, but once you have it, you just click on the start menu and search for 'Starcraft'." the guy pointed to the search option.  "That's all you need to do."

"Thank you very much."

The guy nodded, replacing his headphones and restarting the mission briefing he'd missed.  Thus began the night, and Cheonha spent the whole two hours playing Starcraft, and even bought her and Eunha four more hours.  All of Seoul became a blur to Cheonha, as she steadily progressed into the game, and lost any and all expectation that life should make sense.  Before she knew it, it was half past midnight, and Eunha had to drag her out of the PC bang before she spent the whole night doing internet searches on a minor Starcraft character.  After all, Cheonha did have school the next morning.  School, however, no longer seemed so important.

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