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Loveboat in μ„œμšΈ

Blooming Story


After lunch, I stop by the computer terminal in the lobby. I look up dance studios in Seoul and run across studios focused on ballet, jazz, modern, Korean dancing. If my parents had to choose one, they'd pick ballet for the discipline and focus. Twelve years of training at the barre gave me my foundation and got me into Tisch, but over the past few years, I've branched outβ€”flag corps, jazz with the dance squad. I'm not a purist, I love all styles, love picking up new movesβ€”I'd join all these studios if I could.

But ten minutes later, still no luck. Every studio is out of my price range and I can't ask my parents to payβ€”they'd tell me to focus on Yonsei. But this is my last hurrah, my farewell to dancing. I need to find a smaller studio, maybe farther out from the city. Maybe something so small they don't even have a websiteβ€”

"You done yet?" Minsi pokes my shoulder. Her pink tank top shows off her plump arms and her eyes are bright with coral eye shadowβ€”but her expression is stormy. "Electives are starting. I need to get online.

"Sure, sorry." Relinquishing my seat, I head out the front doors into a blast of humidity. Introduction to Korean Medicine is next. I hope it's not a hands-on acupuncture class. I say a prayer as I take the steps down:Β please no needles.

On the lawn, kids are gathering into three groups. Korean medicine is housed in the big white tent directly opposite. By the pond, a group of kids rain mallets down on barrel-sized drums. Beyond the volleyball net, a line of girls are receiving blue silk fans from a basket held by Choi Seonsaegnimβ€”Teacher Choi. I join the line behind Sulli and stretch my calves and laugh as Krystal pretends to modestly cover her face behind the gold-etched silk. A dance unfolds in my head.

When I reachΒ Choi Seonsaegnim, she hands me a fan. I flip it open with a snap, tip my wrist, and flutter it out of line like a bluebird in flight.

"Cool move," Sulli says.

The fan is snatched from my hand.

Choi Seonsaegnim frowns. "Paen-eun paen daenseu seontaeg gwamog-ibnida."

"Sorry?"

"Only for the fan dancing elective."

"Oh," I stammer. "I didn't realize." The next girl in line taps her foot, waiting forΒ Choi Seonsaegnim, but my feet are glued to the grass.

"Can I switch electives?" I blurt. "I dance. Back home." I'veΒ  never gone this long without. "Please"β€”my voice cracksβ€”"I really want to join a dance elective."

She gives my shoulder a soft squeeze. "HangulΒ sayong," she chides.Β Use Korean. "Mainhae, i koseuneun kkwag chassseubnida." She motions me off gently, her kindness worse than if she'd planted her sandal in my face. The universe has conspired to tear dancing from me before I even set foot on UoA's campus. If only Tischβ€”

But I can't think about Tisch.

I'll just have to find that studio.

I cast a longing gaze at the drum elective. The deep-barreled beats tug at my soul as my feet carry me farther away from both electives, toward Introduction to Korean Medicine. Under the white tent, the humid air is as thick as a blanket. Kang and some guys I met on the airport shuttle and at dinner last night are passing a steel bottle around. Kang hands it to Dohyun Lee, who flicks his dark bangs out of his eyes and takes a pull.

"Is thatβ€”" I ask.

"Drinking age is 20 in Korea, but there's an exception for 18-years-old." Kang slouches with his hands in his pocket.

"Really?"

"Yep." He pulls out a chair beside him. "Take a seat."

I drop down, less nervous around him after Hangul. The bottle moves from Dohyun to politician Subin, then Harvard-Sungwoon, making its way around the table. Looks like my chance to break a rule in broad daylight. But I've never evenΒ triedΒ alcoholβ€”at Holly Flores's wedding last month, Eomma, who grew up Baptist, whisked both our champagne glasses from under the waiter's bottle. I hadn't even questioned her.

"It's the strong jawline." Dohyun runs a thumb and forefinger down his own slender jae. He's in conversation with the guys.

"The arm muscles?" Sungwoon takes a swing and groans, "Ugh, that's strong." Scratching at his facial face, he passes the bottle to Dean Kwon, a musician from Canada whose mom was born in Seoul. Sungwoon drops his fists on the grass and pumps a series of push-ups, grunting each time he rises. Dean passes the bottle back to Dohyun and drops down beside him and they rise and fall together, acting all macho. I guess it's working because a few dancers stop to watch.

"Show off." Dohyun rolls his eyes.

Sungwoon grunts. "You can't keep up."

"Can." Dohyun drops down beside them and they hold a contest, three bodies rising and falling like keys on a piano, until Dean collapses with his face in the grass and Dohyun and Sungwoon keep pushing. Something about their energy appeals to me, but the one-upping is annoying.

Kang's shoulder brushes mine. He leans in. He's not doing the macho thing, which surprises me, but I like that about him. "There's a closet where they keep the extra stuff," he nods towardΒ Choi Seonsaegnim. "I'll grab you a fan later, if you want."

"Oh, um." So he'd noticed. "I don't want you getting in trouble."

"Would be my pleasure." His grin holds a grim edge.

