beer

Leave Me Alone

by Mr. Motgol

Over the last couple of years there has been a proliferation of what I call “small beer” joints in the city I call home. These places are great. I can now can grab a cheap, cold, very drinkable glass of lager in my neighborhood without being required to purchase any anju, the often pricey “side dishes” that are de rigeur in any Korean bar. These small beer joints are cozy and friendly. They’re the very antithesis of the dark, sequestered, giant-couch vibe that used to dominate the Korean beer-drinking scene, an arrangement that purposely discouraged interaction between patrons. These places are bright and stylish and take a cue from Japan and the West, with both tables and bar/stool space, all crammed together with an eye for aesthetics. They’re usually run by hip younger folks who don’t spazz out at the fact that a foreigner has sidled up at their counter, even if I come alone. I am a regular at several and they never fuss or stare or bat an eye, but rather treat me just like any Korean patron. But the best part, for me, is proximity. There are five or six of these places within a couple minute walk from my house. No longer do I have to jump on the bus or subway or pay taxi fare just to make my way to one of the sanctioned watering holes for my kind—the so-called “foreigner bars.” I live in a bustling neighborhood with plenty of nightlife and almost no expats, and am tired of the tyranny that one or two districts have held over the drinking options for the waegookin. Finally, I have a local. Well… a few locals, to be precise.

bongu

Tuesdays are a grueling day for me this semester. I teach 9 to 9, and though I have an extensive break in the morning, I usually fill it up with my non-teaching work, which often means writing. By the time the day is done I am zapped, and usually ready for a cold, wind-down beer. So last week I headed to the newest small beer joint in my ‘hood, a great place called “Hero Salon.” The proprietor is a skinny, long-haired artist who has done the whole place in a superhero theme, with numerous pop art paintings and murals featuring Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, borrowing heavily in style from the late Keith Haring. Like many small beer joints this one has not one, but two tiny outside counters just a step up of the street. As it was late summer and still warm, I sat my ass at an outside stool, ordered a cold one, and proceeded to get lost in Kindle world.

For a moment, I had found basic bliss. I had finished a long, productive day of work; I was on a quiet side street just minutes from my house, sipping a beer, engaged and transported by the book in front of my eyes. It was proper unwind alone time, and at that moment I couldn’t have been happier.

“Oh, hello.”

I glanced up from my reading as a man approached from the street. He looked familiar.

“Do you remember me?” he asked

I then recognized him. He was a professor from my school. A colleague.

“We work together at Suyeong College. I saw you at the restaurant a while back with your wife.”

“Of course…” I said. “Hello.”

“Are you waiting for someone?” he asked. His English was good.

“Uh… no.”

He appeared confused by my answer, as if the idea of a man enjoying a drink alone was too much for his brain to process.

“I’m just reading,” I said, motioning to my Kindle. Please. Go. Leave me alone.

“Oh. Do you live near here?”

I stifled the impulse to lie. “Yes, just around the corner.”

“Me too! What … what a… what’s the word?” He searched the files in his head.

“A coincidence?” I offered.

“Yes, yes… coincidence. But I was thinking of another… hmm… oh: fate. I think our meeting is fate.”

Red flag. Red flag.

With that he took a seat next to me. He would not be fucking off anytime soon. Lucky me. I now had a “buddy.”

He was from Seoul, but worked in Busan. His wife and kids stayed up north, while he sent them cash and maintained a tiny apartment just up the street from the bar. He just came back from playing ping-pong with a friend. He asked me if I ever played ping-pong. I told him that I have only ever really played ping-pong once in my life, twenty years ago, and that it had been a disaster.

With that he switched gears.

“What is your religion?” he asked.

I knew at once where he was headed.

“Uh… I am a Catholic.”

This is true: I am a baptized Catholic, though my beliefs now firmly run on the agnostic side. But when I sniff an overzealous Christian trying to suss out where I stand with God, I always affirm my Catholicism. Being a member of the One True Universal Church can sometimes work as fundie repellent. This can sometimes appease their missionary zeal, though with others, winning me over to “their side” becomes an even more attractive challenge.

“Oh, I see.”

I shifted on my stool, grabbed the beer, and took a big gulp.

“I am a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Do you know about this church?”

“You’re a Mormon?”

“That is right. What do you think of Mormons?”

Ugh.

“Well… I have a lot of respect for Mormons. I just find their beliefs a bit too conservative for my tastes.”

