I’ve been on a couple of work-related nights out in the past week or so, both rather underwhelming.
The first was for Todd’s leaving do. This began with a meal at the samgyeopsal (a kind of barbecue pork-type thing) place on the ground floor of our hagwon building. Then we went to what I assume was Todd’s favourite place to hang out, a bar called No Block. I didn’t have a single drink while I was there, and mostly just stood or sat around feeling awkward. I had a game of darts (computerised, with plastic-tipped darts and a plastic board) with Bo, and then again with Bo and Travis; I was crap. I chatted with Todd a little about his plans (although I’d already asked him about much the same stuff in the previous couple of weeks). He asked for my e-mail address, which thought was kind of strange as we’d never really become that friendly. Nevertheless, I keyed it into his iThingy (with some difficulty – the keys on the touchscreen are quite fiddly).
That was also the last time I saw Bo, who, as Todd was flying back to the US, was flying back to Hungary for the holidays.
On Tuesday, one of the Korean teachers told me that there were plans afoot to go out on Wednesday night and to have a ‘Secret Santa’ gift exhange thing. Therefore, on Wednesday afternoon I went to the bookshop that’s just along the basement from my taekwondo dojang. It has a decent selection of English-language books (about a bookcase full) for its size and location. I chose a book I’d read whilst at university and had enjoyed and been moved by – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.
That evening I dropped by the dojang to see what was going on. I knew there was no class, but was expecting a party of some sort. Once again my master’s lack of English skills was our undoing. When I spoke to her the previous and told her I finished at 8:30 she invited to come along; evidently, she’d thought I meant 7:30. There were four or five young kids still there waiting for pick-ups or for their parents to speak to the staff.
I offered everyone some chocolate – as I’d been doing for all my classes during the day (I’m not a complete Scrooge, after all). Kim Sabeomnim (my male teacher) told me Lee Sabeomnim (my female teacher) was busy in the toilets – washing dishes, it turned out. He gave me a present that she’d bought for me – a diary. I made the joke to both of them in turn that pretty much the only thing I had to write in there was ‘taekwondo, taekwondo, taekwondo …’. Anyway, I said it was very nice (whilst thinking it was completely useless – although, maybe if I get a few private classes on the go, it might come in handy).
Then Lee Sabeomnim invited me into the office to have some pizza. I accepted – even though it was sweet potato pizza. Blech. I almost invited them to come and see The Day the Earth Stood Still with me the following day. But I didn’t.
I went back home to drop off my bag (which contained, apart from bread, chocolate, Jejudo oranges and my taekwondo dobok (just in case), my laptop and speakers. My last class had been Speaking Novel, which means Othello, and we’d watched a little more of Laurence Fishburn and Kenneth Brannagh. I’d watched the film in full a couple of nights earlier, so I now knew that there was, indeed, a little sex and nudity – and I would have to carefully prepare what to show) and play a bit of Hammerfall, an addictive RPG on Facebook.
Then it was back to work, and then to Itaewon. There were four of the Korean teachers, Jon (husband of our senior teacher, Sunny), Donny (Jon’s friend), Travis (the new guy), and, after a while, the boyfriend of one of the Korean girls. We went to a Chinese restaurant at the Hamilton Hotel. As usual, we automatically ghettoised ourselves and ordered separate food. At this point Travis, who wasn’t hungry, said he’d leave for a while to go and phone his wife in Canada.
We three Westerners talked about film and TV mostly (on Donny’s recommendation, I’ve made a mental note (and now a written one) to download Frost/Nixon). Then, with the meal out of the way, it was decided (by Sunny, naturally) to commence the Secret Santa process. Miraculously, awkwardly, I won the group rock-scissors-paper game and the right to choose, quasi-randomly, a present.
Someone had drawn a kind of brick wall-pattern grid on a piece of paper with numbers at the top and names at the bottom, one of each for each person taking part. I said number one. One of the Koreans to a zig-zagging line from the number one, following the lines of the grid, to a name at the bottom. I received Sunny’s gift which was wrapped in newspaper, in a box about the size and thickness of a small tabletop. Just then, we had to leave because the restaurant was closing, so I didn’t have chance to open it straight away.
Travis hadn’t rejoined us, so the Koreans went to a bar, while the rest of us looked for him. He wasn’t at the telephones in the hotel lobby, and we weren’t at all sure where he would be. After about twenty minutes of looking for him (which mostly consisted of standing around wondering where he was) we decided to leave a message at the hotel reception (my idea) and go to the bar. (Travis doesn’t have a phone at this point, so we couldn’t just call him.)
The bar was BricX, which the others pronounced ‘Bricks’ (so that’s what I wrote on the message to Travis). Once seated (which didn’t happen quickly), we continued with the Secret Santa gift giving. I opened my present: it was a large box of pens and pencils. I said I already had some.
