Saturday, 20 December 2003

Seoul Part 2

Seoul Part 2

And so it was that we hit the town.

After a film first. Jumping into a taxi, we managed to communicate the ideaof "cinema" after some effort, and we were driven to a random part of Seoul and to "Cinema City". Randomly, e chose to see a film called "Coronaldo" which was mercifully in English, but less mercifully absolute rubbish. If this film does reach the cinemas in Britain or America I'd be very surprised, and wouldn't recommend it. Although it was mildly entertaining and featured one slightly famous person, it was nonsense. Something about an LA bimbo unwittingly getting involved with the rebel overthrow of a corrupt South American government. You get the idea.

After that, we got another taxi back to Itaewon, and went for a drink at "King Bar". It was full of big black soldiers with medallions playing pool. We stayed for just one drink before taking a short wander. It was here that we stumbled upon a bar that seemed to have wasted Westerners literally stumbling out, so we reckoned it had to have something going for it.

It did. 1500 Won draft pints (75p). We'd found our bar.

I showed absolutely no restraint and quickly began a major guzzle. There was a choice between OB and Red Rock, both of which were identical, s I happily alternated. We sat at the bar, and over time got speaking to a Korean guy next to us. Well, he was sort of American as he'd spent about 10 years there and was completely fluent but was in Korea to do military service, which I believe is compulsary for 2 years before the age of 30.

His name was Gilbert. His English name at least, his Korean name would inevitably have been Chun-Woo Kim as they all seem to be. He was, frankly, an ugly man but made some good chat, so we drank and talked for a good while. He had friends with him who appeared every now again, drunkenly hugging him, and as it reached about 2am it was deemed time to go to a club, and we were invited along.

With us, somehow, two American girls tagged along, that I affectionaly termed "The Rough Birds" - though not to their faces. Beauty and elegance were not gifts God had endowed them with, alas. Still, despite them also being rather annoying, they were cause for entertainment for myself and Matt, and I believe I did partake in a little dancing with one of the Rough Birds.

The club we went to was Western style and just across the road. Truth be told, I'd drunk a hell of a lot before even reaching there and my memory fizzles out quite quickly. I recall buying drinks, insisting I'd been short-changed, talking to a variety of Koreans, dancing and laughing about the Rough Birds with Matt, but these memories are just fragments in no order. I do recall the night being exceptionally fun, and it going on for quite some time but details are extremely vague.

And so the next thing I know is that I'm waking up the next morning, still drunk and very confused.

And somewhere that I'd never consciously seen before.

I was in some random Korean's house, though I could find no fragment of memory to link how I'd got here or where I was. I'd lost my camera, and a cursory search revealed nothing. And I had absolutely no money, not a penny, though whether I'dv lost it or spent it I cannot say.

But worse, it was noon, and me and Matt were to have checked out the hotel by 11.30am.

I realised my possible problem situation as I stumbled out the house. I was lost in Seoul without money, or contact number for Matt, and without any guarantee he'd be waiting for me at the hotel. In fact, I'd no idea what had even happened to him. However, somehow I had his coat.

All I knew was that I had to get to the hotel in Itaewon, so I found a subway with thankful ease. Having no money hough, I was forced to stick very close behind a Korean and run through the barrier after them. I'm not sure what the Korean punishment for fare dodging is, but at the bck of my mind I pictured lying naked in a stone cell being beaten with whips and sticks. (actually, in many ways more a reward than punishment)

I was MILES away from Itaewon, but eventually got there, and thank the Lord, Matt was still in the hotel, having paid for a second night. We went to the nearby Burger King and spent a good hour just laughing at the previous night as we pieced things together, including many details unsuitable for public consumption here. Matt found it particularly amusing how I'd woken up on the other side of Seoul, penniless. The reason I had his coat, it emerged, was because they were both on the same cloakroom ticket.

After Burger King we spent the rest of daylight sleeping and resting in the hotel. We were knackered, and still soberng up. Plus, we had plans that night, and needed to be at full health.

Matt had been speaking to some of Gilbert's friends (despite the fact they weren't able to speak English) and had swapped phone numbers, and they'd promised to take us out to some Korean bars and clubs. There were between 2 and 8 of them, we genuinely couldn't recall, and Matt seemed to think one was a Japanese international footballer. But as promised, at 8pm, one phoned us and invited us out.

We had to decline, however. I had no money and Matt wasn't far off broke. And their destination was apparently the most expensive area in Seoul.

Five minutes later, they phoned again. The night would be on them, and they insisted. So a few hours later we were in a taxi to the expensive area of Apgujeong, and going to a Korean-style bar with Chun and uh... Jong. Or something.

Korean-style bars are quite like restaurants. You're given a table and order a little food, shared among all, and then drink as much as you can. The Koreans like to think they're heavy drinkers and they're not bad (certainly better than Egyptians, Turks, Israelis, Albanians and Americans) but I wouldn't put them in the hardcore league. I'm willing to bet I could challenge any one of the 44 million Koreans and beat them in a drinking competetion. Still, they go at it with gusto and enthusiasm, and it's the spirit that matters, so to speak.

Chun had reasonable English, but Jong's was very basic, but he got away with it because he had crazy bouncy hair and a massive grin and was very obviously a hilarious character. And, it emerged, an ex-gangster too. But he didn't like to talk about it...

The wine and soju (local rice-brew. Too nasty for some, but I've already embraced i into my future as it's cheap and potent) flowed, and we were all gettng on very well. Matt's very good with people and so seemed to smooth over the occasional communication breakdown. I had a detailed conversation with Jong about Man Utd - "Beckham", "van Nistlerooy" and "red" being the key words. We drank many toasts and I learned only my second Korean word after thank-you (which I'm still mastering) - cheers! being "gonbeh!"

