Published: April 5th 2010April 5th 2010
Ah Saint Patrick’s Day. A day to celebrate all that is good and green in this world. A time for old friends and family alike to come together and recount the good times spent from days long past. A time for new friends to rally up with one another and create new memories for the ages. A time… to attempt to consume as many alcoholic beverages (preferably whiskey, bailey’s, Guinness, or green beer) possible without totally losing all sense of self and inhibition. This truly is one of my favorite and most celebrated holiday’s of the entire year, and each year, the day becomes a little bit more special to me.
However, before moving on to discuss the events that transpired for me on this holiest of days, I first must recount an event that completely changed the perception I had of my co-workers and employer’s at my school. I am referring to a fateful dinner that my fellow colleague’s invited me to as a welcome party to their school. The dinner was set up for St. Patty’s day at 5 o’clock. At first I was like, “Come on! Not on St. Patty’s Day! I used to skip school, quit jobs, and throw my phone into violent rivers to escape obligations on this day. There is no way I am going… Don’t they know I have plans?” However, I let my better half take control for a bit and resisted the urge to skip out on dinner. I figured, they have all been nice to me so far, they don’t hassle me at work, and they did sort of give me a job; the least I can do is attend dinner for a bit and then go meet up with my friends to party.
So I arrived a bit late to dinner and was told to sit down beside my principal and vice principal. It is always very awkward for a man (/boy) of my size to sit down on the floor for dinner. Most of the time, by the end of any given mean, I am screaming inside my head due to lack of blood flow to my legs, yet I retain a bright and gleeful smile wherever possible. Standing up after is always a sight. I am quite certain that I look like a newborn dear attempting to walk across a field for the first time: stumbling around, bumping into things, and making odd noises. Yet, I somehow get by without too much embarrassment.
So dinner began as I have come to find most Korean rituals do: a long speech from a few important people. I sat there and tried to look intense as my principal was talking about the year to come. I have to admit, I felt like a great actor: I paused at all the right moments, showed surprise where it appeared necessary, and chuckle a great boisterous laugh when it looked like he was cracking a joke.
The dinner itself was fantastic. Succulent meat cooked over a flaming charcoal grill accompanied with all of my favorite side dishes. Not long into the meal, I realized I was unsure about the type of meat I was so eagerly woofing down (no pun intended.. you’ll see why soon). So I slid over to my co-teacher and asked, “this is really good! What is it, pork?” Then she looked at me without breaking stride in her eating and replied, “dog.” I choked back a bit of the tender food that was in my mouth, “O… great… its… really good,” I replied trying not at all to seem ungrateful or at all displeased. So, that’s that. I am and always will be: a dog eater; a canine munching, puppy devouring carnivore who knows no bounds. I must now make a heartfelt apology to all that this offends. In my defense, I did not know! However, the truth was nothing to contend with my appetite, and I gotta say: dog is delicious, so I kept chomping down my fantastic meal without delay.
During the dinner, bottles and bottles of soju were frequently passed around. In Korea, it is impolite to allow someone at the table to have an empty glass; and in my own private world, it is impolite to have a full glass. So this led to a slippery slope of me slamming back a glass of soju only to have my fellow teachers rush in to refill my empty vessel. It was a vicious cycle that landed me quite drunk before the dinner was even over. Luckily, as I have stated before, many Koreans love to drink, so I was not the only member of the table half in the bag.
Then began the main event. My co-teacher informed me that it was tradition for new teachers to go around the room and meet their fellow co-workers. “Fine,” I said. It sounded like a good idea to try and communicate with the people I would see everyday, plus I had enough “liquid courage” inside me to push me along from table to table. “Oh yea,” my co-teacher began, “its also customary to pour each teacher a shot of soju and then present your glass to them so they can pour you one.” Say whaaat! There were about 40 other teachers there at the time. If my math skills serve me correctly, this would equal out to approximately 40 shots of Soju, if done properly. I guess the kid’s getting drunk tonight.
The process began smoothly. I made quick of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade tables without breaking a sweat. Then, as happened my first time in the 4th grade, things took a turn. I started feeling pretty tipsy and struggled through the five 4th grade teacher’s greetings before moving on to the 5th grade table. By the time I reached the 6th grade tables I was seeing triple. There were teachers everywhere, when does this nightmare end!? Luckily, I have been practicing for such occasions since high school (oops I mean since 21 of course… no good Christian boy would even think of touching alcoholic beverages under aged right?) so my failing liver and strong tolerance carried me through the administrations table and back to my seat. I was now officially not half in the bag, but fully in the bag. I was unable to wipe a stupid grin off my face the rest of the evening.
