Friday, 31 December 2004


It's New Years Eve now, and various plans are afoot, but let's pull time back a week to Christmas Eve, when the magic of the festive period neared the climax of its sublime spell.

I'd a great Christmas, one of my best actually. My Christmasses have usually been pretty good, and all my childhood ones have blurred into one giant Christmas whereby I'd wake with great excitement at 2am and be unable to sleep again as I anticipated the clock changing to 6/7am (can't quite remember now). The very second that time arrived, a simultaneous stampede of myself, my brother and my sister would blaze a trail into the living room, where a roomful of gift-wrapped boxes lay clustered around three fireplace stockings. An empty glass of whisky and a saucer with a few crumbs of cake sat there also.

With great restraint we waited the extra minute it took our tired parents to get down the stairs, and then we could begin the manic frenzy of tearing paper and opening gifts to shrieks of amazed delight that Santa/mum+dad (whoever was believed in at the time) has got just what we wanted, even though for three months preceding the day our demands had been made most explicity clear.

That's the blur of childhood Christmasses, and I'm quite sure it's been partly fictionalised in my aging mind, possibly contaminated by idealist television images. However, there's no doubt that these were good Christmasses, with everyone in good spirits, kind of good health (i.e. not dead or lost their minds), and the excitement of Christmas still fresh in my youthful innocence, before the dark hand of maturity cast its icy shadow over my naive joy.

Teenage and early 20 Christmasses seemed to involve eating chocolate until I felt sick, this feeling often encouraged by alcohol. Not as magical, but still cosy and festive feeling. I'm sure there were at least a couple of white Christmasses, one of which fell overnight. During this time, however, my poor grandfather did manage to vomit on the Christmas lunch two years running.

Two years ago was one of my best Christmasses, when I was living in the castle. Mum and Morag stayed for a couple of days, and for these days in the very very remote coastal countryside surroundings of the castle, with just the three of us, we had absolute peace and serenity. With beautiful cliffs and sea stretching out panoramically from our atmospheric accommodation and no outside influences to disturb us, it really was the epitomy of tranquil. We ate and drank a little, opened gifts round a miniature Christmas tree, watched TV by the coal fire, and even made a daring expedition to a nearby abandoned house to gather more coal from an old, wet pile nestled by its side. It was the first Christmas I'd not spent at the family home, and it was a big success.

Last Christmas was pretty dreadful though. A total non-event. I'd only been in Korea a few weeks, and chose on Christmas Eve to go out and drink heavily. So heavily, in fact, that I have virtually no memory of that night, except for there being loads and loads of people, and being photographed with a fat girl. I woke up the next day (alone, mercifully) at about 2pm, feeling like a ghastly version of hell, and spent most of the day slumping around my shabby, tiny room, as traffic zoomed by noisily outside. In the evening I met up with Matt and some others, whom I didn't know too well, and drank a little in a bar, then went back to someone's apartment and played a boring game of charades (a game I have no fond memories of from any point in my existence). It was certainly my crappest Christmas.

But this Christmas was great, one of my best in fact.

I was working on Christmas Eve, and after another 43 class week was feeling quite burnt out and jaded by the time I finished, at 7pm. I had no big intentions for the night, but was quite sure I would not be drinking heavily, and thus tarnishing another Christmas day. Instead, my plan was to meet Matt downtown, not to drink, but to go to a DVD Bang, and watch "Love, Actually" together for the third time. "Love, Actually" is our film, as we first saw it in Seoul a year ago, during a mayhem-filled weekend that we have never quite recovered from. Matt has gone as far to have bought the soundtrack, which he listens to - and enjoys - regularly. We have our own song together too, which I think I've said before, not from the soundtrack but by 15 year old Russian lesbians T.A.T.U.

Anyway, it seemed particularly festive and fitting to see this film, making for a gentle Christmas Eve, and setting us up for a more busy, if not ever frantic, Christmas Day.

Christmas Day came in two parts. "Part 1: Lunch" was saving orphans. "Part 2: Dinner" involved spending extravagant amounts of money in an expensive hotel.

For lunch, a guy called Brian involved with the orphanage and working at the K2 airbase had arranged for all the Haean orphans to get into the airbase for a free, US-style, Christmas lunch. Accompanying the starving orphans were well-fed Western volunteers such as myself and Matt, who quite fancied a large free lunch.

In fact, I've put in some good time at the orphanage, so feel my free lunch was earned. I patted some orphans on the head too, so I'm sure they felt loved on this special day. Matt, however, has only been to the orphanage once before, so was just being a freeloader.

It was good fun, not just the lunch but the whole experience. The security round the US military base wasn't too high, as myself and Matt simply sat in a car and were driven in, after a short wait, without ever showing ID. We found this quite surprising, given the usual US paranoia. Possibly the coloured alert had been downgraded to "blue - only medium threat of explosions".

We were treated to a generous lunch of various meats, including turkey of course, and I sat with three orphans and watched them tuck into their only meal of the month not salvaged from the bins. Actually, these orphans are fed perfectly well so don't worry. They're all pretty normal children, not the shaven headed shaking Romanian infants popularised by the media.

This was followed a venture outside, where Santa appeared in a large tank-like military vehicle - far more efficent than reindeers - and led into the base's bar/entertainment centre. The kids gathered round a stage where Santa, accompanied by translator, handed out gifts to each and every orphan. It felt very Christmassy.

After this, me and Matt and to shoot off to Busan, where we were to meet with Noel and Sue at the 4 star Westin Chosun hotel situated by the beach. Noel and Sue are friends of Matt's whom I'd only met briefly, but we'd always got on well. Noel is a tall, laid back Irish guy with unkempt hair and infrequent shaving habits, and Sue is a very glamourous Korean girl, her glamour at first quite intimidating and almost harsh until you speak to her and find a thoroughly pleasant a gentle girl. Noel and Sue are married, in fact, quite recently. Just a legal ceremony, although they are planning the proper ceremony at some approppriate time in the future.

We checked in and relaxed in our calming room for a while, and felt hunger rise in our greedy bellies. Noel and Sue, who had booked more expensive rooms, had been accessing the free buffet and bar forbidden to commoners like me and Matt, but met us (somewhat tipsy) after 8pm and joined us for dinner.

The main restaurant was all booked out, but this didn't matter as the bar restaurant was still very swanky and we were given a seat overlooking the beach. The food was sufficiently expensive and I splashed out on some wine too. After the meal, my body felt soothed and warm, as though stroked all over by a pretty woman.

We moved onto the proper section of the bar then, where drinkers were hard drinking and Bulgarian singers were singing Western pop hits onstage. I bought the most expensive beer of my entire life, a pint of Sapporo, costing me the equivalent of over £8. Although alarmed by the steepness of the cost, I remained entirely calm and unphased, as befits a patron of an expensive hotel.

I did stick to the cheap, local, beer after that though.

We drank, and chatted, and made merry, and later took a brisk walk along the beach. Our day ended sometime between 2 and 3am, with everyone thoroughly satisfied by a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable Christmas.

Boxing Day - or St. Stephen's Day as I discovered the Irish call it - was fine. We ate very well at an Indian restaurant, and I arrived back in Daegu by about 8pm.

And that was Christmas 2004. In the next few days I hope to catch up with the rest of the week, which have involved finishing work, moving house, and being a charming young man.

No comments: