Chang Min-Jung was awakened by her alarm clock on a Friday afternoon. She had no classes on Fridays, and indulged in the luxury of Thursday night parties and leisurely Friday mornings. After rolling over and turning off the alarm, she yawned once and made her way to the bathroom. She turned on the shower and began stripping in front of the mirror. After removing each article of clothing, she paused to inspect her body. Were her arms getting flabby? Was her waist slim enough? Did her thighs jiggle? Min-Jung pondered the state of her figure as she stepped into the tub.
The water's spray was warm, but not very strong. The smell of perfume and stale cigarettes rose from her hair as the water dampened it, and Min-Jung was reminded of the club she had been to the night before. Like most clubs in the college areas of Seoul, this one had been small and dark, with air made almost chokingly thick with cigarette smoke. The beat from the music had felt like the beating of her heart as she danced the night away with Lee Mee-Young and Pak Jin-Hee, her two closest friends at Hongik University. Min-Jung spent her weekends dancing, shopping, or taking in a cup of cafe au lait (or cappe o-ray, as they pronounced it) with those two.
Tonight, however, she was not going out with Mee-Young or Jin-Hee. She would meet them the next evening. Tonight, she was going to see No Yun-Soo. Earlier in the week, Min-Jung had gotten a phone call from Yun-Soo, who invited her out dancing. The two had been friends and rivals for years, but had fallen out of touch in college. In high school, they had suffered through cruel teachers, catty gossip, and early morning walks to class. They studied together, but were very competitive about the grades they worked to earn. When college acceptances rolled around, Min-Jung suffered the indignity of being rejected from Seoul National University, while her friend had made it in.
They both knew what an acceptance to SNU meant. Yun-Soo would get the opportunity to make important social connections. And, for the rest of her life, people would introduce Yun-Soo by saying, "This is No Yun-Soo. She went to Seoul National." Everywhere she went, she would be followed by this great reputation and accorded much respect. In the weeks following her acceptance, Yun-Soo gloated, and Min-Jung began spending more time with other friends. When the two started college, they lost touch completely. Now, two years later, Yun-Soo wanted to meet, and Min-Jung was curious to see how her friend had fared.
Min-Jung finished her shower and padded softly back to her bedroom. The apartment was little more than a bedroom, bathroom, and small kitchen -- a modest space, but not bad for a college student. Her parents helped pay for the place. They could well afford it, as her father was a successful businessman. A part-time job at a local department store helped Min-Jung finance her weekend excursions, as well as her impressively large collection of clothes.
This fashionable collection was now under Min-Jung's scrutiny as she began the arduous task of deciding what to wear. She was meeting Yun-Soo, and she wanted to look good, but not like she had spent time agonizing about how she would appear to her old friend. In the end, she chose a fitted royal blue angora sweater and a black A-line skirt that fell just above the knee. She was well aware that it was too cold for short skirts, but she had lost two kilos since high school, and she wanted Yun-Soo to notice.
She then settled in front of the mirror to apply her makeup. Having often been told how she had inherited her mother's fine skin, Min-Jung usually skipped the concealer and foundation other girls resorted to. Instead, she began with her lips. Liner. Lipstick. Gloss. Her lips were now a shimmery pale pink. Many girls these days opted for darker, bolder lip color, but Min-Jung knew her lips were far too thin to pull the look off. She chose instead to play up her eyes.
As she applied smoky gray powder to her lids, Min-Jung remembered the time in high school when she had gotten her eyelids surgically creased. She had just turned eighteen, and her parents had financed the surgery as a present. Like most Asians, she had been born with flat, creaseless eyelids, and Min-Jung felt her eyes looked unbearably small and squinty. Then one Friday afternoon, she discreetly stepped into the surgeon's office, and on the following Monday morning, had appeared in school with beautiful, rounder-looking eyes. She felt proud but slightly self-conscious as she walked down the halls. Most people came up to tell her she looked especially nice that day, and Min-Jung had smiled and said nothing. Then Yun-Soo had come up and exclaimed, "Oh, you got the double-eyelid surgery!" loud enough for everyone in the hallway to hear. Min-Jung's smile faded. Yun-Soo's parents had refused to allow her such a frivolous surgery.
With a couple swipes of the mascara wand, Min-Jung pronounced her eyes finished. She turned her attention to her eyebrows. She kept them neatly tweezed in a somewhat severe arch, and she could tell they didn't need any more tweezing for the time being. She eyed her hair, which had grown out nicely from the chin-length bob she had to keep in high school. She inspected the blond streaks the stylist had put in, and considered the dark roots that had begun to appear. She decided to make an appointment with her stylist the following week. Finally, she considered her hands. Frequent application of hand lotion kept them soft even during this harsh winter. The nails were well-rounded, and not so long as to be considered immodest. She determined the polish could stay a couple more days before she needed a touch-up.
