Dark beer with bourbon is one of my favorite combinations. I'd like to take credit for it, but in my circles that belongs to friend from Vancouver who favours extreme solutions to any given problem. And a solution it is, a rare one in Korea, but finding it always leads to a good night. This time I find it in Seoul.
Aside from the airport it's my first trip to the capital. I've had a lot of goals over the past fourteen months and dropping $500 on two nights of food and booze hasn't figured highly into them. Not to mention the thought of flying solo through a 25 million person city has been pretty underwhelming. This was a recon trip only. Find a workable hotel, a great place for food, and save the last day of the long weekend to chill out at home. All I needed was a landing shore. A foothold for future invasions.
A hotel is easy enough. Korea's littered with cheap and comfortable rooms, available by night or the hour for students and the surreptitiously married looking for a place to shag. For food, the target was Mozzie's, an upscale Kiwi bar in Itaewon specializing in red meat comfort food including lamb shanks, steaks and burgers, served with proper sides of potatoes and greens. Exiting the subway, I also forgot it was half way up Hooker Hill, which is exactly what it sounds like.
"Handsome man, you are very welcome!?!"
"Thanks, maybe next time ladies."
The streetside entrepreneurs were welcoming, but I almost turned around after entering the bar. It was beautiful. Intimate lighting, a large hardwood bar, great seating, and it was almost totally empty.
Fuck it. Nothing was going to happen tonight, and moving to the next place would be a 15 minute walk that may well end with nowhere to sit. The food and drink should be a slam dunk, as should a good night's sleep afterwards.
And it was. A bar seat with Coopers Irish Stout and a double of Basil Hayden's ran 40,000 won (about $40). I would have gone with Woodford's Reserve but that's $20 more, for no reason outside of Korea's psychotic import system. The money I saved covers dinner, an excellent meatloaf with mash and peas. I was finished and full with a quarter of a beer and a shot of bourbon left in my glass. The place was starting to fill up, so I took the owners advice and tried one his Japanese Single Malts. I chose the Hibiki, knowing that a double wouldn't totally break the bank. The girl at the bar delivered it neat with a fresh glass of water.
Living in Korea is like being stuck in a desert. Not in the abandoned absence way. More in the way that opportunity comes like oases between oceans of sand, and the past couple of months have been more sand than water. Early on, I made the mistake of asking women out directly, as if being an adult was a valid strategy. Korea doesn't work that way. Lead in and body language notwithstanding, asking for a date or a number is usually a dead end. You're more likely to get a dodge or an invite to an indefinite chase at their work or some other safe space. On the other side, people will jump straight into bed if given a socially structured or hidden back door,... so to speak.
It's a problem. Futility versus constructing scenarios within a severe language deficit. The part I'm not sure about is if the story holds in larger cities.
I glance up from my my phone and the bar girl is reaching for the camera next to my drink.
"Do you own one?"
"I take pictures but usually with my phone. Can I see?"
I hand over my phone while she's looking at the camera.
"There's not much there. I post most my stuff on Instagram."
"There's such a good feeling from your pictures."
"If there isn't a good feeling with something, I won't do it."
"Are you a professional?"
"No, this is just for fun."
She gives me her hand and introduces herself. Korean's are renowned for long, fishy handshakes, the kind that leave you with crawling skin and a deep-seated need to wash. It's different with some firmness and flirtation. We keep talking until I pay my bill. She hands me a business card as I'm leaving.
"This is me. My cell number is here. You can call me next time you're in Seoul."
Sunday is a write off for exploration. It's pouring rain, so I head to the Canucks Bar before catching the train to Suncheon. The waitress stays to chat while I wait for my burger. After food, I take a drink to the window seat and write.
The cosmopolitan is excellent. The table is high and stable. My chair is comfortable, and words flow easily between views of the rain and sips from my glass. That's what Seoul has been, a basic ease impossible to find in Suncheon. The relaxed pleasures of a rainy day and an opportunity written in numbers on the business card tucked in my back pocket.