Unlike yesterday, day three began with a united plan. Almost.
I was the only one of our group to day-drink. With a bottle of soju crammed in my back pocket, riding the subway was delightful. Colors were brighter, jokes were funnier, and the contemptuous stares of the elderly were easier to ignore. I also felt emboldened to do pull-ups on the handrails. This only led to more stares. It was back day. What do you expect?
First, we met Flat Cap at a pizza joint in Gangnam. Flat Cap has substantial Seoul experience so we trusted his recommendation.
It did not disappoint. We munched on both a chicken pesto and a meat lover’s pizza. Our mouths were scorched and our spirits were high (except for Nightmare, who dutifully purchased groceries at E Mart).
“So many carbs,” complained Anxiety-Brain.
“Shut up.” I was too turnt to take shit from anyone, especially myself. “We are on vacation.”
We had an appointment at an escape room. I was especially excited, as I had never been. I also felt guilty because I spurned my family’s suggestion of an escape room on my last birthday. Regardless, after hearing a slew of positive reviews, my appetite whetted.
I stepped out before the rest to enjoy some sweets. If I was going to abuse my body on vacation, I was going to do it big. Several brownie cookies later, I met Flat Cap, Potato, The King, and Nightmare for escape room adventures.
We arrived at our appointment early. Fortunately, we were in the wrong place and had to relocate two blocks. We still made it on-time.
Our escape room mission involved a time machine. Because of something I signed (and didn’t read), I am not allowed to reveal details. However, I had a blast. Moving between rooms to simulate time travel was especially self-entertaining.
“Whoooooaaaa!” we cheered, imagining a roller-coaster-like fall through the space-time continuum.
We finished in 45 minutes – 15 minutes to spare. We were proud of ourselves (however, we had to seek two hints so I doubt the authenticity of our escape room prowess).
After escaping the room we headed to COEX mall to see SMTown. SM is a major K-Pop recording label. They produce famous groups like EXO, Girls Generation, Super Junior, and Red Velvet. Potato seemed to have the time of her life. I enjoyed the novelty for a minute, but then lost track of the group. Wandering Ian struck again. I headed out for more snacks (because on vacation there is no such thing as too many snacks).
From snacks to stacks, I plopped myself down in a lovely library within the mall. Walls of books mesmerized me as I whipped out my Kindle to read more of Why We Love by Helen Fisher.
Eventually, I reconnected with the group on Kakao. Dinner was the move. I assented. I’m always down to eat.
After walking for what seemed like a kilometer, I noticed Flat Cap and The King.
“Nightmare is looking for Potato,” said The King.
I walked several hundred meters more and noticed that Nightmare and Potato had reunited. I said hello and we all agreed to find a place for dinner.
Unfortunately, COEX is a vast labyrinth unfit for a foreigner’s sense of direction. We separated again. Potato had a hankering for steak. I obliged since I was with her at the moment and bored of solo venturing. Nightmare joined us at an Outback Steakhouse.
The prices at Outback Steakhouse gave my wallet fits. Cuts of beef must a luxury in Korea. I settled for an appetizer plate of ribs and fries for 16,000 won ($14.00 USD).
“My goodness,” I thought.
Potato was disappointed with her steak because it was too well done. She is a rare steak type of woman. Her cut was not blue enough for her liking. Nightmare, on the other hand, crushed a full rack of ribs like he was mad at it. We checked our phones, paid, and booked it. Scrabbles was in town.
I first met Scrabbles digitally through Kakao Talk. We had applied through EPIK together and therefore shared the same chat room several weeks before departure. I didn’t know much about her except she was from Utah and had an affinity for philosophical quotations and Myers-Briggs testing. I initially thought it peculiar. However, when I met her, I understood. She loves to understand people and is damn good at it.
Speaking with her about my worries is like speaking to a mirror if a mirror could smile, ask penetrating questions, and provide genuine and insightful encouragement. On second thought, there is nothing I can compare to speaking we Scrabbles. She told me she wants to be a counselor. I think she was born to do it.
Her love of games goes hand in hand with her love of understanding others. One game she taught us was Werewolf – a game of mistrust, alliances, survivor-like voting, and death – lots of death. She cracked me up when she described the demanding card-playing expectations of her future children.
“I would force them to finish their homework so we could play cards until 2:00 A.M.,” she said with an infectious smile.
If you can’t tell by my sycophantic doting, I was genuinely excited to see this person. Therefore, I felt awful hustling to the subway station to meet her. Our dinner plans had been out of sync and Scrabbles waited for upwards of 30 minutes. She was dead tired, fresh off of a 3-hour standing-room KTX ride from Gwangju. However, once we reunited with hugs, all was good. We set out for Lotte World.
The entrance to Lotte World carries the quintessential trappings of a theme park – a cheesy theme song, a pricey entrance ticket, and a multitude of enticing signs. It was 8:00 P.M. The park closed at 10:00 P.M. We all doubted we would get full value paying for a full-priced day ticket and decided to bail (but not before tossing a metric shit ton of coins into a lovely wishing well redolent of Renaissance architecture).
After exhausting my Korean nickels and pennies, I came upon an idea.
“Let’s find a university subway station and find some street food,” I said (as if I needed to ingest more garbage).
Nightmare quickly agreed and the rest fell like dominoes. We took a subway to Hanyang University and wandered around the local commercial alleyways. We were disappointed by the quietude. We should have known better. Chuseok was tomorrow. I bought a bag of Kit-Kats and wanted to approach strangers saying, “Kit-Kat im-ni-da!” (Kit-Kats here). However, my soju power level was depleted and I lacked the liquid confidence.
We agreed upon a new goal – a food market in Dongdaemun. However, to our chagrin, it was completely closed. It was time to call it a night. We split up. Three hopped into a taxi. The King and I took the subway. I purchased some cookies at a subway station stall and threw them into my hollow leg.
Back at the apartment, we settled into sleepover mode. Scrabbles can keep the conversation going for hours and I have intense FOMO. I refuse to sleep if stuff is happening. So we gossipped, shared secrets, and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company until 6:30 in the morning.
I looked over my shoulder, saw the sunrise, and shuddered. I knew was going to lose sleep on this trip. I also knew I was rapidly burning out and needed some quality alone time.
This is Ryan. He looks like a bear but is actually a maneless lion. He is the “loyal leader” of the Kakao Friends.
This song (Red Flavor by Red Velvet) has echoed in cafés, streets, and department stores since I’ve been here.
The silliness is ceaseless.
I will walk away from the obvious (and ignorant) Wu-Tang Clan joke. I would rather appreciate how dapper Nightmare and The King look in their Hanboks.
Nightmare got jumped into the Hello Kitty Gang (which I’m sure entailed tickling or some other cutesy shit). Following this ritual, he plastered his forearm with the stamp on the left.