from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Random #44: Nomanakya Naranai, Part II

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The title of this series of entries is a shortened, conversational form of nomanakereba naranai, meaning “you must drink” (literally, “you mustn’t not drink”).

     “Oppa, do you want a beer with lunch?” I’m surprised Soyoung is encouraging me to drink because she has complained about Taka drinking so much and often and that is exactly why I’m here.
     “Sure.” I’m going to need it to chase the taste of gyuutan. I don’t really want to try cow tongue cuisine and I don’t think Soyoung wants to, either, but Ju-eon, Soyoung’s married friend, is adamant on introducing me to something new and Japanese. I choose the cow tongue curry, hoping the curry flavor will overpower the taste of tongue meat.
     The girls order our cow tongue feast and two beers.
     “I’ve been trying to build up my tolerance,” Soyoung tells me. “I couldn’t really drink when you saw me last time, remember?”
     I don’t. I nod to be polite, but the few times we’ve been at a bar together, my attention was focused elsewhere.
     “Taka is always drinking so I thought I’d pick it up.” Boy, Taka lucked out. A girl who can’t drink but is willing to learn for her husband is a good girl.


Gyuutan. Image courtesy of Google Image search. Some blog titled shibatabread.com

     It’s my second beer of the day. My first was on the flight from Incheon. There was a seat on the 10:10 to Narita. When you’ve spent an extra 500 bucks on account of your own stupidity, drink. When you’re surrounded by Japanese middle school kids running up and down the aisles and flirting with each other, drink. Drink and forget your troubles. When you’re on your way to meet up with close friends you haven’t seen in a while, drink. When the Korean Air stewardesses give you a smile as they pass by because you’re not a Japanese middle school student running up and down the aisle and flirting with other middle school students, drink. Drink and be merry.
     When you’re waiting for the girls to struggle through their roast tongue and tongue over rice, drink. It’s my second and I can appreciate that it was on Soyoung’s suggestion.

     “It’s too late to go to the art museum. Is there anything you want to do?”
     “Not really.”
     Sightseeing is overrated. I used to sightsee. I’d go to some exotic location and pay good money to be surrounded by hordes of tourists and wait in line to see things and think, “Wow, that’s old,” or “Wow, that’s impressive,” and take a picture that has been taken countless times before when that same money could be used for beer and massages. I love beautiful things but I prefer the beauty of the young and alive and temporal than the beauty of the old and static and permanent. I agreed to go to the art museum as kind of trade off for the drunken shenanigans Taka and Michi and I are planning for the weekend.
     “Well, Taka’s going to meet you at the station at 7. Michi wants to take you to ‘someplace nice’ in Kanagawa.” She sighs. I wonder why Taka didn’t just lie to her.
     “Kanagawa? What’s in Kanagawa?” Ju-eon asks. I guess people who live in Tokyo don’t venture out there normally.
     “I don’t know,” she says with a tone of exasperation. The kind of tone that implies, “Who knows what guys do when they’re out drinking but I’m sure I don’t want to know.”
     “What’s Kanagawa?” I ask.
     “It’s like Gyeonggi-do,” she replies and I decide to leave it at that.

     The girls take me to my hostel and wait for me across the street at a café while I check-in. My co-ed dormitory room is tiny, just enough space for three bunk beds, and occupied by only women. There are three Swedes on vacation from teaching English in Korea and a 1.5 generation Korean American. They seem like nice people but I’m not here to socialize with strangers.
     Having nothing to do until Taka gets off work, the three of us have coffee and head to Ikebukuro Station to look around the department store. Japanese goods are well-designed but severely over-priced ($100 for a Moleskin notebook) so I do my own type of browsing of the local goods while Soyoung and Ju-eon look for notebooks and wrapping paper. Ju-eon decides it would be better to buy wrapping paper at the 100-yen store so we head out to the roof of the adjacent department store for vending machine coffee and a smoke until Taka arrives.
     We meet Taka at the West entrance of the station. He’s still in his suit and clutching his bag. The girls graciously take their leave and we head down to the platform on our way to Kanagawa.

     I have an idea what we’re getting into. A couple weeks earlier, Taka came to Seoul on a business trip and GK and I met him for a night cap at some happening spot in Itaewon. After grad school, Taka took a job at Samsung Japan for his wife but the benefit is that work occasionally brings him to Korea to party for a short time after his duties end and his flight back to Tokyo leaves. Michi works at the Tokyo branch of an American data processing company and so we only get to see him when we go to Japan.
     The four of us met in the summer of 2007. It was during an international summer program for students from Seoul National University, Waseda University, and Peking University. Ten students from each university spending a week in each country, studying regional integration and other idealistic bullshit. Although an American, I was able to take part in the bullshit because of my connection to the institute hosting the program on the condition that I take care of “extracurricular activities” while the group was in Korea. (I met GK during my first semester at SNU and he agreed to help me in my hosting duties.) Most of the thirty were only interested in petty things like shopping or cultural activities but Taka and Michi were always down to drink. Every night for the three weeks of the program.
     At the bar in Itaewon, we were catching up over cheap Korean beer and chicken skewers. GK just broke up with his serious girlfriend and Taka told us Michi did as well. We’re getting to the age where people seriously consider marriage, and while it’s sad news, a dark part of me is comforted by the fact that my friends will be around to drink until the wee hours of the morning, unfettered by the bonds of commitment.
     It was getting late, the critical point where you have to decide to turn in or fuck it all and drink until your plane leaves.
     “So what do you want to do?” GK asked Taka. Taka’s the guest and even though we all have to work or catch a plane in the early morning, it’s Asian hospitality to drink as long as the guest so desires. Actually, I’m not sure if it’s Asian hospitality or just our version of hospitality.
     “What is there to do?”
     “It depends on what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for.” GK was being careful because Taka’s a married man and he was unsure of Japanese morality when it comes to marriage and frequenting the shadier aspects of society. “We can go to a bar or a club or a place where we can talk to girls.”
     “What kind of place is that?”
     “There are lots of different kinds of places. It depends on what you want.”
     “You only get to talk to one girl?”
     “Usually. It can be pretty expensive, too.” GK’s tone told me that he didn’t really want to spend money but he would if Taka was into it.
     “In Japan, the girls rotate so you get to talk to every girl.”
     “Really?”
     “Yeah. Holden, you’ll see what I mean. Michi wants to take you ‘somewhere nice’ when you come.”

     We take the Yamanote Line down to Shinagawa (I think it was) and transfer to the line that will take us out to Kanagawa Prefecture. We’re heading to Kawasaki city. “It’s dirty there,” Taka tells me. “Good,” I tell him. Although I’m not sure what we’re getting into, dirty is what I’m looking for. Michi has the night planned out and he’s going to meet us there.

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Written by Young

November 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm

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