To conclude, the principal struggled to stand up, toasted the group with a boisterous “COMBAY” (means cheers or something similar in Korean) and everyone left for their homes. It was really a great meal, far better than I ever could have expected it to be. I was grateful for being invited and, moreover, I was grateful to be at a school with such welcoming, friendly, and alcoholic characters. The night solidified in me the comfort that this school was perfect for the time being.
A quick note, while everyone else went home that night, I jumped on the subway to celebrate St. Patty’s in Bundang. What happened there is still hazy and unknown to me, so I will just skip this with one parting word. The next day in class… was awful. Its hard to really say you have ever been hung-over until you have experience a long night of Soju drinking mixed in with a class full of screaming 2nd graders. Its brutal to say the least, they should consider using tactics such as these when interrogating suspected terrorists. I assure you it will be more effective than water boarding. Hell, I would say anything to make the pain of that day just go away.
So now for the main part of my tale: St. Patty’s day in Seoul. St. Patty’s day weekend lived up to all the expectations I ever could have had for such an affair. I have celebrated this most joyous of days in all sorts of environments over the past few years: dingy basements, keg parties, packed bars, big cities, Boston, Geneva, Connecticut, Florence; you name it I’ve been there. I never would have expected Seoul, South Korea to yield such festivities and entertainment as it did.
So a quick prerequisite to the story has to do with the Friday night before “P-Day.” My friend Brad and I went out to a local bar in Suji with the promise that we would “take it easy” so that we would be fresh to move to Seoul around 10am. “Taking it easy” turned into us pounding back shots, beers, and Soju until about 5am before stumbling home with a plate of Dockgalbi (rice noodles in a red curry sauce… one of the best drunk foods I have ever had) in hand. By the time 10am rolled around, we were both still pretty drunk but sucked it up like the true warriors that we are and made our way to the subway station.
We met up with our friend codenamed D (I’d tell you his name but then I would have to kill you… its Drazen though) and purchased some fine Soju to down while traveling the hour ride into Seoul. After killing 3 bottles of Soju, we finally made it to Seoul.
The events that transpired after this are debatable and still being investigated in a court of law. As it feels when waking from a long midsummer nights dream, the activities and episodes that unfolded are so convoluted and obscured in my mind, I am hard pressed to say that the following is based on a true story. It has been two weeks since the day, and my friends and I are still discussing the details. That said, here we go.
Departing the station in central Seoul, I noticed a thick haze had covered the city. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but now I know differently. The haze is known as “yellow dust.” Essentially, it is pollution that has drifted across the Yellow Sea and down the Korean Penninsula from China. It is a hazardous dust that sometimes actually turns the air into a dark yellow mist. It predominately comes through the area in late March through April and many Koreans wear masks to protect themselves from the harmful particles. On some day, parents do not even permit their children from playing outside. I think the danger is far less serious than some make it out to be... then again, I am not a scientist. All I know is a few days later, I found out that the yellow dust in Seoul on Saturday was the worst it had been in a few years. So not only is my drinking habit wearing out my health, but now I have air pollution wreaking havoc on my body as well… go me.
Our first destination was an Irish bar somewhere downtown. Once we arrived, we found the bar packed full of foreigners wearing vibrant outfits of Irish Green, drinking pints of their favorite brew. I played some darts there, caught up with a few friends, and slammed back a few beers while getting to know a few more people. It was a great time and as my dart skills slowly deteriorated (skills in which I have little of to begin with) I felt it was time to move on before things got too out of control too early. It’s funny how we have little control over these things though.
Before I knew it, I was shoulder to shoulder with my friends D and Brad singing God knows what song in the middle of the busy Seoul streets trying to hail a cab. What the hell is wrong with us? I mean, don’t most normal people just flag down cabs from the sidewalk? But no, we had to be “those guys” that stumble out into traffic and cause trouble. Happy St. Patty’s! It seems as the years go on and I continue to celebrate this holiest of days, few things cease to change.