Having finished with time to spare, Min-Jung sat in front of her mirror and began the old game of practicing her smile. She was painfully aware of a particular crooked tooth, and was still perfecting a smile that would conceal it. She raised the corners of her lips. Lifted her brows. Tried showing teeth without exposing the crooked one. Widened her rounded eyes. Raised her upper lip a little higher. Damn! The tooth poked through, defying her efforts. She relaxed her face.
She was about to begin again when the phone rang. She picked it up.
"Min-Jung-ah!" It was her mother.
"Hello, Mother. How are you?" she asked politely.
"Oh, I am miserable!" the older woman exclaimed. Min-Jung was sorry she'd asked. "I am still getting these hot flashes. The doctor says it is part of the menopause, and gave me some herbs for a tea that will ease the pain. Your father's backaches are still bothering him. I stay up each night to massage his back, but he still says the pain is affecting his golf stroke. The neighbors . . . "
"Mom, I don't have much time to talk now," she interrupted. "I'm going out soon."
"Going out! Where? With whom?"
"I'm meeting Yun-Soo at Myong Dong."
"Yun-Soo!" her mother exclaimed, and Min-Jung knew what to expect next. "Such a smart girl. Going to Seoul National, you know. Now then, you could have gone to Seoul National too, if you had only studied more. Every time I run into Yun-Soo's mother, she has to mention how well her daughter is doing at Seoul National University. It's Seoul National this and Seoul National that -- she simply won't shut up! And I can only smile and congratulate her on her daughter's success. If you had gotten into Seoul National, I could be the one putting on airs about my daughter's good marks. Ah well, I suppose there's nothing you can do about it now."
Min-Jung glared at the phone, but knew better than to talk back harshly. Instead, she answered, somewhat cruelly, "Perhaps Yun-Soo is just smarter than me."
"Nonsense! I have no stupid children!"
"Of course, Mother."
"Now then, did you say you are going to Myong Dong?"
"You better watch out, Min-Jung-ah. I hear the American GIs have begun to go there on weekends. You don't want to get into trouble with them. They have such an air about them, as though they are entitled to everything. And they are so loud! I do not understand why they cannot speak in a normal tone of voice. You had better not get involved with any of them. My friend Hyo-Hee married an American GI, and I'm sure she regrets it now. Had to move to America, and she gained ten kilos on their greasy food! And her children! Oh, they grew up just like their father: fat, loud, and stupid. They don't even speak Korean!"
Min-Jung was familiar with the story.
"Stay away from the Americans. I don't have to remind you about what happened in Japan." She really didn't. The story was several years old, but no one could forget it. Two American GIs had raped a young Japanese school girl. This incident strengthened the belief amongst the Japanese and Koreans that Americans had no place in Asia. They all believed it was time for the Americans to close down their military bases and move back to the west, where they could commit all the heinous crimes they chose in their own country.
"You don't have to remind me, Mother," Min-Jung answered. "I remember it well. Now, I really do have to go so I can meet Yun-Soo."
"Okay, Min-Jung-ah. Are you taking the subway?"
"Be careful. The recent snow has caused lots of people to take the subway today. It will be crowded. Watch your purse."
"I will, Mother. Goodbye."
Min-Jung sighed and stood up. She put on the black boots that stopped just below the knee and made her ten centimeters taller. Then she put on her long black coat and stepped out of the apartment, taking care to lock both locks. She took the elevator down fourteen flights, offered a slight smile and bow to the security guard at the apartment entrance, and stepped into the cold winter air.
The wind blew around her exposed knees, and she wrapped her arms around her chest. She walked briskly, stopping only to smile and bow at the old woman running the food cart on the corner of the street. Min-Jung knew the old lady would still be there when she got home, whatever time that would be. She walked the five blocks to the Shinchon subway stop in the fading light of the evening, and then she went underground.
Her mother had been right. The subways were crowded. Throngs of businessmen on their way home and college kids on their way to parties filled the station. When the train pulled up, everyone was so eager to get on that the people inside the train had to push and shove to get out. Min-Jung, used to the crowds, did her share of pushing in order to get on the train. The subways are no place for a girl to be polite. The conductors began yelling, and the doors closed. Min-Jung was not surprised when a school girl started screaming as the doors shut on her, trapping her halfway in and halfway out of the train. Some kind-hearted businessman gave her a good shove, flinging her out. She could catch the next train.
The air in the subway was hot and humid. People groaned and shifted around, trying to get comfortable. It was ten stops and two transfers from Shinchon to Myong Dong, and the ride seemed to last an eternity. At each stop there was more pushing and shoving, as people tried to get where they needed to go. Min-Jung was glad when she finally reached the Myong Dong stop. She shoved out of the train and quickly made her way to the cool refreshing air outside.
