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Culture Shock

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The first thing Changkyun felt when he arrived in Seoul was lost. The second thing he felt was small. Lost and small. He’d lived in big cities before but Seoul was absolutely vast and so densely populated. A mass of concrete and glass, crawling with people. It was night but the streets were still busy and illuminated.

By the time he’d finally found the high rise building he’d be calling home, he felt another thing. Foreign. That was a very familiar feeling, though. If there was always one thing he felt, it was foreign. Moving from city to city, country to country his whole life. Even now in the country where he was born, he still felt out of place.

But hopefully not for much longer. Now he was 21 years old and didn’t have to follow his parents around. He could live wherever he wanted and for as long as he wanted, circumstances permitting. The idea of being somewhere he could eventually feel at home was like some wonderful dream to him.

A dream which felt a million miles away as he stood in front of door 2321. He hesitated before he could press the buzzer, checking himself in his phone camera to ensure he didn’t look too terrible. He wanted to make a good first impression on whoever would be answering the door because they’d be his roommate for the foreseeable future.

Looking at himself was a mistake. He looked like shit. He’d been awake for 34 hours and the dry recycled air of the plane didn’t help. He looked like he’d just aged about a decade. God, he probably even smelled gross. Oh well, too late now.

He took a deep breath and pressed the buzzer.

He heard some voices and stumbling from inside for what seemed like forever. Eventually, the door cracked open. A guy about his age, maybe a couple of years older, with hair dyed orange stood on the other side of the door. He was holding back a blonde guy who was grinning widely with what seemed to be unbridled excitement.

“I thought I was sharing with only one person. Maybe one is a friend or something. Either way, at least they aren’t creepy old dudes.” Changkyun thought as he looked the pair up and down. The blonde was wearing an oversized white shirt and a pair of well fitting acid wash jeans and the one with orange hair was wearing a baggy hoodie and sweats. All very normal looking. Nothing overtly psycho about them.

In fact, they were both kinda cute. The one with orange hair had dimples to die for.

No. He couldn’t afford to think like that. That was the danger zone. He chewed on his lower lip nervously.

“You must be the new roomie!” The blonde practically yelled at him.

“Oh. Yes. Uhh...” Exhaustion had apparently caused him to forget how to speak Korean. “My name is Im Changkyun.” He said robotically. He’d spent his life hearing Korean spoken at home, sometimes switching between it and English himself. He’d even been frantically practicing for the last few months, only speaking in Korean to his parents but the language still felt unnatural on his tongue. It always had, despite his fluency.

“Welcome, come on in I guess. I’m Lee Jooheon. This is Lee Minhyuk, my best friend. He came over in case you’re a murderer or something.” The redhead, Jooheon, explained.

“H-Hello.” As he stepped in he remembered to remove his shoes, slipping them off and placing them next to the others.

“You look tired as fuck.” The excitable blonde, Minhyuk, observed.

“Min hyung, don’t be rude!” Jooheon swatted at his friend before turning back to Changkyun. “So I don’t know anything about you other than you’re new to Seoul, and your name. I’m guessing you don’t know anything about me.” Jooheon started. Changkyun slipped his bag off his shoulders and clutched it as though it was the only thing keeping him alive, unsure where he was allowed to put it. All the while struggling to keep up with understanding his new roommate. Jooheon talked faster than he was used to and his brain was probably only working at 15% right now.

“Um...” Changkyun brought the sleeve of his hoodie up to his mouth, chewing on it without realising. It was kind of his weird thing.

There was an awkward pause. “So like I said, my name is Jooheon. I’m 23 and uh... this is kinda weird, I’m not sure what to say.”

“He listens to terrible music all the time so get yourself some noise cancelling headphones, he can’t cook for shit and he snores when he’s drunk. Also when he’s not drunk. Oh, and he walks around in his underwear all the time!” Minhyuk interjected.

Changkyun was pretty sure he more or less followed what the man was saying. “It’s good to meet you. Uh, I like music, too and I can cook a little bit.”

Jooheon opened his mouth to say something but he was interrupted by Minhyuk again. “Your accent is very strange.”

“Jeez, don’t be so rude!” Jooheon scolded again. “This is why nobody likes you!”

“Excuse me but everyone loves me. Including you!”

He didn’t want to be the foreigner. Not again. “I kinds get that a lot.” It wasn’t a lie.

“Are you hungry or anything? We got some takeout leftover.” Jooheon offered.

“Thanks but I’m really tired. I think I’ll go to bed if that’s ok. Sorry if I’m being rude.”

“It’s ok, kid. You look like you really need some sleep.” Minhyuk giggled.

Changkyun didn’t have the energy to be offended. Besides, Minhyuk wasn’t wrong. If Changkyun was upright another moment he might collapse with exhaustion. “Yeah...”