“That is right. No smoking or drinking. I quit 25 years ago.”

With that I ordered another beer. He ordered a Coke. Shit. He’s camped. He had no wife in town to go home to. He was bored and lonely and now had a mission: To win my soul for Joseph Smith and the gang. I would not be getting back to my book. I would not be left in peace. I would have to come up with an exit strategy, STAT.

“What is your wife’s religion?” he asked.

For fuck’s sake.

“She’s a Catholic too.” This was true, her family was as Catholic as mine, but like me, she stopped attending mass years ago.

“I see.” He smiled. “So, what do you usually do on Sundays?”

I usually recover from soul shattering hangovers by drinking goat’s blood.

What he wanted was so nakedly apparent. It was obvious that he was feeling me out, fishing for a chance to try to invite me to his church or rope me into some kind of Mormon’d up activity. It’s happened so many times before, that I can feel it coming. You know how some people have great gaydar? Well I have a highly developed sense of Modar. I remember ages back, 1989 or ‘90, sitting in a park in Lacey, Washington, with three friends, stoned off our asses. We had a guitar and were jamming a couple of songs. Suddenly a couple of clean cut kids our age showed up and asked us if we were hungry, that they were having a barbecue and had extra burgers, hot dogs, and pop. We were in the grips of the munchies and took them up on their offer. As soon as we arrived I felt the zombiefied fake happy/enthusiastic Christian vibe (the weed helped attune me), and sure enough, the whole posse of them were Mormons. They shared their food, only to then push us with the hard sell. They pressured and leaned on to join them at their church the following Sunday. We told them, very politely, to go fuck themselves.

But this guy was a co-worker. He was a professor, a colleague. I had to tread lightly. I needed to occupy that middle ground where he would know, in no uncertain terms, I would never, ever, attend his church, even if they were giving out fistfuls of free cash. But I also had to be nice about it. After all, like most Mormons, he was a nice guy. If he hadn’t played the religion card so early in our conversation, I just may have made a bit of time for him. But probably not. Like I said, I was very happy alone, more than content to NOT participate in new Korean buddy interrogation time.

Now that I knew that what he wanted and that he would not leave me alone that evening, I feigned receiving a text message from my wife.

“Oh, man. I gotta go. The better half requires my presence at home.”

“I see. But we must meet again!”

“Sure, sure.”

“What is your phone number?”

I was trapped, so I gave it to him. He even called me right then and there to make sure it went through (it’s harder to just give a bogus number these days). Luckily I saved his name in ALL CAPS, my particular code for DON’T EVER TAKE THIS CALL. EVEN IF YOU ARE ON FIRE.

I paid the bill—including his Coke—which he took for an invitation for him “treat me next time.” And as I walked to the store across the street (I had to buy a few things for home) he followed me, lingering outside for a disturbingly long time while I did my shopping. Finally, when I emerged, bag in hand, he was gone.

I have lived in Korea a long time now, and am pretty accommodating when it comes to slight acquaintances or strangers approaching me to try out some English. I am not one of those douchey foreigners who moans about being a “free English lesson” any time a local wants to talk a bit with a real, native speaker. I know how it can be. I remember when I was learning Spanish, all those years back, and would sometimes approach a Spanish speaker to attempt a conversation. My heart would be beating through my neck, and the first few times I tried the words got jumbled like unevenly shaped stones in my mouth and I came across like a gasping fool. I try to smile and be welcoming of most any folks who address me here out of the blue, but this is only when I know that they’re doing it out of pure curiosity and kindness. I don’t deal well with shallowly hidden agendas.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I really want to be left alone. This was one of those times. I wanted, more than anything, to sip a couple of beers and enjoy the rich harvest of my reading in peace. I didn’t want to talk to ANYONE, foreign or Korean, friend or family. And then when my tranquility was shattered, when I was forced into a conversation that I had no interest in being in, it was with a guy who pretended to want to get to know me as a friend, when we both knew all along that he really didn’t give a shit about what I was really about. He didn’t care about the real me at all. He only wanted to get me to go to his church, in hopes of converting me and earning a notch on his tally of souls. I’ll never have time for that.

 

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Defending the Lady’s Honor

by Mr. Motgol

Ha-bin was always a messy drunk. Every time she went out she got catastrophically hammered. British chick wasted. A weaving, incoherent puddle of babble and drool. But unlike a British chick, Ha-bin wasn’t tall or brawny, with ancient, boozy Viking blood pumping through her veins. Instead, she was a small Korean woman with zero natural tolerance for alcohol. As a result, every time she touched the stuff she turned into a chaotic wreck. You could set your watch to it.

