Thursday, November 26, 2009

Indecision Clouds my Vision (2)

No Thanksgiving in Korea, at least in November. No turkey, no day off. Then again, I’m no huge fan of turkey, and I don’t care at all for stuffing or cranberry sauce, and I’m never in favor of having dinner at 4:30 p.m., so no big loss. In fact, my all-time best Thanksgiving involved no such things - it was in Florence in 1999. I ate pasta for dinner at 9 p.m., like any rational person would.

Anyhow, though I have to work at my actual job, I’m taking a cue from every other content producer in the world and taking the week off blog-wise. I’m re-running an old gem that came from my Myspace blog during my early days in Korea. I originally posted this on November 4, 2006, a scant 5 weeks into my Korean life. I’ll make a couple footnotes as well, anything 2009 will be in italics.

Indecision clouds my vision

First off, I need to point out that huge strides have been made in instant coffee since I last had it, probably in my Boy Scout days. Which is fortunate, as it is a necessity here, if one is to drink coffee at home. The combination of lack of space for a coffee machine in my tiny apartment, and prohibitive cost of coffee machines here (they are all like $150, I haven’t seen anyplace selling the classic American shitty $10 coffee machines that I have come to depend on) makes instant the only option.

Last night I went out with 3 other teachers to a local bar, a Brit, an Aussie, and a Canadian. We had a pretty enjoyable time, and all three are very cool, and I had a good time. Boring info there, I know. We talked about various travel things, as the three of them are all very well traveled, and I’d like to think I do all right myself, for an American at least. All three had been to Thailand and Hong Kong and Singapore* and other places like that that still seem exotic, even from Seoul. It has long been the common wisdom that Americans don’t travel enough, and though this did not come up last night, I am sure the other three all think this. As do I, largely, far too few Americans have passports, but then again, Americans get the shortest vacation time of and industrialized people, and it’s hard to see much of Europe or Asia or South America with a week off, and far easier to go to Vegas or Orlando and “see” all three.
* funny I should mention those three particular places back then, as I’ve since been to all three

What struck me as quite strange though, and perhaps this is an international phenomenon, is that the Canadian has never been to Toronto, the Aussie has never been to Sydney, and the Brit has spent less time in London than I have. So, I don’t know, make what you will of that. I am not talking shit, because, as I said, all of these people are very cool and I am glad they are working at my school*.
*I kept saying that “very cool” stuff because I was friends with them all on Myspace and knew they would be reading. Sycophantic move, I know. I can now reveal that they really weren’t the cat’s pajamas after all - as soon as I moved across town in January to take a new job, I was suddenly dead to all of them, and when I invited them to come out for my birthday via Myspace message (ah, 2007) none of them even responded. Again, my first job here was horrible, it had no redeeming qualities beyond convenient access to Burger King and cheap taxi rides to Itaewon.

So anyway, everybody was going home at 1:30 or so*, and I wasn’t really into going home. I bought a bottle of soju and took to the streets with the pod, kicking it old school. The problem with soju, of course, is that you should never start drinking it after having a couple beers. It just makes you nutty. You would think I’d have learned this by now**, but it just seemed like the thing to do***.
*on a Friday night. This was about as late as that group would ever stay out.
** Three years later, I still clearly haven’t learned this.
*** and it was. Again, my friends at the time were boring, I had no choice but to make my own fun. Going home at 1:30 on a Friday night in Seoul is like going home at 9 p.m. on a Friday in the U.S.

So, I walked down a random large street near my house that I had not been down before, rocking the pod and interested to see what was around. I ended up in a random party zone*, not far down the road. I had no fucking clue where I was, but it was 2:30 or 3, and this one random street was jammed with cars and cabs, and there were a ton of people on the streets and like 7 million bars around. So, I felt I’d walked the right way, basically. Another weird thing about Korea – on this little party street, there were all sorts of businesses open that you wouldn’t expect to be open at 3 a.m, like clothing stores and junk stores. Conversely, there were all sorts of businesses that you would expect to be open, at least they would be in Chicago, like a Dunkin’ Donuts** and a Burger King, that were closed. One bar, called the Stop Here***, (I didn’t, it looked shady) had it’s hours printed on the door. 6 p.m. until 11 a.m. Even I am not hard core enough to be out boozing still at, say 10:30 a.m.
*The random party zone turned out to be the northern portion of the Gangnam Station area, near the Kyobo building, and an area that’s decidedly unfashionable and boring compared to alleys a few blocks away.
**Korean Dunkin’ Donuts are not open late anywhere, I’ve since learned, something I’m actually happy about now. There is a Dunkin’ in the building that I live in now. I know from my last apartment in Chicago that if it were open late, I would be there 5 nights a week.
***It’s still there. I’ve still never gone in.

