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Mike's Adventures in Korea 1994

Part 7: The Incident

After being in Korea for several weeks at this point and having traveled around the country a fair bit, my friend Scott invited me to join him and some friends of his for a weekend outing.  It seemed that one of his friends, whom we called "Captain Ron," worked with a Korean guy named "Mr. Kim" who offered to take us out with his family and see the "real" Korea.  Scott asked if Jim and I were up for it, and we agreed.

So, we decided that since Mr. Kim was going to treat us to a day out with his family, we would bring food and beer.  So, we stopped off and got hamburgers and chicken (since some of the guys in the group were health conscious, even though Mr. Kim said he just wanted hamburgers).

So, we piled into Captain Ron's piece of crap car (don't worry, he agreed it was a piece of crap; it was given to him by someone who rotated back to the states, and likely he gave it to someone when he rotated back himself).  In addition to Jim, Scott, Ron, and I, we were joined by about another 4 guys and a woman (I'll call her "Ann") in another car.  Captain Ron and the other car of GIs followed Mr. Kim as we drove from Osan to the city of Suwon.  There, we went to a Korean pool. 

By Korean pool, I mean there were no non-Koreans anywhere!  And it was apparent, as the Koreans instantly started looking at us weird.  Mr. Kim had explained, though, that many of these people had never seen me with my blond hair, African-Americans like Captain Ron, or fair-skinned women like Ann. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but the people quickly warmed to us.

Everyone went and hit the pool almost instantly, but I have a problem in that I don't tan - I simply burn.  So, I chose to just stay with Mr. Kim and help him set up the barbecue.  Mr. Kim soon realized that he didn't have enough charcoal, so he left to go get more.  I stayed behind and hung out with Mr. Kim's father and uncles, none of whom spoke any English.  So, it was just me and these old Korean guys who spoke no English, but we actually got along great.  These guys were drinking something called "soju" from drink boxes and offered me some.  So, I took one and took a swig from it.

Soju is an alcoholic drink made from potatoes, almost like vodka, except that it tastes like formaldehyde.  It is very popular in Korea, and they sell it in juice boxes so that when people get drunk and rowdy (like at soccer games and such), they can't hurt anyone with the drink containers.

So, I take a big swig from this thing and feel my esophagus burning as this drink goes down, and all the old Korean men are impressed by my action.  So, we sit there and slur our way through some conversation further proving my theory that drunk people everywhere slur the same language.  Eventually, Mr. Kim returns from getting more supplies and translates for me.  Apparently, his father had never seen an American drink soju straight, let alone without a chaser, so they have great respect for me.  For the record - I would have KILLED for a chaser!

Anyway, they begin cooking our lunch.  They took the raw hamburger and made these huge meatballs out of them and began cooking the chicken.  While they went cooking, I decided to go swimming.

Mike at pool
Mike at the pool.  You can see why he doesn't tan.

When we got back from swimming, we found that Mr. Kim's family had eaten all of the chicken, so all that was left for us was a bunch of really nasty meatballs.  These things were about the size of softballs, burnt on the outside, and meatcicles on the inside.  I ate one, but after the soju, my stomach was reeling.  Most of the other guys didn't want them either, but we had to get rid of them.  So, I went out and tried to see if we could find some nice Korean women who would like to join us for lunch.

Mike with local women
Mike and one of the other GIs find some women to come over and join us for lunch...

Mike with Korean babes
And they laughed when they saw the burnt meatballs.  They didn't want any either...

Although I succeeded in getting many to come over to join us, I couldn't get any of them to actually want to eat any of the meatballs.

Okay, I know what you are thinking - "This is the incident?"  No, but we are getting to it.  Bear with me.

Then, I went to use the bathroom.  Unluckily for me, there were "bombsight" toilets just like I saw in Italy.  However, I was luckier than Ann; she had to use the bombsight toilet - and there was no door or curtain on the stall, so all of the women gathered in the women's dressing room and watched as Ann did her business.  She was not pleased about this.

But this, too, was not the incident.  Keep reading...

As the sun started to set after spending a whole day at the pool, Mr. Kim asked where we wanted to go next.  Some of the guys wanted to go to Itaewon, which is a shopping district outside of the big American army base in Seoul.  The clubs in Itaewon are just like the clubs in Songtan - they all play the same crappy music, have the same juicy girls, and are packed full of American GIs.  So, someone had asked Mr. Kim if he could take us to a club that didn't have many other Americans in it.  We told Mr. Kim that we wanted to go to a real Korean dance club.

So, we all pile in our vehicles and follow Mr. Kim around the streets of the city, down some scary looking alleys, and out into a very nice club.  We all get out and go in.  We are invited in and escorted to our table.  This club was really nice!

We asked Mr. Kim where we were at, and he explained that we were in the university district, so there would be plenty of women our age there.  While we were waiting for people to come to the club, Mr. Kim ordered us a round of beer.  It came with a free complimentary appetizer dish, which consisted of sour fruit and dried fish.  Having had a minimal amount of lunch and being very hungry, I scarfed down the appetizers.  Mr. Kim ordered us a second round of beer, and some more people started entering the club, and a Korean band took the stage to play some Korean pop music.  A group of women began dancing among themselves on the dance floor.

