The rest of breakfast was conducted in silence then Jin Ae dashed to her room to freshen up for the day and rushed back down to join her brother who was still looking irritated.”
“Sorry Tim, maybe I was out of line. I hope this Major advancement is not going to make you more serious because I’d miss our fun relationship. Say you forgive me.”
Tim’s manner changed. “No, it’s my fault. The rush getting over here when I received sudden orders has stressed me out a bit. Don’t get your hopes up about Kim Cho. Her family military history goes back a long way and they are very conscious of their connections with the ancient royal family of Joseon. I’m interested as you’ve astutely observed but the answer from the family would likely be no.”
They had barely finished talking when Tim saw Cho at the door. He immediately pulled the nearby paper up to his face and whispered, “Don’t say anything!”
Jin Ae stood to greet her new friend and as the two turned to move toward the entrance away from the seated soldier a voice behind them called “Kim Cho, one moment please!”
Cho spun around at the familiar voice. She snapped to attention and saluted. “Lieutenant Mason Sir!”
“Just promoted last week to Major Cho but you are not in uniform, so I wish you’d call me Tim. I know formality is required when in uniform but wish you wouldn’t do that with me when we are not in active service.”
He turned to Jin Ae. “I have something important to discuss with Cho would you be able to give us privacy for a while then the both of you can do your tour thing?”
“I forgot something in my room Tim, give me a call when you’ve finished.” She headed for the elevator and her room wondering if he’d pluck up courage to ask her to marry him after they’d concluded their business. She hoped he would.
Meanwhile back in the lobby Tim shared with Cho the reason for his request. This had been cleared at the highest levels of both countries and it involved the secret proposed meeting between the US and North Korean top officials. Major Mason had requested they allow him to use Cho in preparations for the meeting and after careful security clearances she was approved but it was up to Mason to liaise with her in preparations. Cho was aware of her clearance but did not know who she was supposed to liaise with on the American side. She’d enjoyed her time seconded to Mason on his previous assignment to Korea and wondered who she’d be working with this time. Now she knew and she was secretly thrilled. They’d commence working together again at the end of the week while he conferred with army commanders of the South Korean army who he’d be working with this week. They’d requested him by name.
Then Tim paused and Cho stood expecting he’d be leaving. and she’d spend the rest of the day with Jin Ae but Tim motioned her to sit again and plucked up courage. Courage he had in abundance in army activities and that was the reason for his elevation to Major at such an early age, but this was different. He suddenly was lost for words but after a long pause decided to give it a try.
“Kim Cho, I have something very personal to ask of you and I’m a little nervous. I’ve tried to keep my feeling for you to myself as I know you belong to a conservative old family with roots in the royal court of Joseon but seeing you today those feelings have returned, and they are strong. Would your family consider me if I asked them for your hand in marriage and even more important would you be happy to have me as a husband. I don’t want this to affect our working together next week as its important both of us take the job seriously for the sake of both our countries but because my feelings for you are so strong, I need to ask you now so if you say no, I will suppress my feelings and deal with you professionally. If you say yes, I promise not to embarrass you by showing my feelings for you as we work together. I just want to have your answer and will accept what you say with respect.”
Cho had dreamed of such a proposal as she worked with Mason on secondment but had brushed it out of her mind each time because there were so many issues to be resolved in such a union. Now it had actually come to pass she was lost for words. She sat there looking at the floor and saying nothing while Mason sat uncomfortably. Finally. he spoke in discouragement.
“I see my proposal has embarrassed you and you don’t want to embarrass me in return so I take your silence as a no and will treat you with the utmost professionalism. We need to work together in the interests of our countries, and I promise you I’ll never embarrass you again like this. I’ll go and phone my sister and get back to base.”
Cho stood. “I’d be happy to marry you, but you’d first have to get agreement from my father and that would not be easy. There are other issues that would have to be resolved as you serve in America and I serve my country here. First you make a formal proposal to my father and it may be best if some of our army leaders who are peers of my father in our army were to negotiate on your behalf. Maybe that would be your best course of action. Now you should phone your sister as the morning is slipping away.” She gave him a smile of encouragement.
Senior army officials of the ROK completed their briefings with the American delegation led by Major Mason sharing intelligence on what was to be expected in the planned meeting by diplomats of the US and North Korea. The intelligence had been gathered by South Korean agents. There had never been a formal end to the Korean war and the status quo armistice had progressed for approximately a half century with tensions building and waning between north and south over that time. Major Mason was to assist the American diplomat in that meeting and prepare the way for the coming meeting on behalf of the US.
Major Mason requested a private meeting with his close friend in the Korean army delegation. He had worked closely with Chun-Dung during his long Korean assignment before and they respected and trusted each other. Tim first went through the usual preliminaries asking about his family and engaging in casual conversation while Chun-Dung waited patiently for his friend to get to the point. Eventually Tim got to that point. He was interested in a marriage proposal with Kim Cho and inquired if his friend would make an approach to Wonsa Kim in that connection for him.