This night she had been particularly indulgent. We all had. We had just closed a show, an English language production of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. It was a reasonably big to do, with plenty of attention from the local press, and decent crowds of both foreigners and Koreans showing up for the limited run. I played the main role and Ha-bin was the producer. She had put the whole thing together and it had been a resounding success, so after the show the cast and crew headed down to Ol’55 bar to drink until we all fell down and saw in triplicate. We were in Korea, after all.

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Ha-bin cornered me in the bowels of the club. She was dressed in her usual regalia: tinted round glasses, army fatigue pants, and a black fisherman’s cap over cropped hair. The getup gave her the look of a Bolshevik lesbian.

I was literally leaning up against the wall while she mumbled on in slurred and hopelessly broken English, something about “foreigners together… Koreans… you know… beautiful… hip-hop… musical.” She seemed to be pitching her next project and after thirty minutes of this circular, one-way conversation, I grew restless and excused myself.

I found Big Brent at the bar. He was high school buddy who had also moved to Korea to try out the waters. Brent was a monolith of a man, tall and thick, whose glasses, gentle manner and quick wit undercut his raw, physical power.

“I’m getting kind of hungry,” he said, taking down half a mug of Cass in one gulp. “Wanna grab some food?”

“Good idea. It’s past three and nothing good can come out of staying here. I know a meat place around the corner.”

We were just walking out the door when Ha-bin grabbed me.

“Yaaaa…” She swayed, holding onto my shoulder. “Wherrrrre you going?”

“Uh… we’re going to get some samgyupsal.”

Ah, mashiketa!” She said. “I come too.”

“Uh, sure… okay.”

samrest

It was only a five minute walk to the little restaurant, but somehow we lost her.

“Did you see where she went?” asked Brent, as we sat down at our table. The place was dark and smoky, jammed with customers eating, drinking, and jabbering loudly over the constant sizzle of meat.

“No idea.”

“Me neither.”

“Well maybe it’s for the best,” I said, waving to the server. “She’s pretty wasted. Hopefully she just jumped in a taxi and went home. Last time we drank together she ended up passing out in the street.”

Two bottles of beer and some side dishes arrived. As Brent went to fill my glass, my phone rang. I checked the screen. It was Ha-bin.

“Wherrrre you?” she asked. I could hear garbled voices in the background.

“At the restaurant. Where are you?”

“Family Mart. Come get me! So hungry…”

family-mart

The Family Mart was a convenience store just around the corner from Ol’55, part of a Japanese chain spread throughout Asia. It was open 24-hours, and served as a magnet for the drunkest scumbags of Busan’s expat community. Like many convenience stores in Korea, plastic tables were set up outside, and it was perfectly acceptable to buy beer, wine, soju—anything really—and then proceed to sit down and drink it right there. The result, during the warm weather months, was a boozy pack of expats guzzling well into the dawn. The later it got, the sloppier and rowdier they became. The place was always a molten, shameful mess, ground zero for the stupidest drunken shenanigans from the city’s foreigner set, and this steamy June night would be no exception.

As I approached the brightly lit store, I saw Ha-bin seated at a table with a group of Westerners. I recognized my friend Matt, along with a young, dark haired woman and a wiry white guy with a scraggly beard and dreadlocks.

Ha-bin, was half slumped over, mumbling. A skinny cigarette burned in her right hand, more ash than tobacco.

“Hey, Ha-bin!  Let’s go eat. Come on. You’ll feel better.” I grabbed her hand.

“Ees zees your beech?” a voice stabbed out. The accent was strong and unmistakably French.

I turned to the source. “What?”

“I said: Is zees your fucking beech?”

Before we proceed, I must come clean: I hate white guys with dreadlocks. Can’t stand them. One look makes my skin want to rebel. This is a visceral, irrational prejudice, and while I’m sure there are and have been very decent, upstanding white men with natty dreads, I have yet to meet any. And even if I did, I probably wouldn’t give them a chance. I’d have hate them just on principle.

I let go of Ha-bin’s hand and addressed the mouthy Frenchman.

“She’s not ‘my’ bitch. She’s nobody’s ‘bitch.’

“No, she is a mozerfucking beech. She seets and talks sheet. Take your fucking beech away.” He waved his hand for full effect.

