Life and Liquor

What’s Wrong?

I’ve been living in Seoul for two months. As a foreigner, I face a lot of questions, both from my Korean friends and the kids I teach. They ask if I have a girlfriend, they ask if I like Korean music, and one smart-ass third grader asked me if there was a lot of corn in Ohio.

But of all those questions, the simplest question I get is the one that’s the most jarring.

“What’s wrong?”

On my first day in Korea, after a night’s rest at the hotel, two separate strangers stopped me in the street to shake my hand.

The first said, “Hello.”

The second said, “Welcome.”

I spent a day at an amusement park with one of my new Korean friends. We left the park in the evening and had dinner at a Japanese restaurant. He laughed as I struggled to hold the iced noodles with my chopsticks. As the meal came to a close, he paused and tilted his head.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing’s wrong. I’m good.” It had been a fun day. What could be wrong? Had we not just been laughing about noodles?

“Something’s wrong,” he said with a shake of his head.

After dinner, we walked down the street. We passed stumbling drunks. We passed patients from the nearby hospital casually strolling with their IV-stands. We passed enamored couples sporting t-shirts inscribed with broken English.

“Go get some rest,” he said.

I was sitting on a stool near the desk in my friend Phillip’s apartment. Phillip was the English name he used for his job. His apartment was compact and clean and contemporary. He was sitting on the bed. We each had a bottle of cider, a warm-up for the tall beers in the fridge we would drink later.

Glass clinked and he said, “Cheers.”

We passed his iPad back and forth, sharing new songs with each other. It reminded me of doing the same thing with friends from home. It was calming to have a friend to share the same experience while I was on the other side of the globe. Between songs he paused and looked at me.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

I had thought that part of me, the part that was invisible to most Americans, the part that didn’t even have a tragic backstory to justify its existence, I had thought it was fading away. Yoga had helped. Coding had helped. Therapy had helped. I was working. I was going out on weekends.

I was fine. I was okay. I was good.

I was always telling the kids at school to use more adjectives, it would have been hypocritical not to use them myself.

I do yoga. I code. I go to therapy.

Maybe someday people won’t ask me what’s wrong.