I headed to a bar* with seats in the windows that overlook the street, so that I can watch all the chaos of a Seoul party district from a prime vantage point. Plus, a fairly large beer was 2.50**, and it came with these weird, addictive*** crunch noodle snack things that I do not know what are called, but they serve them in a lot of Korean bars.
*Hof. It was a nice hof though, and sadly it’s gone now.
** The same sized beer costs $2 at any non-Gangnam hof in town, but since I lived in the general Gangnam area at the time, I thought this was cheap.
*** the addiction is over - I’m pretty over these things. I still don’t know what they are called though.

Anyway, I left the bar, still with the soju in tow, completely trashed, and I started feeling the urge to rock out, which, thankfully, I haven’t done in public in some time, probably due to owning a car. But, then the pod selected Faith No More’s “Falling to Pieces,” and it was no longer up to me. It was time to rock. So, it was 4 a.m, still lots of people out, I’m absolutely hammered, walking in the general home direction, in a part of the city I had never been to before, surrounded by people that I will never see again. So I wail along with Mike Patton, and even throw in a few random dance moves. I gotta say, it was fun. Fortunately, the road home was deserted of people, as it goes through a large construction project so there’s no retail or residential anywhere around. So I was able to sing like a madman the whole way back, until I got into my neighborhood, where I immediately stopped. Acting like a jackass in front of scores of drunken strangers or in a deserted area is one thing, but I didn’t want to do so within earshot of the neighbors*.
*comedic value aside, this is an ungodly bad paragraph. I’m always yelling at my students to not begin sentences with conjunctions, which is pretty much all I do here.

Post note, so I was walking to the grocery store today (after waking up at 3 p.m.) and I had the pod again, and maybe the third song it randomly picks out of 3500 odd songs, is of course, “Falling to Pieces.” I was tempted to rock out once again, but the moment passed. I think I’m staying home tonight*.
*I didn’t. Just checked my notes from that time, and I went out drinking in Gangnam both the Saturday I wrote this and the Sunday after. Interestingly, I did actually write and post this immediately after it happened. Maybe I should get back to that. The Myspace blog, for all its failings, did have an immediacy that this one rarely does.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

sporcle sporcle

No bar stories this week. Really, I’m kinda sick of the bar. In theory at least, as I am not sick of booze, darts, or ridiculous adventures. That part of the bar I like. I’m just growing weary of the obligation of it all. See, as an aging, single dude, I HAVE to go out every weekend night. If any reasonable number of girls went out on weeknights, I would be out every weeknight too. I don’t have to spend a lot of money, I don’t have to meet my friends, I don’t have to get shitfaced (although, as you know, more often than not all three happen) but I do have to leave home and get out there. Sure, I could hang around coffee shops during the day to try and meet girls, but that’s lame because a) coffee shops don’t serve booze. That, and coffee shops are not conducive to conversation with new people, they are simply places to stay in your group or to eavesdrop on other groups.

A reason it could be harder to leave the house is my new internet obsession. If not for the hours and hours of downtime to kill at work, it would be tougher to leave home. A few months ago, my buddy David turned me on to Not to be too hackneyed 90s about it, but don’t go there. Sporcle has completely ruined my capacity for killing downtime via reading or video games. It cuts into my sleep, it cuts into my TV time, and it totally eliminates the time I would otherwise be writing a brilliant unstarted novel.

Sporcle is, essentially, the ultimate game of categories. It’s nothing but lists in thousands of different categories under larger topics such as geography, history, music, TV, movies, sports, and others that I haven’t tried out yet. It asks a simple question, “Can you name xyz?” Examples include “can you name every US president?” (got 43, lousy Milard Filmore), “can you name all of the kings of France?” (didn’t do too well, but just typing William, Louis, and Richard with various Roman numerals got me pretty far) and “can you name the top 25 rushing touchdown scorers of the 2000s (did so-so, but even with my fantasy football background, it’s amazing how quickly I forgot about people like Rudi Johnson, Corey Dillon, Curtis Martin, and Eddie George).
Not surprisingly, geography is the category that I really go after. Can you name the major American cities when given three suburbs of each? I could, easily. Can you name the largest 100 American cities (not metro areas) by population? I always come close, but I always end up leaving out some bullshit town like Garland, Texas or Chesapeake, Virginia. Can you name the three largest cities in each state? I thought I would do well there, but the second largest city in Utah is some new burb I’d never heard of, and a lot of places in New England and the South are too obscure for me. Can you name the 20 largest cities of Kansas? Illinois? I can. Any other state? Not so much. Russia? I don’t know why I even tried that one. Like you, I can name 3 Russian cities. Can you name all of the countries of North America (including the Caribbean)? Europe (including lots of former Soviet republics and ex-Yugoslavia)? Asia (with all the “stans”)? Africa? For me, as of today, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Can you name all the counties of the world? I’ve played that game a lot of times, and thus far haven’t won - Oceania always throws me off, and I always end up forgetting a couple random obvious countries like Hungary or Singapore.

