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[ Issue 149 Page 6 ] Thursday, November 24, 2016, 13:42:00 Agar Omondi agar@kaist.ac.kr


It’s 8:30 a.m. when you walk into Handel and Gretel. The tables are all empty and there is no one behind the counter. Everyone is at the back in a huddle receiving their pep-talk from the general manager about the day’s goals. You are minding your own business when in walks a bespectacled girl wearing a pair of faded denim jeans and one of those T-shirts that has a random English word printed in gigantic font across the front.

As soon as someone appears behind the counter, she places her order –a steaming cup of Americano coffee – and proceeds to the nearest table. She then takes out a book which you instantly recognize. You walk up to her as soon as you’ve received your order and ask, “Excuse miss, but what do you think? Can a dismembered head be dismembered?”

“Excuse me?” She looks up from her book.

You take that as the green–light to take the seat directly opposite hers.

“That’s the philosophical conundrum the Cheshire Cat visits upon the Queen of Heart’s royal executioner in the book you are reading,” you continue after taking a cautious sip from your cup of scalding hot caffè mocha. “I used to think that Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There was a children’s book, but after re–reading it in my adulthood, I’ve realized that this particular children’s book is laced with satire and has plenty of symbolism designed to elude the passive reader.”


She then suddenly remembers that she has a class at 9:30, which is weird because two years at KAIST has taught you that there are no classes that begin at that particular hour but you bite back your response as she excuses herself and hurries away, leaving behind her coffee and the book she was reading.

Sometimes it’s the old man with grey hair who you just gave up your seat to on the bus who, as soon as he is done pretending to refuse your “polite gesture” pulls out a book  and places a pair of horn rimmed spectacles on his nose. He then buries his nose so deep inside his book that it is close to impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. He’s completely blocked out all the hubbub around him and is focused solely on the page he is reading from; the faint outline what has the potential to grow into a handlebar moustache quivering as he grins wordlessly at something he just read.  Google Translate informs you that his is one of those inspirational and self-development books.

You want to ask him in Korean, “Kind sir, what specific thing are you looking for in that book at this point in your life? What did you read just now that makes you so amused?” Your hope is that this will then open a long and powerful conversation about life –his life – and all the things he did in his youth, about things he wishes he would have done differently and how he’s righting all the wrongs now through deeds and thoughts. And books!

This time however, you will hold your tongue. You don’t want to interrupt such a reader in his “natural habitat.” And besides, the only Korean you know is 밥더 주새요 and you can’t break the ice with an elderly gentleman using those words.


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