Some say that he has two left hands, and his nose can tell when it will rain. All we know is that he's called DFM.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Episode 16: In Which DFM Gets Taken Away In The Back Of A White Panel Van

Today was supposed to be the day that Lee Young San (the guy I met at the bath house/sauna the other night) and I were going to meet with some of his coworkers from his office so that I could help them with their English.  Lee phoned me to confirm that I could make it and I made my final preparations.  Then, with only a few minutes before I was ready to set out Lee phoned me again to tell me he was swamped with work (at 7:30 on a Friday night?) and that he would not be able to make it, but I was to go meet his coworkers anyways who would come meet me.  He said that he had "sms"d me her name and phone number (what a text message is called everywhere else in the world), but he did not know that I had not yet figured out how to check my sms messages on my Korean phone yet.

I set out for the prearranged meeting place to meet my blind date.  In a country where "everyone looks the same" and I didn't even know what my date looked like, I was basically waiting for her to find me.

Along the way there was a massive argument as some young Korean man was having some sort of problem with the white owner of the pub attached to my gosiwon.  It was quite a yelling match and all the middle-aged white, pot-bellied bar owners from the street (quite a funny sight in Korea) had gathered to show consolidarity.

After about fifteen minutes of waiting I started to get worried that one of the many women waiting behind me was my date.  I met a Korean woman who was also waiting for her date and we had a pleasant chat.  Her name was Amy and she spoke in impeccable English.  Apparently she had lived for six years in America when she was younger and now possessed a fluent version of both languages.  I told her my predicament and wondered if I was just missing something, or if I was just trapped in Korean Time.  She asked how long I had been waiting, and when I said my date was fifteen minutes late Amy said that there was still lots of time left in Korean Time for her to arrive.  Eventually my date found me after a half-hour of waiting.  I was not bored in the mean time though, for even after Amy left I still had a young Korean man I met the other day try to set find Korean women to talk to me (unsuccessfully), and a 65-year-old prostitute tried to get me to take her home.

My date's name was Song Hyeon A (the first time I've seen a Korean name only one letter long).  She spoke very little English and was understandably quite nervous at first.  She tried to express in broken English that she would like to eat, but did not know anywhere to eat in Itaewon.  Being the true gentleman and ladies man that I am I of course took her to KFC, where I was more than happy to let her pay for both of our meals.  (Note:  Lee Young San later told me that he made her pay for the meals because "his friend was doing her a great favour by helping her with her English...")

After dinner and a surprisingly good conversation we set up another date when we would both prepare some material (me in English and her in Korean) to teach the other participant.  I suggested a BBQ place across the street that had been recommended to me, but later regretted it as I figured I might have to actually pay for my meal and maybe hers this time.  

Special note on the KFCs in Korea:  My classic chicken combo came with only two small pieces of chicken, small fries (the kiddie sized ones in the bag) and a small soda.  I tried to tell Hyeun A that in Canada we get about two to three times that amount in our combos, but she could not grasp how a person could eat that much and not get fat....

We went back to the street to wait for Lee (Young San likes to be called Lee).  Lee came up dressed to party with his English teacher Canadian friend, Thom, from Vancouver.  I started to think the whole "busy at work" line was just a ploy.  Hyeun A had to go home so Thom and Lee decided to take me along to the B1 club very near to my gosiwon.  I decided to come along for a bit thinking I'd stay for an hour and then go home (I didn't want to seem rude).  Little did I know what I was in for.

Lee is of course a very friendly guy and so is Thom.  Thom had the same bottom of the line phone that I did and he told me stories about how his eleven year old students laughed at him the first time he took it out in class and then showed him their state of the art touch-screen phones.  (I have since been informed that it is next to impossible for foreigners to get a good phone with an actual contract in Korea.)  Thom was able to teach me how to send and check my text messages and also how to save numbers in my memory.  He said that it was the veteran ex-pat's job to teach the newbie how things worked in Korea.

The B1 club was a really nice club.  Like many thing in Korea it was rather small, but a lot of money had been put into the decor.  There was even an area that was like a couch and a bed combined, with cushions.  I observed that to get these seats, you could reserve the table with the cushions, or just be a woman trying desparately to attract the attention of a man.

Actually, all the tables at the club seemed to be reserved, and we didn't have a reservation, but Lee knew one of the bartenders/waiters and so we got to rotate around the tables and sit there until their rightful owners came along.

