After a week of Woody-less combined classes (he was off honeymoonin), students stressing over midterms and anticipating one of their few weekends at home, and editing enough engrish essays to make my eyes cross, TGIF! Not only Friday, but the first night of an epic birthday weekend in Daegu half-planned the night before.
Treat me like the queen bee, Friday night I was out with my boys. Dan, Eoghan, Jack, Kevin catch the train from Gumi. Meet up with Tom, Sean and Blake (surprise!), grab back-alley rooms at the Green Motel. My second room in korea. 25,000won gets you a bed, tv, fridge and a bathtub. Nice.
After that's all sorted, it's back into the neon crowds to a noodle shop for a quick korean dinner where Tom introduces us to two Korean friends he made. Friends we made, now.
They take us to a laser and smoke-lit basement bar, swanky and empty enough to let the beats echo. Jeeep (why do koreans love the extra letters?) Crown is cheap. Tequila is cheaper. So it begins. Lights and mirrors and music, and I don't care that it's early, I'm going to dance. Tom's friend is the dj's brother, and he gladly spins us up some funk, some mj, whatever we wanna say. It's good. We fawn over the beautiful mystery-ethniced (korean-american, after a bit of diggin) beautiful bartender whose smiles and conversation take a long time to coax out. Later I even get her to do a bit (very small bit) of dancing. We mingle, we dance. Our new friends keep the shots coming, keep the smiles coming, keep the beats coming. Smoke and mirrors and laughs and lights and a birthday shot that looks like a prop from Abyss (151 creme-de-menthe bailey's--I called it!). One tequila two tequila blackoutkorea.
What a wonderful little hotel room. Bright and early peekin out at the sunshine over a Daegu Saturday. My first real soak in Korea outside of the saunas (even I have to fold myself up to fit into the tub). Bum around wakin up watching a real crap movie on tv (kangaroo jack?) and rally the troops that are Eoghan and Dan next door. Gotta meet people at one. Gotta find food.
Daegu sunny Saturday is packed with people. After food, comes my next big birthday treat: Coldstone's just had it's grand opening. I get a chocolate-peanut-butter-taste-of-home then it's off to the yuk to try and meet up. Rallying troops is hard--i don't even know who's planning to show. But once we figure out the locker mess, wait for the gumi bears and pohangers to show, let the boys from the night before off the hook, we've got a group of about 14 on the subway, bound for Woobang land. More waiting, more walking--beautiful park, though--and we're those kids in the car: are we there yet? arewethereyet? We see towers, rollercoasters, hear screams. hen we find the queues. Koreans--and what! white people! (which really includes every color of english-speaking foreigner)--they're everywhere. Tickets. People. Lockers. Picture by the giant birthday cake just for me (ok, for the park's 15th, good timing though). Sorted. We are in.
A trip up Woobang tower to see the city of Daegu and watch a bungee jumper fall past the window. We stick our faces in cutouts characters from around the world. Blow kisses at the camera in the "kissing zone." And then we gawk at how the city sprawls. All of the towers we go up do this to us: we just have no sense of the density of this country until we step back and look at it from above. While enjoying the lovely view, we a go on the Sky Toilet, exposing our unmentionables for anyone with high powered binoculars. Do I even need to mention how much I enjoy the fact that you can take a crap on Daegu? Haha. We're done.
After a whole lot of walking, waiting, riding, standing, and eating. We leave Woobang land behind, and hop train back to downtown Daegu.
After meeting up with yet more people and trying and failing to coordinate dinner plans, we collect some free soju on the street and our group of 12 wind through the streets to Dijon, a posh little restaurant promising Mediterranean and hopes of hummus but really is just fusion-Italian like all the others. But we dine in style with REAL garlic bread. Melt-in-your-mouth real butter and nothin sweet about it. Goes great with my salmon salad. Yummm. Done.
Meet ups in Billi Bowl. Reunited again! Here, in one place, are the Gumi Bears, Pohangers, Yeongcheoners, Gyeongjuers, even some from Busan (I don't even know all the city nicknames yet). Somehow, even when we see each other almost every weekend, these reunions are epically played out--hugs hugs hugs. Waegooks overrun the bar, but we drink slow, wait slower, and ease into the warmth and noise of the evening before trying to rally far too many troops.
Off we go to GoGo. Well, in all actuality, we wind through the daegu maze trying to find a space to accommodate us all. Our forces divided we call and grasp out with phones, overcome the distaste for GoGo and follow the pull towards capri sun coctails until we take all find ourselves in the basement with glosticks on our wrists and superbly strong coctails in our hands and beats beats beats getting us moving. And all we can do is celebrate. Together, under poorly written engrish signs and neon scratching our faces, we dance our way through the night, dance our way past embarrassment. At some point Sean dons the robot head, the dj gives me a couple shout outs, the 300 arrive in togaed legions bearing ice cream cakes, the ears disappear along with inhibitions and we get a healthy riot of craziness going to overtake the club . And through all the partyin, people move in and out of the bar, but our epik family creates a nucleus of energy that seems to suck all the people we know into daegu, into a dingy basement club, into a mess of a show where we all have stepped outside time and into the beats.
