Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha: Episode 3

An impromptu outing causes our leads to spend more time together, and one villager’s stubbornness pits their two very different perspectives against each other. But in disagreement there’s an opportunity to arrive at a place of mutual understanding, as long as both parties are willing to listen to what the other has to say.

EPISODE 3 RECAP

We open to the sounds of Gongjin: seagulls, Chun-jae’s guitar, people greeting one another, a bell on Gam-ri’s porch, fish frying, and so on. Meanwhile, Hye-jin’s sound is her running to the door to receive a package. As she opens the door to Doo-shik, we flash back to the other day, when she had found him at his fishing spot and slipped while trying to climb the rocks, and he’d caught her in his arms.

Now, she acts shy as she accepts the package and learns that he’s filling in for the regular deliveryman, who has a broken arm. When she asks if she needs to sign for the package, he says her face is signature enough, since it’s a rare sight in Gongjin. Whether that’s an insult or a compliment is up to her interpretation. She counters that his face is as common as gum stuck to the street in Seoul or fresh-caught squid in the Gongjin harbor, but he doesn’t give her the satisfaction of a reaction.

Hye-jin tries on the clothes she ordered, telling Mi-sun that they’re armor she’ll wear into battle. A fellow dentist is getting married, and she knows all of her former classmates will be there gossiping about her small-town clinic. She worries that this outfit won’t be good enough to impress them, and next thing we know, packages are pouring in.

Doo-shik, who has to deliver all these packages, goes from calling her name at the door to singing it shouting in annoyance. And no wonder, as he goes from carrying one or two boxes at a time to a whole mountain that’s almost as tall as he is. When he finally asks what on earth she’s buying – and then why she needs so many clothes – she says a “fashion terrorist” like himself would never understand. He protests that clothes are supposed to be about functionality, wondering aloud how she’ll manage to save up enough to go back to Seoul. Hye-jin snaps that she’s actually going to Seoul this very Sunday, making his face light up in sudden interest.

The morning of the wedding, Hye-jin gets ready nervously. As she heads out the door, she pauses to apologize to her lonely shoe for losing its other half in the ocean. To her surprise, Doo-shik is standing outside her door again, looking all dapper in a dress shirt. They trade exclamations over how different the other looks. She says she’s not expecting any packages today, but he’s here to ask a favor instead, and motions to the three grannies behind him. Since they all have errands in Seoul, he figured they could carpool with her. Hye-jin holds out her hand to stop him, annoyed that he didn’t even ask ahead of time, but he just cheerily high-fives her and says, “Let’s go!”

They all pile into the car, where the grannies start handing out snacks. They offer her a potato cake, but she declines with the excuse that she’s driving and can’t use her hands. So Doo-shik stuffs the cake right into her mouth. He notices that Gam-ri isn’t eating, and when she takes a bite to appease him, she immediately winces in pain, fussing that the cake is undercooked and too tough to chew. The other grannies say it’s her teeth that are too fragile, urging Gam-ri to visit Hye-jin’s clinic. Hye-jin agrees, but Gam-ri doesn’t seem to like the idea.

Just then, a car swerves into their lane, cutting Hye-jin off so she has to slam on the brakes. Everyone is thrown forward, and Hye-jin instinctively stretches out her arm protectively in front of Doo-shik. Before he can recover, Hye-jin stomps down on the gas pedal, saying, “He needs to know what he did wrong.” She pulls up even with the offending car and rolls her window down to yell at the driver, who claims it doesn’t matter since no one crashed or was hurt. Hye-jin’s passengers all look embarrassed as she lectures the other driver, but when he insults Hye-jin, Mat-yi pokes her head up between the front seats and curses him out. He quickly rolls his window up and speeds ahead. Mat-yi sits back demurely as everyone reels in shock. Then they turn their attention to the potato cakes, which have all spilled on the floor, so Hye-jin tells Doo-shik to get the wet wipes out of her glove box. As he does, he notices the wedding invitation.

They take a break at a rest stop, where Hye-jin waits impatiently while everyone uses the bathroom and Doo-shik buys snacks. Just when the grannies come out looking ready to go, they’re distracted by the sound of music – and can’t resist buying a CD to take along for the ride. Hye-jin endures the dance party for a little while, but finally asks if they can turn it off because she prefers driving in silence. They reluctantly agree, and instead start up a conversation about Hye-jin’s hometown and family. Eventually, their questions lead Hye-jin to reveal that her mother passed away, and Doo-shik looks affected as they apologize for asking too much.

