The prostitute’s shoes clicked down the linoleum hallway. I sat jetlagged on the bed of the hotel room. I had no food, so for dinner I ate a Ziploc bag of unsalted cashews. I had to get home.
I had been in South Korea for approximately two hours. It was my first trip to Asia, my first trip outside the U.S., and I had been in planes for about 24 hours, 7,035 miles and almost precisely one-quarter of the way around the planet from my home in Texas. A month earlier, I had decided to spend a year abroad teaching English before law school. I now realized that I was alone in a foreign country for the first time in my life, that I was eating cashews for dinner, and that the concierge at my hotel was a pimp.
Before I left, my parents had given me a Blackberry with an international data plan. I slowly typed out www.continental.com on its cramped keyboard, the plastic keys still shiny and clicky. “Seoul,” “Houston,” “one-way.”
I was in a love motel, a pay-by-the-hour establishment catering to businessmen conducting business outside the office. Understandably, love motels are a great value, so I was in one for a week until my apartment was ready. The bed touched three of the walls. Flashing a thumbs up, a cartoon condom grinned at me from a dispenser on the wall. The sheets weren’t crisp; they were crunchy.
I squinted at the Blackberry’s small screen as the airline’s symbol loaded in pixelated blue chunks. Why did I come here, again? Oh yes: a year of glamorous international travel before I settled down, I would forever regret it if I didn’t take the opportunity, etc., etc. Well, now I was lying in a den of iniquity.
The flight prices haltingly appeared on the screen. They had more digits than my bank account. I nibbled the final cashew as I considered my options. I could always put the flight on my one credit card – credit is basically free money, right? And I was fairly confident I could mime the word “airport” to a taxi driver by angling my hand and zooming it in the air above my head, pressing my lips together and out to make a low rumbling noise. I wasn’t sure how to actually pay for a taxi, but I assumed I could always just break out in a run at the airport.
The steps faded down the hallway and I slowly exhaled. I hadn’t predicted prostitutes, at least on the first night, but I didn’t seem to be in any mortal danger. The cashews would sustain me until morning.