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What’s the Korean for ‘Happy New Year’?

Last night was New Year’s Eve. The previous evening I’d bumped into a couple of Canadian guys I know slightly who extended a loose invitation to join them in Seoul. I gave a typically noncommittal answer. Yesterday, at about 8pm, I texted a couple of my colleagues to ask what they were up to. One was also going into Seoul, the other (I deduced from a text from someone else) was staying in Ansan.

So I had to decide my own course of action: see the celebrations in the capital with people I don’t know so well or just stay in Ansan with people I feel a little more comfortable with? In retrospect, I think I was resentful that I had to make this decision now, when I wasn’t really up for socialising with people who would inevitably have far more fun than me. It seemed I was trying to choose the lesser of two discomforts. But I didn’t want to do nothing – that would have been a cop out and a missed opportunity.

Eventually, I decided that I would go to Seoul and try and meet up with people to hopefully share a taxi back to Ansan (there being no subway service after 11pm). As I approached the local subway station I started to doubt my decision. Then I thought to myself, Disregarding other people, what do I want to do? I wanted to go to Seoul to see the festivities of a foreign capital. So I did.

Last year – no, the year before last, I moved to London in late December, so for that New Year’s Eve I went down to the Thames opposite the London Eye and watched the very impressive firework display. The only fireworks I saw in Seoul were a ubiquitous type of handheld firework – a long, narrow paper cone that sends out a dozen or so white sparkles maybe twenty feet up into the air.

Actually, I missed the main event to a degree, I waited near Seoul City Hall, by the skating rink wondering at the lack of people. I mean, there were lots of people, but there was plenty of room to move about. Midnight came and went. There was a countdown and a big flaming sign saying Happy New Year (I have this on video). Then I wandered away from City Hall towards and beyond the Cheonggyecheon (The small artificial river running through Seoul). I wove my way through a tide of people walking away from a stage where, as I approached, a band was playing rock music. There were still lots of people there, and loads of the small fireworks generating a rain of sooty debris.

At this point I texted one of the Canadians to ask where he was. Then I continued to wander around. Even as there were still many thousands of people in the broad street, cleaning crews were sweeping up the firework wrappers and other litter. Long crocodiles of police officers jogged through the crowd back to their buses.

Towards two o’clock, and with an aching back, I stopped at a Starbucks for coffee, a sit down and a read. They kicked me out after 2am. Then I continued to wander. At about 3am I got a text back from the Canadian directing me to the RMT – actually, not directing me to it, just mentioning it. I have no idea what RMT means (assuming it’s not the British trade union). I went into an all-night McDonald’s for more keopi (coffee) and a chijeubeogeo (cheeseburger). I sent a polite but subtextually pissed off message saying No thanks and proceeded to read my book for the next two and a half hours.

At five past six I left the MaekDonaldeu and headed towards Seoul Station, where the subway was once again operational.

While all this may sound as if it was a disappointing evening, I think it was quite successful – I saw the New Year celebrations in Seoul (some of them, anyway), avoided having to spend time with drunken near-strangers and got through a healthy chunk of a good book. And experienced the novelty of being (kind of) homeless for a night.

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