This trip was about a month in the making. Forces aligned and empowered me to solo-travel to Yeosu to meet up with friends. It all started when Tee tacked a photo to my Facebook wall.
A drink at a local foreigner bar with my name on it? How could I resist?
On top of that, I was feeling a bit of Mokpo and Gwangju fatigue. The travel bug bit me. It didn’t have to be a major trip. I just wanted to get away. As a bonus, I could reconnect with orientation mates left behind without so much as a wave goodbye. So I chose a date (December 15th) and resolved to go to Yeosu to sip an ice cold Ian.
Friday afternoon, I shut the taxi door with a heave and a click and entered the Mokpo bus terminal. A large lit soju sign thrust temptation into my eyes.
“Later,” I promised.
The bus ride was far more pleasant than I thought it would be. Despite five stops, it was just shy of 150 minutes. I gratefully surrendered my window seat to a serviceman because I’m patriotic like that. Actually, I mostly did it for the win-win trade. He wanted to sleep and I wanted extra leg room.
After a short taxi ride from the terminal and a brief americano-laced respite at Starbucks, I greeted Motor Man, Fireball, and Special K.
Motor Man is one of the oldest members of our orientation group with a strong affinity for motorcycles. Nonetheless, his un-curmudgeonly demeanor defies his elderly stereotype. (To be fair, his elderliness is merely relative). His accent and laid-back temperament make him a joy to talk to. Even Korean strangers will engage him like an old friend.
“Hey man, how’s business?” Motor Man said to a Korean who walked through the door and nodded his way.
They shared a brief exchange as I eyed Special K and Fireball with surprise. I thought he taught at Motor Man’s school or something.
“Do you know him?” Special K asked.
“No,” Motor Man replied. “I’ve never seen him in my life.”
“But you asked how business was.”
“Yeah…I don’t know. He looked like a businessman.”
That’s Motor Man for you. You can just meet him and speak as though you’ve known him for years.
Special K was one of the first people I reached out to about traveling to Yeosu. That’s because she is special to me, as her pseudonym implies. She instantly agreed to help me find a place to stay and hang out on Friday. Another South African, she shoulders the burden of teaching at an all-boys’ high school. By the sound of it, it’s no easy task. Regardless, she has nothing but good things to say about her job.
I always appreciated talking to her at orientation. Her eyes always belie a sense of genuine caring. Her smile is infectious and her determination is even more contagious. I already know she manages her classroom like a boss.
Fireball got her name for three reasons: she’s Canadian, she has undisputed daywalker hair, and she’s as sweet as cinnamon-flavored pancake syrup that I used to drink at 18 but since renounced as a hangover-inducing scourge. Her smile and quiet, relaxed attitude are a breath of Great Northern air. She was the other first person I reached out about traveling to Yeosu. Seeing her and Special K within minutes of arriving in Yeosu augured a socially satisfying trip.
Fireball lived the closest, so she directed me to two motels. After checking the prices (they were the same) I chose the one that smelled least like escort perfume and short-term rentals. After chucking my belongings onto the bed, it was time to complete my bar-related pilgrimage.
20 minutes later, after meeting the (strongly) ebullient Mr. E (the bar’s owner), I ordered an Ian and took a sip. It was sickly sweet, but I didn’t care. It feels good to accomplish your goals, no matter how absurd or disgusting.
“Can I get some plain soju instead?” I asked.
“I normally don’t sell plain soju,” said Mr. E. “But for you, we can drink together.”
We went shot-for-shot for the next hour and a half. After a three-week hiatus from alcohol, I was feeling myself. Special K seemed to be feeling good too. After a second cocktail, she entered our soju party and more private thoughts prevailed.
“Ian,” Kajal said, “you really need a Korean girlfriend.”
“Oh. Uh- maybe yeah.” I’m rarely comfortable with questions of bachelorhood. I do me.
Because the bar was deserted, I felt empowered to take over as DJ. Mr. E relented (encouraged even) and I put on a K-Pop Christmas song. I proceeded to sloppily dance through a routine I rehearsed with some of my co-workers. Back in Namak, I was practicing a surprise performance for our school’s festival. Fireball and Special K were weak with laughter. Mr. E chuckled as well as he procured a plate of spring rolls. His An-joo (drinking food) was en pointe.
The night remained relatively low-key. A trio of orientation mates stopped by on the way to a party in Gwangyang (which turned out to be lame. They should have stayed with the life of the party (me)).
First Special K departed to meet up with another friend coming into town (a friend she was hilariously furtive about describing like he was a dirty secret). Then, as Fireball left, so did I. We parted and I proceeded toward gluttonous paradise.
I’m not sure if it was the alcohol, the dinner I forgot to eat, or both. By definition, I suppose dinner became candy bars and hot dogs with a delicious matcha waffle ice cream sandwich. After ravenous consumption (picture cookie monster on amphetamines that actually enhance appetite), I collapsed in an alcohol-induced sugar coma on a slightly overpriced motel bed that I was nonetheless grateful for. I was already content with a full day-and-a-half ahead.
Meeting these two again made for a fun Friday night.
In case you were wondering, in the event of a bus fire, use the tiny hammer to break the window and escape.
Iansan would translate into “Ian Mountain,” but apparently is also a city in Korea.
I found a nice mural of the homeland. One would pronounce that “mi-gook.”
Don’t mind me. I’m just mashing some bean paste on a Sunday afternoon.
Don’t give me that look. I would sit next to you, but the low back support looks less than ideal.