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Week #1

Valentines day had always been our gag gift day since we were in our junior year in college. That had been the first year that Tina and I were both single in January. I don’t remember who we had dated just before that, but the relationships had ended and a boyfriend-less valentine’s day was looming ahead. To muster the strength to face it, we made a pact that where ever we were we will always get a Valentine’s day gift for each other. Because we had needed to lighten our spirits that year, we chose gifts that would bring out a laugh. With that, our tradition of valentine’s day gag gifts was established. I don’t know I expected that promise to last this many years but we’ve been true to it through all the ups and downs of life.

Last year, Tina sent me a sweatshirt. It had three boxes like in a form you fill and the third was checked.

  • Single

  • Married

  • Mentally dating Oppa (it has my oppa’s name, but I’ll let you pick your own, instead of mine!)


Tina and I were completely smitten with my oppa since we started following K drama and K pop a few years back. Since then, Tina had accepted a lecturer position in Japan and moved. Over there, she’s had access to more of his merchandise and the last valentine’s day gift came as a result of that. This was by far the best valentine’s day gift she’s chosen to date. Because while there was no way I was ever going to meet oppa, since we lived on the two opposite sides of the earth, I always compared every guy I dated to my mental image of him. Of course, they all fall short in that comparison. I don’t know Tina intended it quite so literally, but that sweatshirt said it all.


Much as I loved the sweatshirt though, I never wear it outdoors when I’m in my home town. It was too close to the truth. It revealed a part of me that is clearly my private life that I didn’t need the world to judge me about. I wore it mostly to bed on chilly nights, like yesterday had been in Quebec City. Spring and Autumn are beautiful here. Even winter is pretty to look at from a cozy room with a fireplace. But all three seasons can be a little too cold for my taste. But then, I don’t live in Quebec. I’m just visiting. So packing a sweatshirt for the trip to Quebec was just routine common sense. Since I was just visiting here, I had my guard down about wearing it outdoors too.


It was a free day in my trip and there wasn’t too much of a need to change clothes since I planned to lounge around the room most of the morning. Comfort came first on lazy days like these. All that led to my decision to walk to the deli in the ground floor of the hotel I was staying, to grab breakfast, in my sweatshirt and pajama bottoms. I had called in my order for eggs benedict and coffee already. I expected it to be a quick in and out.


Quick in worked. Quick out didn’t really work. The line to pick up the order and pay was long and they had mixed up my order with another, which I only found out when the man who was behind me in the pick up line called after me to swap what I had picked up.


“Excuse me. They gave you the wrong order. This is the eggs benedict with sauce on the side. You have my pancakes.” He explained over the din in the deli as he offered a bag that was labeled EB.


I no longer cared what was in the bag. I just wanted to get out fast. I wasn’t quite that confident to walk around in PJs in public, even in a distant city. I handed over the brown paper bag I had without looking up to meet his eyes, took the one he offered and quickly turned around with a curt “Thanks.”


“Are you a fan of Oppa?” the man asked as I was turning, pointing at my sweatshirt.


“Hmm?” I automatically looked down at my sweatshirt, caught off guard by the question. I was sure I heard a smirk in his voice, even with all the noise in the room.


The cashier saved me from having to answer, as he called on me to pay. I’ve rarely been happier to give anyone my money than that cashier. I gratefully paid and practically ran out of the deli before anyone else could ask any more questions or judge my attire. Unfortunately, I had left the coffee behind. Standing in front of the elevator for a good two minutes, I debated the merits of a fresh made, extra frothy mocha versus a hotel room coffee machine coffee and resigned myself to the hotel room stuff. I didn’t have the guts to walk back to the Deli to get the mocha. After deciding it was a proper punishment for being too lazy to change clothes to go to the Deli, I pushed the button to call the elevator.


The elevator took its sweet time coming and I had company in the form of a man, woman and child riding up with me. I didn’t bother looking up to meet their eyes. I initially assumed the three of them must be a family since they only pressed one button in the elevator but the woman and child got off on the next floor leaving me and the man for the rest of the way. I suppose that means the man was staying on the same floor as me. I wasn’t going to look up. There was no need to invite any more comments from strangers.


But looking down didn’t help the problem. The white shoes I was staring at seemed awfully similar to the shoes the obnoxious man in the deli had been wearing. I remembered them clearly since I had kept my eyes down the whole time.


“You left your coffee at the deli.” He had the cup under my nose since I was refusing to look up once again.

I took it without comment. My brain was trying to keep up with what he was saying while strategizing on a come back if he laughed at my outfit again. That must’ve been the reason why his voice didn’t quite register at first. Once it did register, all brain activity froze. It was a voice I would recognize in my sleep. I finally looked up to see his smiling face.


“So, are you really a fan?” Oppa asked, in a playful voice. It was obvious he was trying hard to suppress a laugh but his eyes twinkled too much to successfully mask it.


“It’s part of my armor. No one hits on me when I have this on.”


“Oh… I figured the pajama bottom would keep any sane man away all by itself.” The twinkle in his eyes were impossibly bright.


The elevator doors opened at that moment thankfully and I was glad the room was just a few steps away.


But the moment I closed my room door, I was disappointed. Oppa was standing in front of me and all I did was run away. How could I be such a coward? Why didn’t I tell him I was his biggest fan? Why didn’t I ask him to have breakfast with me? Yes, disappointment came first. Then came anger. How dare he make fun of my PJs? What happened to his legendary courtesy to his fans?


Anger was good. It gave me the chance to eat breakfast even if it was intermingled with a constant stream of grumbling. But with the food the anger disappeared as well.


How could I blame him for making fun of the PJs? It was absurd for a grown woman to walk around in public like this. Not to mention, thanks to my brain’s choice of a witty comeback, I had never admitted I was a fan so why would he be nice to me?

I finally took the coffee out to the balcony to sip hoping the cool fresh air would settle my mind and help me to forgive myself. My heart was heavy for the lost opportunity. I had come so close to finally getting to know Oppa, but I had let it slip through my fingers.


“The air over here just smells different, doesn’t it?” Oppa was standing in the adjacent balcony sipping his own coffee.

I choked on the sip I had taken. Coffee had gone up the wrong pipe and I couldn’t stop coughing for a good minute while trying to get it cleared.


“Are you ok? I can jump over the railing if you need help”


“I’m fine. You scared me. I didn’t realize anyone else was out here.” I muttered between coughs.


He watched me over the rim of his cup as I got my coughing under control and settled down to sip my coffee again.


I decided the safest path was to pick up the conversation where he left off on weather. “I always thought you could taste the seasons in the air here. It’s so clean that you can’t actually smell the city smells.”


“I never thought of it that way. It smells different here because you can’t smell the city smells here... That’s true” he admitted, almost speaking to himself.


“I was going to walk over to the park in a bit and walk around the streets here. Let’s put your theory to test and see if the air tastes the same or if its different place to place.” He suggested after a pause.


Was he asking me to spend the day with him? I was so astonished all I could do was stare.


“If you have plans, I understand. I can try it on my own.” He offered.


“No plans. I was just thinking a walk would be nice.” I rushed to respond. I wasn’t going to miss my second chance to get to know him.


“You can’t walk around in that sweatshirt though.”


“Why not? It would be pretty ironic if I wear it while walking around with you.” I insisted.


“Except, it would remind people about me so by association more people will recognize me. It kinda defeats the purpose of a rest if I have to be on model behavior.”


“Fine, I’ll get a proper top. But I’m keeping my PJs.”


“Of course! Otherwise, someone might hit on you!” his dimples were out to match the twinkling eyes this time.


I stuck my tongue out before coming in to change clothes. I was acting like an 8 year old that got away with an extra serving of ice cream or something. Thank god he couldn’t see me dancing across the hotel room!


Ten minutes later Oppa was knocking on the door. I had changed into a pair of jeans and a long sleeve tee. I grabbed my big jacket as I walked out the door and followed him to the elevator.


“Nice shoes” Oppa said putting his foot next to mine as the elevator took us to the ground floor.


I had picked the only pair of comfortable shoes I had brought with me. I had packed them because they did double duty for walking about the town and running in the mornings when I needed the exercise. I hadn’t had time to think past comfort when getting dressed. Until his foot was next to me I didn’t realize my shoes matched his.


“I didn’t pick them because they match yours. It’s the only walking shoes I brought with me on the trip.” I explained a bit defensively.


“Are you a porcupine or something? Why are you so prickly all the time?”


He was right. Why was I being defensive and trying to pick a fight? I didn’t have a real reason other than nerves. I quietly muttered, “Sorry.”


Once out of the hotel door oppa stopped with the phone in his hand and turned around to face me. “The park seems to be that way. Looks like it’s a little over a mile to get there. Across from us there’s a market square type place with little shops down a cobblestone path. It’s supposed to be one of the places you HAVE TO visit if you are in Quebec City. If we go there first and then walk over to the park it’ll be about 2 to 3 miles. Are you ok to walk that much?”


“Sure. Maybe I can find a better sweatshirt in one of those shops.” Despite the snarky remark, I silently admitted I’d happily walk ten miles if it meant getting to be by Oppa’s side. It wasn’t a healthy thought to obsess this early. It was better to just enjoy the time I was getting.


The winding cobblestone street with the little shops dotting its sides was straight out of a picture postcard. For a moment I almost forgot everything as I stared around in wonder. Oppa had kept on walking but stopped when he realized I hadn’t followed. He turned around and waited patiently for me to catch up to him.


“This looks like a good place to test your theory, don’t you think?”


“Huh?” what theory was he talking about? My head felt fuzzy with his closeness in this breathtaking setting. “Oh, the air tasting like the season? Sure. This is as good as any.”


“Aaaaaaaaaa” he lifted his head, closed his eyes and stuck his tongue out like he was trying to catch a snow flake. I couldn’t take my eyes off his face as his hair fell back and the sun reflected off his creamy skin. People this good looking didn’t live in my real world.


“So what does it taste like?” I found my voice when the spell broke and he looked down and opened his eyes.


“Like candy…” he said looking around questioningly and followed almost distractedly. “What did it taste like to you?”


I obviously hadn’t tried the experiment. I had spent my time staring at a perfect face. I quickly put my tongue out and inhaled. “you are right. It does taste like candy… I don’t think I would’ve ever picked candy as the taste of Autumn.”


“That’s because its not the taste of Autumn. It’s the candy shop right there. They must be fixing something in there that’s making the air taste like it. Shall we go check what they are making?” Oppa jubilantly said while pointing at a shop a couple of feet away. 




The shop was making something that looked like taffy. “Would you like to try a piece of the maple toffee?” the shop assistant offered as Oppa and I watched the process of making it. We both took a piece to try. It was sweet and chewy with a distinctly maple flavor. Oppa bought a small bag of it before we left the shop.


“So I don’t think we can count that as part of the taste experiment. That close to a candy store its always going to smell and taste like candy, no matter where you go in the world.” I was certain my theory was still valid.


“Fine. We’ll try the experiment farther down the street… maybe around the next bend.”


We stopped at the bend as agreed and tried the experiment again. I was done fast. Mostly because I’d rather watch Oppa with his face turned up to the sky and the sun rays reflecting off him. As I looked up to watch him, the red door set on an almost blank wall across from us caught my eye. It looked familiar. Since it was my first time in Quebec City nothing should’ve been familiar. But since coming here a few days ago I’ve had this sense of familiarity on and off. The red door in front me right now was the most familiar though. It was like I had seen it many times before and somehow knew it intimately. I’ve never had that strong a sense of déjà vu before and it almost scared me. Involuntarily I took a step closer to oppa and unconsciously touched the edge of his coat sleeve. I just needed to feel something real to reassure myself.


“What’s wrong?” Oppa had immediately turned to me and taken my hand. All the playfulness on his face from a moment before had completely vanished. It was replaced with genuine concern. “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost”


“That door. It looks really familiar. I feel like I should know it but I’ve never been here before so why would I know it?” I asked in a small voice.


Oppa looked at the door for a moment before breaking out in a loud laugh. I was stunned and a little hurt he would laugh at my discomfort. I tried to pull my hand out of his and step away. But instead of letting me go he bent his elbow while still clasping my hand and trapping my arm between his body and his arm, which effectively brought me closer to his side.


“Do you really consider yourself a k-drama fan?” he asked with an arched eyebrow and twinkling eyes focused on my face with all the mischief in the world in his voice.


When I didn’t respond immediately, he continued to watch my face intently. “You really can’t claim to be a k-drama aficionado if you don’t recognize that door. Its in one of the best known shows.”


It took me a moment but I finally remembered. “Oh… it’s the Goblin door… I knew that story was done partially in Canada. It must have been Quebec city. So that’s why I keep thinking places here look familiar.” I felt rather foolish. Of course, when I’m embarrassed, I fight to mask it. “You didn’t have to laugh at me for that. It’s not like I live in k-drama world.” with that I untangled our arms and started walking again.


“Oh, I see the porcupine’s back… But honestly, you have to return the sweatshirt. If you can’t recognize something so popular in k-drama like the goblin door I don’t think you can claim that sweatshirt”


“You weren’t even in Goblin so how does that door relate to my sweatshirt?” I wasn’t giving my sweatshirt to anyone.

“Are you saying you’d recognize all the places from my shows then?”


“Most likely. If they were truly unique places.” I was 99% sure I would but I wasn’t betting my sweatshirt on anything.


“You are hedging.”


“No. I’m nicely letting you know that I’m not giving up my sweatshirt no matter what.” I smiled sweetly and got a slow thoughtful smile back.