I had to go to the restroom, so there I was in the restroom.  This weird Korean dude kept staring at me, and looking to see if I was blond all over.  Feeling REALLY uncomfortable, my first instinct was to haul off and slug this guy, but since we were well off the beaten path, I really didn't feel like starting an international incident.  So, I quickly finished my business and left the restroom as fast as I could.

Unaware that at that very moment, another incident was beginning to take shape.  A bunch of my friends had decided to go join the women on the dance floor, and the Korean guys in the club didn't like this one bit.  It suddenly dawns on me that we are in the university district, where just a few weeks earlier, demonstrators had clashed with police in anti-American protests complete with Molotov cocktails.

So, the club's owner and some bouncers are over giving Mr. Kim a hard time, while a bunch of the Korean guys start yelling to the women on the dance floor, who leave the dance floor and return to their tables.

Mr. Kim announces to us that it is time to leave, so we gather our stuff and head toward the entrance.  As we enter the lobby of the club, the door shuts behind us, and there is a group of bouncers who is blocking our exit, and another group appears behind us to keep us from going back into the club.  It felt just like a scene out of a Jackie Chan kung fu movie!

Now, the first instinct in the group was to fight, and obscenities were exchanged (although most of them were lost on the Koreans).  However, Mr. Kim explained to us that we could be killed and our bodies buried and NO ONE would ever find us for several days when we failed to return to base.  Instead, Mr. Kim says we should just settle up and pay them for our beer.

"You owe us 200 won!" the owner said.  It is about $300.  For ten people, that amounted to $15 a beer.  The most expensive beer we ever had.  We kept telling Mr. Kim to tell them that we wouldn't pay that much (the prices changed from what they originally told us they were, which was about $3 a beer), but Mr. Kim didn't want to further aggravate them.

As we started pushing and it looked like it was going to turn into a good old-fashioned bar brawl, Mr. Kim said something in Korean and told us to leave.  It later turns out that he paid for our bill and kept us from getting in serious trouble.

Upset that our evening had been ruined by the people at the club, Mr. Kim drove us to Itaewon, where we went to the clubs.  There, he apologized to us for giving us a bad evening.  We told him we appreciated all he did for us by taking us to the pool and for meeting his family, and we apologized for making him pay for our beer (and he wouldn't accept any of our attempts to reimburse him).  Mr. Kim left to go be with his family, while we remained in Itaewon.

So, I attempted to go into the clubs.  They were only about the size of my two bedroom apartment, but they had about 200 people in them.  The music was loud and the heat was unbearable.  So, Jim and I opted to just go sit on the curb and people watch as they went up and down the alley on their way to the clubs.  I was still slightly hungover from the soju and beer, and so I didn't want to drink any more.  But, being that I was dehydrated, I went into a bar and bought a bottled water, went back to the street, and sat there drinking it.

A woman had followed me out of the bar.  She was Korean and spoke perfect English.  It was clear that she was a prostitute, and I had been told that the most experienced prostitutes spoke perfect English.  Anyway, I sat there watching people walk up and down the street, while this woman asked me if I wanted to go away with her for the evening because she "could do all sorts of things better than many of the younger girls could."  I am sure she could, but I declined her offer.  But, she sat down next to me and started talking to me.  She was telling me all of the things to see in Seoul and asked what tourist places we had visited.  I told her, and we talked all about things to visit and see.  She suggested that I visit a place called "Chejudo" which is a resort island off the southern coast of South Korea.

Just then, we heard Ann start arguing with some women (she grew up in London and New York City, so she had this bizarre cockney-Bronx accent, which made it easier to pick her our of a crowd).  Jim and I rushed over there and saved Ann, who was really drunk, from getting her ass kicked by a bunch of other American women.  So, I watched Ann while Jim went to go get the rest of the guys.  Ann started arguing with the prostitute, who had gotten a bottle of water to try to sober Ann up, and I really wanted to go home at this point (we arrived in Itaewon around 8 PM, and it was now around 1 AM).  When the prostitute wouldn't argue back with her, Ann started arguing with anyone and everyone who walked past.  Eventually, after what seemed a lifetime, Jim came back with the rest of our group, and we all piled into Ron's car.

As we were leaving, the prostitute asked me again if I would want to have a companion for the evening.

"Hell," I replied, "you've been out here talking to me for like six hours.  You've already been my companion for the evening."  I thanked her for her tourism advice, and we piled in the car to leave town.

Jim, who hadn't drunk anything all day, drove, while I, except for a soju and two beers in what seemed like an eternity ago navigated.  The rest quickly fell asleep in the back seat.  As Jim was driving, we suddenly realized that we had no clue where to go.  We drove around and got onto the Unification Highway, but we weren't sure which direction we were going in.  "Well, if we start hearing gun shots and seeing explosions, then we have gone north," I explained.  Luckily, we were going the right way.

After another hour in the car, we saw the sign on the highway that said "Osan Airbase."  We took this exit and were once again safe and sound at the base.

Continue on to Part 8: A Return to Seoul