Personal Experiences

Bulgogi To Die For — I Should Have Stayed Home –Food (Bad Trip)


I couldn’t have stayed home, because home is Mount Vernon, Washington, and we were in Hawaii. Besides, I would have missed a delightful trip to the Big Island with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson. After our daughter’s family returned home, my husband and I went to Kaneohe, Oahu, to visit our friends. However, on the last day of our trip, I should have stayed at my friend’s house instead of going out to eat.

It was my husband, Nitin’s search for bulgogi and kimchi that got me in trouble. He wanted to eat the beef dish he had tasted in Korea twenty years earlier. So our friend, Karuna, took us to a Korean restaurant in the mall. While we sipped glasses of iced tea, my picky husband explored the menu.

He complained, “This bulgogi is not barbecued. Let’s try the diner across the street.”

So, we trod under the blazing sun in ninety-two degrees heat. We followed the garlicky barbecue aroma and entered the diner. By the time we were seated and ordered the food, all the liquid I had consumed, started to act up and I headed for the facilities.

I stepped into the restroom, slightly bigger than a plane’s toilet. I couldn’t wait to get out of that hole-in-the-wall as soon as I finished my business. I used up the last of the toilet paper and made a half-turn to wash my hands. No towels. I would inform the management about it. I turned the doorknob. It rotated without opening. Wiping my hands on my pants, I rattled and jiggled the knob, then pulled and pushed it hoping the pin would make contact. No such luck. I pounded the door, waited and banged again. At least some air was coming from the ventilator. But no way could I climb up and get out from that small opening.

Surely my companions would notice my absence and rescue me. Finally after fifteen minutes that seemed like hours, I heard Karuna. “Hema, are you in there?”

Now where else would I be? “I’m trapped.”

She tried turning the knob. The metal clanked. The knob rotated. It didn’t open. She assured me, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you out in a minute. Nitin, Hema is locked in. Waiter, please help us.”

A man pushed and twisted the knob. A promising “clank”, then nothing.

Several voices on the far side of the barrier advised the man. “Turn this way. No, try to push it in and turn.”

Nitin called, “Hem, are you okay?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes,” I managed to say.

“You must call a locksmith,” Nitin told them.

“But we need the owner’s permission. She should be coming soon,” someone said.

Nitin asked me, “Do you have your credit card?”

I clutched my purse. “Yes, but where is your card? Wait a minute. Do we have to pay the locksmith in advance?”

“Slide the card in the door by the lock,” Nitin suggested.

Remembering how the burglars opened locks in the movies, I tried to slide my card. There was no space between the door and the doorframe. “It won’t fit.”

From the crowd someone asked, “Can you breathe?”

Didn’t she hear me huffing? “Yes, I’m okay.”

Another voice inquired, “How old is she?”

I clenched my fists. They probably thought I was crazy. It’s okay for a child to get locked up, but for a mature adult to be in this situation! What if my two-year old grandson had been in this cubbyhole? I shivered in the heat as perspiration trickled down my temples.

More questions from strangers. “Is she claustrophobic? Any medical problems? Call 911.”

I stood by the door, awaiting rescue, listening to voices amid the symphony of hammers and screeching metals, and thought of the novel I was reading. I should have brought along One Hundred Years of Solitude. In my solitary confinement, I could have read lots of pages. Thinking about the character in the book, who had to live in a room full of chamber pots, made me giggle. How ironic!

Pounding hammers and grating screwdrivers assaulted my ears. “We have removed the door hinges,” Nitin told me. “The door is still lodged in the doorframe. You have to push from inside.”

I applied my five-foot, one hundred pound might on the door. It didn’t budge.

“Use force,” Nitin ordered.

Had the “Force” been with me, I would have beamed myself out of this imprisonment long ago. My legs trembled. I wanted to sit down. But the toilet didn’t have a lid and I didn’t want to get caught sitting on the commode when the door opened. I could slump on the floor, but worried that if the men kept hammering, the door might fall and squish me like the dead cockroach on the floor.

Finally, Nitin pried the door open. He gave me a hug and went to wash his greasy hands in the door-less toilet. I faced the cheering diners, as if the curtain just opened and I was supposed to bow. My face burnt. I wanted to cover my head and slink away.

Karuna embraced me. “What an ordeal!”

Another customer came up to me. “Look you’re perspiring. Who wouldn’t in that cubbyhole? Put a cold cloth on your forehead.”

I took out my hanky and wiped my face, pretending it was no big deal.

“You’re a saint,” Karuna complimented me. “I would have screamed bloody murder. I even thought of calling a lawyer.”

“And ask him to bring his burglar-client to break the lock?” I gave her a wry grin.

Forty minutes later, when we returned to our table, Nitin’s bulgogi had turned leathery and Karuna’s “sizzling tofu” had lost its pizzazz. They had forgotten my kimchi.

The waitress brought me a big glass of Coke. “On the house,” she said.

Nitin mumbled, “Just a Coke? At least they could have given us free kimchi.”

I gulped the icy drink. “My stomach is churning. I can’t eat. Let’s get out of here as soon as you finish your lunch.”

Karuna patted my hand. “We’ll go to my office. You relax there until Mike comes.”

Her husband was supposed to pick us up at her office. I couldn’t wait to get out of this diner, after this bulgogi blunder and kimchi crisis.

* * *


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