After a satisfying and enlightening sojourn on the Isle of Imja, The Bard and I returned to Mokpo. There we linked up with The King and began our Halloween party preparations. We started at Daiso. I chose a depressing and ghastly costume by combining sad-faced glasses with a skull mask (my name was “Skele-T-T”). I also managed to consume a whole package of chocolate Tim Tams along with a double-serving of soon-dae (Korean blood sausage). My confederates commented on my gluttony, but I was just getting started.
While The Bard waited for a pizza, I moved out with The King to indulge anew in fresh culinary fare. We wandered Rose Street. At a small shop, I ordered a hot dog – spicy. (In Korea, a “hot dog” is the American equivalent of a “corn dog”.) The King opted for some Korean lamb skewers.
As we waited, a Korean child made my day. First, this little O.G. persuaded his mother to give him money for fried ice cream. We smiled in approval and practiced our Korean.
He then approached me and stepped on my feet.
“The nerve,” I thought. “These are new shoes! I’ll show him.”
I proceeded to step on his toes in return. The child laughed with inexplicable ebullience. I was confused but laughed my ass off nonetheless. It was my most entertaining exchange with a 6-year old in a long time. Several times he stepped on my feet, I stepped on his, and he laughed uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe my eyes but my gut told me to have fun with it. Soon, onlookers started to stare and I decided to make myself scarce. I garner too much attention as it is.
Reuniting with The Bard, we decided to turn the previous night of drinking into a full-blown weekend bender. That meant purchasing soju and beer and drinking in a gazebo in the middle of a gorgeous park. The wise King abstained.
Artificial streams connected to fountains bridged by wooden arches created a picturesque plaza. Statues of dolphins and fish added artistic appeal. I could think of no better place to enjoy a drink with friends.
Soon bored of this inactivity and shuddering and the cold creeping into our bones, we chose to go to the Halloween party a little bit early (though I protested that it was “a lot early.”) I should have known. We were the first ones there. I felt like such a square. Oh well. We settled down into a timeless game of “play darts and drink beer” while costumed people trickled in.
I’m not sure if it was the depressant nature of alcohol or my general fatigue, but I was not motivated to socialize. The Bard masqueraded as a “masked man of mystery” complete with a Shakespearean-era eye mask, a dapper vest, and a black rose. I and my skeleton eyes sat in the corner looking like a deceased social reject.
Fortunately, Scrabbles showed up and made my day. We chatted for what must have been two hours. Former orientation-mates approached and said hello in a continuous stream. I greeted two bank robbers, Wednesday from The Addams Family, a train conductor, a demon, a vampire, Donald Trump, and a zombie’s wife. The variegated array of costumes was quite a sight and people-watching was quite the thrill. I showed people my costume. Many recoiled. I spent the rest of the night with my skeleton mask and sad glasses off. Being Ian can be a costume in and of itself.
Conversation with Scrabbles enthralled me. She’s Mormon and I am an atheist-leaning agnostic. Our conversations tend to revolve around the intersection of theology and psychology. I learned that many church teachings intersect with social psychology and self-help principles. Moreover, I often call her the counselor of our group because she is superb at listening to people’s problems without judgment, asking important (but not too penetrating) questions, and leaving the other person with a slightly clearer outlook on the situation.
Unfortunately, as someone who abstains, Scrabbles quickly tired of the alcohol and smoke-soaked bacchanalia brewing at the bar. I noticed two train conductors making out. The Bard locked lips with a Barbie doll (complete with the box). Because she was still new and in her box, The Bard appeared to embrace and kiss a phone booth. Scrabbles made her leave and a sharp pang of loneliness reverberated inside.
“Damn it. Fine. Let’s socialize,” Anxiety-Brain said.
We wandered around and slowly loosened up. Each smiling face chipped away pieces of an anxious facade until I relaxed into the situation. The Bard and Barbie were leaving. I asked what was up. He just said they went “to take a walk.” Right. I bade farewell and proceeded with a group of orientation acquaintances to the roof. We laughed and caught up, sharing our impressions of our respective towns. Overall, people seemed to be doing well. So am I. I was grateful for their satisfaction.
Back at the bar counter, I ran into the two bank robbers again – Tee and Oak.
Tee is an Englishman with the most pleasant demeanor I’ve ever seen. He and Scrabbles live in the same town and Scrabbles praises his “ability to read the emotional temperature of a room.” I trust her assessments of most people-related things and therefore wholeheartedly agreed. His charming and overwhelmingly British accent renders the most contentious of comments as harmless.
“You know…I could punch you in the face right now,” he slurred while speaking to a hippie. Those should have been fighting words, but Tee’s charm is a bottomless well. She just rolled her eyes and laughed (not even in a nervous way).
Oak is a South African who always goes where the party’s at. I’ll never forget one weekend (I think it was immediately after orientation) when he approached every Korean he saw on the streets of Gwangju asking, “where’s the club?”
“Where’s the club?”
“Where is it at, mate?”
Sadly, I departed shortly after these shenanigans commenced so I never found out if he ever found the club.
Oak’s charisma is as infectious as his South African slang. In fact, I call him Oak because he taught me the South African term for “person.”
“Ian, you’re a good oak, mate.”
When Tee and Oak get together they are a self-reinforcing whirlwind of fun. As Oak taught me, “the beers are flowing.” We drank like sailors and smoked like chimneys and forgot about tomorrow.
Eventually, after I helped steer a nearly incoherent Tee and Oak back toward their motel (and waited with saintly patience as Tee took a leak in a back alley), I decided to call it a night. I banged on The King’s door. It must have been 3:30 A.M. Oh the double-edged sword of late night fun.
A bleary-eyed Scrabbles answered. Grabbing my backpack, I departed, stopped at a local CU for some late-night insulin-spiking grub, hopped in a taxi, and collapsed on my bed reeking of poor life choices.
I learned many things that weekend:
-A sad skeleton is a terrifying costume.
-I really need to curb my drinking and smoking.
-I could talk with Scrabbles for hours (and I know she knows she could too).
-The Bard got game (though he sometimes claims not to).
-Waking up hungover is not worth it. In other words, when I drink I borrow happiness from tomorrow at an interest rate I cannot afford.
Ryan is a tough tutor. I am not lion.
The awkwardness I feel when people sing “Happy Birthday” for me. My emotional state looks like a soda fountain suicide – too many flavors to make sense of anything.
That’s better. Special thanks to Christina for having the wherewithal to take pictures.
After a birthday potluck, we decided to shoot some archery. I spontaneously decided to shoot an album cover.
I grabbed my birthday by the horns last weekend.
Without friends, a birthday is nothing but a lonely reminder that I’m one year further removed from birth. With friends, a birthday is an opportunity to appreciate life, regardless of age.