This post was contributed by Monica St. Amant.
I rushed out of the house – late, as usual. I was supposed to take the morning bullet train to Nagasaki but I texted my friend Char and told her I’d have to take a later train. I was going to visit a fellow JET who lived one prefecture away. It was the first long weekend in a while, and I wanted to explore more of Kyushu. I hit up Char and she was willing to let me crash on her floor; a thing many JETs did. We all met at Tokyo Orientation where we learned the ins and outs of how to be an assistant language teacher in Japanese public schools and swapped info so that we’d have free places to stay all over Japan. Many of us took advantage of it and knew to return the favor.
Huffing and puffing, I got to the Shinkansen station and it was packed full of couples, salarymen, and families taking their children on adventures to celebrate Children’s Day. Fluent in Japanese, I cockily went up to the ticket machine and did my transaction without pressing the English button. I put in my yen and out popped a ticket, so I ran to the gates. But my ticket didn’t go through. The gate beeped angrily at me and a female staff member had to come over and help me. She kindly took me over to the ticket machines and helped me print a new one. Of course, it was more expensive, but I didn’t have time to worry about that. I had a train to catch. The platforms overflowed with bodies, and as polite as Japanese people are when lining up for their trains, I felt as though I were in a cattle chute. Seats weren’t reserved, so it was first come in and put your butt in the seat, first served. I was in the back of the line and thought to myself, “I might have to get the next train.” But before I could even look at the next train time on the electronic timetable overheard, the doors opened and I was pushing myself to the first empty window seat I saw. I grabbed the last seat in the back of the car and almost squealed at my good luck.
I texted Char to let her know I was on the train and I’d be at her station in about two hours. She would be waiting to pick me up with a few other JETs. I settled into my seat, wondering if anyone would take the empty seat next to me.
Just before the train took off, a tall man walked into the car and made eyes for the seat next to me. He sat down beside me without a word as I stared out the window, trying to be oblivious as I listened to my music flowing through my earphones. However, he tapped me on the shoulder, poised for a question. I plucked out one of my earphones and smiled at him politely as he asked in English, “Does this train go to Nagasaki?”
I was surprised; most of the random people I’d met in Japan didn’t speak English or were too shy to sit next to a weird looking foreign girl with braided pigtails. Fortunately, I’d done my makeup that day and had on one of my favorite dresses. I nodded and told the stranger, obviously not Japanese, that yes, he was on the right train.
I looked over and saw that he was clutching a travel guide on Japan. It was in Korean. I sent a text to Char, telling her about this mysterious Korean man sitting next to me. She told me to talk to him but I told her I was too shy. Then I surprised myself by asking him, in Korean, “Are you from Korea?”
The look on his face was priceless. He freaked out. He started talking to me in Korean but I had no idea what he was saying. I’d only taken Korean 101 in college because my roommates were Korean and I loved K-dramas and K-pop. I whipped out my phone and showed him my pictures of my trip to Korea. He knew basic English and I knew a tiny bit of Korean, but both of us had a love of taking pictures. He showed me the photos he’d taken on his DSLR. He took a picture of me, of my hands, and told me he thought my hands were pretty. There was nervous, electric energy between us.
Eventually, I invited him to lunch with my friends and he agreed. We got off the train together and passed through the ticket gates. My friends were there, waiting by the car. We all hopped in and headed to lunch, where this Korean guy told me he played piano and saxophone, knew how to dance, and took pictures at his friends’ weddings. I told myself not to get involved. I’d dated Korean guys before and thought they were all players. Plus, long distance was never fun.
We went by the dock and took pictures of the historic looking boats. He took pictures of my friends and I and then we took one with him in it. He asked me for my contact info so he could send me the pictures, but I knew what he really wanted. We parted ways and I thought I’d never see him again.
Now we’re married.
Meet Monica: Monica St. Amant is an American polyglot who’s always had a passion for Asia. Her love of travel and her crave for adventure has sent her all across the world. She lives in South Korea with her husband and their two cats. She writes about her life and travels on her website Learning to Love Anywhere and you can follow her on IG.