May 27, 2007

do robots dream of an electric seoul?

"Hello!? I was looking right at you for like five minutes while you were crossing the street!"

I didn't didn't even recognize my girlfriend Lois. For one, her hair is brown now, not blonde anymore, and if it's possible, she seems taller somehow. Maybe because I've known her since we were kids.

I managed to find her in Itaewon with a handful of directions and a hopelessly non-English subway map after being dropped off by my ride on the outskirts of Seoul.

"Let's go," she said after our big hug.

"Where to?"

"Drinks, silly," she said, getting straight to business, "we're going to a bar the Army guys like to hang out in, trust me, you can't go to Itaewon and not go to 'Geckos'."

I dusted four hours' worth of travel off, stuck my arms out and tried to catch a breeze to cool down from the walk in the clammy underground, swung my backpack onto my shoulders and said, "do they have tequila?"

A few rounds of drinks and pool with some buzz-cut boys from Kansas later, and Lois and I were giggling in the back of a cab, shooting down a Seoul bi-way to her little room on the other side of the Han river.

In the morning I pulled back the blinds next to the pullout. Lois's view is a parking lot and apartment hi-rises stretching back along the landscape to oblivion, disappearing by gradients in the sheer gray air.

"Gee," I said, "a parking lot! Tall buildings!"

"You're looking at the population of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick combined right now," Lois said, half yawning.

"It's incredible," I said, unblinking.

"And just think," she mused, "they're all getting up too, thinking about their lives too, talking about getting breakfast, same as we're doing."

"Huh.." I said, "yeah."

To call Seoul big would of course be a masterpiece of an understatement, and to simply call it a city would almost demean it's stature. Seoul is a vast and dense metropolis, all of it blinking, beeping and churning. In just this little patch, the population of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia combined all just got up in unison, all just opened the refrigerator in unison, all just reached for their kimchi thinking in unison, "this is my life today..." microscopic cogs in a machine to enormous to see for all its parts. Seoul redefines 'big', redefines 'city'.

As we made our way back to Itaewon on the Metro, Seoul's mind-blowingly clean and efficient Subway spreading like webbing under the hugeness of everything, we broke into daylight.

"That's Seoul's tallest building there - the brown one," Lois pointed down the river, "and Seoul pretty much goes on as far as you can see for another twenty or thirty bridges that way."

I could only see three bridges all the way to the horizon.

"Impressive," I said about everything and nothing since no thing could really be said to aptly reflect on the sheer size of it.

"Yeah, 15 million people," said Lois, like she'd pretty much said it 15 million times before.

She might as well have said 'eternity' for all I can comprehend of '15 million people'.

That night we met with Sam, who I haven't seen since we were in Journalism school together two years ago (and whose blog I have a link to down there at the bottom of the page), and a hefty group of randoms brought together for a meet-and-greet over drinks and dinner by Sam's recruiter.

Lois had called a few of her girlfriends who sounded up for a party, and we blasted off at 'Carne Station', a packed buffeteria-style restaurant that's an all-you-can-drink/all-you-can-eat meat lover's munch fest ('Carne Station: gets right to the point,' Sam rightly commented).

In the barbecued aftermath, Sam stuck with us, and he and the six-girl force of nature we had become tripped along to Hongdae - a district in Seoul where you can dance all night if you want to. Of course we wanted to, and we did. On table tops and around in circles until that moment everyone just seemed to know it had to be over, not that I ever heard a last call.

That disposable income? I disposed of some of it.

Sometime later, after a few subway missteps and plenty of slack-jawed gawking at the crazy electronically-charged sights of Seoul, I was swallowing back some light nausea as my bus wound through the mountains all brake and gas pedal.

And that's the whole story.

Seoul is so great. I get now why foreign teachers that cock-a-doodle-do about all the fun they're having there.

It was so easy for our little crew to come together, mingle at the bars, feel like a tight group even though some of us didn't know each other from Adam. I remembered something Sam had said, about how Koreans could conceivably come to Canada and rightly become Canadians, but it doesn't work in the reverse. Foreigners may ignore each other for the most part in Seoul, passing on the street or the subway with not so much as a glance - the indifferent attitude of a true and complacent city dweller (and a forgone-conclusion for newcomers) - but that's just protocol, really we gravitate to each other because we understand we're already linked. We share that one thing. We're always going to be different. You can't fake being Korean.

It makes the whole experience an adventure you don't really have a choice not to have.

Here's the adventure in pictures:

Happy to see Sam!

Lois and Sam pose next to Carne's big meaty-red sign.

This is us just catching up and being hungry waiting for some Carne Station carnage.

Sam shows off his tong.

Then Sam won this bottle of wine which made me insanely jealous.
This is why I'm trying to poke him there you see.

Sam, you want to trade me for this empty glass?

Lois and the girls get seconds.

Oh did I mention I found some sunglasses? Or, they found me - I was going for 'badass', but I think I tripped up and this might be more 'goof' than 'umph'.

Girly shenanigans begin (linked to big-res version).

Girly shenanigans end abruptly after last picture.

The dancing part.

My dance partner.

Slightly insane post-dancing smile.

These faces mean, "this bar sucks now, new bar!"
(This is Laura who I knew was from Fredricton, by the way, because what she exactly said was, "this bar sucks right bad now.")

Sam and I were too cool for J-School and we totally still are.

Clearly up to no good.

The goodnight picture.


Sam said...

Good times, indeed.

Great shots of us Riley.

I love the one of the wildly enthusiastic Korean guy at Tinpan. "Wax on, wax off" came to mind.

natania said...

Hey!! Looks like you had a great time...awesome!! Glad you had some fun....
Hey! Is there an Elvis in the house?? Nice glasses! xoxo

Kelly said...

Glad you had a weekend away. You needed it.

Wow, you look like your mum in the post-dancing photo!...xo