"For remember"

It was my second year in UP. While I was walking to the jeepney stop after a late afternoon class, two Korean men stopped me and talked to me, with a hint of urgency and desperation, in Korean. They'd been trying to catch the attention of other UP students, and none had given them the time of day until I came along, looking, at least in their eyes, all Korean-like.

Seriously, for some reason, they thought I was Korean. I know this because they kept saying, "You Korean? You Korean?"

They were disappointed to find out I wasn't. I felt bad for them, and my messianic complex kicked in, so I stayed to talk, even if it was getting dark. They barely spoke English, but I somehow understood they had gone straight to UP Diliman from the airport, left their bags at the kiosk across CAL, and started looking for somebody to help them find a place to stay. They were in UP to take English classes.

I couldn't get any more information beyond that, so I brought them to the College of Education, where they said the classes would be held. I had also seen posters in both Korean and English looking for Korean boarders. There was a name of a contact person at Educ and the phone number of the boarding house.

When we got to Educ, the person wasn't there or was busy, so I asked to use the phone instead. I called the boarding house, asked for any Korean available to come to phone, then handed the phone to the two men. They were so relieved to be able to explain their predicament to someone who could understand, and they were given directions to the boarding house. Good thing, too, because by the time we were done, it was dark.

I quickly walked them back to the kiosk, where, to my relief, I discovered that several students (either members of the UP Mountaineers or a frat) had watched over their things without having been asked. The Koreans and I exchanged names, and they asked for my contact details. We didn't have cellphones back then, but I gave them my home number.

They wrote down their names and home addresses in my notebook, all in Korean. Then, they gave me Korean coins. I didn't want to accept their money, but they were insistent. "For remember," one of them said, as the other tried to explain to me the conversion rates.

I thought that was the end of that.

A few months later, I heard from them--specifically from the guy who said "for remember." It probably wasn't the first time he called, but it was the first time he managed to leave me a message asking me to call their boarding house.

At first I didn't want to--I was shy--but then Filipino hospitality kicked in, and so I did. His English was better. He said they wanted to meet me and treat me to dinner.

It was quite a stretch for me, but I agreed to meet them outside the UP Film Center. I was expecting to have a quick catch-up at The Chocolate Kiss, but they wanted to go to SM North, eat at McDonald's, and watch a movie. Before I could explain that I actually wasn't very familiar with SM North, they flagged a taxi, and off we went.

They reintroduced themselves to me with their English names, names they'd chosen for their English class. The one who had invited me out said his new name was Rocky. When I asked him why, he acted out shooting a machine gun like Sylvester Stallone. The other guy was simply Michael.

We had a fun dinner, during which they told me their ages (if I remember correctly, Rocky was 24 and Michael was 27). They were studying again. Michael was taking up mechanical engineering; Rocky, business. They'd just completed mandatory military service. They didn't have wives or girlfriends.

Watching the movie, on the other hand, was kind of awkward. They didn't understand most of it. We watched Disney's "Peter Pan," if I'm not mistaken, and I can't remember why it was showing; it wasn't even new. We entered the cinema halfway through the movie, and they didn't know that we could stay to watch the first half. As soon as credits rolled, they stood up to leave, and I was too late to tell them we could stay.

As we walked outside SM North, Rocky asked if I could give him English lessons. I said I couldn't, because I had no idea how to teach English and I felt that I would be a terrible English teacher. You'll find a much better teacher in UP, I told him. Then I said goodbye.

I think I heard from him at least one more time, before I was swallowed into an organization called UP Quill. After that, I never saw or talked to them again. I didn't think about them much either, but for years I kept their coins, wrapped in a piece of paper with their real names in Korean and their addresses in Seoul.

Funny, because I didn't think anything of him then, but thinking about Rocky now, I feel like I missed something worth exploring, something that may or may not have been love.