Weak entry this week, I know. Of course, I blame the sporcle, as writing about it caused me to procrastinate during a post about procrastination. Got distracted, did the “can you name all the countries in the world?” 3 more times. It’s a 15 minute game. I got 193 out of 195 on one - stupid Tuvalu and Kiribati. Trust me, live your life. Do not go to

Thursday, November 12, 2009

No Comps for the Weary

I’m old. This isn’t news. Recently, I’ve become dangerously close to becoming a real person. I eat vegetables. I’m eating McDonald’s and pizza slightly less (though I threw down both today). I thoroughly clean my apartment every week, even vacuuming. I recycle. I pay my taxes. Well, file my taxes. I just crafted a small “office” in my apartment so that I can stay home and write rather than go to the bar. Worst, and most embarrassing of all, I joined a gym a week ago, and I’ve even gone a few times. I swore to keep it on the downlow, but here I am, outing myself. I never planned to ever have a “gym” conversation in my life, but I’ve had roughly 4,000 in the last week. However, I promise you this: I will never, ever have a “gym” Facebook or Twitter (once I inevitably get into that) update. I don’t want to read other people doing this, and I know you don’t want to either. This is the last I’ll speak of it on a public forum.

Though it seems I’m losing my edge (if I ever had one) and becoming a real person, I can still fall safely into the cartoon character category. Case in point, as per always, last weekend. I had a reasonably quiet Friday, drinking till 4 of course, but no later, and not to such a massive degree as my primary goal was to avoid passing out in public. I even met a girl, but choked as only I can. She looked at me a couple times, came up to me from across the bar, bummed a smoke, and hung out while I proceeded to charm her by saying... nothing. “Um, so you teach English eh? Cool, uh, me too.” This is why I drink. You would too if you had to deal with me all the time. Later, I played her in darts, which gave me a great opportunity to be really tight and nervous and inevitably lose the game in a big way. I also had some cool banter like “uh, so where you from?” I was really shocked that she didn’t just throw herself at me after that. She left, of course, and I played my buddy in darts immediately afterword, played loose, and won - which mattered a lot since we’ve played over 9,000 times.

I woke up early the next day (2 pm, early for a Saturday) to go hiking at the mountain near my house with Don and Martin. Don had already climbed a different mountain earlier that day, so he was a bit behind on energy and ahead on booze due to his habit of throwing back cheap rice wine on the peak. Though he was his usual mountain-goat self during the hike, he quickly crashed upon our return, but got back up to go for dinner and drinks. We hit up a Korean restaurant in Nowon that we go to pretty regularly, and moved on to the usual bars. Other than our discovery of Mojito, bartender Rain’s new bar (which actually served limes, heretofore unheard of in Korea) the usual bars were ungodly dull. Realizing it was only 11 and the subways were still running, we headed to Hyehwa.

Predictably, Don (who moments ago was lobbying to go to Itaewon, a longer subway ride than Hyehwa) passed out on the train within minutes. Martin and I then had this exchange with him:

Martin: Wake up.

Don: (looks up at the station sign, sees “Hyehwa,” closes his eyes again) Wake me up when we get there.

Martin: We are there.

Me: Where did you think we were going?

Don: Nowon.

Me: We came here from Nowon.

Don: Okay, cool.

Don lasted about five minutes in Hyehwa. I bought him a coffee at a convenience store (and in a mistake I won’t repeat again, my first Smirnoff Ice since the year 2000, when it was cool to drink Smirnoff Ice. Awful, awful drink.) After all the mountains and rice wine, plus the later beer and soju, Don was done. He got back on the subway and went home.

Martin and I walked up and down the major nightlife street in Hyehwa, and realized it was, on this night, as lame as Nowon. All the foot traffic was heading for the subway stop, we were the only ones going away from it. It only took until the merciful end of my Smirnoff Ice for us to join the subway-bound crowd and make the obvious change of venue - to Itaewon.

