Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
Fatigued and suffocated by the bone-chilling cold, in addition to having just worked a multitude of hours on lesson plans, I had just about enough being holed up inside my four walls while attempting to quell the overwhelming need to get out of dodge for the afternoon. I needed to clear my head. My mind was full of interminable ideas, thoughts, conjectures, worries, doubts, desires, dreams, and a myriad of other things that I could not vacate from my processes. I needed to find release. It arrived to the point of incessant restlessness that sleep could not deprive, prayer could not reprieve, pondering could not relieve, and the bitter cold could not bereave. It appeared that the only way to manifest freedom was to flee into the deep freeze and foster a personal renaissance.
A “personal renaissance,” wow, that’s a good one. Wait a second, what does that actually entail? From what I know of its Latin derivative, the term “renaissance” literally means the action of being reborn. Although, the majority are most commonly familiar with the Renaissance as being the great revival of art, literature, philosophy, and learning in Europe commencing in the 14th century and extending to the 17th. I didn’t feel the need to be completely reborn, but I duly desired some form of revival or serendipitous awakening that could breakthrough the bottleneck of which had been stifling the flow of ideas and emotions essential to me.
Hold on a moment, how can one start a personal revival? To the best of my understanding, in order to initiate a personal revival, one needs to be stimulated in one way or another to generate a so-called “revival of ideas.” Well, no stimulation could be found in my immediate surrounding, and after saying a quick prayer I suddenly felt the need to put on my boots and jacket, grab my book bag, and head out the door not forgetting to double-up on another jacket in order to confront the static cold that I would soon endure. My quest: find an impetus.
Upon locking the door, I knew exactly where my destination would be: Cafe Albero.
Cafe Albero is a cozy, petite cafe situated in the city of Ilsan, a twenty minute bus ride from Gimpo. Having found this cafe utterly by accident a few months ago, I have since frequented it several times to enjoy their specialty hand-dripped coffees that are fairly rare in Korea. Brazilian hand-dripped coffee and original Belgian waffles with cream and chocolate, heaven. However, in Korea, heaven comes with a somewhat hefty pricetag as purchasing quality coffee can deftly lighten one’s wallet, but alas, its taste cannot be surpassed. In all honesty, my mouth salivated the entire way there.
Upon entering the cafe I was again awestruck by the multitude of full sacks of unroasted coffee beans that are placed around the cafe serving as unique, employed decoration.
The intoxicating aroma of roasted coffee and the majestic interior enclosure of old brick and furnished wood elicited rather nostalgic memories of time spent in Europe. Perhaps that’s why I like the place.
The brief nostalgic moment was then kindly interceded by a grateful reminder that I was in Korea after I glanced out one of the large vertical windows that line the cafe allowing any patron a panoramic view of passersby amid an outdoor mall. In addition, the couple that was sitting infront of me and the girl that was vivaciously talking on the phone adjacent to me were all conversing in Korean, further emphasizing a constant reminder of my copious lack of comprehension amid my surroundings. Slightly frustrated, I took a few sips of piping hot coffee and immediately felt a surge of energy. I pondered for a moment attempting to ascertain if a cup of quality coffee was all I needed to provide this long-awaited impetus, but I was soon given disappointment after I pulled out my notebook and began writing gibberish. So many ideas and thoughts, yet the fluid process needed to effectively write them down was plugged with apparent perplexity. I didn’t know exactly why I was so perplexed, but it made me chuckle for a moment knowing that I was probably at this specific venue for a reason. Reason or no reason, meaning or no meaning, I sat there beset with my pen and notebook in hand indubitably discouraged and impeded by something beyond my recognition. Where would this impetus come from?
Among the consistent comings and goings of patrons on their unique ventures throughout the city, I sat there fervently battling my mental restlessness until I realized that it was only I, the soothing sounds of Miles Davis, and the girl sitting next to me with a picture of her and a man torn in half infront of her.
Her very white, soft hands gently wrapped around the coffee mug and it was honestly difficult to distinguish which was of pure porcelain. Her long, jet-black silky hair draped over half her face and cast a shadow over one of her eyes, while the other half was as bright as an angel and I was amazed by her vastly beautiful, delicately detailed facial features reflected off the shop window.
She then stared at the torn photo in front of her for several minutes without moving an inch, not an inch. She was so very still that it was as if she wasn’t even breathing. There were no sobs, there were no sounds, there was only silence and the one solitary tear gracefully sliding down her face. She didn’t appear to care that I was seated at the table next to her apparently able to witness her ordeal and anguish; however, I acted as the gentleman and did not blatantly stare.
With her hands still softly grasping the coffee mug, she then moved in and began to examine the photo more closely as her pupils began to slowly move back and forth as if examining and taking notice of every insignificant detail. One more tear slid down her cheek, fell upon the table, and then with one smooth, quick motion, she moved back into her chair, flipped back her hair, and looked straight into my eyes. I was caught. I didn’t make any brash moves, neither did she. I only continued to look into her placid and cordial eyes staring into mine. After a brief moment that seemingly felt interminable, she smiled either out of sheer embarrassment or happiness. I attempted to look away, but to no avail, I couldn’t. I was honestly taken aback by the beauty of her smile and was deeply curious as to why she continued smiling at me. I was then able to discern by her demeanor and countenance that her smile was not out of embarrassment, but in fact, happiness. She portrayed a sense of relief as if a large weight had been lifted off her and the only thing she could do was smile. Her visage went from sadness to solace almost instantly, and for that very brief moment, she let her guard down to express that to me. I wanted to say something, but what could I say that wouldn’t interrupt a rather blissful silence such as this. Thus, I decided to just smile back.
She then looked away and shook her head as if waking from a daydream. After slowly getting up from her chair and walking to the door leaving the torn photo on the table, she grabbed the door handle and paused to turn and look back at me. After a brief moment, she smiled at me again. I quickly reciprocated then slowly raised my hand to wave goodbye. She then whispered “감사합니다” and by the time I could say anything, the door was closing and she vanished from my sight. The rush of amazement was astounding and overwhelming. I sat there for several minutes pondering the entirely of this fond episode hoping that everything would work out for her in all her endeavors. She was gone, but on the bright side, the awaited impetus had come in the form of a stranger’s smile. My perplexity soon dissipated and I candidly began writing words that were freely flowing like water in a gushing river with no end in sight.
Amid my writing fervor, I glanced over the torn photo still laying on the table and I asked myself if I ever wanted to experience that type of vulnerability ever again. The girl made it look somewhat easy, but who is to know what she had gone through and for how long. In truth, I don’t know if I can. I don’t know. However, one thing I do know is that this particular experience reminded me and energized my great desire to live and experience different parts of the world, in addition to the enjoyment that I receive from my bohemian lifestyle, meeting new friends and helping folks in the name of God along the way.
God willing, this innate desire will not leave me as I continue to see it through.