“Oh your room’s through here. This is the kitchen and living room. Obviously. Bathroom is through there and my room is through that door.” Jooheon began pointing around. “This one’s yours.” He took Changkyun over to the door.

“Great, thanks. I’m sorry for rushing off. I just think I might die if I don’t lay down.”

“It’s cool. You probably had a long trip from wherever.” Jooheon shrugged.

Changkyun was pretty sure he fell asleep before his head even hit the pillow. He didn’t even bother to undress.

 

———

 

It was 11am by the time Changkyun rolled out of bed. His entire body ached like crazy. His neck and shoulders were so stiff. He pulled some sweats and a t-shirt out of his bag and pulled them on before padding out of the room

At some point he’d woken up and raided the snacks he had in his back and wriggled out of his clothes and slept the rest of the night naked. Naked and covered in crumbs. He’d laugh about it to himself at some point in the future. .

Jooheon was sat sprawled on the couch in a t shirt and his boxers.

“Good morning.” Changkyun said in English before he could realise his mistake.

“Good morning.” Jooheon parroted back, also in English, giving him a strange look. “Practicing English? Is this a thing you do?”

“What? No. Sorry.” Korean. He had to speak Korean now. He wasn’t in America anymore.

“It’s cool. There’s rice in the cooker if you’re hungry.”

“Mmmmh.” Changkyun supposed that rice for breakfast was a norm he’d have to grow accustomed to.

“Not hungry?”

“Not. I woke up at 2am and ate four candy bars and a bag of chips I brought with me.” Goddamn jet lag screwing up now body clock. “I should go to the store and get some real food, I guess...” Changkyun started chewing on his sleeve again. Hopefully Jooheon wouldn’t notice his weird little habit.

“It’s cheaper if we split on groceries and eat the same meals. I just went to the store yesterday so there’s plenty of food here, so don’t worry about it too much. Help yourself to whatever.”

“Oh, thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. I basically live off ramyun and microwaved tteokbokki with string cheese melted in it.”

Tteokbokki... that sounded familiar. What was that again? Oh the rice cake things in the spicy sauce. “Do you have bread?”

“No, sorry. There’s a 7-Eleven on the street level of the building, though.”

“What about coffee?” The language was flowing a lot easier after getting some sleep.

“Oh I have plenty of that.”

“I think I’ll go buy some bread and make toast, then. Coffee first, maybe. And then a shower. I feel gross.”

“There’s coffee in the pot. Can you pass me one, too? Just a little bit of milk.”

“Sure.” Oops. English again. Changkyun ignored himself and poured out two coffees. He walked over to Jooheon to hand him his cup— and then he saw them. Those thighs. His boxers were riding up and his thick fleshy thighs were on display. If there was one thing Changkyun was more of a sucker for than a nice smile, it was a good pair of thighs. And goddamn did he want to put his mouth on those thighs. He could feel the saliva start to pool in his mouth already.

“Oh god. He’s gorgeous. I wonder how good his skin tastes...”

“Thanks, man.” Jooheon took the coffee and looked at him with a quirked eyebrow. “You Good?”

“....What? Yeah!”

“Dude. Are you drooling?”

“No!” He wiped at his mouth with his free hand. God, why was he so embarrassing? His face was burning with humiliation. Did he actually just fucking drool? Holy fuck, what the hell was wrong with him? “Just really love coffee!”

Jooheon eyed him like he was insane. Honestly, Changkyun really didn’t blame him. “Why does he have to have thighs like that? I didn’t notice them last night. Holy fucking shit.”

Changkyun took that as an excellent time to disappear into his room with his coffee cup.

He snuck into the bathroom after about an hour, not wanting to face Jooheon again just yet but desperate for a shower to wash off all the filth of travel before he dared to set foot in public.

 

———

 

“Where did you say the closest convenience store was?” He asked sheepishly.

“The 7-Eleven is in this building on the street level and one over the road, it’s a little bigger. There’s a Mini Stop just down from the Starbucks. They sell peach soju.”

Ah, of course. Stupid question. There were convenience stores everywhere.

“Ok, thanks. Uh, do you want anything?

“Nah, I’m good. Oh, if you go to the Mini Stop, will you grab me a caramel latte from the Starbucks?”

“Oh yeah, of course!” Well that settled it, he’d be going to the Mini Stop.

The convenience store was quite an experience. It was small but crammed with things he didn’t recognise and he realised quickly his Hangul reading skills were rusty as hell. Probably should have thought about that before landing in Seoul.

Not that he needed to read Hangul to know what bread was. He picked up a loaf, a little amused by how thick the slices were. Apparently that was normal because they were all like that. He grabbed a bottle of soda while he was at it and some candy bars he thought had funny names. It was enough to lift his mood.

