Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy New Year (31 December)

It’s New Year’s Eve and hopes are high
     Kiss one year in, wave one goodbye…

Engaging With A Cute Doctor

Once again, my day starts with an acupuncture appointment with the cute doctor (last photo on the linked page).   I now know what to expect and where to go so I’m not really paying attention as I enter the Oriental Medicine section.  Out the corner of my eye, I see someone else approaching the department from the opposite direction but I’m busy sending a text message to the international coordinator to let her know that I’m at the right department so I’m somewhat surprised to realise that the person opposite me is in fact the cute doctor who is now greeting me.  He seems to have come in early just to fit me in this morning because I’d said that I’m leaving for Seoul this morning.

We’re soon going through the now familiar steps of the acupuncture procedure and I get the feeling that the cute doctor and the coordinator are talking about me.  I’ve understood a few random words to know that he’s asked what I do, where I work, where I’m from and the usual five questions I’m asked on a regular basis.  He occasionally throws in an English word or two for my benefit which I appreciate so, when he excuses himself to attend to another patient, I ask the coordinator how to say “Doctor” in Korean.  She tells me and, having asked his name the previous day, I practise saying “Thank you Dr Kim” in Korean. 

The final step of the procedure is a somewhat chiropractic manoeuvre that apparently is intended to re-align the spine or something similar.  Usually, the coordinator is with me each step of the way but, for some reason, she has excused herself from this final step and drawn the curtains around the cubicle in which I am now alone with the doctor.  When Dr Kim finishes this part of the treatment, he seems uncertain as to what to do next since he’s not comfortable speaking in English and, as far as he knows, I don’t speak or understand any Korean. 

I Don't Understand!

I’m determined to thank him in Korean because he’s the first Korean doctor who has actually treated me as a person and not a non-entity which I truly appreciate.  I hastily jump up, bow and say the line that I have so diligently been practising for past twenty minutes.  I’ve barely finished speaking when I hear several women laughing just outside of the cubicle. Dr Kim resembles a deer caught in headlights and I’m surprised to see him blushing furiously. He seems too shocked to say anything more coherent than “Oh” at first and seems to quickly think of something else. “Enjoy your party,” is all he manages before fleeing, leaving me more confused than ever. 

I hear voices outside amidst the laughter so I quickly grab my coat and bag and step outside to see what’s going on.  The coordinator seems to have rounded up all of the female staff in the Oriental Medicine Department because they’re all standing there talking and laughing at Dr Kim.  He’s in the middle of saying something to them when he sees me, blushes even more while re-enacting the deer-caught-in-headlights look and literally runs out of the room, across the hall and into his office where he quickly closes the door.  The only response from the women around me is to laugh even more and point out how much I’ve made him blush.  The head of the department, and Dr Kim’s immediate supervisor, asks me if I’m happy with the treatment I received: I’m very happy with the acupuncture but very confused as to what is currently happening.  Clearly, I’m missing a vital piece of information. 

While I talk to the head of department and a nurse, the coordinator goes across the hall to Dr Kim’s office and, while trying not to laugh too much, tells him something that I don’t understand.  I understand that I seem to have embarrassed the cute doctor but I don’t understand why so I step into the hall to wait for the coordinator.  Dr Kim’s eyes seem to widen further and further each time he sees me so the coordinator quickly takes my arm and ushers me out of the department as the laughter follows our departure down the hall.  When I ask her to explain what just happened, she simply laughs and tells me that I made him blush – I already know this; what I don’t know is why.  As she ushers me through the accounts section and to the front door, the only answer she seems willing to leave me with is: He’s worried about how much Korean you understand.  Instead of reassuring me, I leave the medical centre wondering what he could possibly have said that would make him blush so…..

Hello Again...

I head straight back to my apartment to meet Freddy so that we can meet Catfish at the bus terminal.  We’re soon on a bus and heading to Seoul where we’ll meet up with NZ2, his friend and KiwiKat in Itaewon.  The subway isn’t nearly as busy as it was the previous Friday but thanks to slow moving passengers, I’m the only one who manages to get onto the subway before the doors close – Catfish and Freddy simply wave goodbye from the platform and I mime getting off at the next stop which is Jamwon…and completely deserted.  We quickly communicate that I’ll get on the next train and either find each other on the train or at the station where we change lines. 

Out the corner of my eye, I glimpse a coat that seems familiar but my brain registers that it’s not who I’m looking for so I don’t pay closer attention. As I look up and down the carriage for my friends, I hear an incredulous voice say, “I don’t believe it!” and I look up to find myself looking at the man Catfish found herself inadvertently nestling against on the overcrowded train on Christmas Eve.  He then asks me where my friend is and I quickly text Catfish who thinks I’m making a joke about the subway being too busy.  Little does she know that I’m actually standing next to Mr Pillow man which is precisely what I clarify when we finally find each other at the station where we change lines.

From there, it’s a smooth trip to Itaewon where we stash our belongings in a locker at Itaewon station (a very convenient and cost-effective overnight storage option!) before heading to What the Book? to meet the Kiwis and co. Along the way, we encounter high school students who need to interview English speakers as part of a winter camp project so we happily volunteer our services. After a quick look around What the Book? where we purchase two incredibly funny Korean books that read like bad romance novels (Making Out in Korean and Dirty Korean), KiwiKat shows me the ‘Plus Size’ store in Itaewon where she buys all of her clothes and introduces me to the woman who runs the store.  When I hear that the store will be open the next day, I tell her that I’ll be back then since we’re going straight to the party and we’re once again on our way so that Freddy can have a haircut, I can look for new gloves, and we can all do general errands that are just so much easier in Itaewon. 

