So, I was at the bar on Friday night. This is a sentence that, in my dotage, is far less likely to pass my lips and fingertips than it once was, back when I was positively dripping with vim and vigour and fluids of a more bachelorly nature. But nonetheless, there I was, gazing somewhat blearily at myself in the mirror through the bottles, propping up the fake-mahogany with my buddy J. There was an impressively long line of empty bottles neatly lined up in front of us. I think the Korean guys like the empties left in front of them as a display of their alco-power, but that conspicuous consumption display tends to backfire when me and my equally thirsty drinking buddy, the livers who walk like men, come onto the scene. Shrug.
The gaggle of young women behind the bar are paid as much to be decorative as to actually sling piss, and station themselves right in front of you, whether you want them there or not. Orders. I tend to ignore them, after an initial smile to show I’m not entirely ogrish. It’s pretty clear, at least when it comes to old bastards like us, that getting pole position in front of the foreigners is pulling the short straw. The ladies do tend to make a valiant attempt to be hostessy with their few phrases of English, but the time is long, long past when I much enjoyed talking pidgin with bargirls, no matter how attractive they might be. Not to say that I wasn’t young and foolish, once. Thousands of young men around the world would be pouring over my seminal textbook, ‘Bargirl Bricolage and Soju Semiotics: The Ineluctable Modality of The Boozehound’ if I’d ever written the damn thing.
So we were tanking up, smoking, talking sh-t, enjoying the once-a-month concession to our younger selves our wives allow us. At the outer edge of my OB Lager-induced tunnelvision, I noticed a group of 4 guys sit down beside us at the bar, but J and I were deep in discussion about how cool it would be to be first on the ground when the Kimchi Wall comes down, as writers or otherwise, and I didn’t notice much other than that the guy beside me was Korean. He didn’t say anything to me, so I assumed, as one does, that he didn’t speak English, and ignored him after giving a terse nod.
Not long after, though, J announced that it was time to break the seal — I, as usual, had been peeing like a racehorse since the first friendly whissht! of escaping beer vapour — and wandered off to the toilets. Turning to me, the Korean guy said ‘How’s it goin’?’
In those few syllables, I knew not only that he spoke English, but that he fluent, and that he’d lived overseas for a time, or was maybe even a returnee. My English Radar is strong. Well, that and the fact that the three other guys sitting with him were all foreigners, and pretty clearly not the English teacher type.
So we started in to talking — and having a conversation in idiomatic, natural English with someone new is such a rarity for me that I was almost giddy with the strangeness of it (nutty expat syndrome ahoy!) — and I learned that he was the language liaison for the other three, who were Americans, a couple of soldiers and a contractor, and here at the deep water port in Sunshine City to expedite the transhipment of tons of US military equipment from Korea to Kuwait.
That may have been classified information, but we were all pretty drunk.
I was right, both about his English and his history. He’d lived in America and gone to both high school and university there. I asked him how he’d liked it, and he told me this : he went to high school in Illinois, university in Los Angeles, and he hated America. Those were the words he used. I suspect saying so wouldn’t have gone over too well with the guys he was with, but they were busy clumsily and loudly hitting on the waitresses, who, in the Way of The Korean Bargirl, tittered fetchingly while failing to hide the look of abject panic in their eyes.
I asked him why he would say such a thing, and he told me that while he was going to university, he worked to make extra money, in a relative’s liquor store. And that he’d been shot during the regular hold-ups. Twice.
This boggled my mind.
When he was in hospital, he said, he’d decided that he was leaving America as soon as he finished school, and not coming back. Not surprisingly. Now, I’ve been around the world a few times in the last 15 years. Been in war zones, been in all the worst places in dangerous cities all over the map. Even LA, one mad weekend on my way down to Mexico, when I heard gun shots in my friends’ Hollywood neighbourhood as we stumbled around, indestructible Canuck style, at 4 am. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone before who’s been shot. And this guy, this mild-mannered Korean whose parents sent him over to America to get out of having to do his military service, he’d taken a couple of bullets for the home team.
And now he was back home, getting paid to translate the crude pickup lines of his military colleagues to the girls behind the bar.
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, a twisty-cruel just-so story, I imagine. I leave it to you to tease it out, if you’re so inclined.

