Don't ask me how it happened -- I don't know. But there we were, five o'clock in the morning in the VIP room at a noraebang.
It started with a day full of mild successes -- finding a store in Hongdae using my freakishly psychic navigation senses, Tex-Mex in Sinchon. Then, another shit bar. Another half hour wasted sipping a beer in silence while we wondered where we had gone wrong.
When we got back to Bupyeong station, we marinated.
"I feel like shit. And I don't want to go home feeling like this, but I don't want it to get worse."
Ultimately the decisions was made to fuck both the subway and midnight and head to the regular.
Somehow we became entangled in a game of darts with three Korean men -- university students who didn't speak much English. They all wanted to take my picture. Sometimes you can't help feeling like a shopping mall Santa Clause. They asked for my number, but I can't imagine what they'll do with it (given the no English situation).
One of them looked at me and, after muttering again, "Ah. English. Very hard," said, "You? Uh friends Korea have?" A few, I guess. "Ah. You. Me. First American friend." It's a bit soon to be throwing out the friend line, don't you think?
They'll never call. They'll just have the uncomfortable photograph of the shy, reluctant 외국인, whose name they can't remember.
Sitting at the bar near three am brought on very sincere wishes for death. There is something very, very wrong with this community. I know there are good ones out there, and they're probably not in a bar at 3 am, but the expat men just really are too much. I'm not usually one to generalize groups of people, but I've pretty much got my mind made up at this point that I will do my utmost to steer clear. Not that I'll need to bother, mind -- I'm not a Korean woman or another cock-waving white male. They'll be going out of their way to avoid me as well. And that suits me just fine. If only I could somehow escape the agony of having the misfortune of being able to understand their (loud) (and disgusting) bar conversations.
I made the mistake of mentioning to a Korean friend that I think the bartender is "handsome". Handsome isn't the word at all, but it was the only term I knew to explain it. More like, he seems kind, and I've got that feeling about him that doesn't happen very often -- the one that says this is a good person. There's nothing in particular you can accredit this to -- it's just a feeling. But "handsome" is easier to say.
I don't know what she said to him, exactly, but she disappeared for a while, only to reappear and tell me that she told him he should talk to me, and he said his English isn't good enough. I'm definitely calling bullshit on that one -- he works in an expat bar. And I saw several Westerners pull him over to have small conversations throughout the evening. But I guess, given that he seems like a kind person, it was the kind thing to say. I don't know what to do in this world where any interest in the opposite sex connotes romantic (or sexual) interest itself. Whatever happened to just talking to people?
Whatever she said (and I really think I'm better off not knowing), it must not have scared him off entirely, because he did come over to show us how to use the dart board. I guess I can still show my face.
So, noraebang. What?
On our way out, a small group of expats caught us literally on the stairs. Mike and I were just trying to get to an open shop to buy more cigarettes before we caught a cab home. Somehow we ended up making our way across the littered streets and down the stairs into a room full of shimmering lights and tambourines.
And now it's nearly 8 am.
The other expats took my number, but they're from out of town, and (again) I'll die of shock if they ever call.
When I came out of the noraebang to find the bathroom, I ran into a young man mopping the hallway. We stood there facing each other for a moment, as the sound from various terrible songs sung in drunken stupors into microphones echoed down the hallway toward us. But there, it was mostly quiet. I wanted to say something to him right then. Something about how I'm sorry we're here teaching English, and I'm sorry that he is expected to learn English. I'm sorry that my salary is higher than his and this isn't even my country. I'm sorry that he has to mop up the beer we spilled on the floor after we leave.
I'm sorry that I don't speak Korean, and you're the one who has to feel bad about it. I'm sorry that I don't even know the Korean for "excuse me", so I have to shove past you while you're mopping without even acknowledging the fact that you're there.
But I couldn't say any of that, anyway.
The truth of the matter is, this is the most of all transient situations. Koreans are amused by you for a while, but ultimately have an entire other life here that you don't figure into. And at some point, the English almost always runs out. The expats are a bizarre breed I've only just begun learning to navigate, but mostly just here for one exotic year.
It all begs the question, Korea: one night stand? Anyway, that's not my style. When I invest in something, I invest with my whole heart. It's not about values or morals: it's just the way I'm designed. I will learn the language, and I will learn the trade. The rest, I can only assume, will fall into place or it will not. But everything good takes a little time.
On the train ride into Seoul today, Mike and I were discussing his impending trip home. I was telling him how going home for the first time after I moved to New York changed things for me, and to be prepared for that. None of this really counts, until you've been back home. That's why I'm putting it off -- I already know what going home will mean.
We were talking about how we can feel that there has been a line drawn in the sand. Coming here has set us apart from everyone we've known before, in a very real way. It's not something I can explain here -- it's something that I think only Mike will ever understand. Just a feeling in your gut. Something is different now.
It's the coldest it's been since I've been in the ROK this morning. The sun's coming up, and it's nearly 8 am. I think it's definitely time for bed.
The Old 97's: "Melt Show"