Archive for the ‘Love and Marriage’ Category

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The Scent Of You

October 14, 2012

If I’ve loved you, I probably know exactly how you smell….or more correctly, I know exactly how I smelled when I loved you.

1987, St. Pierre and Miquelon…. I was 18 years old, and used Finesse hairspray to tame my crazy head of curls. I was in love, heart-splayed-open, can’t-catch-my-breath love, for the first time in my life, with a French boy. The affair lasted the 3 months I was in St. Pierre to study French, but has become iconic to me, a touchstone of romance I can call up whenever I want….if I am able to find a bottle of Finesse shampoo.

Signature fragrances are not for me. I’ve tried them. Love’s Baby Soft when I was a teenager….somehow ending up in my stocking every Christmas post age 14, a curiously strong scent that came to represent Christmas for me, but wasn’t how I wanted to represent my true self. I tried on scents of women that were special to me… Chanel No.5, White Shoulders, Giorgio, Anais Anais.  I loved these scents and the women that wore them, but none of them smelled like me.

 The first perfume I ever bought for myself was LouLou by Cacharel. I was drawn by the bottle, a blue, jewel-shaped flask with a red  stopper. It made me feel how I wanted to feel at 20- exotic, special and devastatingly feminine. There are a handful of boyfriends whose  memories lie wrapped in that scent, but above them all, there is an image of me, so very young, stupid and beautiful, more in love with herself than any of them, a girl whose dreams deserved a really arresting bottle and a scent that suggested opium dens and velvet, an exotica far beyond her small-town roads and college routines. It was the closest I came to having a signature, and I’ve often thought about ordering the odd vintage bottle on ebay, just to remember.

In my artist days, I took to wearing Sandalwood and Patchouli. When I came to Korea, the Koreans kept asking me if I were sick, mistaking the scent for herbal medicine. One night, at Macondo, a salsa bar in Hongdae, an older American man stood next to me at the bar, and said ” Oh my god.  You smell like my rec room, circa 1979. Can I smell you?” I took a shot, let him smell my neck, and put my perfumes away, for many years.

About 5 years ago, I decided I wanted to start wearing perfume again. I discovered Demeter and Black Pheonix Alchemy Labs. I ordered vial upon vial of dark, true scent with names like Asphodel and De Sade. Everytime I travelled, I bought a sample pack of big-name perfumes. I threw all my little bottles in a basket, and picked one at random each day, letting the name, the mood of the scent define me, for a few hours. I still do.

You never know which Shelley will show up, nor do I. I have a floral, hyper-femine persona who will offer to help you with the copier and make the coffee- if I pick my bottle of Belle De Nuit by Fragonard that morning. I might cast long eyelashes at you and make little restless sighs over the computer if I’ve come to work wearing Blood Kiss ( BPAL) . God help your heart if I’ve pulled All Night Long ( BPAL) from my cupboard of tricks.Oh and the scent of Birthday Cake( Demeter ) in the corridor? That was me, smiling all the way to class.

I don’t act anymore. Still, I love dressing up, becoming someone else. Yes, I know scent-free is the thing now, and I respect that. Usually, you have to get really, really close to me to know how I smell. Instead, I project the attitude of the scent I’m wearing.  You’ll know I’m wearing Clinique Happy because my smile comes the moment I see you. The moments that I am withdrawn, moody and deep inside myself…Clinique Aromatic Elixir is my scent and you’ll know it before you ever smell it.

And there are moments…. where the experience I have with a particular person becomes intensely fused with the scent of what I am wearing. These moments don’t even have to be romantic or intense; they just come seeping under my base notes and infusing themselves into the shade of Shelley I am that day.

If I can name the scent that makes me think of you, I’ve really loved you. And I will think of you everytime I wear that scent, which I will pick at random, you filling my day and my thoughts like an accident, no matter what age I am, where I live or what I’m thinking about, what I’m writing.

And for a day, a couple of hours, you become my signature.

