Last night. Where to begin?
And why do so many of my weekend posts start out with that line?
Well. Last night was the lovely Miss Kelly's 29th birthday. We were set to celebrate on Homo Hill in Itaewon. During the week, while visiting C and his friend J at C's uncle's vacant apartment, C brought this up in front of J, who suddenly (and surprisingly) expressed a strong desire to attend. It was only my second time meeting J, and my first really talking to him, but how can you pass up the opportunity to spend an evening introducing a completely open-minded Korean to his own country's gay scene? We met at the bus station at seven to join Kelly, Willie and one other for dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant before the night's festivities began.
J doesn't have much faith in his English skills and is, in fact, here in Incheon for a while studying English with C. He came equipped with a notebook and electronic dictionary to help him with conversation along the way. He didn't need either, although we did take turns with our phone dictionaries -- the most useful function every Korean cellphone comes equipped with.
Dinner was good, despite the fact that we managed to piss off the owner (a large, intimidating Jordanian man (yes, it was the flag of Jordan, guys -- I checked)) multiple times, beginning with bringing in two bottles of wine (Muslim restaurant, although Kelly had checked the website and confirmed that bringing in your own alcohol was perfectly fine, beforehand), misunderstanding "Did you order?" for "Are you ready to order?", asking for more pita and mistaking a side dish for a main one.
Later, we pissed off an even scarier Korean man in a suit by attempting to eat birthday cake in front of a car garage he was guarding. We considered offering him some cake to make him stop glaring at us, but decided that ultimately, it would probably result in a fist to the jawbone. This guy wasn't fucking around.
Homo Hill is by far the most diverse, warm and friendly, open part of Korea I've seen so far. A nice mix of Koreans and foreigners, gays and straights, men and women -- everyone dancing, drinking, intermingling and being themselves. Absolutely fantastic. And not scary at all, as confirmed by our dear J, who sailed through the night with wide eyes, a broad grin and an enthusiastic openness. He had a great time. I don't think he had ever seen so many foreigners before, so many different kinds of restaurants, or anything like Itaewon, let alone Homo Hill. It was a genuine pleasure to be the one to introduce him to all of this.
Later after Suki had joined us, and me, her, Willie and J split off from the rest, unbeknownst to me, we rounded the corner onto the neighboring Hooker Hill, where women stood out on the street in their bras, loitering around in front of parlor-style establishments, drawing in soldiers from the surrounding neighborhood. Found a little place called Grand Ole Opry that played appropriately fantastic music, where we did jello shots that I'm convinced had no shots in them at all. Suki and I taught J how to do the electric slide, and J taught me how to do "Korean traditional country dance". We slow danced to "Hotel California" -- the perfect way to end the night -- and made our way back out onto the street to the sound of "Brown Eyed Girl".
J and I grabbed a taxi home, and I sat in the backseat with my eyes closed, happily listening to J and the driver discuss the Korean economy in Korean, my gentle buzz making it easier than usual to follow the conversation. We said goodbye at Jakjeon station.
The whole night reminded me how necessary it is to go and be a foreigner sometimes, with other foreigners, in foreigner type settings. I didn't come to Korea to isolate myself from a new culture, but it's okay to remember and admit that I am foreign, and I come from another place. There are differences between me and this country. It's not always easy to be yourself in a group of Koreans, especially when yourself is someone who isn't necessarily 100% accepted, even in Western society. But part of adapting to a new culture, when you want to stay in the long term, is not just understanding that culture, but also learning how to be from outside that culture while you are inside of it.
It was a good night. A big thank you to Kelly for her extended invitation, and I look forward to seeing her and the other waegookin again soon.