My contribution was taken by Ally, or Eun-yeong, a woman with a very distinctive appearance. For a start she’s built like a man – I don’t mean that to be derogatory, she’s quite sexy, in fact, but she is – with a bit of a Lou Ferringo jaw, even. She’s also dyed her hair to a kind of ginger/auburn colour. She looks like a Valkyrie. She professed to be quite pleased with the book. Other gifts included wine (x2), an aromatherapy candle, and a bumbag. This latter was probably the worst of the lot – I can at least imagine myself using some of the pens and pencils, and candles are quite pretty.
With awful music blasting out of the speakers conversation wasn’t the easiest. Some entertainment was provided by Jon and Sunny arguing about what time they should leave. Jon wanted to go at 2:30 so he could be up early in the morning to call his parents. Sunny, meanwhile, maybe with a little help from the alcohol, kept protesting in the manner of a cute but obnoxious, spoilt little girl – putting her forefinger to her cheek and rocking her head side to side, that kind of thing.
We left BricX to go to Helios, but that was too expensive, so we ended up in The Loft. Our table was covered with old graffiti carved into the surface and grey with dirt; however, there was some newer graffiti etched on top of this – witty epigrams such as, ‘SHIT CUNT’, ‘FUCK BITCHES’, and ‘KILL ALL NIGGERS’. Nice.
I’d had a headache all evening and it was getting pretty bad, so I spent about an hour staring out of the window, while Ally got into an informal dance-off with a short black woman. I left at about half two to find a toilet that wasn’t jam-packed. I ended up in McDonald’s and let guilt (over using the facilities without buying anything; stupid, I know) talk me into buying a cheeseburger. I didn’t finish it. When I returned, Jon and Sunny and Donny were just leaving. Donny was planning to kill time until the subway reopened, and I didn’t want to invite myself into Jon and Sunny’s ride home. I gave my number to Yun-hye (pronounced ‘Yoonheh’) Teacher for her to call me when the rest of them left.
I went to a PC room and felt awful. My head was killing me, my stomach was in revolt and I could barely keep my eyes open. I played a little Hammerfall, went to the bathroom to be sick (it was all thick and dry, and bits kept getting stuck behind my epiglottis – blech), and napped in my seat.
When the call came to meet the girls, one of them was virtually unconscious and was being held up by Yun-hye’s boyfriend. Ally had snagged herself a tall black guy. The taxi driver wouldn’t let us all in the taxi together, so we left Ally behind.
I went straight to bed, and slept reasonably well for the condition I was in. I still had my headache when I got up at one thirty, but some cornflakes and a couple of mugs of tea put that right. After showering, I put some music on and did some more photo-editing – and have now finished off the shots I took one snowy morning in February in Whaley Bridge.
When I left home, I knocked on Travis’s door, but there was no answer. I texted this information to Yun-hye – who had asked me to do so. Shortly afterwards Jon called me to ask me to leave a message on his door. I said OK, but I’m sure there’s no big problem and we’ll see Travis at work tomorrow.
Then I went to Lotte Cinema in Nowon to buy a ticket for the 11:45 screening of The Day the Earth Stood Still and headed into central Seoul. It’s pretty crazy here – far more crowded than the average Saturday or Sunday. My favourite Starbucks was completely packed, so I went to the Quiznos across the road – where they apparently couldn’t serve me any coffee to go with my sub. I lost my temper a bit in Myeongdong and started pushing bursquely past people. But I managed to grab a seat in the Starbucks next to Uniqlo – where I’ve written this post.
And now I’m going to go back to Nowon.
And now I’ve seen The Day the Earth Stood Still, and – theme of the hour – am underwhelmed. The best part of the movie is near the beginning when Jennifer Connelly’s character, Helen Benson, has been taken by Federal agents to a secret briefing on an object heading for the Earth. On entry, all the gathered specialists are deprived of the mobile phones, but Helen puts hers down her top. After the briefing – which suggests that the object is going to collide with the Earth with catastrophic effects – she calls her stepson from the restroom. She tearfully tells him to go into the basement, and tells him she loves him. He answers words to the effect of, ‘OK, bye.’ She hangs up. There’s a banging on the cubicle door. When she opens it she sees a female soldier, who demands to know if she has a cellphone. Helen nods apprehensively. With a catch in her voice, the soldier says, ‘Can I borrow it?’
It was downhill from there, really. All through the film one expected Gort, the big (huge, in this case) robot to totally kick arse in the climax – which, I suppose he did, but only by turning into a cloud of nanobots. I want to watch the original again. The only part of which I recognised in the new version was when Klaatu goes to the home of a scientist and re-does his calculations on his blackboard. The scientist here was played by John Cleese, which was nice, but he was only on-screen for about a minute.