- At the Gunwale
The door opened and the hot thick air rushed in; raindrops tunneled out of the darkened sky.
“They say it’s the dry season, but it doesn’t seem like it,” my father said, glancing over at me as if I were some kind of weather god. Passport control was taking forever. The woman ahead of us seemed to be having a hard time and was making all kinds of gestures in front of the inspection window while Father kept clearing his throat, uh-hum, and clicking his tongue, saying, “Good Lord!” Finally his frustration reached its peak. “Go find out what the hell is going on," he told me.
He shoved me over towards the woman with his look. The man behind the glass partition, dressed in a bluish uniform, stared at me through glassy black eyes. The woman, who I thought was Chinese, didn’t seem to speak any English because every time the man behind the window asked her a question she repeated, “No English, no English,” as if she were a parrot. I went back to my spot and picked up my bag. “She didn’t write down where she’s going to stay. They keep telling her she can’t enter the country without that information, but she doesn’t have any idea what they’re saying. I think we should move to another line.”
As I expected, Father exploded. “Those idiots! So what if she doesn’t write down where she’s going to stay? Would she even want [End Page 51] to live in a country like this anyway? You don’t really mean we’re going to move to a different line after waiting all this time in this one? Go ask them to let us through in front of her.”
The people behind us had already started moving to shorter lines. I almost said, “Let’s just go to another line. They’re obviously not going to let us,” but instead I put my bag down again and casually thrust myself over to the woman. It’s faster just to let Father see these things for himself. The man at the inspection window gave me a look as if asking, “What do you want?” I spoke as slowly as possible, hoping to sound polite: “We’ve been waiting a long time, sir. If there’s a problem with her particular case, could you let us go before her, please?” Before I had even finished speaking the man shot me another look that seemed to ask, “What is this nonsense she’s talking about?” followed by a curt, “No,” as he turned away.
Throughout the rest of the ordeal Father kept his mouth shut like a clam; his face seemed to say, “I’ll put up with this for now. I’ll do it for the moment.” Waiting was one of the things he hated most. There were many things he had a hard time coping with, but he particularly detested having to wait for someone or something. He was accustomed to a lifestyle in which people responded immediately to his slightest gesture, word, or even glance. When he had the power to do all that, it was almost a sin to make him wait.
Luckily the tour guide found us right away. He was stout, with a crew cut like a ssirŭm wrestler, and a sour stench emanated from him as he picked up our bags. We were the only two who got in the minivan. The guide wasted about five minutes just telling us that the other seven tourists had changed their minds and stayed in Vietnam. He picked his words slowly, like he was having a hard time finding the right ones in Korean.
As he began to explain, “When we leave the airport, we’ll be headed towards . . . .” Father interrupted him.
“You said you’re Mr. Pak, right?”
“Yes, sir, it’s Minsu Pak,” he answered energetically.
“How long have you been in Cambodia?” [End Page 52]
“Well . . . only three months, actually. I was working in Guam and I lost...