I sent a box of pretzels to South Korea today; they’re Christina Petit’s favorite comfort food, the one thing that reminds her of home.
Christina and I met while getting our masters’ degrees at Fredonia State College. A mutual friend put us in touch after her father died in 2008, a year after my father’s death. Over dinner and drinks, we talked about death and life, loss and love. Our emotions were unbridled in each other’s presence. It’s been like that ever since.
For the past four years, she’s been teaching English as a secondary language in South Korea.
During the summer of 2012, we took a five-week expedition through Southeast Asia. I got to meet her Korean boyfriend, Song; the three of us rented a beach house on the Thai island of Koh Samui for 10 days.
While we were there, she admitted she’d cried over a bag of pretzels.
“It’s really what pretzels represent,” she said. She explained that pretzels don’t have a presence in Korea. Expatriates can flock to Costco to purchase oversized amounts of hard-to-find foods, such as apple pie, turkey and cheese. But Christina could never bring herself to purchase the five-pound bag of Snyder’s Twists. “Even if I only ate pretzels for every meal, I wouldn’t be able to finish them before they got stale.”
That’s because Song has no taste for them. This is just one of the obstacles that have arisen over the years.
Another is job security. Because Christina is from an English-speaking country, she can find a job almost anywhere as a teacher. It’s more troublesome for Song since English is not his primary language.
People have suggested it might be easier for her to move back and find someone here.
“Could I go back to America and find a man from my culture who likes pretzels and wants to travel and teach? Probably. But would similar professional opportunities and appreciation for my comfort food be all that it takes to make a soul mate? No.”
In the summer of 2013, she and Song spent eight months in Melbourne, Australia. One spring day they went for a walk through Queen Victoria Gardens. The brick inlaid walkway they were strolling was hemmed with vibrant flowers and looming trees. She thought it would be an ideal spot for a wedding ceremony. And then reality set in: It would be too expensive to ask guests to travel.
She was disheartened; her friends and family want them in Buffalo, Song’s in Korea.
Then she had a thought: Maybe she didn’t need to have a big wedding in Australia, or anywhere for that matter. She looked at Song.
“That moment, on that brick walkway, I decided we were walking down the aisle,” she told me. “I was married to this man. He is my life partner. I don’t need a traditional wedding to know that.”
Song must have had similar feelings. Soon after that spring day, he asked her to marry him.
Christina once told me that when she becomes a mother, she wants her family to practice a different religion every year. That way her children will have a comprehensive understanding of other cultures. I’ve always found her determination to examine and appreciate the world admirable.
The downside is this: We see each other once a year, at most. It’s not much, but it’s enough.
I like to think that Christina and I will end up in the same neck of the woods, that our adventurous souls will eventually settle and meet. Until then, we’ll have pretzels.