The second rule of Korea club; never let your guard down.
It was my first evening of truly restful slumber. I moved the bed across the room far, roughly 12 feet, from the raucous street noise that encumbered the window and its immediate vicinity. As satisfying as the deep sleep was, it was promptly extinguished by the cold, harsh reality of an alarm clock, the real world and the thought of children.
I walked to school unprepared that the weather had shifted a stark 15 degress Fahrenheit down the mercury. Really, it was like someone flipped a switch from Sunday where, save for Hawaii, I experienced the warmest birthday weather my life has known.
While in the teachers lounge, I was "talking" to Moank, the P.E teacher impressed by my volleyball prowess and lean build, through third party interpretation and theater styled gestures. Moank had mentioned something about a "sauna" and asked if I wanted to go. Apparently there are a couple of different types of "sauna" themed activities to engage in here in Korea so I wanted to make sure I got the right one, so in an exaggerated over the top manner, I gestured like I was taking my shirt off; the international symbol for nakedness. He got the hint, mistook my charade for unbridled enthusiasm, and determined that instant that we were going to the sauna. Unbknownst to me, taking my sauna virginity was paramount on his action-item list because we were going to be going to the sauna that day ... as soon as our last class finished ... in 1 hour!
Being one not traditionally nervous about nudity, I couldn't wait to channel misplaced exhibitionism at the sauna. Wrinkle reducing fountain of youth? Maybe. A circus of nude flesh and queer looks? Possibly. A great blog write up? You bet your ass. It has been 11 days since I've touched down in country, so you can't exactly say I've really been dragging my feet to get down there. Moank and I took a taxi down to the sauna near his apartment. We picked up the locker keys and proceeded barefoot into the locker room via the guiding warmth of the ondol heated floor. When a guy doesn't know the native language, nor does he know anything in regards to cultural norms and general civilized behavior, it seems logical to operate by the "monkey see, monkey do" credo. Moank strips down. I strip down. Moank hits the shower. I hit the shower.
The sauna was a huge room with showers, steam rooms, a swimming area and pools of varying tempered troughs of water. The men in there were decent enough not to stare or shall I say reserved their staring for more discreet times. All and all, Moank and I put in about an hour in the relaxing sauna.
Next we took to foot to the local convenience store where Moank had to make a pit stop for three bottles of soju and a pack of smokes (he's a real health nut apparently). After picking up those bare essentials for Korean survival, we made it to his apartment where his wife had some Korean chow waiting for us.
There was the obligatory kimchee, black rice, bean soup and various other dishes I couldn't name. The food was so exceptional compared to the cafeteria fare that I think I may have over indulged. I say that because I was most definitely the last one eating, which when I checked my "Korea" book, was a bad thing (elders should be last). I running with the fact that Moank has mentioned several times that I am very lean as an invitation to eat. With the amount of comments I am getting on not being a fat ass, it makes me wonder how on earth us American got such a poor reputation? :)
After dinner Moank's wife prepared us some Korean BBQ (felt like a second large meal) and fruits for desert. That's when the soju reared her ugly head.
I saw her because I truly beleive soju is female. A mistress. An 18 year old seductress of will.
Soju is always there, looks good at night (not so good in the morning), and never says no. I'll stop there but the similarities go on for days. Besides being INSANELY cheap, it's actually quite drinkable. Moank, as per the testimony of another teacher, likes the soju ... a lot and that I should be "careful" when drinking with him. In Korea, being able to drink a lot is kind of the mark of a man, since I can barely out drink a 100 lb Beta Thi sorority girl on anti-depressants back home, I figured here was my chance to prove my international worth. Worth you say? You didn't think I was going to win them over with my work ethic did ya?
While we talked with his son's and his wife, Moank and I went back and forth with the soju bottle filling each other's glass. One bottle turned into two and then Moank decided he wanted to share some whiskey he had from his liquor cabinet. He's really trying to take the waegood by the horns on this one. The Ballentine's went down really smooth and good times were had by all. Moank threw in the towel first and said he was done. I claimed victory on his home turf in his preferred event. Can't you hear them cheering, Gladiator? I intrinsically rejoiced though the victory was bitter sweet as I started thinking about the fact that I defeated a 47 year old, 140 lb pound Asian man .... at drinking. The funny thing was I wasn't even drunk. I wasn't even close. That hard alcohol is no match for knock down power of a well crafted beer I reckon.
Perhaps I claimed the gold medal at the special Olympics a little prematurely as it took about eight hours to hit me in another fashion. I'm not sure if it was the bean soup, spiced meat, black rice, spicy kimchee, Asian pear, fish, seaweed, sprouts, kom, whiskey or soju but I had the most wickedly flaming BM ever recorded in the history of BM's! Word cannot describe it, a picture wouldn't do it justice, but poetry in the form of a haiku might just give it artistic merit.
"soju shit" welcome, stranger
Flaming shit, why you hurt me? You are
Asian cousin to "beer shit"