Empire of the Ring

Chapter 15
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Chapter 15: A Destined Encounter in Istanbul (1)

Youngho, Jongil, and Mustafa visited Ortakoy flea market on a crowded Sunday. Ortakoy flea market was an outdoor market where people sold used products.

“Young Ho. There is an old saying in here. ‘You encounter your ancestors in flea market.’ If you are lucky, you might even find a hundreds-year-old legendary item. Why don’t you try your luck and skim through stuff here?”

Knowing that hundreds-year-old Southeastern European artifacts are easy to find, Youngho was not intrigued to search through things. Youngho was still tired from the hangover. He skimmed to see if he could find a gift for Jongil.

After an hour of looking, Youngho’s legs got tired, so he sat in a little café and drank Turkish traditional chai tea. While looking around, he saw a little sales stall without any customers. There was a thin, dark-skinned, teenage looking girl who had opened a narrow sales stall. Out of sympathy, Youngho walked toward her.

There was a reason that people did not stop to see what she was selling. She didn’t have any sales stand and the items that she put on a cloth on the ground looked awful.

She had a stained kettle and lamp, old leather shoes, little copper plates and so on. Those were not in the quality for sales. It looked like she had just swept her house clean to avoid starving. The girl spoke to Youngho in Turkish which Youngho couldn’t understand but her face was showing how desperate she was.

The weather was pretty chilly but what she was wearing looked so thin that it couldn’t possibly keep her warm. Youngho almost wanted to take off his own clothes and put it on her body. While shaking her body in cold, the girl’s eyes looked so desperate for money. Youngho couldn’t just pass by her.

He did not want to hurt her feelings by just giving her money, so he pointed at a dirty ring to show his intention to buy.

The silvery ring had a black rock in the middle. Even though it was not visible from the dirt on the ring, there were engraved patterns on it. She politely gave him the ring in her two hands, and started explaining about the ring but it was no use for both of them.

Mustafa who was watching them from a distance, came to help Youngho and the girl.

“Lee, she is saying that this ring is a relic of the family and she will give it to you if you need it. Since she doesn’t know how to price it, she will take whatever you give.”

Because the ring was so old and shabby, she did not know how much she should call for the price. Her eyes facing Youngho looked sad. They were telling Youngho that she would die if she didn’t sell anything today, so Youngho decided to be generous to her.

“I don’t know how much this ring costs but if this is a relic of your family, this probably means a lot to you. How about I buy this for $200?”

“Lee, what are you saying? This costs only a few dollars, why would you pay that much of money for this? Are you still drunk?”

Mustafa, not knowing what Youngho was thinking, tried to stop the bargain.

“Brother Mustafa, I can’t just pass by her desperate face. Just interpret this for me.”

At Youngho’s serious face, Mustafa shrugged his shoulders and explained to her how much Youngho will be paying in Turkish ‘lira*.’

The girl’s eyes got bigger and soon, tears welled up in her eyes. Youngho was not sure if she was touched or if she was sorry for her poor status.

“What did you tell her?”

“I told her you are paying more because she reminded you of your little sister in Korea. It’s about 600 lira, it is about two months’ rent of a house on the outskirt of the town.”

“Well, her eyes wouldn’t let me go.”

She carefully put the money in the pocket inside her jacket as if it was her treasure. Then she started to pick up her belongings on the ground and put them in a leather bag.

Youngho quickly went to a kebab store nearby and brought a bottle of water and kebab to the girl. He sat down on the ground and gave some to the girl. The girl was reluctant at first but she gladly received the bottle and food.

Youngho signed with his hands to eat but the girl shook her head and spoke speedily in Turkish. Mustafa was startled by Youngho’s actions and stopped him.

“She is saying she will eat that with her little siblings at home. Let her go now.”

Jongil weirdly looked at Youngho’s actions as well.

“Hey Jongil, can you bring me some more kebab? I will hold her for now.”

“You crazy, you are being strange. You want to save all of the poor people in Turkey?”

Park Jongil looked at Youngho as if he was being nonsensical.

“Just bring me the stuff, dude. I can’t let her go like this.”

Soon, Jongil came back with a big bag of kebab in his hand.