It took a few minutes to walk from the subway to the designated meeting place in front of the McDonald's, and when Min-Jung arrived, Yun-Soo was already waiting for her. The two exchanged greetings and awkward smiles, and then began to silently look each other over. Min-Jung quickly noticed her friend had also gotten the double-eyelid surgery, but decided not to mention it. She also noticed her friend appeared to be a little thinner, but she was able to console herself by noting that Yun-Soo was wearing last year's fashions.
"Have you eaten yet?" Yun-Soo finally asked.
Min-Jung suddenly noticed that she was very hungry. She hadn't eaten at all that day. "Why, no, I haven't."
"I saw a dukbokgi cart nearby. Let's go."
Yun-Soo led the way. They stopped at an old man's push-cart, which was already surrounded by other college students. The two old friends agreed to split a dish of dukbokgi, and the old man carefully counted out fourteen of the little rice dumplings in their spicy-sweet sauce. He then gave each of them a paper cup of fish broth to wash their meal down with.
Each girl picked up a toothpick and smiled at the other. Min-Jung knew their old game was about to begin again, as though it hadn't been two years since they'd last played. Yun-Soo was faster, and grabbed a half-piece of dukbokgi. Min-Jung was then forced to choose among the remaining whole pieces, and stabbed the smallest-looking piece she could find. Again, the girls smiled at each other, and began taking small bites of their dumplings. They took extra care to chew each spicy, sticky morsel slowly, pausing now and then to wipe daintily at their lips with the squares of toilet paper provided as napkins. In such a manner they consumed their meal, matching bite for bite, with little sips of fish broth in between.
Finally, the two looked down at the last two pieces of dukbokgi. It was Yun-Soo who spoke first.
"Well, I certainly am full," she said, smiling at her friend.
Min-Jung had realized years ago that their little game really was no game. Their ritual had ceased to be fun long ago, but she continued to play it anyway.
"Me too," she declared, thereby fulfilling her role in this game. "I couldn't eat another bite."
The two smiled again at each other. They glanced somewhat nervously at the two remaining pieces of dukbokgi, then back at each other.
"Well," said Yun-Soo, "we'd better get going."
They gave 2,000 won to the man in the cart and walked away without looking back. Yun-Soo led the way to Joker Red, the club her friends at Seoul National had highly recommended for its good dancing music. The two knew as soon as they stepped in that the club was indeed the place they wanted to be. It was quite crowded, which meant that it was popular; therefore it, had to be a good club. They each paid the 5,000 won cover charge and made their way to a table. The music blared around them, and the dance floor was full of young people, illuminated by blacklights, who were moving to the beat.
"Want to dance?" Yun-Soo asked, ready to hit the dance floor.
Min-Jung was struck by a sudden shyness. She and her friend had been through a lot in high school, but they had never, ever gone dancing together. She had fun dancing with Mee-Young and Jin-Hee in Shinchon, but what if Yun-Soo thought she danced funny?
"I want to get a drink first," she told her friend. She figured it would buy her some time to get accustomed to the beat, and the alcohol would help alleviate some of her shyness. She ordered two milk-and-Kahluas, for herself and her friend. When the drinks came, Yun-Soo graciously accepted the offered glass, and the two settled into taking little sips while trying to subtly watch the girls on the dance floor. Min-Jung felt the alcohol quickly, and as the beat from the music washed over her, she grew bolder.
"Come on," she said after the alcohol had given her enough courage. "Let's dance."
The two weaved their way to the floor and began to dance. They started with tentative, self-conscious motions, but soon the they were moving in perfect time with the music. Min-Jung smiled inwardly, as she could tell her friend was impressed with her dancing. She, in turn, was able to pick up some new moves from Yun-Soo.
As the night wore on, the girls grew more at-ease. Min-Jung laughed easily, ignoring her urge to hide the crooked tooth, and they took turns coyly flirting with a few cute college boys who had wandered into the club. Of course, neither was interested in getting involved with one, but they had fun leading the men on. Their dancing was interrupted by occasional trips back to the table for a sips of alcohol, or an awkward conversation over the blare of the music with one of the college guys. Min-Jung again felt at ease with her old friend. She felt that they were reclaiming a friendship that had died when Yun-Soo was accepted at Seoul National.
Eventually, the crowd at the club began to thin, and Min-Jung realized it was well past 4 a.m. She suddenly noticed how tired she was, and Yun-Soo appeared to be exhausted as well. The cute college boys had gone home, and the music was slower and more subdued. They decided it was time to leave.
Outside, the two faced each other, not quite wanting to say goodbye.