After many more bathroom breaks, they finally make it to Seoul and drop off the grannies at their respective destinations. Doo-shik is surprised when Hye-jin doesn’t start scolding him the minute they’re alone, but she says that she does owe him a favor, after all. But she does want him to admit that it was rude of him to push this on her without asking first. He points out that it would have been hard on the grannies to take a bus since they need to make so many stops, and that his truck would have been uncomfortable. Hye-jin warns him not to let it happen again. He asks her to let him off at the next crosswalk, dodging her questions about what he’s here for. As she drives away, he heads into a medical center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the wedding reception, Hye-jin eats with her fingers while the others at her table poke at her for being late when she always used to be so punctual. She deflects the conversation by asking how they’ve been, and chokes at the amount another dentist is paying in taxes for opening up a clinic in Seoul. The dentist in question not-so-subtly flashes an expensive diamond ring as she sighs that sometimes she envies Hye-jin for her “simple and cute” village clinic. In response, Hye-jin pastes on a smile and says that this is why people say Seoulites are narrow-minded. She extolls the opportunities of opening up a clinic in rural areas, citing that article she read before about doctors in rural areas make more money than those in the city.

As she leaves, she passes by the mother of the bride bidding farewell to the couple as they prepare to leave on their honeymoon. Hye-jin watches them with longing, but her thoughts are interrupted by Doo-shik. He’d left his phone in her car, and remembered the address of the wedding venue from seeing the invitation earlier. He doesn’t understand why she’s horrified that someone might see them together, and she practically drags him away. But it turns out someone did see: one of Hye-jin’s former classmates snaps photos of them through the window.

Back in the car, Doo-shik tells her to just drop him off at the terminal. She snaps that they already passed it, so he settles in, all, well, I guess I’ll just have to let you drive me back, then. He offers to take turns driving if she gets tired, but she refuses. As they pass the Han River, Hye-jin sighs that it would be nice to drink wine by the river. Doo-shik counters that it’s better to drink Makgeolli by the ocean, and it turns into a full-on competition: pasta at a particular restaurant vs snow crab on a boat. She’s disappointed to leave civilization; he feels suffocated by all the skyscrapers and can’t wait to get back. When he asks her to turn on the AC, she tells him to do it himself, but then slaps his hand away because she doesn’t want him touching her car’s controls.

 

 

In Gongjin, Hwa-jung and Eun-chul stand exasperatedly over a pile of garbage bags underneath a “do not litter” sign. Hwa-jung vows to punish the culprit, upset that Doo-shik isn’t here to deal with it. Eun-chul is surprised to hear that he went to Seoul (which he’s apparently been doing a lot recently), and that’s when Mi-sun happens by. She’s surprised to see that their first patient is a police officer, and he smiles shyly as she exclaims how different he looks in uniform. But his smile fades when she says he seemed terrified that day, and he stammers that he wasn’t nervous at all. As Mi-sun heads off, Hwa-jung notices a young woman walk by in the distance. She seems taken aback, but decides she must have been mistaken about whatever she thought she saw.

It’s dark by the time Doo-shik wakes from his nap. Hye-jin is irritated that she’s been driving all day (he reminds her he offered to drive) and that she was bored with no one to talk to (he reminds her she likes to drive in silence). In the middle of their bickering, he gets a text from Hwa-jung about the trash pile, and asks Hye-jin to drop him off at her restaurant for a meeting.

Finally home, Hye-jin is getting ready for bed. To her horror, her old classmate sends the picture of her and Doo-shik to their class group chat. None of her attempts to deny that she and Doo-shik are a couple can stop the others from talking about her handsome boyfriend, and she puts her frustration on hold for a moment to zoom in on the photo and ask herself if he’s really all that handsome.

Doo-shik is also home by this point, and smiles thinking about the car ride while he pours wax into a candle mold. Later that night, he wakes from a nightmare and gets up to take some pills.