Eventually Heedo (in the black) and David came along and we took Heedo's turbo-charged Hyundai panel van to Sinchon (wherever that is).  Thom, Dave and I had to ride in the back of the van.  There were no seats in the back since it was basically a transport van.  The ride was bumpy and we slid around a lot.  It felt like we were Albanians being smuggled out of the country to freedom.  (You can see from the picture that David had this wallet that shot out a giant flame, and he was quite eager and happy to show it off any time you asked... or if there was a girl around.)

Sinchon is a big University district and the clubs there are much more American style.  The rooms are still small, but the music is loud and everyone packs in to the center of the room and "dances" (or whatever the young people do these days).  The first club we went to was called "Mike's... Something, Oh I Forgot (not the name of the club)."  They played a lot of popular Western dance music and at least 35% of the club goers here were white.  A good chunk of them were probably English teachers, but there were two or three middle-aged white guys standing at the back who seemed really out of place.

Dave and Heedo were having a great time on the dance floor (Dave has his hands by his face, "raving" I assume, and you can see Heedo trying to get his face in the picture down in the bottom left-hand corner).  Lee and I do not dance so we stood on the side and/or played Foosball.  Thom had gotten sick from the van ride over and decided to take a taxi back to Itaewon.

Lee and I met Ed, an English teacher from Norway, who wrote the message regarding the Swedish.  Ed explained that the Norwegians and Swedish were always taking friendly pot shots at each other, because "they were basically the same... except that Norway had oil."  Ed was very generous and was always trying to give me things.  Unfortunately those things rarely belonged to Ed, like the beer he tried to give me that belonged to Heedo.

Heedo liked the Mike's place so much that he decided to stay, and Dave, Lee and I decided to move on.  The taxi cab drivers are shifty characters in Seoul and so they only pick up fairs who will be traveling a long distance late at night (more money for the drivers that way), so we had to walk.  We even saw two cabbies get in a fight because one had parked in the other's spot.

Lee bought Dave and I some real kimbap (apparently what I've been eating is just kim) and some tteokbokki (pronounced something like "dock bo-key") and then it was on to the next club.  Up until this point I actually thought we were walking to find a cab home, but apparently we were just on our way to another University district for more clubs.

We came to a place called The Club, and there was a Led Zeppelin cover band on the stage.  I'd love to make fun of them here, but they were actually really good.  There were a lot of white people here though.  I'd estimate roughly 65% of the crowd was white, or more.  Lee confessed to me that this was not his scene, and we sat on the side and watched Dave try to pick up white girls (apparently Dave only goes for white girls, which means he should probably move to a different country).

Eventually 4 AM rolled around and Lee and I left to find a cab (the cab fares drop back down to normal price at 4 AM).  Dave had moved on to some other club, but I was amazed that when Lee and I left at 4 the streets were still packed with people, and the clubs were still as full as at 12.  I was even more amazed to see people walking around trying to sell kebabs or operating street food vending stands.  I don't think the clubs close down until 5 AM, and you can bet that they will still have to kick people out even then.

Outside we saw a couple of really drunk people stumbling around in the streets.  I'm not sure if this is for show or what the deal is, but drunk people in Korea all act the same way.  One person will assume the role of absolutely hammered person, while his friend plays the only partially drunk person.  The partially drunk friend will hold the arm of the hammered friend while the two stumble down the street in a large weaving pattern.  Every few steps the hammered friend will pull a great escape move and attempt to stumble back into the street in between the taxi cabs.  The semi-drunk friend will then lead him slowly and in a three steps forward, two steps back fashion until they get back to the sidewalk where the whole routine happens again.  I've seen the exact same performance with men in business suits as well, so I think it's just the accepted way of being drunk.  Regardless, it's quite humerous to watch.  The taxi cabs for their part seem to expect it and always go slow by the clubs.

Eventually I got back to Itaewon at around 4:30 AM, and went to sleep.  Before I knew I would be staying out all night I had agreed to meet Conor in Dongdaemun the next morning, so that meant I will only be getting about 5 hours of sleep this night.  Sounds like fun.

Gloating:  Despite the "promises" of those around me I was able to make it all night while only drinking one beer.  I only drank that one because it was a Korean beer that Thom had bought for me before I could say no (I'm not a drinker).  Korean beer, or maekju, is rather light and is carbonated.  It actually tastes like someone added club soda to a Coors Light.

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