Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say, and I have found this especially true about Korean food. I came to the country slightly frightened of it, was forced to eat loads of it, and slowly my taste buds adapted and learned to love it. By the time I left, I was even trying to make it for myself and now I crave it constantly. Margo informed me that Korean tourists flock to Turkey and so, many Korean restaurants have popped up amidst the kebab stands and pide shops. In Cappadocia, or Little Korea, as it could be called due to the tourist population being at least half Korean, I saw that familiar flag flying over a restaurant. I was looking over the menu that was charging exorbitant prices for kimchi jigae when a broad man strode towards me with a grin on his face that had probably convinced many before me to eat at his establishment.
“Hey there, you like Korean food?”
He stood towering over me on the steps to the shops and his confident grin made sure that I wasn’t going to say “just looking” and scurry away.
“Yeah, but it’s very expensive here,” I replied, pushing my shoulders back in an effort to look taller.
“Well, we have to import it all the way from Korea.”
At that moment, another man came out to see what small creature the man with the booming voice was talking to. He had piercing blue eyes and a shy smile.
“Ah, this is my brother!”, said the first man, his black hair gleaming in the sun. “He’s the one! We have different mothers. His is Russian, mine is a proper Turkish-Italian.”
He bear hugged his blue-eyed brother, who smiled back at him and I noticed the resemblance in their faces. He let go of his brother and turned to me.
“Do you have the time? I want to show you something.”
Blue eyes finally spoke.
“Don’t go! It is wrong! Be careful!”
The blue eyes were twinkling. I figured why not and so I followed the big Turkish man into a hammam, or Turkish spa, that was across from the restaurant. A woman stood at the desk primly, waiting for instructions from her boss, but he took no notice and spoke to me.
“So, we have all male masseuses here. We say that the Turkish bath is from the Ottoman empire, but we stole it from the Romans! I am Turkish and I say that!”, he said with a chortle.
He showed me a book of all the different spa treatments, attempting to entice me with lines like, “I am 45, but I look 25, no? It is the work they do!”
I politely declined and he shrugged.
“Come upstairs. I was watching animal shows.”
I followed him and he continued, “Ah, I love animal shows. It is winter and so I watch them all the time. Sometimes I fall asleep!”
We sat on huge, comfy couches and in front of us the television showed a lion tearing into flesh. A silent man came up the stairs and set down tea for us. He is gone as quickly as he came. I bring the tea to my lips and my new friend keeps talking about animals, hardly pausing to sip his own tea. I decide to add something to the conversation.
“I rode an elephant once. In Thailand. I mean, Laos…wow I can’t believe I forgot that!”
“Never mind that! Tell me about Thailand!! I really want to go. Actually, my friend has a story about Thailand..”
I nod, already enthralled.
“He called me on Skype and he was crying like a baby saying “I wish you were here! You are a smart man, you would not let me get in these stupid situations!” I’m saying, “What is it? Did you lose your wallet? I can help you!” He says, “No, I slept with a transsexual!!”
I let out a laugh and my new friend joins me.
“He had been at the Full Moon Party and met a very beautiful woman. Oh, but she was very quiet because her English wasn’t good. He bought her many drinks and bought himself a mushroom shake. In the morning, he felt something on his leg…”
I choked a bit on my tea and he slapped me on the back.
“Well,” I said, “I didn’t have the mushroom shakes, but I am going to Amsterdam soon…”
He leaned forward and looked me in the eye.
“Be careful there, the weed is strong! I went for a business meeting, we signed the contract, and then they said, “Let’s go get high!” I had never had the stuff. I could not move my legs. I could not get up to take a piss. I get to my hotel room and just stare at the receptionist. He stares back. We do this for five minutes and he asks, “Are you all right”. I say no, I need the keys to my room. He says “Don’t go there, there are monsters there! Have some lemon and soda, you will feel better.” And I did.”
“That sounds like exactly the kind of experience I would like to have.”
“Oh no, no!”, he roared, “I love alcohol instead, look at my belly!”
He pointed to his belly that bulged over his belt buckle without any shame.
“I come home from work at 10pm, take off all my clothes and put on my pajamas. Oh, you should see my pajamas!”
I grinned, immediately loving this stranger in this strange moment.
“I open the fridge and like a woman, she is waiting. Like a black woman, cold and beautiful. I sit on the couch and put her between my legs and say do your work. This is my fantasy, right!?”
I immediately disagree and say “Not mine!”, but he looks me in the eye wickedly and says that I can have a black man instead.
I change the subject since we are going off into weird and maybe racist territory and ask about the hike I am planning on doing solo. When he hears the hike I have chosen, he shakes his head.
“All the tourists do that, you want a real hike, I know some great ones,” he says reaching for a map.
“I just want a short one, I don’t have much time today.”
He sighs and forgets about the map.
“You might get lost. Here, take my cell phone number.”
I put my new friends number in my phone knowing I will never use it. I head down the stairs and promise to return to the Korean restaurant. Later that night, I do, but he isn’t there. The blue-eyed brother is and they are out of kimchi jigae. And so my heart grows fonder.