Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday is the Korean Friday

As fate would have it, I've spent the 3 Tuesdays prior to yesterday in Seoul. Twice visiting a design institute to discuss an internship related collaboration and once to attend a Cannytrophic East board meeting. In accordance with proper Korean business practice all these trips have resulted in extended deliberations over drinks and me feeling like crap warmed over on Wednesday morning.

The first trip to the design institute involved most of my research group and the head of the lab or division or whatever is above the research group in the company hierarchy. Two hours of powerpoints and discussions in Korean and many wishes for a swift death to release me from the tremendous boredom of powerpoints an discussions in Korean later, we all (researcher + students + prof + myself) head to a nearby Korean restaurant.

By this point, I'm starving and anything that doesn't involve powerpoint sounds like a thrilling plan. I am quickly reminded, though, that Korean restaranteers are all sadists. Instead of being fed, I'm forced to ingest dead sea creatures coated with painful spices... and forced to sit on a hard floor. No matter what you might think, sitting on the floor is not quaint or pleasant in any cultural-experience kind of way. Now this would be unpleasant enough for anyone unaccustomed to sitting on the floor while a multi-course meal drags on, but given my apparent hip deformity that prevents me from sitting Indian style (PC be damned, it's Indian style) it's even worse for me. So I get to spend the 2 hour meal flopping around on the floor trying to find a position that allows me to be close enough to the stupid short table to put food in my mouth with out dropping the slimy crap from the chopsticks on myself and then spit the damned fish bones back out without kicking people and looking like a complete jackass. Let's just say it didn't work out too well. If it weren't for soju, I don't think I'd have made it.

After the meal, things begin to look up as a couple of my colleagues suggest we head to nearby Apgujeong and hit the bars. I am informed that Apgujeong is like heaven. Heaven apparently resembles a high-end shopping/restaurant district and is primarily populated by heavily made-up Korean women in short skirts. Such hopes are dashed, however when the division head suggests we head back to near his house and play billiards instead.

In and of itself, the billiards is actually fairly enjoyable. Instead of normal pool (pocketball), the Koreans mostly play a game w/ 2 red balls and 2 white balls on a table w/ no pockets. One white ball belongs to each player/team and you get a point for hitting both red balls with your white ball in one shot. If your ball hits the other white ball, though, you lose a point. The balls are heavy than regular pool and you have to rely on spins and such a lot more. Pretty interesting.

Or at least it's pretty interesting for a while. Unfortunately, the game I was playing became an epic battle of futility. It took nearly 2 hours to complete (my team ended up winning and I even had a run of points to help put it away). By this point, I was starving from not being able to eat, sober b/c Korean pool halls don't have drinks (really odd, IMO), tired b/c I always am and thoroughly disillusioned with the whole trip to Seoul. Add in a 30 minute bus ride back to Suwon and I'm in a pretty bad mood.

Before I catch a cab to dorm, one of my colleagues asks if I'm hungry and suggests we stop at a chicken and hof. Sure, he's married with two kids and it's 11:30pm on a Tuesday, that doesn't mean he's not up for beer and chicken (or even bother calling his wife, as far as I could tell. +1 Korea). Just like that, the whole night is redeemed.

Last week's trip into Seoul started out much like the first with an unintelligible presentation the design students' first draft of ideas. However, without the formalities or managers (the group leader was traveling and the division head didn't come along), we were able to skip directly to fried chicken and beer after the presentation. Without the group leader, the other guys in the group seem at little more at ease.

J is the youngest and newest group member, which puts him distinctly at the bottom of the pecking order. At restaurants, he's implicitly in charge of calling waiters, passing things out and any other menial tasks (as a foreigner and/or intern, I appear to be exempt from this). Anyway, at the Japanese restaurant, J notices a couple of cute girls at a table nearby and begins not so subtly scooting his chair closer to mine so he can stare at them. So we're sitting shoulder to shoulder and there's like a 3 foot gap between him and the next person and I can't help but laugh. Which earns me a "What you laughing at, man?" and some joke about him 'dancing with my lap' or whatever his mangled interpretation of a lapdance was. He's about 30 minutes from being passed out face-down on the table.

I manage to keep myself together longer than J, despite copious amounts of soju prompted by one of my colleague's friends who met us at the Japanese place. Since we were meeting for the first time, we had to drink a lot. Since the friend, J and I are single, we had to drink a lot. As you might guess, it really doesn't take much for them to justify another round of soju. By the end of round 2, J is done, the friend is in pretty rough shape and I'm holding my own (but not as well as I thought).

My colleague who saved me on the previous trip invites me for round 3 at another place he knows of that's good for catching live rock music. The others being either completely wasted or intent on not getting completely wasted decline to join us. We go to a pretty awesome little music bar. We've pretty much got the place to ourselves and the guitarist at the place basically place a private set. By the time we leave, the 3 rounds of drinking and constant lack of sleep catch up with me and I'm out for the entire cab ride back to Suwon.

That's it. This post is long enough and since it's a blog I don't have to wrap things up nicely.

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