Korea-related, Uncrappy
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Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. The wonders of the wonderchicken

    Without blogging would I have known about Stavros The Wonderchicken, one of the most consistent (if infrequent) quality bloggers out…

  2. I bet he just loves Canada, huh? Hey, maybe you should move to a more cesspoolish backwater, someplace other than Korea… You’re gonna be a crusty old bastard by the time the wall falls…

  3. I’m a crusty old bastard already, ROCKS.

  4. Reading back through your little story, I had to laugh…
    In this fine hodge-podge of a world, there are many groups and categories of people. You fall into the “BLINDLY HATES THE US” category, but I can’t quite figure it out. You are smart, educated, well-traveled, and you live in your current location solely because the US government watches over North Korea. It seems a goal of yours to spread distrust and hatred of anything related to America… have you ever tried a more positive approach to dealing with things you disagree with?
    Here is where I insert the disclaimer that, yes, the US government is a bunch of morons and as a US citizen I feel ashamed… But you know as well as I do, the world is full of kooks and assholes and greedy bastards, everywhere… the US attracts many of them from afar, hoping for easy money.
    The US will someday fall and China or Canada or the Canary Islands will be the new magnet for greed. Whoever it is that carries the torch, also shoulders the burden of exagerations and lies, by those who only choose to look at the negatives – usually spreading lies for their own personal gain.
    I don’t believe the lies of those who defend everything America does. Nor do I believe the lies of those who hate everything America does. It’s tough to dig through the shit to find the truth, and weighing both sides, I’m always skeptical. You know this, but I wonder if those who read your blog really do.
    You’ve chosen your manner of interpreting the actions of the US government, I can’t change that. You hope to influence others with a web log, but just like the overpowering US government, you potentially harm innocent individuals with rhetoric blown out of proportion.
    I’ve never been to Korea, but I had a Korean roommate in college, and dated a beautiful Korean girl for awhile. They both got frustrated with the US presence in their country, but also conceeded that things would be much worse without them. The Korean guy you met in the bar never would have had the chance to avoid his military service, if some poor, uneducated kid in the US hadn’t taken his place on the line in Korea. That’s not justification for US Policy, just a fact that redefines the scenario…

  5. You hope to influence others with a web log
    Well, see, that’s where you’re wrong, ROCKS. I’m not trying to influence anybody. I honestly don’t give a shit — what a quixotic, thankless task that’d be!
    Mate, I just say what I think, usually at the moment it crosses my mind. I am fond of hyperbole and theatrical overstatement, because it’s amusing to me, and provokes the stupid (which, I hasten to mention, I don’t consider you to be) while drawing a chuckle, for the most part, from the not-stupid.
    I should, and will, practice my craft with positive prolix paeans to the purity and perfection of… well, something… just for balance, but at the moment, I’ve been on a Kick America’s Ass 2004 roll, and I’m going with it.
    To think that what I write accurately represents me, no matter how present I seem to be in the writing, is a little unsophisticated of you. Were we to meet, all unawares, and have a few beers, even if the conversation turned to politics, you’d never know that I had EYES OF UNHOLY FIRE and stuff.

  6. See now, I’m all influenced and everything already just the same. I’m ready to be so calm on the bargirl tip and hey, everybody’s got to make some living hey, learning the Korean slang for “your beauty makes me want to live in the mountains and pray”, all James Bond and Leonard Cohen with that, and also influenced up on the Kuwait thing, of minor interest or not quite so.
    And the wall thing, that’s like March right? China facilitates, unless the Israelis go nuke beforehand; and there’s some great fiction around by Korean writers, both in the American English and Korean.
    And anybody who thinks merely digging through the b.s. is gonna get you to truthville, skeptical or no, is already a lost cause, hey. There’s more than a few signs of a seriously disturbed mentality back of them paragraphs.

    That eye thing is maybe alcohol-induced, though that’s certainly not an excuse by any means, just as nor is somewhat feeble brain-power an excuse of egregious carping and duplicitous pomposities. It’s like there’s a sludge-demon now for each one of us, they attach and bog down, it’s why I don’t have comments at home; maybe I should though?
    Is that weak?
    Is questioning that weak?
    Is self-reflexive recursive questioning a syndrome of a greater weakness?
    America is not a thing, bubbas, it is a vast hugeness of many constituent parts only linked by the nominative and geo-location. The spirit thing part is refracted all to heck now.
    America is not killing Iraqis, Israel and the oil companies and a bunch of right-wing Christian stooges are.
    America is staying home and watching television and trying real hard not to think about what’s going on outside.

  7. aw stavvy,
    i have never had a problem picking up korean girls in a bar. you make it sound like the bargirls dont like most westerners. you could not be more wrong. especially if they work in itaewon. as long as you are not a jerk or loud and if you come across as a nice person with manners and an education.. you can charm the pants off of most bargirls very quickly.
    also, who gives a shit if a korean male hates america? i would too if i was a dickless asian male that is looked down on by 70% of females in the country i lived in. compared to america, korea is a wonderland for chauvinistic korean males. i could care less that he got shot. the guy worked in a liquor store in LA for christ sakes. he is a clueless idiot and should not be dirtying the gene pool. hating america because he got shot working in a liquor store? what the hell was he thinking. he should hate himself because he is an idiot for chosing that job in the first place.

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