"I had a lot of fun, Yun-Soo," Min-Jung said earnestly. She offered a genuine smile to her friend, and Yun-Soo returned it. Then she did something she didn't expect to do. She reached out and hugged her high school friend.
When the embrace ended, they exchanged promises to call, then each jumped into a cab.
"Shinchon," Min-Jung told the cab driver. "Shin Dong Ah apartments."
She stretched lazily in the cab, feeling the exhaustion in every bone in her body. The gentle undulations of the cab and the soft drone of the car's radio quickly lulled Min-Jung into a rest-ful sleep.
When she opened her eyes, Min-Jung realized she did not recognize the darkened alleyway the cab driver had pulled into.
"Where are we?" she asked. "Is this a shortcut to Shinchon?"
"Hardly," came the cabby's reply, and Min-Jung realized he was suddenly in the back seat with her. She barely had time to utter a brief shriek before the cab driver's large, calloused hand covered her face.
And then he was on top of her.
Chang Min-Jung was awakened by her alarm clock on a Saturday afternoon. As soon as she moved to turn off the buzzer, her body was racked with pain. She awakened, and was filled with a sense of terror. What had happened last night? Fragmented memories came back to her, and with them came a deep sense of shame. With conscious effort, she pushed the panic out of her mind, knowing that if she started crying in bed, she would never make it through the day.
Instead, she sat up and considered what she was going to do. Her eyes glazed over as she stared off in space and weighed her options. Could she get help? From whom? The possibility was soon dismissed as Min-Jung considered her role in what had happened. It was late, and she had fallen asleep in the cab. She had been drinking. And, most damning of all, she had worn a short skirt. Min-Jung felt the weight of blame sink in. Then, she made a choice. Her lips pursed into a determined line, and she got out of bed, though she did it carefully, not allowing herself to wince at the pain.
Min-Jung padded slowly to the bathroom, and was shocked to see her face in the mirror. Her double-lidded eyelids were purple with bruising, and her once-thin upper lip was swollen. She turned the shower on to its hottest setting and began stripping in front of the mirror, stopping to inspect the damage to her body. There was a bruise on her right forearm and another on her left leg. Her body ached all over. She stepped into the tub.
When the hot water hit her, she finally allowed herself to cry. Deep, choking sobs shook her body, and tears hotter than the shower's stream tumbled down her face. She lost track of time in the shower as she allowed the misery to flow freely from her. Just this once, she allowed herself to try and remember what happened. She recalled the cab driver's crushing weight on top of her and remembered the scar on his right cheek. The cab had smelled of garlic and beer. Min-Jung remembered struggling in vain, as one large hand held both her wrists above her head. Absurdly, she recollected being dropped off outside her apartment complex and running past the old woman with her cart, trying not to be recognized. The terror and shame of the night came back to her so vividly it was as though it was still happening. Finally, the shower turned cold, bringing Min-Jung back to reality. She stepped out and padded back to her bedroom, not allowing herself to cry anymore.
When Min-Jung saw herself in the mirror in her bedroom, she thought she looked worse than before. Her purple eyelids were puffy, and her nose was that embarrassing red shade it turned every time she cried. She went to the kitchen and pulled out a bag of frozen peas from the freezer and went back to the bedroom. Min-Jung got on the bed and rested the cold bag on her face. She closed her eyes and concentrated on thinking of nothing. Reasoning that if no one found out, it was the same as if it hadn't happened, Min-Jung resolved never to think about the rape again.
Several minutes later, Min-Jung sat up and inspected her face. The swelling of her lids had gone down a little, and she could tell the swelling would be gone by the evening. Her nose had returned to its original shade. She grabbed a plain long-sleeved sweater and a loose-fitting pair of jeans and put them on. Then she sat down to do her makeup.
Today, Min-Jung was going to use foundation and concealer. She carefully blended colors and applied them to the bruises on her face, hoping all the while that her friends would not notice anything strange when they saw her. She practiced smiling into the mirror a couple of times, assessing not her tooth, but her fat upper lip. She was counting on the dim lighting of most college hangouts to help conceal it. Automatically, she considered her eyebrows and her blond-streaked hair. It was then that she noticed her nails. The polish was chipped in several places, and a part of the nail on her right middle finger had actually broken off. Min-Jung considered the angry pink flesh of her finger where the nail used to be and shrugged, not wanting to deal with it. She could wear gloves or keep her hands in her pockets. No one would notice.
Min-Jung stood up. She put on a pair of short black boots that made her eight centimeters taller. Then she put on her long black coat. She stepped out of her apartment, taking care to lock both locks. It was fourteen flights down, and at the bottom she bowed humbly to the security guard. Then, Chang Min-Jung stepped into the cold winter air to find her friends.