“Simple things please simple minds” He thought to himself.

It took him a few moments longer than he’d like to admit for him to comprehend how much money he was handing over at the counter. How many won to the dollar was it? Why did the currency have to be in such big denominations?

On his way back, he went into the Starbucks, which turned out to be a far more traumatising experience than he expected. Apparently they had cashless Starbucks here. Which lead to a very awkward moment when he tried to hand over money to the lady at the counter. She had quite a strong regional accent and spoke quickly, so in his awkwardness he didn’t quite catch what she’d said. He assumed he hadn’t handed over enough and so he held out a larger bill.

It was all kind of a blur from there as his brain jumped to English by default in the moment and somehow he managed to finally get what was happening and paid on his card. But only after a lot of embarrassment.

Oh well, looks like he will never ever be able to set foot in that Starbucks again as long as he lives.

 

———

 

When he returned to the apartment, he handed the caramel latte to Jooheon, who was still on the couch with his damn legs on show. “Why would you ever have a store that doesn’t accept cash? Why would you limit the number of ways people can buy your product?!”

Jooheon looked at him like he was a crazy person again. “Uh... I dunno? They just do? Thanks for the coffee. I’ll get the next one.”

Changkyun stalked into the kitchen and began trying to work out the ancient looking toaster oven. For lack of a regular toaster. He checked the fridge for butter, a basic staple he was used to. But no, there was none. Why did everything have to be such hard fucking work today?

“Looking for something?” Jooheon asked from the couch.

“Butter?”

“Sorry man. Don’t have any. There’s honey in the cupboard over the microwave if you want that on your toast.”

“Thanks.” That would do. He checked the toast. It was barely warm bread, still. “Am I using this right?”

Jooheon hopped up from couch and wandered into the kitchen area. “Just be patient.” He turned the timer to five minutes. “Flip it over after it dings. You never used one of these before?”

“No. Just had a regular toaster.” He frowned, trying not to look down at Jooheon’s legs.

“Huh. So what do you do for fun?”

“Uh... video games? And music. I make some of my own songs.”

Jooheon’s face lit up. “Yeah? Like what?”

“I rap.”

“Seriously? Me too! I do a set every Saturday night in this kinda shithole place nearby.”

“Really? I’d love to hear you sometime.”

“Yeah, I’ll have to listen to your stuff, too.” Jooheon grinned.

“It’s uh, all in English.”

“Show-off. Are you fluent or something?”

“You could say that, yeah. I’ll be teaching it, actually. Start my new job at the end of the month.”

“Oh nice! I work at a bar and a coffee shop. Working tonight, actually. I promise I don’t spend every day lazing around in my underwear.” He laughed.

 

———

 

Over the next few days, Changkyun kept himself to himself mostly. The adjustment was harder than he had imagined. Maybe it was because he didn’t have his family there. He was looking forward to starting his job so at least he had something to occupy his time.

He had intended on going out to scout out the area. He had every intention of doing exactly that, even went as far as to announce to Jooheon he was going out.

But alas, his motivation failed him and he ended up laying around in his room, chewing on his pillow absently and watching compilations of animal videos on YouTube.

He suddenly heard a voice he recognised. The blonde guy, Minhyuk was it? He must have been visiting Jooheon. He had a pretty loud voice and the walls were thin like paper so their conversation sounded like they were practically in the room with him.

He was about to put his earphones in, but then he heard him being mentioned.

So he listened.

“How’s the new roomie? Is he here?”

“Nah, I think he said he was going out for a walk or something.”

“Is he still being weird?”

“Kinda. Yeah. But it’s hard moving to a new place, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. Y’know, I think he’s foreign but I don’t really like to ask.”

“Yeah, I kinda thought that too.”

“He talks weird. Not like someone used to speaking satoori speaking in standard. Like his pronunciation is sometimes really odd. Like a foreigner, but he seems perfectly fluent, even with some uncommon words you wouldn’t expect a foreigner to know. Slang and stuff.”

“But he doesn’t sound Chinese or Japanese or Thai or anything like that. I can’t place his accent.”

“Me either. He speaks English a lot, though. So maybe he just spent a lot of time living out of the country.”

“But other than that is he ok?”

“Yeah just odd. He seems kinda sad sometimes.”

“Probably homesick.”

Changkyun wished he was homesick. He’d never had a real home to feel homesick about. He missed his family, sure. But there was no home to miss. No place of belonging to pine for.

“You should invite him out with us on Friday night. Might make him open up a bit.”

“Hmm I guess, but won’t he kinda kill the vibe of the night if he’s sitting round like a grey cloud?”

Ouch.

“Get him drunk. People are always more fun when they’re drunk. If he mopes around he can be all quiet and antisocial with Hyungwon!”

“Maybe.”