So this past weekend was my first weekend here fully settled in and I was ready to see what Gwangju is like at night. But what I was not ready for was my boss telling me to come back to the school at 10:30 Friday night to go out for dinner. So with some reservations, I wasn’t in the mood to go out and be social, I met up and saw that my other coworkers were there! So now I’m feeling a bit better but am not sure about what to expect.
We head out, go downtown, park and pick a good place to start the night. We go in a pretty nice restaurant, and get a table upstairs. So do you remember the scene from the Goodfellas where Henry first walks into the Copacabana with Karen and says hello to everyone and has a table put out just for them? Yup that was us walking into this restaurant. My tiny 5’3, 100lb boss owns this place. Minus the 20’s in everyone’s hands of course.
Well we start with the side dishes and get a pitcher of beer. Word to the wise, Koreans have no idea what good beer is. The closest they come to decent beer is Kirin from Japan. There’s no dark beer, heavy beer any of that. I really did get spoiled back in the States because of the microbrewery revolution going on right now. Then they brought out the Soju. Koreans are very proud of Soju, like Jack Daniels to Tennesseans. However, for those of you unfamiliar with this particular brand of sake, here’s your warning. Drinking it will remind you of the god-awful vodka you drank out of the plastic bottles sophomore year.
Also, never, ever let your glass get empty. I figured this out really quickly. Koreans love to toast and enjoy one another’s company, like my Italian stepfamily, but they will fill your empty glass. They don’t do it to try and get you hammered it’s a point of social nicety. Same goes for your water glass, coffee anything.
Now I can’t remember what we were eating but the beef stew that we had was incredible. It’s my favorite Korean dish to date and I’m looking forward to figuring out what it was and eating it again.
Is drinking with an open flame on the table a good idea? Yes.
After finishing some more pitchers and a couple bottles of Soju we headed out to another bar. I was feeling pretty good but I still did not want to blow my money drinking at a bar. However the magic phrase was said that kept me going, “Let’s sing Karaoke!” I was PUMPED! I couldn’t wait to hear them sing some English songs with their beautiful voices. We get there and I’m expecting a large bar with a karaoke setup at the front, just like in the States. Nope, these guys are serious about karaoke. The building we go to has an entire floor for karaoke and on that floor are large rooms that you rent out. I was astounded, I mean who knew, who really knew that Koreans were that serious about it!
Anyways here’s a photo of what the room looked like:
I’m picking the next song, which of course was Billie Jean and the girl singing is the pop star Lucy. Now Lucy is about 5’3 100lbs teacher who drinks like she’s twice my size and sings like she’s Madonna. I was taken by complete surprise but yet was strangely comforted that she rocks like a champ.
After an hour or so of Karaoke we leave, the pop star and her friend go home and my boss and fellow coworkers decide to stay out. Well I don’t want to be rude so I go with them. We go to a bar, chill out on the patio for a bit, talk and then decide that it’s a bit chilly so we leave go to another place that’s underground.
Now I like this bar but I cannot remember its name. What I do remember is that my only Korean male coworker is ecstatic to have a bro. Although he doesn’t call me that, it’s Christmas to this guy. In celebration of our new male bonding he brings out the Jagermeister. I immediately am impressed that he enjoys cough syrup at 2am and simultaneously want to throw that beef from dinner back up. But I can’t insult him so we all take the shots together. Seriously, I hate Jager. I would rather waterproof my grandfather’s entire deck with only a toothbrush at midday in July wearing jeans and a wool sweater than take one shot of Jager.
I immediately plan my counterpunch. I decide that since it’s my first time out, and having no idea where my boss and my other coworker live I really don’t want to have to to help get them home, So I’m skipping the tequila. That is my Ace card, the H-Bomb if you will of straight up bar shots. It’s never a good idea to go for the uppercut in the first round. So I buy them something that I know will keep them up, will taste like candy and will cause them the most pain in 12 hours not 2. Vodka and Red bull. Not one of my personal favorites but will it hurt an amateur? Definitely.
After politely refusing to have some more Jager, and passing up on sharing the Vodka Red Bull thirty minutes later I make my leave. I head out the bar, see some other waeguk-saram’s, Korean for “foreigner”, and ask what time it is. They tell me its 4am! I am astounded and decide to call it a night. So I walk around a bit trying to get oriented, finally find a taxi and get home.
It wasn’t until Sunday night that I found out my drink had caused some damage. My boss and her coworker stayed out until 6am then couldn’t sleep the next night. I’m sure the Red Bull didn’t help. Now, granted I’ve found out that my boss doesn’t go out that much but when she does she doesn’t hold back, so I guess in Korea when you work 60 hours a week you can play for 8.
All in all it was a great night. I was able to get familiar with downtown Gwangju and hang out with my new coworkers. I also got to see how the girl whose job I replaced was absolutely beloved by the staff and that by going with flow you never know how much fun you can have. In short, sometimes you have to trust a stranger in order to make a friend. Even if they like Jager.
*All photos courtesy of Wendy Perkins.