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3 October 2003
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Korea Life Blog - A Healthy Evening

Being the only foreigner there, the regular guys at the health club frequently try to talk to me. They speak English about as much as I speak Korean, which makes for some interesting conversation with Konglish and body language. I used to think it was nice, somewhat funny, and kind of them to give me so much attention. When I go to the health club, though, I just want to be left alone, really - to do my exercises in an efficient routine, wham wham wham, finished. It takes me about one hour or a little less. Now that everyone knows me, it's become a little too personal. When I arrive the regulars greet me, often updating me on Korean baseball, and wondering if I told the Korean teachers at my school about them yet (they're all single, desperately single). That is fine, I feel like I'm part of something and appreciated. However, these days, some of them act like I'm their best friend. They practically follow me around the health club, correcting my "bad" exercise form (how annoying that is as everyone has a different technique) asking me questions in the middle of bench pressing, or just staring at me in general. Sometimes it's as if they've only come because of me, not to exercise themselves. Several times they asked me to go out with them drinking, which I put off as I felt the language barrier would make it awkward. Well, they asked me so many times that I had no other choice really. One of the bad things about being the lone foreigner is that I have to be overly polite because everyone knows me and watches me. Most likely their entire view of foreigners is based upon my behavior. Anyway, after a lot of pressure, I finally accepted.

Well, here we are at a small sam gyeop sal restaurant. (Is that really me? Oh God.) It started off pretty badly. Everyone was speaking Korean while I just sat there smiling dumbly. Then the restaurant owner, the guy on the left sat down. His face was dark red undoubtedly from years of drinking, and he was dead drunk. Despite that, by Korean tradition, everyone was very polite and respectful. He talked and talked and talked and talked while everyone listened attentively, occasionally turning their heads away from him to smoke or down a shot of soju, which I kept forgetting to do. The guy with the blond hair scolded me left and right for not following the Korean social rules, which I honestly tried to do, but it can become quite confusing in a group setting like this when you're an unaccustomed foreigner. He was genuinely insulted when clanking glasses for a cheers, my glass was higher than his. (It was difficult for me to remember who was older and who was younger.) Also, I forgot to use the "yo" ending on a few of my Korean sentences, which he promptly informed me of. And he was shocked that my camera was a Japanese Minolta, not a Korean Samsung.

At one point I contemplated leaving. But as the soju went around things began to change. Gradually everyone began to ignore the restaurant ajushi and engage in their own conversations. After a series of "one shots", a few of them loosened up and spoke in broken English to me as best they could. Before long I was a hero again and shouts of "Shawn is best man!" and "My friend - my best friend is Shawn," and "I love Shawn!" resonated around the room as the sam gyeop sal, searing on the grill, sizzled and smoked. Even the ajushi lightened up, calling his wife over to cut up the meat, bring us more soju, and provide us with extra "service" slabs of other, peculiar looking meats. The man on the right, one of the trainers who is 87 kilograms of beef, told about his desire to fall in love with someone special. He is very lonely, he confessed, and enjoys poetry and romantic songs. At one point he broke into song, singing, "Careless Whisper," by George Michael. Everyone applauded and cheered him on. The partying and drinking continued for several hours.

Despite that it was a Thursday night, nobody cared. All of them had to be up by 6 or 7 in the morning except for me. I wouldn't start work until 2:30. The trainer was smashed and stumbled off his seat at which time everyone decided it was enough. There was the inevitable contemplation about going to no rae bang which was decided against when the trainer fell down again. We helped him up back up and he went into song again, this time "Take a Look at me Now," by Phil Collins. After I attempted to contribute to the bill, which was scoffed at as almost an insult, the merry health club gang staggered of into the Nowhere-dong night. I can't imagine how they could have gone to work in the morning. As for me, I slept until 1:30 and felt awful the rest of the day.


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