Youngho took all the stuff out of her bag and put the kebab in there instead. Then he said he would buy all of the rest. She shook her head hard with tears in her eyes. Her eyes were saying it was enough money for her.

However, Youngho almost forcefully took her stuff and handed in $500 in her hands. Youngho had given her kebab because she looked like she missed her lunch, but she couldn’t even eat the food for herself. She tried to take it home to share with her siblings. Youngho was touched by her actions and felt bad for her. Seeing her like that, Youngho could not let her go.

Knowing that he can’t stop Youngho, Mustafa just watched him in silence.

Before the girl left, Youngho gave his business card to her. He told her through Mustafa to call him when she needs help. The girl smiled.

It was Sunday, March 30th in 2011.

It was the day that he met Fatima for the first time in the flea market like a destiny.


In the hotel room, Jongil talked to Youngho, who was cleaning the stuff he bought with soap in the bathroom.

“Why did you act like that in the market?”

Jongil’s was curious because he had never seen Youngho acting that way.

“I wanted to give these to Yunsuh. She likes vintage.”

“You know what I’m talking about. Since when did you become a philanthropist?”

“Come on man, she was desperate. If I didn’t help her, she would’ve been devastated. You should’ve looked at her eyes. You’d never know since you are so busy chasing girls’ behinds.”

Youngho had a reason, but he browbeat Jongil because he was embarrassed.

“All right, all right. I didn’t see that because I was only looking at Turkish girls like a dog in the mating season.”

Jongil continued with a straight face.

“But don’t you think you gave too much?”

As Youngho showed the things he just cleaned, Jongil looked surprised.

“Look at this. They are worth the money.”

After getting all the dirt out of the things he bought, they all looked out of ordinary. They were at least hundreds years old.

Although they were useless now, Youngho thought that they would make great display decorations.

The ring he bought at first looked brand new after cleaning it with toothpaste, so Youngho put in on his left middle finger. It fitted well.

Youngho cleaned the rest of the things; three other rings, four pairs of faded leather shoes with antique patterns on, a little silvery kettle, and some copper plates. Then he dried them with a hair dryer.

Park Jongil who was sleeping lightly yelled at Youngho.

“Just go to sleep now! We have to get up early in the morning to look around Istanbul tomorrow!”

“You will be in Armenia for four more years. Why are you in such hurry? You can look around here on your next vacation. I will be sitting in a museum all day long tomorrow.”

“You are no help. I’ve got to upload pictures of me travelling around the world. Just sleep. We will start touring from 7 AM.”

Jongil, being sly just the way he was, wanted to brag around.

He’s going to make it seem like he has been in Istanbul for months after being here for days, thought Youngho.

Exhausted by the day’s event and by the hangover from the previous day, Youngho slept like dead and woke up in the morning.

His body was refreshed like never before.

Jongil was taking a shower while singing in the bathroom. Jongil had a charming voice that even made Youngho humming along.

“Get out quickly dude. I need to dump.”

“Don’t say that in this luxurious hotel.”

Jongil continued as dancing to his tune.

“Youngho, I’m feeling great this morning. Why don’t we go talk to girls today?”

Since Karajan was not reacting to his affection, Jongil wanted to hit on other girls in Istanbul, but Youngho wouldn’t budge.

Jongil was renowned as a womanizer among his friends. He had broken many hearts of Yunsuh’s friends back in Korea.

“Jongil, I’ve got to punish you today for the girls you made cry.”

Spoke Youngho as he chocked Jongil’s neck. Then Jongil made exaggerating groan. Jongil was a good-looking, smart guy with a great voice. There was no wonder that superficial girls would fall for him. If he had better support, Jongil was a guy who could have gone to a good college but he never did.

Even though he had never been to a college, Jongil spoke English so well for a person who learned it only for six months. Youngho looked at him in jealousy. Sometimes Jongil’s English sounded better than Youngho who majored in English Literature.

Jongil’s outstanding ability in languages showed when learning Armenian too. Jongil, who recently started learning Armenian from his English teacher, was now at the level to boss around his trainees in Armenian.

*Lira -Turkish currency, 1 lira is about $0.17 as of 10/11/18.

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