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Hyun Woo Kim

“A person with an upright upbringing will know how to use chopsticks properly,” my father used to say in his strong Busan accent. 


He was a man stubborn with his judgments towards others. I was no exception to him. In my youth, I was forced to use chopsticks with my right hand, as being left-handed was deemed improper. 


I hopped around the East China Sea trying to avoid the return to Busan, where chopsticks were called jeotgarak. His words were still in my head, no matter where I went and no matter whether chopsticks were called kuaizi or waribashi


Naomi was a colleague from Zimbabwe whom I met in Yokohama. I taught Korean and she taught English at a local language institute. She held a degree in applied linguistics and was presented as a natural-born US citizen to Japanese students. I would sometimes meet her at a convenience store, or a konbini, after work. Then we said hi or oyasumi. Nothing more went on between us for about three months. 


I crossed the line when I saw her eating cup noodles at the store. She was holding in her left fist disposable chopsticks, typically given away at konbinis. She was squeezing them as if they were an ice pick. I bought a can of Kirin beer and sat next to her. 


“There are times you can’t wait,” she muttered, somewhat in shame. 


Naomi soon moved into my place, and I got used to her craving cup noodles every night. I still cannot fully grasp how it could happen so swiftly. Maybe it was because my father had been trying to talk me into marrying a decent Korean girl and settling down. Maybe it was because, on top of being a foreigner, Naomi was not even an American. Maybe because Naomi’s skin color was dark and she was rather obese. 


As time passed, Naomi no longer bought one or two cup noodles on the way home. Our fights were becoming more frequent, and she gulped cup noodles that she ordered in boxes as if she was trying to avoid something. Her hoard kept getting bigger with stacks of chopsticks until our last night together. 


“It’s an Asian thing. We don’t meet the parents unless we are getting married,” I spat out. 


“So, that’s why?” 


I could not answer, as I did not know the answer. I was unsure if I wanted to show Naomi to my parents or not. I was unsure if I wanted to be accepted by my father or make him enraged more. 


An unfinished cup noodles stood between us on the table. Only then did I notice that Naomi was not only bad at using chopsticks, but also at splitting them. One stick was much shorter, its end sharp enough to pierce through my flesh. Though I was unsure of so many things, I knew what I had to do. 


“It’s over,” I said, splitting a new set of chopsticks perfectly in the middle. 




Having majored in Russian literature, Hyun Woo Kim has figured out that it is better to write his own works than to write about what others wrote. He lives in Seoul and can be reached at or

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