Trip Start Feb 12, 2006
20Trip End Mar 02, 2007
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Beneath that veneer of institutionalised boredom and apparent acceptance of a mundane existence, did these musty educators secretly lead lives of drunken debauchery? Did they get together in odd little gangs of relative strangers and cruise the streets of unfamiliar cities, intent on trying every foreign cocktail they heard a whisper of? Did they descend on restaurants in droves, demanding all sorts of indecipherable things from menus written in hieroglyphics just to see what they were? Did they imbibe so much grog that they were suddenly struck by the notion that they were rock stars and balladeers waiting to be discovered, if only they could yell along to Bette Davis Eyes a little louder?
I've been wondering this, because all the teachers I've met since arriving in Korea lead lives such as these.
We are the models of sobriety and good behaviour at work, instilling virtues examples into the minds of our little kidlets, preparing them for a healthy socialised future, while underneath we are all raving alcoholics with a penchant for singing badly in public at 6.30 in the morning and haunting 24hr convenience stores.
The "weekend of rollicking good fun" I mentioned in my last entry was indeed, rollicking.
Young Jeremy and myself headed into Itaewon in Seoul to meet up with Erin and Jeffrey - some other SLP teachers we met at our training course. Itaewon is the area around the American GI base, and as such, may as well be downtown Chicago. All the signs were in English, there were more Westerners on the streets than Koreans, the men were all hideously ugly, abrasively American and as culturally sensitive as a McDonalds outlet in Somalia. Never have I been so ashamed of being as Westerner. The ubiquitous fast food restaurants and American style bars were in sharp contrast to my suburban lifestyle (my 'burb being about the size of Perth) where Korean culture, language, food and of course people, were the overwhelming majority. As they well should be. It's reassuring, if not annoying, that Koreans in my area still stop and stare at me with blatant curiosity and young childrens faces contort in confusion, because it proves that we have not yet succeeded in taking over this little part of the world as well. My fellow sonsangnims (teachers) and myself may well be the first Westerners these little mini-Koreans have ever laid eyes on, besides those on cable TV. In Itaewon, however, seeing a Korean person was the rarity.
I had been warned by some of the teaching veterans at my school that Itaewon would be a bit of a culture shock and rude awakening, but that I did need to experience it at least once. I would either love it or hate.
I'm proud to say it was the latter.
After a hideous adventure on the subway that took one and a half hours longer than we had anticipated, that finally culminated in us catching a cab to where Erin had been waiting... a long time, we arrived in Itaewon. That cab ride was something in itself. One of the most beautiful cultural monuments - a traditional temple that's could be a few thousand years old, had been turned into... a roundabout. Ew. it's such a shame. I don't think anyone would even risk trying to get in to see it, as they would have to charge across eight lanes of traffic and them scale the battlements. Needless to say, the clash of new and ancient is much more apparent in inner Seoul than it is in my humble Goyang City, which was rice paddies only twelve years ago. Our first port of call was one of those bars you hear mention of in Lonely Planet books and the like. Bar Hollywood.
The bar was American, the beer was American, the TV was American, the patrons were American, and the barmaids were Korean - which pleased the Americans to no end. While our friends slowly squeezed in the door we had a pretty quiet pow wow in our own corner, trying desperately not to make eye contact with any GIs. When it became apparent that such endevours were a losing battle we moved on. Making our way up Hookers Hill (and no, it's not a metaphor) we crammed into Pollys Kettle - one of Itaewons sordid night clubs. Not only was our dancing interrupted by handsy American soldiers, but there was a large contingent of Nigerian Gis there as well for some reason. I think someone spiked their soju kettles with viagra or something, because there was more than one occasion when Alana (Kiwi chicky) and myself were sandwiched between two of them intent on, err, grinding themselves against us. This was disgusting enough to drive me off the dance floor and into the loving arms of my own soju kettle, which is 2L plastic coke bottle with the top cut off, filled with a soju, beer and soft drink cocktail. That shit turns you blind, I swear. It is, none-the-less, a cheap and popular drink, thusly there were many many people were beyond walking. We endured it for as long as we could, but it came to a point where Polly had well and truly worn us out. Jeffrey (who here-on in is known as Papa-Smurf because of his little smurfy nose and little smurfy beanie) dragged us back to Hollywood to search out some of his fellow Baton Rouge ex-pats. It took us a while to realise that we had lost Jeremy. Though we searched high and low, he was nowhere to be found, which wouldn't be too scary closer to home, but was quite a problem in Itaewon where you couldn't trust anyone as far as you could throw them. I thought perhaps he'd become separated from us and gone home, so I made my farewells and caught a cab home. The cab driver was young and quite cute, and he made it abundantly clear he thought I was wonderful. Our first line of communication after i told him where to take me was him saying "Oh, you berry beautiful."
"Kahm-sahm-nida" says I, as I try to avoid making eye contact, to no avail. He showered me with compliments - in Korean - and gazed enraptured at me for the entire trip back to Goyang, which was quite unsettling as he was about 30kms over the speed limit and was more intent on looking at me that where he was going which meant I feared for my life on more than four occasions. At one point he reached out and held my hand, which was very sweet of him but entirely unwelcome and he looked crushed when I gently took it back. When we arrived at my front door some of the first decipherable words he had said so far came out, "You, me, date?"
"Ah, ah-ni-yo," says I. No thanks. Language barriers and all that. Besides, the picture on the dashboard ID was most certainly not him. A little worrying.
Jeremy wasn't in his room, another worry, but the sun was coming up, I smelt like a bar floor and I was dang tired. I fell on my plank-like bed once again, head reeling from drunkenness, and fell asleep.
To my immense relief, JJ had a call from Erin and Papa Smurf later that morning to say they had found Jeremy passed out on the floor of a locked toilet in a basement bar in Itaewon, and that he was messy, but alive.
I wonder of that ever happened to one of my teachers?
Since then our nightly activities have revolved around meat street (called thus because of the street vendors selling meaty snacks) which is the entertainment hub of our area. it is a few blocks devoted entirely to nightclubs, bars, hofs, restaurants and nurebangs and is only half a block from our apartment building. Most of the bars have themes, such as the Pirate Bar, (speaks for itself really) which is my favourite watering hole. You can buy 5L of beer for $15 and it even comes in one of those wooden kegs that pirate ships always have. So much fun. So much beer. There's another place called Ghostbusters, which is painted all freaky and the staff come and scare they living shit out of you when you are least expecting it. On my first trip there they locked us in a jail cell that looked like someone had been murdered in it. The overwhelming sense of claustrophobia only added to the experience for all of us, so we took to our soju kettles all the more enthusiastically. A fabulous marketing ploy even if I do say so myself.
I've enjoyed exploring the scene here, where no matter where you go, Italian, Greek, Korean, Japanese, you always get served pickles as a side dish.
I was going to devote some time to writing about my life as a teacher. Now I've been charged with my own adorable little muffins and am a fully-fledged sonsangnim, but I couldn't be bothered right now. Needless to say, it's stressful, but also lots of fun, 'cos I get to act like an arse and the kids think I'm a rock star for it.
Which is correct of course.