Countdown Seoul

With our errands complete, we head to Yeongdeungpo where the concert is being held in Seoul’s Times Square (Kyungbang) which is basically a large shopping centre.  We discover that we need our reference numbers (which were emailed at time of booking) in order to collect the tickets.  KiwiKat has the reference numbers for the three tickets that she booked but Catfish hasn’t written down the numbers for our tickets.  The solution: We head to Starbucks where people are working on personal laptops and she approaches a Korean man and asks if she may borrow his computer for a few minutes to write down the reference numbers.  Fortunately, he agrees and we’re soon heading back to the ticket counter where we discover that we will not be able to collect our tickets for another hour.  Not to be deterred by this, we decide that a proper dinner is in order and head back towards the subway and on to TGI Friday’s for some western food. Unfortunately, too many people seem to have decided on this and we’re not able to wait an hour for a table which is how we ended up eating KFC for dinner on the last night of the year…

Our hunger semi-sated, we stop by a local bookstore to look for cardboard and markers to make Free Hugs and Kisses signs.  We leave with no cardboard but a new confusion about the "Elglish" language section as we once again head back to Times Square to collect our tickets.  Catfish and KiwiKat get into the queue while the rest of us fool around and tell them to hurry up since we’re cold.  I surreptitiously attempt to take a photo of a cute Korean guy standing in the queue (much to the amusement of my friends) but, after several failed attempts, I give up. Tickets in hand, we head inside and find a spot to take over while we orientate ourselves with the layout of the venue and the schedule then we get ready to party Korean style…

…or maybe not!  We head upstairs to the club room since the performances downstairs will only start at 22:00.  Upstairs, we’re treated to the sight of a handful of people standing in the centre of the dance floor bopping only their heads to the music, and most people sitting on the chairs along the wall.  If this is Korean style partying, we’re bound to be disappointed.  We commandeer a table in the centre of the room and proceed to pile all of our jackets and bags on top before getting our first drinks.  It doesn’t take long for Catfish to meet a cute guy…much to the disgust of his girlfriend who seems to be watching Catfish very carefully.  Each time we encounter Alex and his girlfriend that evening, she is quick to move him along and discourages any conversation.

Will You Kiss a Fish?

The DJs who start off the evening’s entertainment aren’t too bad even though one resembles an elf in his beanie and looks like he’s not even legally old enough to drink never mind be the entertainment in a bar.  We seem to be the only foreigners in this section but that doesn’t discourage us from having a good time and soon, more people have joined us on the dance floor.  By 22:00, almost everyone has arrived and we move down to the first floor where the main groups are going to be performing.  Catfish and I end up somewhere in the middle of the crowd where before we know it we are preparing to count in the new year.  Catfish has been chatting randomly to some Korean girls next to us and so, with the knowledge that the new year is only minutes away, she turns to them and asks if there are any single men.  The entire group start laughing and pointing to one guy who is blushing furiously and slowly starts backing away and we’re soon counting down the last 10 seconds (in a combination of English and Korean) to midnight.

In America, Catfish tells us that the New Year’s tradition is to find someone – anyone it would seem – with whom to make out.  This is precisely what she’d been hoping to do but, unfortunately, ended up with only me with whom to welcome in 2011 while balloons and paper confetti fell from the ceiling.  When she tells KiwiKat this tradition, KiwiKat leads the way determined to find someone for Maggie to kiss.  They find random Korean guys and ask if they’ll do the honours: two of them happily agree and the second guy even agrees to having the kiss photographed when his friend enthusiastically takes out a camera prompting KiwiKat to follow with her camera – and issue instructions ensuring the moment is captured perfectly even if it requires more than one take.

By now, the excitement of the new year has worn off and I’ve realised that I’m simply too old to still be attempting an all-night party – plus the current DJ is truly awful making it even more difficult to stay awake! The only act that I still want to see is 2PM. A K-pop band that is fairly popular with older teens and young adults, 2PM is not really one of my favourite groups but I ‘m hoping that having seen them perform live might just improve my street cred with my students.  Staying awake until they perform, however, is a far greater challenge than I’d anticipated and one that I ultimately lost as I wake just in time in the corner in which I’ve curled up to sleep. 

2PM @ 2AM

There is a significant irony in the scheduled performance time for 2PM although it’s a stroke of genius from a marketing and management point of view.  2PM is half of the group that split up in order to form two new bands: 2PM and 2PM; together, they form A Day (I don’t actually know if that was the original group’s name but it makes sense!). 2AM is apparently slightly more popular but 2PM was actually pretty good.  It’s ironic, however, that 2PM performed at 2:00am for 20 minutes but a stroke of genius in that it was the one truly big name performances and after the subways had closed for the night which ensured people would stay at the countdown until 5:30am when the subways re-opened.

Of course, I don’t understand most of the lyrics in K-pop and I couldn’t see very much of 2PM considering I was standing near a human mountain but overall, their performance was good and their dancing energetic.  It was interesting to see that their dance routines are exactly the same as those of their music videos.  In addition, they would stop between each song and chat onstage which meant that they only sang a couple of songs. Catfish and KiwiKat were lucky enough to be standing very close to the stage where they could get fantastic photos and even decent videos of the performance.

With 2PM’s performance over, we all felt age taking it’s toll and decided to catch some shut-eye until 5:30am when we could finally leave in the bitter cold.  Dozing in and out of sleep, I was aware of various people standing near our group and can’t help but wonder how many embarrassing photos random Koreans probably took of us sleeping on one of the biggest party nights of the year….

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