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A Barefoot Kind Of Love

April 28, 2012

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Eight years ago today, I married Bong Jun. The photo above was taken at our traditional wedding ceremony a little more than a year after our wedding day. That wedding was breathtakingly beautiful, set in an outdoor courtyard at a traditional Korean house, with live traditonal music and everyone, including my family who travelled to Korea for the event, in colorful Hanbok.

Still, Bong and I choose not to celebrate that day as our anniversary, but the stripped down, bare bones day we legally became husband and wife. It’s the most unromantic of stories and yet the retelling of it washes my heart in a fresh coat of love for him, and for our life together.

When I called home to tell my parents that we were getting married, the first question was, “How did he propose?” There were no grand gestures, no ring  or bended knees. There wasn’t even a question. There was coffee in bed, a statement and 15 minutes of expletive-filled protests and incredulity on my part. We had been living together for several years when the university department where I worked decided to close my program, leaving me suddenly out of a job. As my visa was tied to my job, I had only one choice: leave Korea, and come back on a tourist visa to look for a new job. The morning after my last day of work, Bong and I began our usual day-off morning routine of Joni Mitchell and coffee. I was talking about going to Japan for a couple of days for my visa, and would he like to come? Bong looked at me and said, ” I guess we’d better get married.” My response? “No, we can’t, can we? That’s crazy.No F%$%^ing way! You’re kidding, right. You’re F%^$#*ing kidding.Are you kidding? No, We can’t. Can we? Are you serious?”  I never said yes. I ploughed through three more cups of coffee and 20 more minutes of curse-riddled shock before what he was saying began to make sense. If I married him, I wouldn’t have to leave the country, and would have all the time in the world to look for a new job. So, we got out of bed, and decided to talk to our parents. If they didn’t object, we would get started on the paperwork.

 

On April 28th, 2004, we woke early and got dressed. Bong wore jeans with a dark blue blazer, and I wore my best denim skirt with a similar blazer. We looked like exactly who we were: all business and tradition up top, and hippie rebel free spirits from the waist down. We went off to the district office, having made arrangements with Kyung-Deok and Tara, two of our dearest friends, to come and be our witnesses. We took a number from the machine and waited to stand in front of the sour-faced clerk who had no patience for our excitement and nervous laughter. He looked at my friend, Tara, who had done her best to approximate a bridesmaid by wearing a pretty pink blouse, and informed us that she couldn’t be my witness because she was a foreigner. So, we asked a random stranger sitting in the waiting area to be my witness – a Korean man who kindly and baffledly signed a paper saying he knew me, and to the best of his knowledge, I was free and clear to marry. We had hoped for at least a word of congratulations from the clerk upon signing. Bong and I were still standing at his wicket smiling at each other, like we were waiting for someone to say, “You may now kiss the bride,” when he rang the bell for the next customer.

Starving, the four of us decided to go to the nearest restaurant which was….a Burger King. We toasted our new marriage with paper cups of cola. After lunch, Bong and I continued to the Canadian embassy to register our marriage. I had hoped for at least a little more of a festive mood at the embassy wicket as I said to the clerk, ” We just got married!”  and took Bong’s photo next to the Canadian flag. “That’ll be 40,000 won”, the clerk replied.

Undaunted, we got in our car and drove, intent on some kind of honeymoon. I put a bottle of champagne in the trunk, and we picked a direction and drove with no destination in mind. We came across no place that really appealed to us, and when it started to get dark, we pulled over in the first little town and got a room – the  suite in a love motel shaped like a castle – the kind with curtains over the garage to hide the cars of people cheating on thier spouses.

We found the nearest kalbi restaurant, complete with blaring tv and flourescent lights, and got drunk over multiple bottles of soju and barbecued beef. Mostly, we talked of how unreal everything felt, and how we kept waiting for the big realization to kick in. We were really married, weren’t we? Maybe another bottle of soju would make it seem true.

Walking ( well, weaving ) back up the highway to our motel, we laughed each time a transport truck passed us and we’d have to run down into the ditch to avoid getting hit. Everything seemed hilarious at that point. By the time we made it to the room, we were in tears from laughing so hard. And then we saw the room.

