I arrived in Seoul around midday on the 24th and had to find my way to the train station that would take me down to Gwangju to visit my friend Jacob. After figuring out how to navigate the Seoul subway system (and going to the wrong train station) I finally boarded the fast train to Gwangju, and Jacob was there to meet me at the train station when I got in.
One interesting thing I noticed was that as soon as the train arrived, some people literally jumped through the doors as they were opening and sprinted through the train station to be the first in line for a taxi. It seemed a bit unnecessary for me and Jacob and I only had to wait at most five minutes for our taxi but evidently some people either had some incredibly pressing business at 7PM on a Friday night or they just didn’t have the patience or desire to wait with everyone else.
We dropped my stuff off at Jacob’s and then went and got some exquisite Korean BBQ. It was my first time having it and while the food was delicious, I think I liked the ceremony around it almost as much. Getting the coals for the grill, grilling the meat at your table, snacking on some kimchi while it’s cooking, and then lastly wrapping the meat with some garlic and sauce in either a piece of lettuce or sesame leaf—couldn’t have asked for a better first meal in Korea. Jacob and I then went out for a beer in the downtown area of Gwangju and then returned to his apartment as I was a bit tired from travelling all day.
The next day Jacob and I had some bone soup for lunch and then met up with Munhee, Jacob’s girlfriend. We had some coffee with her and then walked around a festival that was going on downtown to remember the victims of an uprising back in the ‘80s. There was a water balloon toss, people selling buttons and food, and some music and dancing on a stage. We eventually retired to a bar aptly named “German Bar.” It was around 4PM and wasn’t technically open but the owner let us in and got us a round. Turns out he’d spend a lot of time in Germany and loved good beer so, upon his return to Korea, he decided to start making his own beer and selling it. The place was evidently popular with expats in Gwangju who were sick of the watery, mass-produced lagers typical in Korea. There were some instruments on stage and, as there wasn’t anyone else there, Jacob and I hopped on the drums and bass, respectively, and played a little music. We were both pretty rusty but it was fun to pick up a bass again and lay down a few lines.
That night, Jacob and I met up with Robert, another teacher and friend of Jacob’s, and got some good Korean soul food. We also had some rice wine with dinner which wasn’t too strong but was certainly delicious. A little later, another teacher named Nate came by and after dinner we went to a Norebong, or a singing room. It’s basically like a little karaoke room you can rent for a period of time and sing to your heart’s content. The four of us spent about two hours belting out some great songs before we eventually parted ways. Jacob and I then went and got some fried chicken which is extremely popular in Korea. We finally went back to German bar around 3:30am to watch the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Dortmund. It was an exciting game but it wasn’t over until around 5:45 and as we left to go catch a cab back to Jacob’s, the sun was coming up. It wasn’t the last time I was to see the sun come up while in Korea.
We understandably woke up late the next day and had some food ordered to the house while we watched some Breaking Bad. Around 5 we decided to head to the baseball stadium where Nate had scored some tickets to the Kia Tigers game. Now baseball in Korea is very different from baseball in the US. Not necessarily in terms of the rules of the game but as a cultural experience, it has many differences.
For one, all the teams in Korea are sponsored by a corporation, so instead of the Gwangju Tigers, it’s the Kia Tigers. Also, you’re allowed to bring in just about anything to the game. We stocked up on some fried chicken, sodas, snacks, and got a six-pack before we walked in. Supporting the team is a much more participative act for the crowd than in the states. Many people had big inflated sticks that you bang together to make noise, every player on the Tigers had both a chant and a song for them. I couldn’t tell the difference between the chants (or songs) but Nate translated some of it as “Chi-su Park, get a homerun!” or “(Korean name), get a hit!” if they were more realistic.
We had a very interesting neighbor named Mr. Han who didn’t speak a whole lot of English but he sure tried and was very generous with his dried fish, squid-jerky, and just about everything as he wanted to share with us. He also yelled a lot at one of the mascots who was supposed to be a female tiger in a baseball uniform. Well, he claimed that the Tiger was no female and made several arm gestures signifying the mascot’s anatomical differences. He also recovered a foul ball at one point and offered it to a kid. The kid was reluctant in taking it, and with due reason, as Mr. Han insisted on planting a big wet kiss on the kid’s cheek before giving him the ball. Before you start thinking anything foul was going on, I’ll say that the kid’s dad was holding him out for the kiss and everyone around was cracking up. Mr. Han was certainly quite a character.