Every morning for breakfast, I stop by the local donut shop for a ham and cheese croissant and a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino (chilled, in a bottle). I’ve been doing this for close to 10 years now, and my belly shows it. The Korean husband and wife owners, Sang and Soon, know me by name. They keep me updated on how their grandchildren are doing and what the local weather looks like right outside their glass storefront. We don’t talk about much else, as their command of the English language is more like a polite request. They are Salt of the Earth folk, and I’m not sure my days would be complete without their smiling faces should they go out of business.
Sang wears a Bont Software ball cap. He used to wear a white one of indeterminate origin, but it was falling apart and had more stains than a New Orleans cabbie’s backseat. After getting breakfast one morning, I went out to my truck and got one from my customer bribe box. Soon saw me walking in with it in my hand and knew exactly what was going on. She took that old one off his head and threw in the garbage can, speaking a few choice Korean sentences as she did so. As wives all over the world belong to the same union, I didn’t need a translation. He still wears it today, a good six years later. It’s starting to get a bit flat, so I may have to get him another one.
I asked them a few years ago how to say “Good Morning” in Korean and they taught me (jo eun a chim). Over the next few months, we added new phrases to my mental dictionary such as “Thank You” (gom sa hom ni da) and “Have a Good Day” (jo eun ha ru). Now they have a large poster board mounted on the wall next to the credit card reader with all the phrases hand-printed out with the English translations. The title on top of the poster board reads “Let’s Learn Korean!”
They have a son and a daughter they put through college with what that little donut shop brought in. Their daughter earned a degree in Architecture, while their son earned a Masters in Electrical Engineering. He still helps them out from time to time.
One day, we were all talking about how hot it was outside. We’re in Texas, and it was summer, so the conversation didn’t deviate too much from “It’s hot!” Anyway, I asked Sang what his name meant. He didn’t know what I was asking at first. His son came up and translated. Sang means “All together.” Soon actually gets its meaning from the Chinese. It means “Relax.” I should have known that . . . Steve Connor, my Tai Chi Sifu, would mutter “Soon” to his students to help us do just that. The name not only means relax, but it is relaxing to listen to as well. Perhaps that is why when our kids ask, “How long before we get there?” we answer, “Soon.” To this day, I find it amazing that a man and woman would get married and their names would form a phrase that means “Let’s All Chill Out.”