The bed was round, and the ceiling was mirrored. Next to the bed was the strangest looking contraption covered in red pleather. It had a nice laminated instruction sign next to it, with illustrations of an ecstatic looking couple who were apparently boneless. Yes, it was  the often-heard-of but rarely-sighted love motel sex chair, with flipping panels and adjustable headrests, and a rotating seat. Bong and I stared at it in drunken wonder, suddenly heavy with the expectation of acrobatic sex when we were so incredibly tired. Bong looked at me. “Quickie?” , I asked, and headed for the bed, which, without warning, began to vibrate upon contact,  We ended our wedding day, giggling and shaken to sleep, having forgotten to open the champagne.

The next morning, we took pictures of ourselves ( fully clothed ) on the sex chair. Those pictures have long since been lost, just waiting to surface on the internet someday on a website of world’s most embarrassing photos. My “honeymoon” photos are either hidden in the sock  drawer  of some sweaty-palmed loner with a fetish for simulated interracial sex, or are rotting in some garbage heap. It seems fitting.

So, why is this the day we celebrate? In spite of every thinkable bad omen, we’ve made it – well, this far, anyway. We are a truly odd couple. Cultural differences and a seven year age gap were only the most obvious hurdles. I have a need to control. He hates to be fenced in. I get moody if I don’t get enough alone time. He has a restless spirit. We’ve had exactly the same fight about exactly the same thing for the 12 or so years we’ve been together. There were times when I wasn’t sure we’d make it. But we did. There’s still no one I’d rather talk to, no one I’d rather get drunk and laugh with.When I ache, only he can comfort me. If we weren’t together, we’d be alone. No one else could live with either of us. That makes us perfect for each other.

Sometimes, I think the glamour and fanfare of weddings puts too much expectation on a marriage. White dresses and first dances don’t prepare you for the hard work of digging your way through the most emotionally demanding task most of us will ever face. Bong and I learned from the very first day that nothing about being married would be easy.

 Except the laughter. Except the love. And for whatever problem we may face, somewhere in some seedy,dark room in Korea, there is a shiny red chair that makes even the impossible seem effortless and sexy. Mostly.

Happy Anniversary to us.

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Note: For those wondering what’s happening with SoundScribbles: I did my first interview with the lovely and talented DJ Free, only to find that my recording app didn’t catch any of it. Since then, I have been busy with our move to a new house in Yangpyeong ( blog post about that to come soon ) . DJ Free has very kindly agreed to redo the interview as soon as I’m settled, so we should be back in business in a couple of weeks.

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Missing You

August 14, 2011

Those who know me and read my blog already know how I revel in being alone. Growing up without brothers and sisters, I learned how to entertain myself, and how to be alone without being lonely. The truth is, if I spend too much time around people, without some time for myself, I get exhausted. This even extends to the person with whom I am most myself, my husband.

Because we are an international couple, not much of our lives overlaps. We don’t really have friends as a couple. There are my friends and his – and while we have spent time with both – we don’t really socialize together. Our work can take us away from each other all day – me with early morning classes and him with evening gigs. We are rarely both home at 5:00 for dinner. Even when we are spending a lazy day at home, vegging out in front of the tv, he is in the living room watching Korean tv and I will be in the bedroom watching something on the computer.

Truly, this type of relationship suits me fine. I don’t think I could be married to someone who would demand a lot of togetherness. I suffocate easily, and not everyone gets that. I love Bong because he does, and because he is built the same way.

Still, for all our separateness, there is a connection that makes us feel like we are always together. It never feels like it has disappeared even when we are fighting about something stupid, when we are catching up, lost in a conversation over a bottle of soju, or when we are physically apart.

Right now, Bong is in Nepal. He is graduating next semester, and I decided to give him a trip there as a gift. The gift was also for myself. Two weeks of being totally alone in the apartment, with no other commitments, was my idea of bliss – pure and total freedom. All I had to do was keep the cat alive and blog – and I have pretty much spent the two weeks as I planned, keeping myself company like I used to do as a kid, lost in my thoughts, sometimes going the whole day without speaking to anyone. It was just what I needed.