So there are a few hours in this story that are a bit spotty right around 2pm until darkness crept up on me. I wish I had some more for you, but upon reaching into my memory, all I am able to see is a dancing leprechaun, wrestling with Brad on the sidewalk, and something about 4 free pints of Guinness (my favorite beer bar none) on the subway.
So here is where I came to. It seemed as though my friends and I had made our way over to Itaewon. Itaewon is a section of Seoul notorious for foreigner bars and a lot of Western themed dance clubs. I always got the impression that it was going to be quite scummy but to tell you the truth from what I saw it was very nice and I had a great time there. It is also known for having a fair amount of trouble caused by American soldiers, however, so far I have seen no such occurrence (though I did throw an army jacket on and beat up a band member from the St. Pattys day parade…. Kidding, kidding… or am I? Blackouts are fun!).
So we made our way to this famous bar called Gecko’s and, about an hour into the boozing, things start to get blurry again. However, there is one event that all the Jameson in Ireland could not keep from my memories. I call it, “the great punch of 2010.” Here’s how it went down.
There was some sort of build up to a confrontation between Brad and D (could have been something I caused but that’s all debatable and I plead the 5th your honor) that got things a little “frisky” in the bar. Oh yea, I almost forgot; during this entire debacle, somehow we had obtained a full body suit Guinness costume that was stolen from the parade. I have no idea how it ended up in our possession, but these things have a way of working themselves out. Anyways, Brad decides it is a grand idea to throw on the costume in the bar. He then walks up to me, gives me a camera and says “take a picture, I’m going to punch D in the face.” Folks, I swear all I wanted to say was, “now hang on a minute Bradley. Let’s take a minute to think about the repercussions of said actions. Couldn’t D get injured from this idea? Don’t you think it could lead to a possible stay in the hospital and some reconstructive surgery? Now, now my friend, this is a bad idea. Let’s just go home and play some scrabble.” However, all I could get out was, “sweet, hang on let me turn on the flash.”
One of my last memories of this night is so vile, so completely disturbing, that it makes me laugh whenever I think of it. There I am, front row seats in a sea of people, watching a Guinness bottle wind up with the force of Jean Claude Van Dam, cock back a clutched fist, and swinging full on at the face of an unexpected Serbian bystander. Poor D! It was a solid connection if I have ever seen one before. Through my sidesplitting laughter, I quickly realized my two friends had vanished. It didn’t take me long to find the trail of blood that led directly to the bathroom in the back. There was D and Brad, a sea of blood between them, and a crowd of witnesses yelling, “o my god!”
Needless to say, this trip ended up taking a turn to the hospital. I, well I stayed at the bar while they went. Hey, someone had to make sure the beers were being drunk while they were gone, it’s St. Patty’s after all.
Little can be told of the rest of the evening. I know some army guy bought me a bunch of shots, Brad came back, followed by a swollen nosed D (he needed reconstructive surgery and is not out of commission for about a week… worth the story? I think that goes without saying), and then Brad and I dispersed to some Godforsaken club in Itaewon. I do recall yelling “I’m in Itaewon” in a Whiskey dialect into my mobile phone at about 3am (still have no clue who I was telling this to) and I vaguely recall being in a rundown Norebong with Brad and two other girls at about 4am. After that, Brad and I got split up and I have little memory until breakfast.
Ah, Korean breakfasts on a Sunday morning. There truly is no other culture that fascinates me more than one in which the dead eyed, stale beer scented, greasy haired warriors from a long night of drinking are still ripping shots of Soju at 10am. Naturally, I join in on these events (strictly for educational purposes in studying the culture of course) and it is always a great way to meet a few new Korean friends.
Not long after breakfast, I stumbled aboard a train bound for Jukjeon (the subway near where I live). It’s funny how falling asleep a few times on a train can turn a 2-hour ride into a 5- hour one. Needless to say, I had a few minor bumps along the road on my journey home, but by 5pm on Sunday, I was tucked safely into bed and vomiting up a storm from pizza that the town of Suji decided to lace with some form of rat poisoning. I have been having crap luck with food poisoning this year and you know what… well.. I just don’t like it, not one bit.
So that ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is the story of how I spent St. Patty’s day 2010: good friends, a few broken bones, a brand new Guinness outfit, 30,000 won, 20 shots of Soju , and a partridge in a pear tree. It was truly a day to remember and from now on I shall always remember, never, and I mean never, turn your back on a man wearing a Guinness costume!