The steel bottle is now with a guy named Garam. Getting closer. A familiar voice reaches my ears and I look up. Wonder Boy, his baseball cap pulled low over his face, is speaking toΒ Choi Seonsaegnim while the fan dancers flick their blue silk fans open and shut like a field of blooming flowers.Β Choi Seonsaegnim laughs, hugging the basket of fans.

Wonder Boy's not evenΒ inΒ the elective.

What. A. Guy-Pleaser.

I scooch my chair around to turn my back.

"He's tall." Subin says. "Also the chest muscles."

"Still thinks it comes back to the strong jawline," Dohyun says.

Sohee walks up, tossing her floral blue scarf over her shoulder. "What hottie are you talking about? I want in." She swings an empty chair over, and settles beside Kang with a half-wink that only she could pull off.

"Sorry, Sohee," Dohyun says. "It's your cousin so that would just be gross. We're debating what makes Joohyuk the most attractive muscular Korean American guy we've ever met. Objectively."

"What a waste of oxygen," I say, and Kang snorts.

Sohee laughs. "Hate to break it to you all, but he's straight. And taken."

"We're not after him. Just assessing."

"So if Joohyuk's masculine, what are the rest of us?" Sungwoon growls. "Effeminate Asian guys who can't get girlfriends? IΒ hateΒ that stereotype."

Dohyun looks Sungwoon up and down. "You weigh less than Suzy."

Sungwoon growls. I cut him a break and slap the side of my thigh.

"It's my legs, from ballet. I have more muscle here than all of you put together."

Sohee bubbles more laughter. Sungwoon grunts. Dohyun makes a show of inspecting under the table. "Never want to be on the receiving end of a ballerina's leg."

I smile, surprised by my own boldness. I don't have close guy friends back home. How weird that just a day into Yonsei, I feel as though I;ve known these guys all my life. Because it's camp? Because I was shyer back home, and now feel empowered among people who don't know the awkward history of my adolescence?

Is one of these the guy to kiss?

The steel bottle goes from Kang to Soheeβ€”and I realize that despite the camaraderie, no one's even tried to pass it to me.

"You're all coming Thursday, right?" Sohee says.

"Getting busted in a foreign country is not a headline I need for my future political career," Subin says.

"Live a little." Dohyun squints at Sohee. "You sure there's a way out once we're over the pipe?"

"Suzy and I will scope it out." Sohee passes the bottle over the table to him.

"Hey, Dohyun." I reach for the bottle, as Sohee says, "Eleven, meetβ€”oh, ah, hm.

Jungwoo, our instructor, drops a stack of thin-sheeted booklets onto our table's center. The bottle vanishes into Dohyun's shorts. Sungwoon snatches up a booklet and flips through as Jungwoo pushes his back-rimmed glasses closer to his face and moves to the other tables.

I take a booklet, then wish I hadn't. A human porcupine lies prone on the cover: a man with every inch of his backside, from neck to heel, stuck with needles. My stomach heaves and I flip it upside down.

Over by the fan dancers,Β Choi Seonsaegnim is handing Wonder Boy a blue fan from her basket, smiling flirtatiously. Why shouldn't she? She's not that much older, and Wonder Boy probably droppedΒ YaleΒ andΒ basketballΒ a half dozen times. In flawless Hangul.

AsΒ Choi Seonsaegnim gathers her fan dancers around her, Wonder Boy head toward us, the folded fan tiny in his hand.

"Speak of the man," Dohyun says as Wonder Boy nears.

"Rather not," I mutter.

"What about me?" Wonder Boy's brow rises, clueless, and everyone bursts out laughing. "Glad I amuse you," he drawls.

"You medicine with us?" Dohyun asks.

"I'm in drums." He jerks his head over his shoulder. Then his eyes seek out mine. "Here." He lobs the fan at me and I, too startled not to, catch it.

"Oh, umβ€”" Before I can stammer a thanks, his phone chimes with a BlackPink song, and he snatches it to his ear, knocks off his cap, and catches it with his free hand.

"Rosie! There you are."

"Can't she wait? No calls allowed now," Sohee chides, but with his T-shirt flapping in the wind of his own speed, Joohyuk races off toward the dragon drums.

I open the fan. The scent of rosewood wafts on a soft breeze. The golf threads gleam against the blue silk. I could dance a forest sprite's caper or the role of a lady in a castle's courtyard with this.

Jungwoo uphends a paper bag over our table. A pile of gnarled roots drops out and its bitter dust sets me coughing.

"Cool, what is this?" Sungwoon snatches one up. He's serious.

Jungwoo answers in Korean I can't understand, nor do I care. Any elective would be better than Intro to Korean Medicine. Over by the dragon drummers, Wonder boy paces with his phone to his ear, smiling, his stupid, strong jaw backlit by the sun. A line of kids balancing oars on shoulders march byβ€”the dragon boat racing electiveβ€”concealing him from view. When they pass, Kangjoon and another guy are trying to lift the oversized lion head, its large eyes battling coyly, onto Wonder Boy's head while he out of range at superhuman speed, and spins a full circle for good measure.

"Jeez, you're fast!" The guy are awed. Joohyuk is laughing, phone glued to his ear. One day into Yonsei and he's not only dodging demerits for illegal phone use, he's got a fan club.

But that club doesn't include me.

I toss the fan to Sohee, who's stood to head to her cooking elective.

"You take it," I say. "It matches your scarf."

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