Bong was due to come home tomorrow, but for weather reasons, has been delayed a couple of days. I know that I am starting to really miss him when the aloneness takes on a shade of sadness, when I take to the tv to fill my thoughts. I am ready for him to come home now. Still, how lucky I am to have married someone who knows how to keep me company while letting me be as alone as I need to be.

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The shorthand of culture

October 31, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I was having coffee with my husband in our living room. As I was looking through my news headlines, I said to my husband, ” Oh, look at that… Tom Bosley died.”
“Who?”
” Tom Bosley. You know? Happy Days? The Fonz? AAAAYYYYY!”, I said, pantomiming pulling a comb out of my jeans pocket, pulling up the collar of my motorcycle jacket and giving the double thumbs up, hoping to somehow trigger a memory in my husband which he had never had.
” Didn’t you guys have Happy Days?”, I asked.
” Sometimes, happy, but not because of combing our hair”, he answered.
At that point I gave up trying to explain who poor Tom Bosley was, and added his name to the column of things which don’t belong in our marriage.

When you marry someone from another culture, one of the things you must be willing to sacrifice is cultural shorthand. Koreans have words for concepts that don’t even exist in English. Bong ( my husband ) can use those words anywhere in his life, and have instant understanding – except at home. If he drops one of those words at home, it usually will involve a one-hour history lesson, a bottle of wine and a game of charades before I start to understand the weight that the word carries.

The good side of all this, is that it keeps things fresh. We have been together more than 10 years. He may not yet know about my obsession with Duran Duran when I was fourteen. That could take a 3-hour dinner at a barbecue restaurant and two bottles of soju to explain.

Yet, for someone who has grown up in a totally different culture, my husband “gets” me on a level so deep, it transcends everything else. When we met, his English was still a smidge above basic. That first night, we met in a bar. As we stood trying to talk over the music, he told me he was a jazz musician. I said, ” I’m sorry…I don’t know much about jazz. ” He was silent for a few too many beats, trying to put together what he wanted to say. Then he looked at me and said, ” You are jazz”. I decided at that moment that anyone who saw me that way was Mr. Right. Ironically, the concept of “Mr. Right” is also in the column of cultural shorthand that doesn’t translate.

This December, I will be bringing my husband home for his first real Christmas. Christmas is celebrated here in Korea – in a very different way. Christmas Eve here is a date or party night. Everyone buys cakes and goes out to get drunk. Perhaps not so different from home after all? Yet, it is a recent holiday with little emotion surrounding it. For us North Americans, Christmas holds so much – family, memories, romance, hopes, pressure, stress, warmth and tradition. It can never be just another day.

In the early days of our relationship, I tried to recreate a Christmas back home. I would buy a turkey at the Black Market shops ( where you can buy items smuggled out of the US army base at triple the normal price.) I would play Bing Crosby and decorate a small artificial tree. I would make desperate phonecalls home for gravy instructions. Through all of this, Bong would humour me, and try to play along. I could see it in his eyes, though. None of these things meant anything to him, except that he understood they meant something to me. No napkin drawings or hand gestures could possibly communicate the feelings that Christmas evokes. Eventually, I gave up trying to recreate an empty shell of a holiday that I left behind when I moved here. The best Christmas Bong and I shared was when I stopped trying, and we went to the horse races. Like everything else in our marriage, we are at our best when we meet in the middle to create something just for us.

Last Christmas day, we went to a friend’s bar to drink and have dinner – Korean traditional alcohol and pasta. I called my parents to wish them a Merry Christmas – because of the time difference, I had no choice but to call while I was in the bar. It might have been the warming effects of the Andong Soju I was drinking, or it might have been the fact that a gorgeous unexpected snow had begun to fall, but I found myself on the phone for hours while my husband chatted with his friend. I was missing home. I was missing my culture. When I hung up, my husband said, ” Why don’t we go next Christmas?”. Again, he ” got” me on a level beyond the shorthand of culture.

So, this Christmas, we are going to my home to celebrate. I don’t expect he will totally understand, but I’m hoping a little of the feeling will seep into his skin and warm him to the tradition – become part of him. At least, the next Christmas after, when I mention stockings or shortbreads , he won’t need a one-act play to understand what they mean to me. He and I will have a shorthand.