Not surprisingly, Itaewon was rocking. It was just a matter of finding the right bar. After having no more than one or two drinks in several establishments, we ended up at the old game-changer itself sometime after 3 - Polly’s Kettle House. Last time I was at Polly’s, as you may remember from a previous post, the bar was so dead that it literally put me to sleep. True to the never-ending schizophrenic nature of the joint, this time it was packed, mostly with English-teacher types. A fairly cute skinny drunk blonde girl and her goateed, lerchy, douchy looking boyfriend were standing not far behind us, so of course we made fun of them (though not loud enough for them to hear). Tending bar was a Korean dude who spoke flawless English, and the cocktail “waitress” was either pre or post op, can’t tell which, but who was obviously (based on voice and Adam’s apple) a full-fledged dude at some point in his/her past.

Martin got up to take a piss. I talked to the bartender about my recent adventures at Polly’s. He said he had been working the night I passed out outside, but never noticed. The skinny blonde and the douchy lerchy guy hovered closer to Martin’s seat. Martin returned, asked the blonde to step aside so he could reclaim his stool, and then did so. She took some offense to this malicious act of seatbacks, reached back to South Carolina, and slapped him in the face as hard as she could. Then she poured his beer on him.

I was, of course, shocked, and immediately started lobbying the bartender to get him a new beer for free. He asked me about the confrontation, and my report, essentially, was “that bitch is crazy.” And she was. Martin, beer soaked and slapped, yelled at blondie to get the hell out of here, and she reacted by hitting him in the face. Repeatedly. Where was douchy lerchy goatee guy the whole time? Voraciously making out with the cocktail “waitress” at the next stool. Blondie started talking to me, rationalizing her actions, saying that she had the right to the vacant barstool. My reaction, reasonably, was just to tell her that she was crazy and to fuck off. Fortunately, she did, but not before giving Martin a fat lip and causing him to lose a contact, but luckily without slapping me too. Most bars would have kicked her out, but Polly’s isn’t most bars.

Again, Polly’s doesn’t disappoint. If not for places like that, where I can witness my friend get assaulted by a crazy blonde waif while her boyfriend makes out with a ladyboy, old age might really take hold, and I may be forced to consider buying mutual funds and more than one suit. My only complaint- not that they didn’t kick that crazy girl out, as that would be un-Polly’s-like, but that they never did comp Martin a beer after that ball of blonde crazy spilled his.

Friday, November 6, 2009

City by the sea

There’s a town by the sea where it’s warmer than here. Five star hotels surround the beach, and more importantly, $30 crash pads surround the five star hotels. Fresh raw fish, tasty Mexican, Indian, Turkish, American, Italian, Japanese, Thai, and Korean food is everywhere by the coast, and Filipino, Russian, and Chinese joints are a subway inland away. One could sit on the beach, throwing back booze and shooting fireworks, or hit up one of several trendy nightclubs and the casino. Or, with the time and the cash, do it all in one night. During the day, there’s the beach of course, several to choose from, and there’s the country’s best aquarium, mountains, temples, a cable car, open air markets, and one of the continent’s largest film festivals should you visit in October. Is it any wonder I keep going back?

I recently made my fifth trip to Busan. I don’t know anybody in Busan. There’s only one city that I’ve visited more times without having friends or family in said city - Las Vegas. Like Vegas, each trip has been a little different, but each trip has been somewhat the same. I’ve been to Busan twice alone, once with my dad, once with my buddy Don, and last time with a big group. Each trip has involved at least one night in Busan’s crown jewel - Haeundae Beach, the beach I referred to in the first paragraph. Yet, unlike Vegas, Busan is not a world class tourist destination, presumably because of the difficulty in getting to Korea to begin with. Plus, unlike southeast Asia, Busan is a seasonal destination, it’s too cold in the winter and (in my opinion) too crowded in the summer. Half a million Korean tourists plant their beach umbrellas into Haeundae’s one mile of sand every weekend in July and August - no thanks. The spring and the fall is when Busan really shines, when it’s noticeably warmer than Seoul. If anybody here in K-land happens upon this post and hasn’t been to Busan - go. This weekend. Hell, I haven’t been on vacation in nearly a month, I have half a mind to go too. Like last week, I’ll toot my own horn and post this link for another blog of mine, the last entry included the nuts and bolts of what to do in Haeundae.

Don’t worry, I haven’t gone soft, on next week’s post, I’ll return to my usual vulgar narrative.

Samyeon doesn't dissapoint for nightlife

Don could find his beloved Red Horse beer on Texas Street

Beumusa Temple, in the mountains of Busan

The Old Man does fireworks on the beach

another shot of Haeundae