Already heated by booze, my blood turned to fire.

“She is my friend. Who the fuck are you to talk to her like that?”

“She is a fucking beech!”

“And you are a white dread shitstain!”

“What? You are tough guy, huh?” He stood up.

“Eat my ass you Trustafarian bag of cunts!!!”

“No, fuck you man!”

“Come on! I’ll pound your ass into the dirt!!!”

“Oh, you will keeck my ass??? You want to go! Let’s go! Come on mozerfucker!!!”

He kicked his chair to the side and stepped. It was on.

The dark haired girl screamed in French as he came at me. He was smaller and sinewy and like me, very drunk. He threw a couple of ineffectual punches and missed. I immediately got inside and, remembering my wrestling days, took him to the ground, where we scuffled and rolled around on the filthy pavement. I managed a couple of blows to the side of his face, but could get no real power at such close range.

His girl waved her arms and shrieked some more. I tried to subdue him and get another shot at his face, when suddenly I was grabbed from behind and dragged up from the ground. Another guy got a hold of him and pulled him away.

“All right, break it up, guys!.” Matt yelled, stepping in between.

Chests heaving, we stared at each other over Matt’s shoulder.

“Okay okay.” I threw my hands up and was released.

“Fuck this… let’s get out of here Ha-bin.” I waved for her to come, then turned and walked toward the restaurant. My head was reeling. I needed a smoke and a beer.

“FUCK YOU MOZERFUCKER!!!” echoed the voice of my nemesis as I walked away. “COME BACK HERE!!! I KEEL YOU!!!”

samgyupsal

Brent was seated where I left him when I returned to the restaurant, tending to the fatty strips of pork in the small grill in the middle of the table.

“You won’t guess what just happened,” I said, plopping onto the stool and lighting a cigarette.

“Oh? Do tell…”

A minute later my phone buzzed again.

“Wherrrrrare you???” Ha-bin’s voice moaned through the speaker over obvious shouting.

I hung up. “Fuuuuuuuuuck. I’ll be right back.” Brent, shrugged and continued grilling the meat.

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The scene was much the same as I left it, though now Matt was now restraining Ha-bin, who was now in berserker mode. She unleashed a banshee’s wail of invective toward the Frenchman and his girlfriend.

“YAAAAAAAAA SHIPPALNOM!!! CHUGEOLAY??? AAAAAAHH??? SHIPPALMICHINYEO YEOT MEOGEORA!!! YAAA!!! MICHINNOM GAESHEKKIYAAAAAAAA!!!”

As soon as I approached I was spotted by the natty Gaul, who pointed, eyes ablaze: “You! MOZERFUCKER!!!”

He was on me before I knew it and knocked me off my feet. I felt the sharp scrape of the pavement against my shoulder as he pressed down. Now on top, he  jumped from side to side as I attempted to scramble out from under him. Finally I made it back to my feet, staggering. We squared off, throwing sad, drunken punches that never hit their marks.

“Knock it the fuck off!” Matt screamed, pushing me away with his meaty arm. “If you don’t stop the cops will be here.”

“Okay okay.”

Once again I threw up my hands.

“Just get out of here!”

I turned away and grabbed Ha-bin by the wrist, dragging her along. She jerked and screamed, swinging her free fist toward the couple.

YAAAAAAAAA GAESHEKKIYAAAAAAAAAA!!!”

“You walk away???” the French guy yelled back. “I find you mozerfucker! WE ARE NOT FINEESHED!!!”

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Back at the restaurant we joined Brent, who peacefully dug into his meal and chuckled as I recounted the latest round. Ha-bin could barely sit. She leaned on an elbow and puffed on a skinny smoke, muttering to herself.

We ate and drank for fifteen more minutes. I was relieved to be out of the action. I had only been in a few fights in my life and hated them. And this asshole was hardly worth the effort.

Just then I saw him, outside of the restaurant, walking past with his girlfriend. Our eyes met and he stopped.

“MOZERFUCKER!!!!” he screeched, bursting through the door and tackling me at the table. Bottles, plates, silverware and glasses crashed to the floor around us, as we grappled in the greasy floor of the restaurant.

Big Brent sprang into action. He was lethally quick for a man of his size, and immediately he seized the raving pseudoRasta and, club bouncer-like, fucked him out the door like a bag of wet laundry. The French dude hit the pavement but was soon back on his feet, pacing back and forth and screaming to me.

