Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Korea - The first face paint

Hello everyone!

I normally play football on Saturdays. If you read the end of my last blog you will understand when I say that I didn't make it this time. I woke up at around 5.30pm, and would have happily stayed in bed for the rest of the weekend. However, I had plans, so forced myself out of bed, into the shower, and on my way into Seoul.

One of the girls in Siheung, Michelle, leaves in a couple of weeks, and wanted at least one more big night out in Seoul before leaving. We went to a Nepalese restaurant, called Everest, in Dongdaemun. The food was absolutely fantastic. Samosas; chilli chicken which, for a change, was pretty spicy; chicken sagwala; the works. Arguably the best food we ordered was the honey naan bread. It was incredible. Need to wash your hands afterwards, though; it's sticky stuff.

We stayed there for a while. I was encouraged to man up and start drinking again. I am easily persuaded. The only problem was that the waiter, thinking it was water, kept topping up my soju and lemonade...with water. Not cool. We stayed for almost three hours - time flew by - and soon we flagged down some taxis to get to the nightlife district, Hongdae.

This is where the night takes an unexpected turn. Literally, I guess. Four of us - me, Josh, Jon and Tony - got into a taxi, with me in the front, and told the driver our destination - Sangsu station. He repeats it to us. Again. Again. Again. 'Yes!' we exclaim. We even get one of the Korean guys, Kiki, to come over and tell him, just to make sure. Taximan repeats again. Again. And finally drives. The journey is supposed to take ten minutes, and cost a little under 10,000W.

We are bullish and excited to get to Hongdae at this point, even though we are stuck in traffic. About fifteen minutes after we started, and after repeating 'Sangsu yok' many more times, the driver picks up the pace and drives down...the same road as before?? We are on the other side of the road, admittedly, but should it really have taken him quarter of an hour to turn the car around? And if so, why didn't he tell us to get a taxi across the road, like most cab drivers do?

Even so, we figured we were now on our way. Even though Jon, who lives in Seoul and gets taxis frequently, didn't really know where we were. More time passes. Another game of repeat-the-word ensues, and we begin to get slightly concerned about the mental state of this driver. Especially as he starts jabbing me in the leg for no apparent reason. Concern increases when we see signs for Seoul Forest. Two points: one, Seoul has a forest?!?! And two, we then started talking quite loudly and brashly about what he was going to do to us, in true horror movie style. Naturally.

Soon we are driving under a metro track, so a subway stop is close, and soon enough he stops and says 'Sangsu yok'. The fee is a little over 10,000W. Jon immediately says, with a degree of authority, that this is 100%, absolutely, definitely NOT where we wanted to be, so I get out and ask someone where Hongdae is. They point, strongly, intimating that it is quite far. I then notice a sign that says 'Seongsu station'. Oh dear. I can see what's happened here. Still, the Korean guy told him, so how did he get it so badly wrong?

We get back in and tell him just to go to Hongdae. With hindsight, that wonderful thing, we should have just done that at the start. How far away was Hongdae at this point? Not a clue. It seemed quite far when he soon turned onto the motorway along the river. Hongdae wasn't really near the river. At all. The driver kept repeating it, though, so at least he knew where he was going this time. We hoped.

At least our driver wasn't letting traffic, and there was traffic, impede him. His driving resembled that of a young teenager on a computer game who doesn't understand that crashing at speed is rather a bad thing. Me being in the front, I was the one who could see the speedo rising. And rising. And rising. He levelled out at around 140km/h, while weaving between very tight gaps and switching lanes with alarming regularity. I don't think the seatbelt would have mattered. The driver noticed that my hand was gripping the side of the door. He then took his hand off the wheel and commenced jabbing me in the leg. A few shouts along the lines of 'LOOK AT THE ROAD YOU (insert numerous expletives here) IDIOT' from the whole car before he resumed driving. Only after turning on his TV and watching the Winter Olympics, of course.

We were getting close to the one hour mark, and still not anywhere near. The fee was now over 20,000W. It would be easy for him to blame the error on us for not speaking properly, so it wasn't fathomable to bail or demand the ride be cheaper. Jon soon began to recognise our surroundings, however, and, after just over an hour elapsed and 27,000W on the meter, our harrowing and sobering taxi journey was at an end. When he rounded it to 30,000W I wanted to punch him, but thought better of it.

After all this we all decided we needed something quite strong, partially to calm us down and partially to celebrate that we were still alive after spending time at the hands of this maniac. We got to the destination, Byrd's Bar, and were welcomed by a large cheer. It was a nice place, quite dark and with kooky, alternative art, and was reasonably quiet, in that we were the only ones there. Like the Woodstock bar in Bucheon, you could make music requests, and they would see if they had the vinyl or MP3 of your choice to play it. I like places like that. Sense of power over the mood.

Beer in, time for that stiff shot. The three of us interested settled on tequila. I haven't done tequila properly since coming out here, so forgot that you lick the salt before shooting. Amateur hour. We managed to negotiate with the cute woman behind the bar to knock the price down from 6,000W to 4,000W. Turns out she was the owner, and turns out that she wanted in on the fun as well. She brought out four larger shot glasses, and poured tequila up to halfway in each. She then poured lemonade to the top. Fair enough. She then sprinkled in some brown granules. What is it? 'Coffee??' someone said jokingly, which we all laughed at. She said to put a napkin over it, slam it on the table, and drink it. Done. Woah. They were coffee granules. That is bizarre.

She kept pouring these free shots out for us, and gradually more people wised up and came to sit at the bar to get their fill. One person who didn't for a while was Michelle, as she was...having her face painted?? Kiki was painting the Korean flag onto her face. I'm assuming the painting set was his, as he had a bag with him. Michelle then painted a British flag on him, and then one by one we were each persuaded to be a canvas to people's artistic aspirations.

I had giant red lips painted on me. As someone has since pointed out, it looked as if I had just firmly bitten a cow. Or gone mad with the ketchup. It was then suggested that I looked like the joker. Wow, did the group seize on that. Get that white paint...

Scary, scary stuff. We drank the place dry of Korean beer, and after moving the tables around to set up our own impromptu dance floor, decided to head to a noraebang. Well after 5am. The owner, who was actually the bar girl giving us significant quantities of tequila and coffee granules, came with us, and once we had invested in basic necessities - beer, crisps - we started our singing.

The one song of particular note was the classic 'Sk8erboi', sung with all the gusto and energy of Avril in her pomp. It was hilarious. Our time was soon up, and we got outside...into daylight. It was after 7am, and probably a decent bet to call it a 'night'. Many opted to stay with people who lived in Seoul, but me and Tony did the honourable thing and got the subway home. Tony's face wasn't painted, but I think mine more than made up for that. Sitting on the subway was a glorious experience, everyone looking at me with varying degrees of fascination and trepidation. Not least of all Tony.

We get different buses from Bucheon, so on my own at around 8.30am I realised I hadn't eaten in the best part of 10 hours, so hit up a dodgy takeaway joint. Consider it from the waitress' perspective. You've just opened your store for the day, and suddenly in barges a sole drunk Westerner, with a scary face, shouting 'Ee-goh! Ee-goh!' and pointing at the menu board. I feel very sorry for them. Probably in response to this, I was given fish sticks (insert gay fish-Kanye West joke here) with the skin still on, so they were black. They got eaten, but won't be ordered again. Unless I start shouting 'Ee-goh' a lot.

It's good to see my detox and half-marathon diet going so well. The new school year starts on Tuesday, maybe things will calm down then. Wouldn't bank on it, though...

Love you all

The Joker

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