“So what did the air taste like over there?” Oppa changed the subject back to the topic before.


“Hmmm… it tasted like autumn”


“Which is what taste?” He wasn’t letting it go…


“Hmmm… it tastes like… fire”


“Huh? When did you eat fire?... What does fire taste like?”


“Like … I don’t know… grilled food?” I was ready to give up.


“Hmmm… that’s interesting… yeah, I can taste that” Oppa sounded like he was talking to himself.


The last store at the end of the cobblestone path was a tiny sandwich shop. We stopped by there and picked up a couple of sandwiches and drinks before heading over to cross the main road that would get us to the park on the other side.


Since the walk signal was not on to cross the road I bent to re-tie my shoe laces.


“This light only gives you 15 seconds to cross so you’d better get those laces done fast. The lights about to change.” Oppa pointed out.


“Stop nagging like an old woman. I’m almost done.” I couldn’t resist teasing him. But before I got done talking the light changed and the walk signal lit up. I wasn’t done with the laces yet. We’ll be cutting it close.


Soon as I stood up Oppa had taken my hand and we were running to the other side. We barely made the crossing before the walk signal went dark. I needed a moment to catch my breath. The bench on the other side seemed like a god send after that little sprint.


“Over here the air taste a little like asphalt and car fumes.” Oppa was continuing the experiment while I was catching my breath.


“That makes sense. We are next to a four lane road..”


“Let’s go Captain obvious. The park is just over there. Let’s go see what the air tastes like away from the road then.” Oppa had stood up and offered me a hand.


“Fine. Let’s go finish this experiment!” I happily took his hand and interlaced my fingers with his as we slowly made our way up the little hill to get to the park. 


The park was tranquil with only a few other people that had picked a picnic lunch. The reds and yellows of the changing leaves contrasted beautifully with the lush green grass. Sound of a flowing creek played in the background. We found a vacant park bench to sit.


“Time to wrap up your experiment.”


“Right. Let’s see.” Leaning back on the bench Oppa followed his taste test. I didn’t bother to taste the air. I was just happy to watch the filtered sun rays coming through the leaves dance across his face. Sitting this close I could see the mark on his cheek clearly. I had always dreamt of touching it but couldn’t get my nerve to do it, even though I knew it was very unlikely I would get another chance to do it. I was just grateful for the opportunity to sit close and watch my Oppa with my own eyes.


“It tastes very similar to the goblin door here. But there’s more of a wild taste too.” Oppa commented.


“So my theory holds then. The season has one taste. In Quebec City, Canada, autumn tastes like fire with a wild spirit!” I proclaimed.

“All right. We’ll publish our findings. But then we’ll need to document all the other places in the world and see if the seasons have a taste elsewhere too.” Oppa agreed seriously.


“Sure. Let’s travel the world together and collect the data. This is very important research.” I was happy to play along that train of thought. “Where shall we publish our findings? Which scientific journal do you think we should offer this great insight?”


“I know. Let me make the announcement of our findings.” Oppa had his phone out the next moment and took a photo of the park and proceeded to type something for the next minute. “There.”


“What’s there?” but before I completed my question my phone pinged three times. “Oh, I see. So like 50 million people know our findings then.” I tried to maintain nonchalance as I said it while looking at the three notifications from Instagram, twitter and facebook.


“Now that the experiment is done, shall we have lunch?” though the question seemed light hearted Oppa was watching my face intently. I’m sure the enormity of who I was with that had hit me a moment ago was written all over my face. This question seemed to be his attempt to change the subject and make our world small enough to be just us again. I appreciated the gesture.


“Let’s do. And then we can eat the maple toffee.” I smilingly agreed. It didn’t matter how big his world was, at this moment right now, he was my entire world.


The next couple of hours was ordinary. As ordinary as any other picnic in the park. Oppa played with a dog in a blue bandana who came running over and stayed till its owner came looking. Even the animals loved this extraordinary human and coveted his attention, a little voice pointed out in my head. We fed the geese the left over bread crumbs before heading back to the hotel hand in hand. Interlacing our fingers and walking back seemed as natural as breathing.


“Would you like to go for dinner later?” oppa asked as we walked out of the elevator.


“That’ll be nice.” I agreed. I really didn’t want to let go of his hand but knowing its only till dinner time at least helped.

Once inside the room I took the shoes off, grabbed a water and walked over to the balcony. Oppa was already there. He was hanging my sweatshirt on the railing, which I had left there earlier to air out. Curious I looked to find that the word ‘mentally’ had been struck across with a black marker.


Now the third option simply read “Dating Oppa.”

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