Friday, October 7, 2011

A Very Bizarre Birthday

I turned 22 (Korean 23) a couple weeks ago, and my birthday was, like most of my life lately, quite an adventure. It was fun, exhausting, and at some points just plain bizarre. You’ll see what I mean…
The evening before my actual birthday I met up with my good friend Moon, who came to Korea a couple weeks after me and is living in the same city, about 20 minutes away by bus. Part of what drew me to the school I am currently teaching at was the fact that Moon and I would be located in the same city, albeit a large one. Being both quite new to the life-in-Korea thing, and me without a phone, we decided that I would take the bus to her area of Suwon at the same time she was getting off of work and we would meet at the bus stop (something that we’d done before), get dinner, and take it from there.
            After meeting up, Moon and I decided that we might as well stop at The Big Chill (the expat bar in her part of town) before dinner, because it was Ladies Night (every Friday) and, being ladies, we could get free drinks. We had a few of those (hard to say no to free drinks, especially non-soju free drinks), and talked to some of the characters at the bar.
          One of them was dressed in chainmail. Our conversation began something like this: “What brings you to Korea?” “Uncle Sam.” “Why are you dressed in chainmail?” “Why not? I like dressing up.” “Um, yeah, dressing up is fun...” The Korean bartender was nice, though. His English name is Skyler, but is moving to Canada soon and is thinking of changing it to Jun, pronounced June, a somewhat common Korean-English name. We told him that we liked Skyler better, as June is a female name is the US, but he should of course choose a name that he feels reflects him.
Note: the people that I’ve met at expat bars in Suwon have all fallen into one of four categories: 1) native English teacher (from Ireland, England, South Africa, et.), 2) Korean interested in meeting foreigners, 3) American in the US army, or 4) Samsung employee. Some are here because they wanted to travel, some are here for the money, some are super into Asians and/or Asian culture. So, all in all, it is a very interesting crowd. Another note: people here seem both intrigued and confused by the Moon and Austin name combo, some have even said that we sound like a country band.
Anyway, a little later on, Moon presented me with a “choco-pie” (kind of like a ding-dong, very tasty), then she and a few of the characters sang me happy birthday and I blew out a lighter. After the free drinks were over, we made our way to a Korean BBQ restaurant and discussed life (Moon and I do this a lot) over soju and lettuce-wrapped charred beef (I LOVE Korean BBQ, by the way). After a while (not really sure how long), we were the only people left in the restaurant and the Koreans hinted that we needed to leave, so we did. I took a cab home. Conveniently for us, the 20-minute cab ride in-between our areas of Suwon is only about $10.
            The next morning (my birthday) I woke up feeling exhausted and hung-over. It had been a long workweek. Yet, I decided that I needed to rally and do something fun since it was my birthday and everything. Jackie and I had talked about spending the day on the Korean wine-train (link: Wine Train). It takes you from Seoul to S. Korean wine-country while you sip wine, eat snacks, and are entertained by musicians. You stop in the wine-country for lunch, soap making, and foot soaking. I still really want to do this, but it also leaves from Seoul at 9am on Saturday, and is a bit pricey, so we decided to do it another time. We had also talked about going to Everland, the 4th ranked theme park in the world (link: Everland), conveniently accessible via public transportation.
            In addition, there happened to be the annual expat soccer game happening in Seoul, at the World Cup Stadium. All the foreigners we knew seemed to be going and there was a beer and hot-dog included with the ticket purchase. When I woke up on Saturday that was exactly what I was in the mood for. So, I met up with Moon again, and we trekked it to the soccer game where we met up with Jackie, her boyfriend William, some friends of his from his soccer team (Seoul Storm), and two girls that one of the guys works with. I had talked to some of the other teachers from my school about meeting up at the game as well, but it ended up being too difficult with all the people and various cell-phone issues.
            The game was a lot of fun. There were two different Korean teams playing each other, and there was a lot of other entertainment incorporated besides the actual soccer (fireworks, ball-juggling shows, games where random people from the crowd could win things). It seemed they were trying to make it Western, since the game was for foreigners, but exaggeratedly so. The stadium is HUGE, and there were sooo many white people, which actually felt pretty strange, in a familiar/comforting sort of way. I honestly wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the game, more just looking around the stadium, chatting (being able to talk to a bunch of native English speakers has become a bit of a treat), and enjoying my beer and hot-dog.
            Moon, Jackie, William, etc. and I left a little before it was over to avoid the crowd all massing to the subway and went to a Korean BBQ restaurant in another part of Seoul. Have I mentioned that I LOVE KOREAN BBQ?! You cut up the meat with scissors and grill it in the middle of the table and then wrap it in lettuce with bean sprouts, red-pepper-sauce, etc., sooo good! We also drank a lot of soju and beer, which is custom with Korean BBQ.  I was very glad to be eating and drinking with two of my best friends. Also, at one point I looked around me and thought “it’s my birthday, I’m cutting meat with scissors and taking soju shots, and I just met most of these people today,” again, BIZARRE. Gotta love the adventure. But wait, there’s more…
            So we all went to a bar that one of the guys knew that he said played good music. This transitioned into a club, which was pretty packed and a ton of fun. We danced, at one point on an elevated platform in the middle of the room. Met a few Koreans who, odds are, I will never see again in my life, and whose names I can’t remember anyway. Jackie and William went home, and Moon and I left to meet up with her friend Scott, who she met through a friend at Wesleyan, and is also a new teacher in Korea.
          We all got some street-food (it’s everywhere, and for the most part delicious, although some of it is very strange, like the dried octopus), and met up with some of Scott’s friends at another club. At this point it was very late and I was very tired. Scott had already paid for a bed at a hostel (called The Yellow Submarine) and so he, Moon, and I went back there. I got the bed, and Scott and Moon slept on a couch for a few hours.
We left The Yellow Submarine at about 7am so that Scott could have his bed back, and took a Hellish series of fluorescent-light filled subway-rides back to Suwon. The past 48 hours had consisted of a lot of soju, very little sleep, and we got lost, of course. There were people coming in from a long night in Seoul, looking as bedraggled as we felt. At one point Moon thought she was going to vomit, so I found a shopping-bag in a bathroom that I carried with us for the rest of the journey.
All in all, a fair bit different from past years, or maybe not so different. Loved-ones, food, music, dancing, and the next-day daze in which I realize, “oh, yeah, I’m older now.” Different or not, I am 22 (or 23), and, almost two months after arriving, life in Korea continues.

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