After this, it was time for the Korean nightclub experience. And what an experience it was.

The first nightclub we went to was Boss Club, the second best or possibly equal first best nightclub in Seoul, therefore Korea. We weren't able to get in however, as we arrived quite late (about 1am). But it did give me and Matt a good chance to perve on the girls. My God, they were good looking. And immaculately dressed.

Yeah, this is one thing about Korea, and particularly Seoul, and even more particularly the Apgujeong area - the people dress immaculately. Absolutely everyone looks impeccable. It made me and Matt feel like tramps. Many men are smoothly turned out in suits, and the girls look superb likewise. It's most impressive, and something I can't imagine seeing anywhere in Scotland.

Boss Club was over-subscribed, so our hosts took us back into Itaewon, to a similar style Korean nightclub called something like Internment. Apparently foreigners weren't allowed here, but Jong smoothly brushed the bouncers aside, and we were allocated our own room.

Korean clubs are very different from the ones you find in the Western world. In Scotland, I'll go to a club, drink cheap pints and sweat in a small dark hole blasting brutal techno. Well, ok, that's my personal experiences at least. This Korean club was far classier. Guys go separately from girls and are allocated their own rooms. In this room they make the drinks order for the night, and so we were soon brough a massive tray full of fruit, and another massive tray full of a variety of drinks. The room also had a screen showing the dancefloor, and it's own karoake machine - called Norebang over here. The Koreans love their Norebang.

But the strangest part of the whole experience is the deal allocated to the Korean girls. They turn up in their droves, and mingle about in the main club area. And every now and again, a waiter will grab one of them and take them to the men.

So it was that every 20 minutes or so, our door would open and a new girl would be presented to us. I should stress that this is a far cry from the hostess scene, this is simply how nightclubs work and a common way for Korean males and females to meet.

So some of our girls lasted just a few minutes, uninterested in our chat (which for many would have been in an unintelligable language as well as unintelligably drunken), but some enjoyed it and stayed longer, notably a girl called Sunny who was initially very shy but charmed us all, and a girl who I managed to deduct was a fashion designer after a great deal of effort ("pasa dezana! pasa dezana!"). She was also decidely drunk.

This influx of girls never ceased, although we never had any more than four at any one time. But even at the end of the night, new girls were being brought in, probably very bewildered at the chaos they were witnessing. Because myself, Matt, Chun and Jong had not held off on the drink and were in full revelry, yelling pidgin English and laughing at anything. We were transferred to a better room later on, and it was here that we finally gave into our urges and took part in the Norebang. I should mention that both me and Matt had entirely forgotten about the Norebang until the next day when somebody mentioned the word and we both looked at each other with the same dawning of realisation. There was a fantastic selection of music there, and I sang "Creep" by Radiohead. If memory serves me correctly, I actually sang the song very well. Memory, however, probably does not serve me correctly.

The club closed at 6am, and Chun and Jong paid. We got a glimpse of the bill - over 500,000 Won, which is about 250UKP. Even if we'd had money they wouldn't have let us pay, but we've promised them to treat them if they ever visit Daegu. To be fair though, the Korean way is to foot the bill, they like to be good hosts. And good hosts they certainly were, it was an enormously fun night.

We had to be out of our hotel by 11.30am the next morning, so what sleep we had was a necessity rather than a luxury. Sangoon wasn't due to drive us back to Daegu till 8pm so we had a day to fill. A listless day, I should say, as we were not inclined for much in the way of excitement or activity. We met up with some Daegu Irish girls who were also in Seoul for the weekend that Matt knows. Carolyn, Rebecca and two other non-Daegites, girl x (not her real name) and a Canadian guy who possibly exuded the least amount of charisma in a person that I've ever met. He was such a drab man. He seemed like a whiney man. He had a rubbish haircut. I hope I never have to see this man again as the thought of him makes me want to punch someone.

We just sat in a coffeeshop for the afternoon, then said goodbye to the Irish girls and Mr Whiney, and me and Matt went to see a film. The only English language one showing at the cinema was Love Actually, which despite being light comedy was very enjoyable. I left the cinema feeling good about humanity.

Then was the drive home. Sangoon was even less full of conversation than usual, defying what I'd have thought possible. Did he have a good weekend. "No." Oh dear, Sangoon, what did you do? "Sleep". All you did was sleep, Sangoon? "Hm."

Eventually, we got from Sangoon that he had punished his wayward friend, but not by death thankfully, but just by a slap, but with the promise of death if the friend didn't pay back by monthly installments.

Sangoon drove home like a genuine bona-fide maniac. Honestly, I have rarely been so scared being in a car with someone. Aside from his usual weaving in and out of traffic, he would drive very fast and close behind cars - I'm talking centimetres here - and flash his lights till they got out the way. His heater was on full, but sometimes he'd wind down his window to get some air in because he was falling asleep at the wheel

But we didn't crash, and I vowed never to get in a car with Sangoon aain. Not just because he represents a real chance of death, but because it would have been cheaper getting the train anyway. He charged us for petrol, and motorway tolls, but I find it hard to believe the combined total of petrl was as much as he claimed. I just think, as agreed with Matt, that Sangoon is just a genuinely bad person.

So, that was my Seoul experience. I wke the next morning in Daegu, ready to ove into my new apartment...

* edited for content

Matt and Gilbert appear none too sure about the Rough Birds.

I am wasted, but even I am wary.

Matt and um... Jung? in conversation.

The best gang of us in the nightclub, including the "Fashion Designer" (left) and Sunny. Observe: my smile, and Matt's "Trust Me" T-shirt.

Some palace in Seoul. We visited this for precisely twenty seconds.

Samgoon's wheels of death.

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