Water is Self
Olivia stepped into the small restaurant, letting the sound of Korean conversation wash over her. Everything was so wonderfully exotic. Finally, after years of planning she had made it to Korea.
COVID had given her plenty of time to do her research. She had always loved K-pop and she devoured every new Korean drama she could find. Now, as she stood in this small restaurant, it was like she had stepped through her TV into a whole new world.
She knew from reading blogs and guide books that this was what was called a gimbap house. They were small restaurants that served dozens of different foods, all very affordable. She sat at a small table against the wall and a minute later, a waitress put a menu pad and a pencil by her for her to check off what she wanted.
Olivia’s Korean wasn’t great but she knew enough to sound out most words and she knew some easy words. She found ddeokbokki and gimbap with the help of her phone (just like Ji-Yoon had ordered in My IT Girlfriend, episode 4!) and made a check by them. The woman came back and got it, then returned a few minutes later with her food on a plastic tray.
The chopsticks were a bit hard at first, especially since the ddeokbokki was slippery, but the main problem was how spicy it was. Olivia’s mouth was soon burning and her nose was running after only a few pieces. Why hadn’t they brought her any water?
She spotted a sign on the wall with a picture of a water glass on it. Under it were three words: m…oo…l. Mool. That meant water, she knew, not that it was hard to guess from context. She sounded out the next word: s…e…l…p. Selp…selp… Then she remembered that in Korean, there was no f, so it was usually spelled with a p. Self. She knew the last one from her phrase book: imnida. That just meant “is” or “are”.
Water is self.
It was so true. Water was such an important part of life, it really defined yourself, what made you up. Without water, life was impossible. She appreciated the sentiment even more now that her mouth was on fire.
Olivia was not surprised to find philosophical truths on the walls of even tiny restaurants in Korea, but at the moment she just wanted something to drink. She thought she remembered how to ask for things and when the waitress passed by again, Olivia stuck up her hand.
“Uh, hi. Mool jusayo?”
The woman looked blank. Olivia repeated it. “Water?” she said at last.
“Excuse me,” a man at the next table said. He pointed to the sign on the water. “Water is self.”
“Yes, I know,” Olivia said. She wiped her nose. “It’s so true, and it’s a beautiful thing to think about, but right now I just want a glass of water.”
“No, it’s over there,” the man said, pointing at a water cooler on the far side of the restaurant. “It means you have to get the water yourself.”