Chun-Dung laughed. “So, you have learned only a Korean woman is most suited as a marriage partner for life. I’ll be glad to approach Wonsa Kim and recommend you to him for consideration as husband for his youngest girl. He has been concerned for some time about her refusal to consider matches recommended to the family and they have fought over the issue. She is beyond the normal marriage age. Perhaps you and Kim Cho have had an understanding for some time which would explain her refusals of these proposals?”
“No Chun-Dung, I was too nervous to ask as I thought I’d not be accepted as a foreigner but did pluck up courage encouraged by my sister this morning to ask Cho and she told me she’d consider it if her father was agreeable. I think it would be unacceptable for me to approach her father directly and thought you as my close friend might help me with that contact.”
“Well, you mother is Korean and even though she was a refugee whose family was killed in the war your father rescued her from the camps and eventually married her. We’ve discovered when intelligence originally checked on you after the Americans sent you on your initial assignment here your mother was from a high-born family during the Joseon Dynasty so that’s why you have been so well accepted by us. Perhaps Kim will be agreeable. I’ll work on this immediately give me a couple of days and I’ll inform you the results of my meeting with Kim. It would not have been good for you to approach him yourself, so you were wise in consulting me.”
Cho had been more subdued than the previous day during her day out with Jin Ae and Jin Ae had not intruded to inquire if anything was wrong. She reasoned it had something to do with the secret mission her brother had been sent on and perhaps Cho was on guard in case she asked questions she was not permitted to disclose. But the day had been intensely interesting. They had visited the War Memorial of Korea located in Yongsan-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea. It had opened in 1994 on the former site of the army headquarters to exhibit and memorialize the military history of Korea. She’d tried to visualize her father’s fighting involvement fears and hardships during the attempted Communist takeover and the horrors of her mother’s family. She was later to learn from her brother the family had been killed in that war and only Mee had survived to be later rescued and married by her father.
Cho had watched her new friend’s interest and empathy for those affected and she was drawn to her. Cho had also been surprised as Jin Ae had reacted when memories of her mother speaking to her as a child were activated by the constant chatter in Korean around her. Some of those words and their meaning were plucked from the recesses of her memory and she attempted some phrases she was beginning to remember on Cho who nodded in approval and corrected her accent patiently.
The reason for Cho being more subdued was the tussle going on in her mind after Tim’s nervous proposal that morning. Her soul luxuriated in the possibility of a union with this man who she now knew she’d grown to love during their time working together. But she loved her family and country too and the thought of leaving that behind her screamed caution. It was all too difficult, and she was glad he’d asked and wished he hadn’t in equal proportions. But by the end of the day, she’d also felt a strong bonding with Jin Ae even though they’d not known each other for more than a few days. So, in the evening as they enjoyed one of the famous restaurants together and sampled the best of Korean cuisine, she confided Tim’s proposal to her new friend and with that a torrent of her fears were unloaded along with her excitement at the proposal.
Jin Ae was excited to know her brother had taken her suggestion seriously and she showered Cho with her excitement and fervent wish it would all work out. Cho had to caution her to curb her excitement as it was unseemly in that setting and there were many hurdles to overcome before that could become a probability. She resolved to inquire from her family if they’d permit her to invite Jin Ae home so she could experience a real Korean home. After seeing Jin Ae to her hotel that evening, she returned home to request permission to invite this new friend home for an evening meal with the family.
Chun-Dung watched his friend Wonsa Kim closely as they sat in their favourite Korean restaurant. Usually several of the officers dined together at this restaurant as part of their army bonding sessions when not on duty and there was a close feeling of comradery among them, but Wonsa Kim had been puzzled when Chun-Dung suggested a private meeting. They enjoyed their meal sharing family and current affairs news and on conclusion Chun-Dung referred to the performance of Major Mason and his American team as they liaised with the South Korean army officers in the past few days to gauge his friend’s opinion of the American. Wonsa Kim thought as Chun-Dung spoke. His instinct told him Major Mason was the reason for their visit that night without the rest of their usual officer friends, so he nodded and remained non-committal. All the officers were aware of Mason’s personal file in Korean intelligence and were familiar with Mason’s family history. Then he remembered Major Mason’s sister was currently in Seoul as a result of contacts made informally, his daughter was on leave showing her around as an aid to her as she sought her roots. He’d given permission for his daughter to invite her home and she was probably being entertained by his wife and daughter while they ate in this restaurant. He looked at Chun-Dung wishing he’d get to the point. Chun-Dung spoke as he realized this had to be brought to a head.
To be continued
© Copyright 2021 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved
Credit for the above free picture pexels-photo-6457518 Alexander Suhorucov