Is there any more intimate way to greet a new country and it’s people than by barfing all over the place and in public? Ask R cause that’s how he said ‘Nice to meet you’ to Korea.
Maybe that’s not very fair- I should tell how he got this way:
We arrived in Seoul on the overnight AirAsia flight from KL. The plane was almost full, but we managed to snag a center row that had three empty seats so that we could take turns laying down and sleeping. At least that was the idea, but I kind of put the kibosh on that by hogging the lay-down space for the whole flight. I woke up at one point to see R scrunched a little hunchbacked and sideways in his seat, trying to get comfortable. I offered to let him lay down for a spell but, ever the gentleman, he declined and I, ever the self-preservationist, went right back to sleep. The fact is that I was battling a little bit of a stomach thing that I suspect I picked up on the last day of our stay in Myanmar. I didn’t eat much and was feeling nauseous all afternoon, so, in my defense, the sleep was therapeutic. All the same, it meant that I emerged from the flight feeling marginally better but still not 100% and R was 75% zombie.
We passed through immigration and made it onto the right bus, thanks to our friend and host in Seoul, Attila (you should remember him from our stay in Xela: he is the Hungarian who we met on our first day in town. He had also ridden his bike from Mexico to Guatemala and was living and learning Spanish in Xela. He ended up inviting us on one of our favorite bike rides of the whole trip to Lago Atitlan. For the following 5 weeks, we hung out with Attila and his multi-national crew- 5 weeks that, in many ways, formed the heart of this whole trip.). Attila left Central America about 6 months ago and found work in Korea after initially looking to settle down in Mexico. Lucky for us, he’s an engineer so he gave us fantastic directions to his place; even a pair of spaced-out, semi-poisoned tourists like us were able to navigate the all-Korean bus system and make our way to his front door.
We found Attila in scarcely better shape than we were in. You know how Koreans have a reputation for insatiable drinking and carousing? Totally true, especially businessmen. Poor Attila had been subject to a string of ‘work dinners’ that involved copious amounts of soju and getting up early the next day to go to work with the same people he karaoked with the night before. The two of us arrived, curdled, at his doorstep and (sorry for this Attila), he looked like one of us. Despite his delicate state, he managed to play host in an amazing way. We all went out to an unbelievable lunch of Korean barbecue and then went back to his place for us to nap and for him to get ready to go to a wedding that evening.
We roused from our nap around 9pm and were too useless to try to do anything besides brush our teeth and watch a movie. Around midnight, Attila came home just long enough to change his clothes and convince R to join him for the wedding ‘afterparty’ at some fancy-shmancy club. I begged off, pleading a legitimately sensitive stomach situation and lack of sleep. R, bless him, couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass him by: partying in Seoul with a Korean wedding party? That’s as authentic as it gets! I did have my regrets for sitting it out… until about 5am when the two boys came home and R started what would be a full day’s worth of writhing around on the mattress, unable to hold down even water.
R claims that he didn’t really have that much to drink- certainly not enough to warrant the kind of suffering that he went through the next day. The truth is, I have never seen him as ill as he was that day in the 10 years we’ve been together. While soju certainly played a roll in the misery, we think that we both probably picked up some kind of stomach bug in Myanmar and that, coupled with only a handful of hours of sleep over the preceding two nights, turned him into a puddle of a person for almost 24 hours. Through all of this, Attila was a prince and pretended that having a pair of adults camped out in his living room was absolutely no skin off his back- even when one of us kept puking in his recycling bucket.
We made up for lost time the next day. We put on our ‘tourist’ hats and hit the town in a way that only guidebook-toting Westerners in Asia can. We held up traffic in the subway stations (all the signs here are in Korean!) and spent time taking photos of shop windows and having confusing exchanges with old men in fedoras. We discovered some unexpectedly lovely areas in Seoul like the Cheonggyecheonstream, running right through the heart of downtown, and more than a few side-alleys filled with enough restaurants and shops to make our heads spin. We went to a few of the tourist districts and R stoically allowed me to run around like a puppy at a Little League game in Myeongdong, the shopping district (think Herald Square in NYC). We finally wound up the sightseeing and went in search of a cheap bite before admitting defeat and heading back to our crashpad shortly before midnight.