The end stretches over the hours. We all trickle in different directions with slightly altered burdens. On this particular Sunday morning, the night takes its toll and spits many of us in the wrong direction. No 4am train to Gumi, taxis and feet and trains scatter us. Portia and the pohangers actually find a taxi back to Gumi. I end up in a cab in the opposite direction to Yeongcheon, Libby saving the day as she is always so good at. I hear the next day of bags being lost on trains, people disappearing in Daegu, and some ending up cities too far: Busan Gimcheong Ulsan. Man. What a gathering, what a party. Whew.
Sunday, the day for rest, the day for reflection. I, as always, wake up entirely too early, and get to explore the quiet little streets of Yeongcheon. Oddly enough, it reminds me of small towns in Kansas. Not the way it looks, but the way it feels. It feels like Horton.
Once I have my paris baguette breakfast, a bit of coffee in me, say my goodbyes, I catch a slow train back to Gumi. Staring out the window at the camo-colored mountains and feeling the sun strobe past me, I am once again fit to burstin with my love for this country, for my transplanted family, for how fulfilling life is anywhere you are. But I am here. SoKo. It is a good fit.
I finally make it back to Gumi and have a quick shower, a quick shout to portia. We're off to explore the other side of the city. Past In-dong to a park packed with Koreans. Ignore the factories across the road; the long, winding, manicured park, dotted with swings and trees and fountains, overlooking the river with the mountains in the distance, lets us absorb spring. We eat ice cream, and dodge scooters, have a look at some critters familiar to any classic US petting zoo. We lay in some spiky grass with giant ants, under the shade of a Dutch windmill, watching a Korean woman break bullseyes and possibly records with her bow and arrow. Sitting in a park, enjoying each others company while we recover and recharge and reflect on the past two days and nights events. I am marinating in happiness.
Finally, it is time for goodbyes, and we walk the Pohangers towards the taxis, taking a brief stop on some exercise equipment and another to say hello to a crane on the river. Then it's hugs, farewells, and Portia and I comfortably strolling through In-dong. Portia, my partner in exploration always up for a bit of an adventure, suggests we go explore a temple by the bridge. Turns out there is no temple, just a chained up traditional Confucian campus--most likely being rented out for weddings, ceremonies, etc etc. While walking around the area, we note some Koreans who've set up a bbq under the bridge, and we both comment on how ridiculous it seems to set up a picnic, under a noisy bridge, on concrete, in the shade. But, oh the character of Korea.
Well, turns out we have to walk under the bridge to get up to the walkway. As we're passing them, as is the norm in Korea, several of them say hello and wave and giggle. We say hello, keep walking, we're almost back into the sun, when one of them men call us over. Brain dead and bedraggled, we share a why-the-hell-not look and I say yes to one more amazing moment to make this weekend perfect. Korea provides, the universe provides. I'd been lamenting not having enough contact with native culture, and suddenly I am presented with the Korean generosity and hospitality we have been told so much about.
Previous notions of the oddity of the location are undone when Portia and I walk over to see they've set up a nice little grill from a grate and a few bricks, a fire built right onto the concrete. There is a nice breeze, a good view of the river, and little perception of the presence of the freeway rumbling above us. In fact, the cool seclusion under the bridge offers plenty of room for the family to enjoy their oysters and soju, let their kids wander, and avoid the day's heat. It's perfect. And they invite us to share and indulge in their secret celebration. Immediately two of the men move and offer Portia and I seats. They have pour us soda, water, soju. They hand us chopsticks. Put more oysters on the grill. Offer us kimbop. Seem shocked that we can handle the spice, the raw garlic, the kimchi. I love the way Koreans seem to be impressed when we enjoy their flavors. They have SO much, and they even get a second grill of bulgogi (maybe?), and they share it all and keep refilling and encouraging us.
At this point I am about to explode at the sheer joy this weekend in Korea has given me. As Portia and I are crossing the river, the sun cuts rays across the city's horizon, and all the greens seem brighter and golden and I can't stop exhaling AWESOME. I've ridden roller coasters and danced my face off and pet goats in the park and eaten oysters for the first time under a bridge with a family of Koreans! This has been the perfect weekend.
It isn't even over. We meet Dan and Eoghan for Isaac Toast (yummm) that we sneak into the theater for a screening of KickAss. Which did. And Sunday night I should have slept, wrapped in the euphoric residue of a weekend done right. But again, too happy for sleep. Too excited for pizza with REAL RANCH DRESSING the next day. Too excited for Daegu later in the week, for Pohang the next weekend, for midterms and summer and green and and and...
Another weekend older. Crazy. Another weekend where I am reminded to waste no time. Not a moment. Each little street and alley we can walk under, each friend we reconnect with on the weekends, each shot we are handed, each table--or blanket--we are invited to eat from, each beat we are given to dance to. We are making moments, memories (cliche as it is) and building connections that link us, not just with each other, but with the whole community that extends beyond us. Share it.