I've been known to swipe things from pubs and restaurants, but I wasn't going to do it. Not this time.
I had only been in the country for a couple of weeks, was only familiarizing myself with the culture, the language, and the people. I wasn't about to get myself caught in any shenanigans.
I had only met her, briefly, a day or so before. She was the friend of a fellow colleague, and both of them were trying to be helpful, trying to introduce me to new places. In a few months, one would be leaving work, leaving the country, and starting a new chapter in her life. The other was going to explore Australia for a year, to see a new part of the world and to improve her English.
But here, today, they were both with me and DW in Chŏnju, South Korea, and we were enjoying some 녹차—nōk cha, green tea, in a modern-styled café in the district just outside the gates of Chŏnbuk University.
Though we didn't need them, our place settings included little spoons, in case we would decide to change our beverages to coffee and would need to stir in any milk, cream, or sugar. But we wanted to immerse ourselves in the Korean culture, so the tea would do just fine.
I marvelled at the little spoons. They were tiny, elegant. The stainless-steel construction were sleek, the bowl long and narrow, the neck so thin that it looked like it could bend under the weight of anything it held. But it was the tip of the handle that caught my attention.
Ducks. The handles ended in slim duck heads. A long, pointed bill. Minuscule beads for eyes. The detail was simple, yet there was a detail that made them appealing.
"What cute spoons," I remarked, lifting one to get a closer look. Three simple words, perhaps backed with a smile, and that was it. I put them down and returned my attention to the conversations with our foursome.
Our hosts were still preventing DW and me from paying for anything when they were present. We were new to the country, to the city, and it would still be a couple more weeks before we would see our first paycheque. Besides, tea was cheap in Korea.
Kyung-hee, our first Korean friend, went to the cafés reception area to settle our bill. When she returned, she placed two little spoons in my hand.
"I talked to the owner," she said, "he said you can have them."
Our first gift. Used every day that we lived in Korea. Brought with us to Canada. Used to this day by every member of our family.
I still smile when I pull one from the kitchen drawer. I still remember that day in Chŏnju.
Two little spoons, I didn't have to swipe.