“You come out and with fight wiz mee, mozerfucker!!!”

I had to give the guy credit for persistence.

At this point the owner of the restaurant was heatedly holding forth with Ha-bin as the smattering of other customers gazed on in semi-disbelief.

The Frenchman paced and raved outside of the door, ignoring his girlfriend’s pleas to move on. It was now very early morning, and the glow of the  day’s first light began to seep down the building sides surrounding us.

I took a breath and walked out the door, ready for round three.

He came out swinging, grazing my cheek but landing nothing. Again I took him down. I wanted to end this thing once and for all, hoping to use my size advantage for the old “ground and pound.” But he was a slippery son of a bitch and before I knew it, he was behind me, with an arm over my throat, attempting to choke me out.

He wrenched down tightly, and I gasped for air, but nothing was coming in. He had me good. My mouth moved and gulped like that of a goldfish that had jumped out of its bowl. I couldn’t let this happen; unless I did something, now, I was done. So I mustered all my strength and flailed my body while pushing up with my arm. This seemed to work. I felt him release and leaped back to my feet, sucking in the clear morning air. We stood there, staring.

“Are we finished?” I asked.

“No we are not fineeshed! We are never fineeshed!”

He came at me again, but never made it.

Big Brent had had enough of our pathetic spectacle. With amazing speed he flashed through the door, past me and went straight for the Frenchman. With his huge left paw he grabbed the guy by his nest of dreadlocks and forced him onto his knees. The dude’s girlfriend screamed for him to stop,  but Brent was in total control. Brent then balled up his right hand into a fist, and bore it down like a warhammer on the top of Frenchy’s head: BAM! He repeated this three more times: BAM! BAM! BAM!

This managed to stun our Jamaican Pierre, who stood up and staggered, his eyes now black holes.

“That should take care of him for a while,” said Brent, just in time for the cops to arrive.

A Korean police station lit up at night

They kept us separated at the police station. Brent, Ha-bin, and I were on one bench, the Gallic couple on the other. Ha-bin was an exploding rage-filled hairball the whole time. She screamed, cursed, wailed and repeatedly bum rushed our foes on the opposing bench, only to be grabbed by intervening cops, who she clawed, slapped, and even bit at. I was amazed at their ability to handle such abuse. They gently took control of her, holding her back and quietly asking her to calm down. They were obviously used to such goings on. Just another night at work for a Korean peace officer, it seemed.

After a few hours—enough time to sober up—they let us all go with a warning. I’m sure they were more than happy to have us out of their hair. Frenchy’s ire had not yet cooled. Unsatisfied with the outcome of our melee, he repeatedly offered to continue it at a time and place of my choosing.

“Any time! I weel be there! This is not fineeshed, mozerfucker!!!”

He even shouted out his phone number, three timeslest I have trouble tracking him down.

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I never saw him again. It turns out he was an international student at the end of his stay. And though he was clearly out-of-line–an obnoxious, arrogant, champion drunken shithead–I had to grudgingly grant him one crumb of respect: the guy was driven. He didn’t give up.

How much fighting does alcohol cause? Too much to count. It’s the primary fuel much of human aggression, though there can be an upside to fighting dead drunk. Sometimes both parties are just too wasted to do any real harm to each other. This was certainly the case with us. Had we been a little more sober, somebody would have probably got their ass kicked.

A few weeks later I ran into an Irish buddy of mine who had witnessed part of the fracas. He was none too impressed with either of our prowess. In his musical Cork brogue, he only had this to say:

“You looked like a couple a Polacks dancin’.”

Brent moved back to America. During a recent visit we recounted the story over steaks, beers, and cigars, laughing at its patent absurdity and praising Korean cops for their unbelievable powers of forbearance. Silently, I recalled how nice it was to have him on my side.

As for Ha-bin? Her drinking days are long behind her. Soon after this incident she found God. That’s right, she got right with Jesus and became a born-again-Christian. Today she runs a Christian café/bookstore with her similarly devout husband. No longer does she slap dudes and bite cops. These days, the only thing getting thumped is her Bible.

I haven’t been in a full-on fight since. And it should come as no surprise that the experience did little to temper my disdain for white dreadheads. If anything, it’s exacerbated the bias. It’s made it to where I can barely travel in Southeast Asia anymore. Just picture it: There I am, trying to relax in paradise, wanting to murder every third backpacker I see.