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9 Mar 2015

Padlock anniversary – Last Thursday, HJ and I celebrated our 18th anniversary. (I did intend to write about this earlier, but I wasn’t feeling well over the weekend, so here we are.) We generally try to do something special, even though our anniversary always falls at the beginning of the semester here. This is our fault, of course, but I don’t think we really considered the consequence of the timing back then. This timing was determined by a number of factors, not the least of which being the fact that we had to wait until HJ graduated, as she went to a women’s university that did not allow its students to get married (yep, no joke; I don’t know if they’ve changed their policy since then). At any rate, the result is that our anniversary invariably falls during the first week of the spring semester in Korea.

“Whether through blind, dumb luck or the hand of Providence, we somehow managed to make the right choice all those years ago.”

This time around, HJ had a very particular evening in mind: We would go up to N Seoul Tower at the top of Namsan (“South Mountain”), perform an odd ritual involving a padlock, and then go up to the revolving restaurant and have a nice dinner. The motivation for this was a Korean drama that HJ had seen recently. I should say right now that I am not really a fan of Korean dramas (in the same sense, I suppose, that cats are not really fans of water). The trite, contrived plots and hyper-melodrama make me want to scream. But HJ likes them—or some of them, at least. I think it has something to do with harking back to a simpler time when fairy tales seem like they could actually come true. That’s just a theory, though. At any rate, the bottom line is that HJ got this idea from a Korean drama, and despite my intense dislike of said drama... well, sometimes you do crazy things for love.

So Thursday evening saw us at the top of Namsan with a padlock in hand. On it had been written our initials. We went up a short flight of stairs to a fenced-in observation deck to perform the ritual. If you’ve been to the top of Namsan recently, you’ll know exactly the place I’m talking about, because the fences are covered with padlocks like bees in a hive. The idea is that a couple takes a padlock, writes their initials on it, locks the padlock to the fence, and then throws away the key, symbolizing the eternity of love, etc. If you’re wondering: No, I don’t think this is something that couples celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary generally do. HJ’s rationale was that we should do it before it became any more ridiculous, and it was hard to argue with that logic.

There were so many padlocks affixed to the fence that people had resorted to attaching their padlocks to other padlocks instead, resulting in chains of locks sprouting out from the fence. We did the same, but did not throw away the key. Very unromantic, I know, but there was a sign there begging people not to throw their keys over the side, so I put the key in my pocket. We’ll have to think of some suitable method of disposal later on. Perhaps a quest to Mount Doom to cast the key into the fire is in order (although it’s more likely that we’ll just lose the key at some point).

It was very cold out on Thursday, so as soon as we had affixed the padlock we went inside and headed for the elevators. We still had some time to kill before our dinner reservation, so we went to the observation deck and looked out at Seoul through the incredibly grimy windows (I don’t think they ever actually wash them, at least on the outside). Truth be told, it wasn’t the best day for looking down on the city—it was very hazy and dusty, and it looked as if the city was submerged in a bowl of old pea soup. Once the sun set, though, the city began to light up and it became much prettier. Thursday also happened to be the first full moon of the (lunar) year, but the haze turned it into an indistinct ball of silver light on the horizon.

They wouldn’t let us up into the restaurant until exactly 19:00, when we had made our reservation—from what we were told, the meal was planned so that each course would come out precisely on time, and thus going in early would ruin the timing. So we walked around the crowded observation deck until 19:00 and then took the elevator up one floor to the restaurant. Our table, like most of the tables in the restaurant, faced the windows. We sat in a deep, high-backed chair for two that offered a view out over Seoul. I suspect that the chair was deep to offer privacy, but what this meant practically was that the back of the chair ended up being quite far away from the table, and we couldn’t lean back against it and eat at the same time. In other words, it was not the most comfortable seat in the world.

The meal itself was impressive, though—and it better have been, considering how much we paid for it (a lot). The appetizers included steak tartare with caviar and sea bream sashimi, leading into a thin, pizza-like dish and lobster fettucine, and then a soup with some really good ricotta gnocchi. The main course was steak with spinach, creamed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. Surprisingly enough, the steak ended up being the most disappointing part of the meal—even the sides that came with it were better than the steak itself. True, we ordered medium as a compromise (I generally order rare or medium rare; HJ generally orders medium or medium well done), but the steak that came out was definitely not medium. It also seemed to have been left to rest for far too long and was nearly cold. Still, the quality of the beef was so high that it still ended up tasting good. It just could have been so much better.

Dessert was a bit on the excessive side, at least for us. It started with two small bowls of caramel popcorn ice cream and nurungji (scorched rice) ice cream, continued with an apple-cashew crumble over apple sorbet and a chocolate mousse with mango and passion fruit on top, and finished with a small plate of cookies and a chiffon cake. We don’t generally eat a lot of dessert (if we eat it at all), so any one of those things would have been sufficient. The cake came with a box, though, so apparently it is not uncommon for people not to finish the cake. We didn’t even bother starting it—I put the cookies on top and put it directly into the box.

It took us nearly two hours to finish the meal, and in that time the restaurant made nearly two revolutions. As the moon rose higher it grew more distinct, so we did get to see a proper full moon after all.

So that was our anniversary. Sometimes it’s hard to believe it has been 18 years, but on the other hand remembering the time before we were married feels like reaching back into another life, like trying to recall a dream once the sun has burned away the morning mists. 18 is not a particularly meaningful number, I suppose—none of the lists of wedding gifts have an entry for 18—but it means something to us. At the very least, it’s another chance to reaffirm that, whether through blind, dumb luck or the hand of Providence, we somehow managed to make the right choice all those years ago, back when we were just foolish young kids.

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