The next day, Hye-jin stops by Chun-jae’s café and finds Doo-shik giving him a coffee-brewing lesson. Among his many other titles, Doo-shik is also a certified barista. But he has somewhere to be, so he tells Chun-jae how to finish up the drip coffee he was making (she asks for a latte instead, with extra syrup) and heads out the door.

Doo-shik’s errand turns out to be helping Hwa-jung carry some of the smelly bags of trash into Village Chief Young-guk’s offices, protesting the lack of security camera – which they’ve already requested nine different times. Young-guk claims his hands are tied because he’s already put in a request at Town Hall, so they threaten to rip open the bags right then and there and launch their own investigation. Suddenly, Young-guk remembers that he conveniently has business at Town Hall today, and announces that he’ll head over there right now and demand that security camera. Doo-shik and Hwa-jung happily remove the trash bags and congratulate each other on a job well done.

As Hye-jin and Mi-sun prepare to open the clinic for the day, Hye-jin notices that Mis-un is taking extra care with her makeup. And she doesn’t have to wonder long – Eun-chul walks in right on time for his root canal operation, and Hye-jin clocks the obvious shyness between him and Mi-sun with a knowing smile. After the operation, she leaves Mi-sun to finish up with Eun-chul, and Mi-sun stuns him by understanding everything he says with his mouth still wide open.

Doo-shik runs into Gam-ri at the market, and catches a ride on the back of her motorbike so they can have the fish he’s just bought for lunch at her place. While he sets the table, she puts on a VHS of a TV broadcast with her in it. He asks about her visit to Seoul, but her son was too busy to really spend time together. Then he notices she’s not eating much – and also wincing as she chews.

As Hye-jin and Mi-sun walk home, Mi-sun confirms that she likes Eun-chul, and admits that she peeked at his chart to see how old he is. Hye-jin rolls her eyes and starts to scold her for reading the chart, but they’re interrupted by Bora, who wants to see the hedgehog. Hye-jin brings her inside to see it, but wrinkles her nose when Bora advises her to hold it and take it for walks to establish a bond.

 

 

Today is Yi-joon’s birthday, and both Hwa-jung and Young-chul are there to celebrate with cake and presents. However, their efforts to outdo one another in terms of who knows him best quickly devolve into an argument. Poor Yi-joon watches them sadly for a while, and then says they don’t need to force themselves to celebrate together like this anymore. That stings both of their consciences. Hwa-jung prods Eun-chul to agree that celebrating as a family is important to them despite the divorce, and Yi-joon lights back up again. They eat, and Eun-chul even remarks that he sometimes misses Hwa-jung’s cooking.

A commotion breaks the clinic’s stillness: it’s Doo-shik, piggybacking a vehemently protesting Gam-ri in to have her teeth looked at. Hye-jin does an X-ray, which reveals that Gam-ri must have been in a lot of pain, but that her teeth are healthy enough to get implants. Gam-ri recoils at the price, saying she’d rather just have them pulled. That angers Hye-jin, and she tells Gam-ri that pulling teeth can be dangerous – even life-threatening. She asks bluntly if Gam-ri is short on money – angering Gam-ri right back – and then tells her to just leave if she simply doesn’t want to spend money on her treatment. So Gam-ri storms out. Doo-shik, who has been trying to calm them both down, runs after her, and then comes back to yell at Hye-jin for being so rude. But Hye-jin stands by what she said about the seriousness of getting one’s teeth pulled, and doesn’t see a need to have said it more gently. Doo-shik shakes his head in disappointment over how quickly she’s “changed.”

The next day, he goes to the hardware store to check on an order that hasn’t arrived yet, and sits down to count out some bills and put them in an envelope. Then he heads over to see Gam-ri, who is peeling potatoes. He tentatively asks if she’s mad at him, explaining that he took her to the clinic out of concern, and offers to pay for the implants since she fed him for so many years. He shows her the envelope of money, and she counts to three before chucking water in his face. He retreats behind a wall and promises to come back tomorrow.

That night, Doo-shik calls Hye-jin out to meet him near the harbor. He points to some lights glimmering on the horizon and says they’re squid boats. He tells her that Gam-ri has been working with squid for decades, yet it’s still her favorite food – but she hasn’t eaten any in years. Hye-jin thinks he’s selling her a sob story, but he says he’ll pay for the implants. He wants her to tell Gam-ri it’s a different kind of (cheap) operation, but Hye-jin won’t lie to a patient about their treatment, so he suggests she give Gam-ri a discount and he’ll pay the rest.

