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Another long Saturday

I got up early on Saturday to go to my first Korean class since last year. I got the bus to Nowon Station, then waited about 25 minutes in the cold wind for the express bus to Gangnam. I had been aked to come half an hour early in order to take a level test. In the event I arrived shortly after the morning classes started at ten. I also found out they didn’t have a class doing book 2 in the morning, but I could join a level 1 class.

And so I did. It was pretty easy – the class was less than halfway through the book I nearly finished last year. There were still a few things I hadn’t learnt last time around or had forgotten, though – it wasn’t a total cakewalk. Afterwards I had lunch with an Englishman and a Frenchman from the class.

Then I made my way back to the hagwon for my second three-hour Korean class of the day. This class was on book 2 – but they were up to chapter 19. Whereas the teacher from the earlier class was – of necessity – taking it fairly slow, this teacher used natural Korean. Which is to say she spoke quickly and used long sentences. I was able to vaguely follow most of what was going on, but I found it very difficult.

And that was the frustrating thing – of the two classes closest in level to my Korean ability one was too easy and one was too hard. My thought at this point is that (having now handed my money over for a month’s tuition) I’ll attend the easier morning class. There are several things in its favour: while I know most of the subject matter, I don’t know everything and it’ll be good to go over stuff again, it leaves the afternoon free for writing (if I did the afternoon class I’d only sleep in the morning), and I got on pretty well with some of the other students.

After a caffe latte and a croque monsieur at Starbucks I headed back up to Nowon. I considered getting the subway, but then thought that the balance of probability meant I probably wouldn’t have to wait quite so long for a 3100 bus as I did in the morning and when I met Paul the preceeding week. And I didn’t. But – it was rushhour so the Dongbu expressway wasn’t very express.

While on the bus I exchanged a couple of texts with Su-jin, the girl I’d met in McDonalds on Thursday night. I gave her a time to meet that I thought would give me time to drop in at home and change my shoes (I bought a pair of brown Doc Marten’s on Friday and they were chafing in a couple of places) and my top (I was a bit sweaty and I was out of deodorant – Lotte apparently only stocks it in the summer) and deposit my bag. By the time the bus arrived back in Nowon it was time to meet her.

She took me to a shabeu-shabeu restaurant where we ate – what else? – shabeu-shabeu (you have a large bowl on a gas burner set into the middle of your table, in which you boil vegetables and thin slices of meat). We talked about our travels and ambitions. Su-jin had studied in Phoenix, Arizona (is there another?) for the first year of her film course and was now (or soon to be) in her second year having just recently returned from the States. I was impressed again by how pretty she was; she told me later she’d put on 10kg in America and was worried about it, but I think she has a lovely feminine figure.

I was intending to meet various people in Itaewon for the birthday celebrations of Steve from the Jejudo trip and Mike from the roleplaying group. Steve and his friends were due to meet earlier so I invited Su-jin to come with me to meet them. We took the subway and met Steve, James and Genna in the Hard Rock Café.

The Frenchman from earlier on had recommended Hoegarden at lunch so I continued drinking that for no other reason than it made the decision of what to drink easier. It’s very creamy, which is a bit strange in a beer (and later on I got tired of it).

By eleven o’clock it was time to make a move to get subway to Hongdae. Not having a phone number for Mike and not knowing him very well I didn’t go and seek him out, although I mentioned it to the others and they were up for it; most importantly, we didn’t have time.

By the time we got on the subway it was too late for Su-jin to get all the way back to Nowon, but she asked her mum to pick her up somewhere along the way. I hope she had a reasonably good time. She’d protested earlier that she was very nervous of meeting the people down in Itaewon, and even had to be prodded into action by her friend when she approached me on Thursday.

And so began our odyssey to Hongdae. At the Hard Rock Café, we’d also been met by Julia, a Korean woman who must have spent time overseas as her English was near-perfect. The first stop was a bar that appeared to be called Ride ‘Em Cowboy. We played a few rounds of card games. At one point, loud happy music came on and one of the bar staff started speaking – addressing his remarks to ‘Stebe-uh’. Another bartender started juggling a bottle and a cocktail shaker (dropping the latter at one point). Eventually he poured a drink into a glass, stirred it vigorously with his first two fingers, and appeared to down the drink. Someone then lit the alcohol on his fingers and he spurted a cloud of flaming drink on to a table. Standing on the table amidst the orange-blue flames was a shot glass – and this was Steve’s drink.

After this mostly impressive display we hit the streets in search of a club where some of Genna, Steve and James’s acquaintances were. We didn’t find it, but we were given cards for free entrance to a club called Vera. So we went there – along with pretty much no one else. There were a few people in the club – the main room being a dance hall with a high ceiling, a VIP gallery, a bar at one end and DJ/video screens at the other. Fully half the people on the dance floor appeared to be staff. We had a couple of tequila shots each and another beer, stood in a cluster on the dance floor pretending to dance, and eventually left.

Then we made another search for the acquaintances eventually finding them at a place jam-packed with foreigners. Apart from being met by these three girls outside we spent no time with them inside (or so it seemed to me) – in fact most of our time seemed to be spent waiting for the toilets.

Next on the agenda was a club called Harlem. This was full of Koreans. I was getting tired by this point and after standing with the others for a while I sat down on one of the sofa/benches near the dance floor. And fell asleep.

I was woken by Genna at half four who appeared to tell me it was half an hour until the subway opened (but don’t quote me on that). I nodded and closed my eyes again, my half-drunk beer still in my hands. A few minutes later I got up, abandoning my drink, and made for the locker room. Re-equipped with my coat and bag, I looked around for the others/the toilets, finding neither. Then I left.

After a toilet stop, a bottle of water and a Twix, I decided to head to Hapjeong Station. Not the nearest to Hongdae, but it’s a transfer station – and I thought the walk would do me good. What also did me good was eating a cup ramyeon in a Family Mart near the station. Waiting for the noodles to become ready (can’t think of a better verb at the moment) I noticed some deodorant and bought it. It was Nivea like the stuff I’d been buying from Lotte Mart, but a roll-on instead of a spray.

On the subway I spent my very last ₩400 on a cup of coffee. Once on the trains I kept falling asleep – willingly, actually – and missed both my tranfser and my stop. At each station where I doubled back I vaulted the turnstiles to avoid taking a long route or paying another fare. Eventually, I returned home and went to bed. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer a hangover of any description – but that’s because I didn’t drink any soju.

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