After capturing three of a possible three season titles, the Bandits headed south to celebrate.
Soon enough, we found ourselves an hour and a half south in Busan. I reserved a bed in a local hostel. Once I found the spot, things got interesting. It was 9:30. I was tired. The door was locked.
“Damn,” I thought.
Suddenly, I looked down to my right and saw a phone number. I dialed.
“An-young-ha-say-yo,” a man said on the other end.
“Jay-ee-reum-eun-Ian-im-ni-da” (My name is Ian).
“Booking dot com? Reservation?”
“Oh. No one is here. Just enter the code. 2-0-0-8. Self-check-in.”
I punched the code faithfully. The door emitted chirps of approval and unlocked. I crept inside, apprehensive, my phone still pressed to my ear.
“You will stay in room five.”
“Is there a locker key?” I asked.
“Yes. Grab it behind the desk.”
“You- you want me to look behind your desk?”
“Yes. It is in a box.”
I complied, searched, and found the aforementioned box. I grabbed my key and proceeded toward the room.
“If no one is at the front desk in the morning, just leave money before you go.”
After a quick shower and change of clothes, bewildered by this “self-check-in”, I was eager to eat. I met up with Hard Head and the other Bandits deep in soju-soaked revelry. The mouth-watering smell of grilled pork belly caressed my nostrils.
I took a seat next to Hard Head and his family. The rest of the team sat at other tables, half of them with Korean girlfriends by their sides. At that moment, the team broke out in drunken song. No rugby team is complete without a raunchy fight song.
“The Busan Bandits are on the piss again, again.
The Busan Bandits are on the piss again, again.
Our hearts are strong, our dicks are long.
We hope you brought your chicks along.
The Busan Bandits are on the piss again.”
After a delicious Korean barbecue experience, a team ritual commenced – soju bowls. The team initiates new players by having them drink half-a-bottle of soju out of a metal bowl. After witnessing the first person struggle to choke down the quintessentially Korean spirit, nerves crept in.
“What if you blow chunks in front of everyone?”
After mere minutes of rumination, the team captain piped up.
“This guy came out and played rugby for the first time. He had some great tackles playing for the Stars and Stripes. Hard Head found a promising new prospect. Ian!”
Cheers erupted. I stood up, received the bowl with two hands (of course), and sucked down the succulent liquid in several gulps. More cheers followed. I smiled.
Once we settled our tab, it was time for the after-party. We rolled out to a bar by the beach – an Irish pub by the name of Wolfhounds. From there, my memory turned hazy, so I will just list my disjointed memories:
- One bandit wanted to pour a bottle of champagne in the trophy cup and pass it around for consumption. I took two obligatory sips. The sickly sweetness reminded me why I never order champagne at bars (or anywhere).
- I watched a professional South African rugby match on the TV. It amazed me how many more facets of the game now made sense.
- Many sloppy bandits were acting the fool on the dance floor. By this point, I knew it was late. Only the truly blacked seemed to carelessly maraud around the bar.
- I smoked a couple of cigarettes outside with Hard Head and another Bandit from Texas. He was injured and kept joking about how he sounded like a “drunk parent” on the sidelines. They were hard-selling me on joining up next season.
- I had injured my shoulder in the Ulsan game, but couldn’t feel it. Alcohol is an amazing analgesic.
- Several bandits played a sloppy game of beer pong. I sincerely hoped it was just the alcohol impairing their skills.
Finally, I blinked. It was 2:00. I bid farewell, ready to rest. Of course, I couldn’t to that before an impulsive and dietarily regrettable trip to a CU (convenience store).
One box of cookies, five candy bars, and a small cake later, I collapsed on my hostel bed in an alcohol-induced sugar coma. Sleep was sparse. Every time I turned to my left side the pain jolted me awake. I think the Ulsan player tacked me at an awkward angle. I vaguely remember hitting the ground with a sickening “crunch” that made me think “I will feel that for many mornings (if not moons).”
That combined with consistent comings and goings from fellow hostelers made it arguably my worst night of sleep since my first night in Incheon.
The next morning, I awoke with searing shoulder pain. Every time I donned my jacket or backpack I winced and regretted having to do so. But I soldiered on, unfazed. With all my things, I noticed no one at the front desk.
“Do it. Sleep and dash. They don’t have your credit card or ID. They would be none the wiser.”
I can’t tell you what part of me said that. Anxiety-Brain wouldn’t dare do this. I will call him Outlaw-Brain.
“No,” I said firmly.
I paid. Who knows? Maybe I would return one day. Besides, if I was going to break the law it wouldn’t be over 13 bucks.
I grabbed the largest, cheapest americano (1,500 for 20 oz.) I’ve ever had and sat by the beach. The peaceful waves, picturesque view, and crisp autumn air were all ruined by the insufferable theme song of the aquarium next to me.
The first time I heard it I thought it was cute. By the 40th time, I was filled with inexplicable homicidal rage. By the time I met up with Hard Head and his family we couldn’t get out of town fast enough.
I learned many lessons on this trip:
- Nine hours of driving is too far for a day-and-a-half trip.
- Rugby is fun, but not for me.
- Hostels here are too trusting for comfort.
- I would love to return to Haeundae Beach.
- I never want to go to the Busan Aquarium as long as I live.
- Shoulder pain is no joke.
- I miss the Misfits.
For a brief moment, my last wish came true. Hard Head dropped me off in Mokpo and I met up with them at a sam-gyup-sal restaurant. My heart overflowed with gratitude. I was too full of service station cookies to eat anything, but for a brief hour, I got my fill of pleasant company.
I swear I will have to make a new post called “My Students Wear the Darndest Sweatshirts.”
Neon crosses, redolent of Las Vegas wedding chapels, are all the rage in Namak and Mokpo.
The famous Old Gwangju City Hall Crossing is affectionately called “the yellow thing” by almost every foreigner I’ve met.
Blow up signs promoting stores is Korea’s equivalent of the “wacky inflatable arm-flailing tube man” at car dealerships. This one is for a new convenience store that opened a block from my apartment.
This is an accurate depiction of how I bowed to my teachers during my first week at work. The lower, the more humble and respectful. However, smelling your own ass is not recommended.