 

 

 

 

She asks why he’s pushing when Gam-ri doesn’t want it, but he says it’s not that she doesn’t want it – it’s that she can’t. She doesn’t know how to take care of herself, because she believes that means being a burden to her loved ones. Hye-jin thinks that’s a selfish way to live, and tells him with angry tears in her eyes that a good parent should put greater priority on staying healthy for a long time than on saving money for their children. Doo-shik looks at her with new understanding as she gets up to leave.

Once alone, Hye-jin thinks back to her childhood when she’d had plenty of pocket money to buy snacks, but come home to find her mother hunched over the toilet in a bout of sickness. Doo-shik remembers how Hye-jin had watched the mother and daughter at the wedding, muttering to himself that she’s not okay even though she said she was.

 

 

The next day, he shows up at Gam-ri’s again. She doesn’t let him sit down until he swears he didn’t bring any money this time, and he insists on taking over washing her laundry. He’s annoyed that she accepts money from her son but not from him, though he quickly takes it back when she threatens to throw more water at him. She’s distracted by the sound of her porch bell (which he hung up for her), and he says he wants her to enjoy good sounds, views, and food for a long time. He repeats Hye-jin’s words that the best thing a parent can do for their child is to stay healthy, which seems to strike a chord.

As Hye-jin eats lunch, she suddenly notices how tough each different piece of food is, especially for someone with sensitive teeth.

Gam-ri calls her son on the phone, and after small talk about the crab she made him (which he hasn’t had time to eat yet), he says that Doo-shik told him all about the implants she needs. But instead of urging her to go ahead, he makes it clear that he has no means (read: intention) of paying for it right now, and that she can always just get dentures later.

After work, Hye-jin can’t stop thinking about Gam-ri, and finally decides to go see her. Gam-ri invites her in for dinner, and Hye-jin pleases her by complimenting her cooking. While Hye-jin eats, Gam-ri again turns on her VHS, explaining that she was interviewed for the broadcast because she had a letter proving her father fought for Korea’s independence. The letter was written in Chinese characters, and Gam-ri could never read it until Doo-shik came along and read it for her.

After a long evening of talk and laughter, Hye-jin thanks Gam-ri, remarking that problems with one’s teeth are a pain that’s invisible, even to one’s own children. She extends another invitation for Gam-ri to come get the implants, and says that she can’t do it for free, but that she’ll only charge for the materials used. She says she heard that Gam-ri’s favorite food was squid, adding that her mother’s favorite was sundae, and that she wants to help Gam-ri enjoy eating squid again.

Elsewhere, Doo-shik is fishing, and sees something that makes him jump in alarm.

 

 

 

The next day, Gam-ri arrives at Hye-jin’s clinic with a big smile and announces she’s ready to get her implants. She wants to pay right away, and pulls out a huge stack of cash. She says she’s been working all her life, and that she’s decided she deserves to eat as much squid as she wants. With a warm smile, Hye-jin advises she enjoy it in moderation.

Young-guk proudly shows Hwa-jung and Doo-shik the new security camera. Hwa-jung nags him for not getting it done sooner, but hands him a bag of her homemade cucumber kimchi, and Doo-shik grins at them. Just then, he gets a call from Gam-ri asking for porridge, and hurries to bring it to her. He’s worried until she explains that she got the implants after all and tells about Hye-jin’s visit. “I thought she was a sly fox, but I was wrong.,” Gam-ri says. “On the outside, she’s as cold as ice, but she has a soft heart. She must have been through a lot in her life.”

That night, the lights in Hye-jin’s apartment shut off while she’s in the middle of washing her hair. She calls Hwa-jung to report the power outage, and soon Doo-shik shows up to have a look. After he nags at her for not having candles and they playfully blind each other with their flashlights, he checks the fuse box (which she didn’t know where to find). That’s not the problem, so he calls the power company and learns that they’re working to fix a power supply issue. Since Mi-sun is out and Hye-jin whines about having to wait in the dark, Doo-shik offers to stay with her. In response, she gives him gigantic puppy eyes and asks if he wants to eat ice cream. Because she’s worried it’ll melt, you see.

