I can’t stop poking at the metal cup holder in my table. The waitress turned it on a few minutes ago and it’s now icy around the rim. I scratch at the thin layer of white frost and it peels off in spirals. I can’t decide if I like it: it keeps my beer cold, but now I don’t want to hold the glass for longer than a few seconds. As a result, I’m going through short spurts of drinking very fast.
We are at Biergarten. It’s a dimly lit bar, on the second floor of a building that is just across the street from the academy where I teach English. “We” consists of myself and a couple other teachers. It’s Friday evening and we just finished working for the weekend.
Sometimes, the days feel so long that you are just ready for that after-work drink. Today was one of those days–one of those days where the kids are going crazy and their parents are even worse. So, we skipped dinner in favour of beer.
There is food here, and after a while my companions are ordering some unappetizing-looking sausage, wings, and random bar food that you know is going to be mediocre, but the alcohol makes this OK. The summer sun sets low in the sky and, keeping with the apparent theme of “darkness” going on here, the only light comes from the bar and some strung-up fairy lights.
We’ve been here before, and when nine rolls around, we are prepared when a volunteer is summoned from each table. It’s time for a group game of “gawi-bawi-bo” — rock-paper-scissors. Last time, I was the volunteer, so I tell Kobus to pick paper when he goes up. Last time, I chose scissors when everyone else chose rock and was out the first round. I could sense this was a pattern that would be repeated. The host started chanting, everyone picked rock, except Kobus, who chose scissors. Face palm. The winners got free fried chicken. I didn’t want it anyway.
Shortly after, the waitresses hand out paper with grids of random numbers–bingo. Perfect! A fun way to practice my knowledge of Korean numbers. Except not, because after a few rounds I’m completely out of it. The announcer calls out numbers in bursts with very little time to think in between. A young waitress notices my aggravation and kneels by our table, taking over the game–which we lose.
At this point, we’re a few rounds in and getting pretty loud and excitable. Whether it’s been planned or not, this is the time that someone brings up going to a noraebang to do some karaoke. Luckily, in this city of 300,000, they are everywhere.
We stop at a GS convenience store on the way and pick up a few beers to bring with us, and head into a building nearby. I’ve never been to this noraebong. It’s pretty tacky–but that’s to be expected.
I would never do karaoke before moving here. But, this is a place where everyone does karaoke. Talent is irrelevant. It’s a night-out thing, like playing pool or going dancing. We’re led to a small room and handed two mics.
After some singing that gets worse with each drink, it’s time to walk home. We’re starving again, so stop and pick up some cups of ramen on the way. Tim and I wander back to our tiny studio apartment.
The night hasn’t been eventful, nor overly exciting. The beer was mediocre and the food even moreso. My karaoke was abysmal (even my drunken mind could tell), and my health would be a little worse for wear. But, there’s something special about feeling part of a place, and that’s what I feel. So, I shake off the hangover–I won’t let it stop me from getting on a bus and having a busy day of exploring a new city–and know that I’ll probably do it all again next weekend.
Read a little more about my time in Wonju here.
Have you ever been an expat? Did you develop any standard nightlife or weekend routines?