Pretzels keep friends connected

I sent a box full of pretzels to South Korea today; they’re my friend Christina’s favorite comfort food.

Christina and I met while getting our master’s at SUNY Fredonia. A mutual friend put us in touch after her father passed away in 2008 (a year after mine). Over diner and several drinks, we talked about death and life, unfairness and love. Our emotions were unbridled in each other’s presence. It’s been like that ever since.

For the past four years, she’s been teaching English as a secondary language in South Korea.

I visited her in 2011, and during the summer of 2012 we took a five-week expedition through Southeast Asia. I got to meet her boyfriend Song on the trip; the three of us rented a beach house on the Thai island of Koh Samui for 10 days.

It was there that she told me she’d cried over a bag of pretzels.

“It’s really what pretzels represent,” she said. She explained that pretzels don’t have a presence in Korea. Expatriates can flock to Costco to purchase over-sized amounts of hard to find foods, such as apple pie, turkey and cheese. But Christina could never bring herself to purchase the five-pound bag of Snyder Twists. “Even if I only ate pretzels for every meal, I wouldn’t be able to finish them before they got stale.”

That’s because Song has no taste for them. He’d rather eat mandu (dumplings) or smoked eggs.

This is just one of the obstacles that have arisen over the years.

Another is job security. Because Christina is from an English-speaking country, she can find a job almost anywhere as a teacher. It’s more troublesome for Song since English is not his first language.

People have suggested it might be easier for her to move back and find someone here.

“Could I go back to America and find a man from my culture who likes pretzels and wants to travel and teach? Probably. But would similar professional opportunities and appreciation for my comfort food be all that it takes to make a soul mate? No.”

Christina visited the States for Christmas this year. After spending the holiday and New Year in Western New York, she came to Manhattan and spent her last day with me.

“I’m engaged,” she said.

In the summer of 2013, she and Song had an eight-month stint in Melbourne, Australia.

One spring day they took a walk through Queen Victoria Gardens. The brick inlaid walkway they were strolling down was hemmed with vibrant flowers and looming trees. She thought it would be an ideal spot for a wedding. And then reality set in: it would be too expensive to ask their friends and family to travel to Australia.

She was disheartened; her parents wanted them in Buffalo, Song’s wanted them in Korea.

As they walked on, hand in hand, she tried to enjoy the moment for what it was. And then she had a thought. Maybe she didn’t need to have a big wedding in Australia. She looked at Song.

“That moment, right then, on that brick walkway, we were walking down the aisle,” she told me. “I was married to this man. He was my life partner. I don’t need a traditional wedding to know that.”

Song must have had similar feelings because soon after that spring day, he asked her to marry him.

Christina once told me that when she becomes a mother, she wants her family to practice a different religion every year. That way her children will have a comprehensive understanding of other cultures. Although eccentric to some, I’ve always found her determination to examine and appreciate the world admirable.

The down side is: we only see each other once a year, at most. It’s not much, but it’s enough – I can’t be completely defeated in a world in which she lives.

I like to think that Christina and I will end up in same neck of the woods at some point, that our curious souls will eventually settle and meet. Until then, I will comfort her with pretzels.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to

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