They sit awkwardly eating their ice cream until the hedgehog rattles its wheel, startling Doo-shik. Hye-jin asks why he didn’t take it in when Bora asked, and his face turns dark for a moment as he says he doesn’t take care of living creatures. Then he blinks it away and says she reminds him of the hedgehog – spikey on the outside. He apologizes for judging her so quickly, and says that Gam-ri would never have gotten the implants if she hadn’t visited her. Hye-jin brushes off the praise, and tells him not to get the wrong idea – she’s still planning to make a lot of money and move back to Seoul. He wishes her success in doing so, and wraps a tissue around the bottom of her melting ice cream bar as he heads out the door.

 

 

He texts her to open the closet again and check the fuse box, and she’s overjoyed to see her missing shoe sitting next to its match. She runs out after him to ask where he found it, and he says he found it on the street. As she happily puts on the shoes, all the lights come on at once.

EPILOGUE

The thing that scared Doo-shik while he was fishing was a pole with Hye-jin’s shoe stuck on the end. In the dim light, he’d thought it was a human leg, but then he’d recognized the shoe. He’d searched online for how to dry it, and put it in the closet while she was getting the ice cream. As he rides away on his bicycle and she spins around admiring the shoes, they both smile from ear to ear.

COMMENTS

Aw. They’re cute. Much as Hye-jin and Doo-shik got off on the wrong foot (shoe?), it’s clear that they’re starting to understand each other a little better. And it’s telling that their bickering is starting to lean more playful than argumentative. I’m glad that Doo-shik apologized for misjudging her, but I appreciate that this isn’t a case of one person “fixing” the other. Instead, they’re clearly two people with very different ways of interacting with others, and both can stand to learn from the other’s perspective.

While I’d feel the same as Hye-jin did if someone invited himself and three others along for my road trip, I can also see how that feels like a normal thing to do for Gongjin residents, since they’re such a close community. And while Hye-jin didn’t sugarcoat her advice to Gam-ri at the initial clinic visit, it’s clear that she truly cares about giving her patients the best care possible, and about upholding her professional integrity. She may be in this for the money, but it’s also her passion and way of making a positive difference in people’s lives.

I briefly mentioned it in the first episode recap, but this show really feels in a lot of ways like culture shock. In the first episode, everything was new and fresh. Like Hye-jin’s (intended) day trip, it was a little adventure, and small hiccups were more easily brushed aside or seen as charming. Then, in the second episode, when Hye-jin officially moved to Gongjin, the reality of life there hit her hard. Suddenly, everyone (including Hye-jin herself) became a little more difficult to get along with. But it also became clear that compromises would have to be made for life to go on. Now, we’re settling into a more comfortable medium, where sometimes things are great, sometimes things are frustrating, and overall everyone is learning to accept things – and each other – for what they are.

While I had an inkling that Gam-ri would act as a bridge of sorts to help bring Doo-shik and Hye-jin closer together, I wasn’t expecting it to happen quite like this. Hers was an emotional hurdle that hit surprisingly close to home – as a recovering people-pleaser myself, I know how hard it is to overcome the ingrained yet unconscious notion that going out of one’s way to take care of one’s self = selfishness = wrong. And I can’t imagine how much harder that would be for someone who’s lived with that belief for so much longer than I have. I wanted to both cry and cheer when she announced that she’d decided she deserved to enjoy that squid she’s worked so hard for all her life.

Speaking of internal battles, it looks like Doo-shik has some kind of trauma that he’s dealing with. I’m assuming it probably has to do with his grandfather’s death, but we’ll have to wait and see for sure. Given how much he cares for everyone in the village, it’s sad that he doesn’t seem to have even one person he feels comfortable talking to about his own treatment. Though I’m not surprised he feels the needs to put up the appearance that everything is okay even though it’s not. I can’t help wondering if maybe Hye-jin’s point about Gam-ri being selfish by suffering quietly hit home for him a little bit, too. Now that we’re past the setup and are starting to delve a little deeper into the people of Gongjin, I expect we’ll start to see a lot more quiet sufferings brought out into the open, and many more long-held viewpoints challenged and even changed.

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