So, I have been back from my vacation for a bout 2 weeks now. And ever since my return to work, I have been running into these old men that sit outside of a store just about everyday after I get off. They just sit there and chat it up while eating dried what-the-fuck-evers and drinking makgeolli (or makkoli), a traditional Korean rice wine.
I’m a pretty friendly dude so I usually say, “anyong haseyo” (hi) to most strangers, especial elders, especially if they look intimidated by me. So, i do the same with these old guys. They call me over and offer me a drink of their wine. I accept. I finish it in one or two gulps. I say, “kansahamida” (thank you), I bow, and I say annyonghi kyesayo(goodbye). I go on my way.
The next time
They stop me again to join ’em. I do. And once again, they offer me a drink. I graciously accept. I make quick work of it. But before I could say, “kansahamida,” they pour me up another. I’m what they call a “g”, so like a g, I take the drink to the head. I bow. I say kansahamida followed by annyonghi kyesayo. I go on my way.
You see everyday after work I either go directly to the gym or I go home first to get my gi (robe) for my bjj (Brazilian jiu jitsu) class. So I don’t want to catch a buzz before I go to anyone of those. But I’m a big dude and one or two cups can do me no harm.
A little payback
So for three days straight of my first week back, I hung out with these dudes. Finally on that Friday I decide on the way home that, if they’re out there, I’ll buy them a bottle for their kind hospitality.
As I approach the store, I see my faithful friends from a distance. They wave me over and one stands up and offers me his seat, which happens to be a stepping stool about 4 inches off the ground. I don’t know how these Koreans can stoop, squat and sit crossed-legged for such long periods. I slowly but not so surely make my way down to the seat. Aaahh, nice and uncomfortable.
I grab a cup and part-take in the partay. After the bottle has run dry, I get up and go inside the store. I return with a fresh bottle and bag of dried squid, fish, and nuts. The crowd goes wild! I stayed a little longer this day, but I still had to go to the gym, so I didn’t over do it.
The greatest war (?) story ever told
On this particular day though, this particular guy was feeling particularly talkative… towards me. But, he spoke only one word of English and I can understand only about 4 Korean words total. All I can understand is that he was a veteran, and the rest is jut a furry of slurred words that blurred right by me. He’s making, what seems like, a moving speech.
At one point, he looks intently at his hands with bitter eyes. At this very moment I imagine that he is either describing the horrible things that those hands have done or adversely, how his hands were made for healing and should not be used for fighting. Whatever the case is, I’d like to think it is deep and poetic. At least to someone who can understand it. I, however, don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.
The end (of the greatest war story ever told)
There eventually came a time when I felt I had my fill of fellowship, fables, and the not-so-fancy fare. I had to be on my way and on my way I went. As I approached the gym I realized that I may have had a little too much, but still I pressed on and completed a mediocre workout. But who cares it’s…
The weekend, baby!
It has arrived and the weather in Busan is great. Some friends invite me to join them at the beach, so I ditch football practice to go hang out. I have an injured wrist and won’t be able to participate anyway. The beach wins.
On the way to the beach I decide to grab a bottle of the same stuff I’ve been sharing with my new friends for the past few days. All my foreigner friends look at me funny as I pull up with a libation that’s usually reserved for old Korean men. I tell ‘em where the urge came from and they pretend to understand or care. Whatever.
That’s when I come up with the brilliant idea of renting a ride on a float for around 15 bucks just so that I can yell to the people on the beach that “i’m on a float mutha fucka, don’t you ever forget!“, while waving my bottle of makkoli in the air like I just don’t care.
thank god that it’s just an idea and not an actual series of events I just described because that would have been a waste of 15 bucks, not to mention the makkoli that would have ended up in the ocean instead of in my belly. And they probably wouldn’t hear me from where I was over the jet ski pulling the float either. Ok, this fuckin’ float day dream scenarios has gone on long enough, but as I get older that story will become more and more true every time I tell it. Just watch.
The big break
On Monday I didn’t see my friends, because I had to run an errand after work. The following day as I prepare to walk home I think to myself that maybe I’ll skip out on the hang out this day. As I make my way closer to the usual hang out spot I have completely made up my mind that I would politely decline and go straight to the gym. Fresh and sober. Ah, but on this day there doesn’t appear to be a meeting scheduled, because my comrades are nowhere in sight. Perfect.
So, I pass by the store, cross the street and start to walk down the hill that leads to my second home, the gym. At the same time I am thinking that this particular topic that this blog is about will be the next topic that my blog will be about. I map out the structure of the blog: the initial meeting, the next meeting, the payback, the greatest war story, the weekend, and finally the big break, the end. So now I have a complete blog post in my head, or so I thought. You see, at this time I’m not expecting to hear…
A voice from above
So, as I’m strolling down the hill to the gym, and all of a sudden I hear a voice calling out to me. I look around but see no one. Then I hear it again and this time I notice that it is coming from the sky. God? No, it is one of my old pals from the store front, standing on top of his roof. In fact, the whole gang is up there.
He waves me over. I point to my watch and point to the gym and try to explain. And he yells down to his wife in the yard, doing hard labor that a husband should be doing, to open the gate. Or so I assume, since she comes up to the gate and opens it to let me in. At this point I accept the invite.
I walk up some narrow stairs that run along the side of the smallish townhouse and approach a gate that houses a quaint little roof garden. There is also a shade roof, a round table, and some chairs. The men are sitting around snacking on cow stomach, garlic, and hot peppers. A friend offers me his seat as he leaves to make a makkoli run.
I sit down at the table. They offer me some stomach. I grab some chop sticks, wrap a section of stomach around a chunk of garlic, dip it in a mixture of course sea salt and sesame oil and put it in my mouth. Not bad, but not great either. Anthony bourdain or Andrew Zimmermanwould be proud (if any of you two want a co-host, holla).
Finally our good man returns with the makkoli. They all pass around small cups and hand me a little bowl, which is traditionally what makkoli is consumed from. They fill me to the top. kansahamida. Cool and refreshing. I eat more garlic and some dried fish that our friend has brought back from the store. I finish my bowl and they pour up one more. And that is the cue for…
The never ending war story
Yes, our war veteran story teller is at it again. I don’t really understand. Not just what is coming out of his mouth, but also what is going on in his head. It is obvious I do not understand. Perhaps he is the type of guy that talks to himself, and is just happy to have someone to talk to. I decide, for my amusement, that I’ll interact.
“Oh,” “I see,” “really?” I just pretend to understand what he is saying. It’s actually quite funny to me. Then I decide to laugh. But apparently I picked a bad time to do so. He stops immediately and looks at me as if to say “that shit is funny to you?” he genuinely seems offended. I genuinely don’t give a fuck. I finish my bowl and say my thank yous and good byes. ’til next time, stay thirsty my friends!