My first night in Seoul was spent eating lunch at a South African restaurant (where I snorted two bottles of Savannah), dinner at an amazing Mexican place (kimchi fries, anyone?), live music in Itaewon, dancing in Hongdae and general subway hopping. I remember most the people I met and have a vague recollection of some of the places I saw. There was a moment as I was moderately intoxicated, dancing under throbbing green lights, surrounded by baby-thin Korean girls gyrating on tables and guys puking in corners where I realised that it’s all the same. It doesn’t matter where you go or who you’re with, humans do life the same. The realisation was both comforting and disappointing. Still, a successful introduction to SoKo’s neon capital.
On Sunday, I lugged my suitcase and backpack onto the subway and to NIIED for EPIK’s October orientation.
My roommate and I had actually met on the bus for the September intake, so awkward introductions were bypassed. Day 3, I discovered she was a giant Lord of the Rings fan. After that, she pretty much became family.
The first night a bunch of us ended up drinking soju and beer in the park. This is evening is significant for two reasons. Firstly, public drinking is a time-honoured Korean tradition and there I was, fully immersing myself in the culture of my new people. I felt like John Smith on a date with Pocahontas. The second reason this night will stay with me is due to the guy on the giant marshmallow rock who scowled at us, made uninterrupted eye contact with anyone who dared catch his eye and came over every few minutes extending his hands in search of free soju – 2 parts hilarious, one part creepy.
The days consisted of lectures, which I actually found really entertaining or at the very least, informative. The lecturers were pretty great actually. At this point, I’m mildly infatuated with at least two of them. It was like being in varsity again, except this time, I’m crushing on a hilarious 40-something mid-westerner, not Natasha Distiller.
Then there were times when I felt like Jane Goodall, spying on a troop of silverback gorillas. Stepping into the cafeteria and observing the curious social practices of foreign 20-somethings is an interesting game. I discovered, by day 2 that the dining hall consisted of four types of people. Those in Korea because they genuinely wanted to travel and teach, those who were there to pay off student loans or debt, a combination of these two and The Fourth Kind – the socially awkward freaks who couldn’t get it together in their home country, so decided to jump on the k-wagon. The latter seemed to be in abundance at this orientation.
I’d like to think that I found a mildly functional group of humans to call my friends. Four South Africans and an Aussie – we made a motley crew and had disgusting amounts of funtimez. There were others who flitted in and out and general merriment was had all round. The best thing about meeting so many people from all around the country is that you’re pretty much sorted with free accommodation wherever you go.
We had an assigned cultural trip, where we, wearing our name-tags out and proud, got on a bus and went to see the musical Miso, which was so fucking amazing that I ceased to can mid-way in and ended up crying all through the last act.
By the end, Stockholm syndrome kicked in and no-one wanted to leave. It’s amazing – like those gorillas who adopt kittens and sloths – the best of friends are made in captivity it seems. Looking back, I can say I broke a board in taekwondo, I taught an emotionally exhausting 15 minute lesson with two other, um… passively involved teachers, I drank soju in the park, I met people I want to know for a very, very long time and I learnt more than I ever thought I would. And this was all in a week. I’ve still got about 48 ahead. This leaves me feeling both terrified and excited, which seems to be my perpetual state of being in Korea.
And now I’m back, north of the wall and winter is coming and I really need a warm coat.