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An evening in Hongdae

Hongdae is a party area around a university (Hongik, I think it’s called) – there are loads of restaurants, bars, singing rooms and so on. Before last Saturday I’d been there once before, shortly before I left Korea last year, when a bunch of English teachers went to Carne Station.

As it was Botond’s friend, Peter’s last night in Korea (for the time being) they decided to go to a singing room there. In fact, it was a singing practice room (I believe this is the translation), and it was a fancier joint than many singing rooms and it didn’t allow alcohol. Before we went in Bo and So-young bought us all drinks (us all being Peter, So-young, Botond, Sukyung (from the volunteer hike a few weeks ago), and a friend of So-young’s whose name I can’t remember).

We booked a room for two hours. About half an hour in, one of the staff members came into our room and took our drinks off us – except for one beer he missed. We all thought it was pretty amusing, so it didn’t dampen our spirits too much. So-young had apparently been telling everyone I was a great singer; lack of inebriation on my part made me a bit more nervous of demonstrating my skills. But I do enjoy singing, so it wasn’t too bad.

The problem with singing in a social situation like this that my favourite songs – Metallica songs – aren’t perfect because a) people might not know them, b.1) they tend to be very long and b.2) they have long lead and rhythm guitar sections. I had a go at ‘Hound Dog’, which is easy because it’s the same all the way through. At one point Bo selected ‘Take the Power Back’ by Rage Against the Machine. Of course, he declined to sing it (if sing is the right word) because of his bad throat, so I took up mic duties – and it went down surprisingly well. Knowing the lyrics helps. As opposed to the time I had a go at ‘American Idiot’ where I didn’t know the words well enough, and so gave a pretty lame performance. Our female Korean companions tried their hands at various songs – mostly English language – and they all had very pleasant voices. I didn’t know most of the songs they chose, though – apart from ABBA; everyone likes ABBA.

Before I met Bo and So-young and friends (who had run very late) I met Sukyung and I asked her to help me use one of the lockers at Hongdae Ipgu Station. The one time I’d been there before a south Asian guy had asked me if I knew how to use them and I hadn’t been able to help him. These lockers aren’t of the simple coin and key type. Oh no – this is Korea, so there has to be a hi-tech solution. Using the touchscreen at one end of the brightly coloured locker unit you select a locker, put your stuff inside, enter your national identity number, your phone number; you get texted a password number, which you then enter and it prints you off a receipt. The payment (₩1,200) is added to your phone bill.

Anyway, after singing ‘practice’ people wanted to go to a bar. Sukyung said she was happy to join us – although, at around midnight, it was much later than she’d told me earlier she wanted to stay out. I also wanted to go and retrieve my bag. We went back to the station, where they were in the process of expelling the last of the subway users and locking up. Fortunately, the security guys let us use the lockers. And then Sukyung got a taxi home, but not before I’d asked her to come and see Quantum of Solace with me – which we did last night (at the time of writing).

Then I went back to join the others. Bo seemed very happy – he’d been quaffing a Korean liquor, baekseju, while the rest of us were on beer. He kept exclaiming ‘Chohayo!’ – Korean for ‘Good!’ – which the karaoke system had said when giving singers a favourable score. Apparently, baekseju isn’t particularly strong; it’s a hell of a lot nicer than soju, though.

We sat there drinking and eating for a while. Then it was decided to move on to a new place. I told the rest about a hookah bar that I’d visited on the Carne Station night, so we set off to look for it. I had no idea where it was, just a general impression of the street it had been on over a year ago. Our search was in vain. After some wandering, we piled into a taxi (beanpole Bo in front; the four shortarses in the back) and went home.

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