The First Night

“Well, this can’t possibly be a good idea.”

One AM, lying next to my husband who had likely fallen asleep ten minutes before he actually hit the pillow, in a kimchi-flavored bed.

The “love motel” where we had been put up for the week had mystified us from the moment the cabbie had dropped us off. Glossy business cards embossed with girls in bikinis were scattered haphazardly all over the front step of the building, as if the person handing them out had suddenly become aware of the seediness of his job and had thrown them down in enlightened resignation. The lobby to Motel 21 was decorated with a fish tank whose interior light was the only thing illuminating the room other than the screen on the front desk clerk’s cell phone. In an effort to cut down on costs, the lobby wasn’t heated, so the clerk sat hunched over his phone wearing a puffy jacket. But he had on his indoor shoes, sans socks.

Always the indoor shoes.

Of all the places in the world we could be, we were there. In an apparent mix-up, the other foreigner who had arrived with us – a girl named Tricia from Connecticut – had received a double room and we had gotten the single. But since it was 12:30 when we checked in after 23 hours of traveling, there was no point in correcting this mistake. Not tonight. The fact that we were alive at all was worth relishing. So that night we slept with our six pieces of luggage piled on top of one another to reach the ceiling, our own unique Tower of Babel.

To get into the room, we had been given a key attached to a seven inch-long rectangular fob. We had joked, “At least we won’t lose the key.” At 12:30 PM, that was the only shred of humor we could squeeze from the situation. Luckily, the morning would open our minds to all manner of parody. Of course we had no idea what the purpose of the fob was, so we made tired jokes about it. The following morning, when we tried out our “material” on Tricia, she humored us and assured us that the holder by the door fit the fob perfectly and allowed us to operate the lights in the room. We liked this girl who explained to us how this new country worked. She would be our friend. The recruiter had provided her email address to us before our trip, and B had contacted her ahead of time just to make an informal introduction. She had seemed friendly in the message she shot back, but you can never tell how people will translate once you meet them in person.

But she wasn’t our friend yet. She was just as shell-shocked as we were, too tired to bond with. That first night in Motel 21, B and I only had each other. The rest of the world was gone and we had to trust the cabbies and the strange man named Jason whose English name belied his ability to communicate with us. We arrived in our room and turned on the TV. After scrolling through several stations airing nothing but Minecraft or porn, we found The Simpsons. But this time, hangul was at the bottom of the screen. How does one say “Eat my shorts” in Korean? So I take that back. I had B and The Simpsons. Years later I would wonder what it was about the cartoon family that appealed to the Koreans. Was it that they were so easy to make fun of? Did people really think that American families were like that? Would I correct them if they did?

Right then, though, I enjoyed the fact that halfway around the world, The Simpsons were on.

I fell asleep just to wake up 15 minutes later. Already this thing called jet lag is making an appearance. I glance to the side table and realize that the digital clock in our room isn’t even plugged in. It has a think layer of dirt on it, the kind that you can’t just remove with a dust clothe since it’s mixed with body oil. Next to the bedside table is a computer desk with a flat screen monitor and a mouse pad so old that the foam on its underside is crumbling apart. Such are the amenities of the Motel 21. The largest towels in the bathroom are the size of table placemats.

Wee small hours are lonely, especially when they’re forced. The clock on my cell phone tells me it’s one AM, but my body tells me that it’s five PM. The incongruity gives false weight to everything going through my mind. This strange room may as well be Mars. We start to question our ability to just live our lives like normal people. Why are we sleeping in a shady hotel tonight, awaiting an apartment we don’t get to chose, instead of living in a home that matches our own specifications? Why did everyone keep referring our move to Korea as an “adventure” while we were making the preparations to go? This is our life, not a folly. We wouldn’t be swinging on vines once we got there. Perhaps they know my life better than I do and were aware that we still had enough naïveté to just go.

I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I had to be up in six hours anyway to make it to my first day of work.

Work. Right. That’s why we’re here. Not to play, people who keep calling our decision to move to Korea an “adventure.” We will end up playing a lot over the two years we’ll live here, but we don’t know that yet. For now, we’re being responsible and keeping our eyes focused on the work we’ll do. Still, the fact that we are expected to show up for duty only twelve hours after our plane hit the tarmac at Incheon is severe to me.

I spin it: jumping right in will help us beat our jet lag quickly. It will get us in a routine. I keep telling myself this, but I don’t really believe it. Tomorrow is going to suck.

It really won’t, though. Right now everything is new so this entire place is a museum. We’ll be tired, but not too tired to be fascinated with all the details. The long cab ride from the airport to the hotel was mostly comprised of highway driving, but we could still see the lights of the roadside buildings, signs that advertised the liquor store Wineholic and Baptist churches with neon red crosses. It’s just too perfect to even express. I would have even been impressed with a McDonalds, not because they are glimpses of home, but because they refer back to a place that you had forgotten existed simply because they are so common. I’ll likely see a franchise American movie in Korea, not because of any brand loyalty, but because it’s kitschy to behave like the foreigner that I am.

Remember Remember the Time? Well, it’s back. This week’s theme is “the first night.” Feel free to write a post on this theme and then add your link to the cute little frog box below. This is a great way to meet other bloggers and to reminisce at the same time ;D 

Remember the Time Blog Hop at


  1. Is your remember the time thing your idea or did you get it from another blogger?

    1. It’s my thing :)

      1. I like it. kind of like tbt on Twitter?

  2. RTT in the house! Woot woot! I am going to try me best to work one in for old time’s sake.

    And I think this post officially proves you need to write a memoir about your time in Korea. Seriously.

  3. Is there a deadline?

  4. Emily, this post is proof that you’re really a novelist at heart. Your voice, your humor, your art shine through in this sort of piece. I long to read a full book written by you. Memoir, yes–but other stories are waiting patiently inside you as well. Write what you must for now, but I’m convinced that someday your stars will align and your novel(s) will surface. I mean that.

  5. A really great account of your first night in Korea. You have a great writing style!

  6. I agree with the other commenters. This was written so well it gave me goosebumps!

  7. Ah, I miss kimchi. My friend also told me about these “love motels” – so many interesting things in Korea!

  8. Remember the time we used to Remember the Time?

  9. Nice to see your jumping back in to RTT Em….I was laying back from our conversations, letting you have your space. I figured you wouldn’t leave your fans hanging forever. ;) Thanks for including me and if you need a pinch hitter, I’m still clinging onto dear life. :)

  10. Tricia from Connecticut · · Reply

    You remember way too many things from that night! :) I remember bits and pieces, like seeing you and B walking onto the airplane in Tokyo wondering if you were ones I was supposed to meet. Then I passed out on the plane. How about trying to find dinner that first night after work? “Let’s just find a restaurant with photos on the wall that we can point to.” What exactly DID we eat that night? If only we had walked a couple more blocks, we would have seen McDonald’s, KFC, and Subway! I am so glad I met you guys that day. You two played a huge part in my first excursion to Korea and I am very grateful for that :)

  11. […] This was written for this week’s Remember The Time prompt – The First Night. […]

  12. […] This was written for this week’s Remember The Time prompt – The First Night. […]

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