Friday night was my first time in Itaewon. It’s known as a very expat-friendly part of the city often with more foreigners than Seoulites. The plan was to find some good beer and food at an American pub called Dillingers. Getting off the subway it looks like any old part of Seoul, that quickly changes.
Walking down the main strip in Itaewon it is clearly a tourist area. There are souvenir shops all over with everything from carved figurines to Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts. In other areas these shops have local goods, fruits, veggies and other Korean delicacies. In Itaewon you hear English, a lot. It’s actually a little strange to hear so much of it and so little Korean; I guess that means I’m getting used to being here. There were boarded up shops covered in graffiti that reminded me of Brooklyn but perhaps that’s because this was the first English graffiti I’ve seen. Along the busy streets are an unusual amount of English advertising with very few Korean signs.
We got to Dillingers and were greeted by the only Koreans at the bar (the staff). All the customers were white and there was a local hockey team drowning their sorrows away from the evening’s loss. We quickly placed our orders for import beers, burgers, wraps and sandwiches. I ordered bangers and mash since I still remember the fantastic burger I grilled only a few weeks ago.
Our beer arrived first, noticeably pricier than the local Cass that is typically found in the restaurants but worth every penny. I’ll have to find a German pub nearby so I can get a good Hefe since unfortunately the best option they had here was Red Rock, by the end we built up quite a tab of the stuff. Just as we started drinking the hockey team broke out in O Canada! Clearly some of their teammates weren’t Canadian because they followed up with the Star Spangled Banner. I decided to show my patriotic side and went over to join them. We made a quick toast to the good ole US of A and I went back to start eating.
Conversation bounced between scandalous stories, travel, religion and of course our current predicament at school. We haven’t had any news but are hoping the administration’s promise that the rest of the paycheck will arrive by Tuesday the 23rd (already absurdly too long) isn’t just another lie. I’m less worried about that since I’m not owed any money yet but I fear for their ability to pay everyone in full on October 5th when I should receive my first paycheck.
With all of this going on I updated my resume and am reaching out to the few schools I have a connection at. For the right job I’d leave CPIS even if they get their finances sorted out. I always knew that teaching at a hagwon was merely a way to get my foot in the door and get to the far-east and am actually a little excited at the idea of teaching at a legitimate international school.
But anyway, back to dinner. We gobbled down our meals and a few more beers. My bangers were great but not enough so I gave their calamari a shot too. It was a meatier calamari than I’ve ever had and I loved every bite of it. I wouldn’t call it a great Italian dish but the seafood here is all fantastic and fresh; plus they love squid, you can even buy a dried squid at 7-11 for an evening snack.
After eating we mozied over to the dart boards, apparently a rarity in Korea, and continued the evening with a competitive edge. I won the first game and lost the second. Guess I should have retired while I was ahead. Or maybe my friends get better when they’re drunk?
A few more beers and we decided to head back home before the subway stopped running. Some of us wanted to keep the night going so we went to one of our favorite local bars; I only know it as K-bar.
A pitcher of Cass, a bottle of soju and pop rocks were brought almost instantly when of course the discussion went to food. What to order? I fought hard for pig intestines after it was jokingly mentioned. I seriously wanted to try it, but alas, we didn’t order it that night. Soon they said, at a better restaurant than our favorite cheap pub.
A few drinking games later we began making some Korean friends. I found that typically there are a couple Koreans in each group with basic English and that between all of our combined bilinguality we can hold a group conversation. “How old are you?” seems to be the most common thing asked which is amusing because Koreans look about 1/4 their age compared to us whiteys.
As we finished our drinks we realized how late it was and decided to head home. Outside of my apartment I noticed what looked like quite a drunk couple. I grabbed a giant bottle of water and went down to offer some assistance. When I arrived she had left and he informed me that he was my downstairs neighbor. Sang-ho had very little English but had a fantastic translator app so we had a small conversation as I realized he wasn’t actually that drunk. Being a good host I took this as a sign that I should open another beer.
We hung out for a while at my apartment talking about how I just got to Korea and my job. He was astounded by my salary which was almost twice what he is making. Salary also is a pretty common question; I find it a bit strange but don’t mind sharing the info. The most memorable part of our conversation was when he kept insisting he wasn’t gay and that I shouldn’t steal his girlfriend. I lightened the mood with a quick toast before promising that those conditions were perfectly acceptable to a new friendship. We exchanged emails before realizing it was nearly 2am and deciding it was time for bed.
All in all Itaewon is fun but I still am enjoying the novelties of Seoul. I’m sure I’ll be back when I get a hankering for a good burger but for now I think I’ll stick with being immersed in an unknown language.