Saturday, April 03, 2010

Hungover in Seoul

You might find me in the club

I woke today at 7am, feeling rough as a dog. The flight to Seoul was uneventful, and we'd got a bus into town with the minimum of fuss; it dropped us straight outside the Koreana Hotel where we are staying. Then we had about half an hour of fumbling around before my girlfriend's friends arrived, and then we headed out to 'a happening club'.

I don't go to 'happening' clubs. As far as I'm aware, nobody has been to 'a happening club' since the mid-1970s. The taxi spilled us all out into the street next to a police station. I know it's been a few years since I was a serious carouser, but I was sure this was the wrong way round. You went and got drunk first, then ended up at the police station. Did Seoul reverse the natural order of things?

Outside the police station were three US military policemen. It's a true sign that you're getting old when even the military police seem to be getting younger – they all looked about fifteen. I think a prerequisite of military police should be that they need to shave. Except for the female ones. Well, maybe them too.

Next to the police station was the club where all the promised happenings would be. It was called Club UN, and GIs got in for free. I had to pay 10,000 won because I'm not a member of the military. Damn my civilian lifestyle! Although it's strange that whereas most clubs just won't charge for 'ladies', this was making an exception for men with guns.

The bar appeared to be run by teenagers who were expecting their parents to be home soon. It was a room of unfinished concrete, with handwritten signs all over the place advertising badly spelt cocktails and saying that 'Minors Can Fuxk Off'. There was some neon and a constant blue strobe flashing, but I had the sense that they were just play-acting at having a bar and they were going to get into a lot of trouble when Mr and Mrs UN came back from seeing Les Miserables and found their basement full of adolescent soldiers and prostitutes.

Well, maybe they weren't all prostitutes. There was just an awful lot of bored looking women standing around, occasionally talking to a man, and otherwise drinking from Starbucks paper cups and staring at people. Maybe they were just there for the music.

The music, that is, that was sheer awfulness. Apparently nothing in the last five years has made its way this far east, or that's why they were playing 'Return of the Mack' by Mark Morrison. Well, there's one other explanation – they were so enamoured of my company that they wanted to honour my Britishness by playing the one-hit wonder from the great hope of British R&B from the early 1990s. Or they really had no decent music. Again, when Mr & Mrs UN got home, they'd be cross to find scratches all over their old music collection, and a busted speaker on the hi-fi.

After two hours of this, as the place went from having nobody in it but us and the prostitutes, to having us, more prostitutes and a bunch of squaddies, we moved on. To 7-11. At least there was a decent selection of food there.

No, of course there wasn't. It was 7-11. I did get to buy a packet of Cheetos though. They were … lamentable. We met a chap there from Florida, who was working in the Army on satellite communications, and buying some plastic cheese in a tube.

We weren't done though. We tried every club in a twenty yard radius from 7-11. There was: an Ethiopian bar that had a fault with the toilets and stank of sewage. A family restaurant with a big cage full of cats. A Latino bar that had a video projection of bimbimbat being cooked on one wall, and two customers. A Russian bar that had nobody in it apart from some more bored looking hookers. A place offering 'KAPAOKE' and pocketball, that had nobody in it.

We gave up, and tried the main street. Perhaps we would return to Club UN. No: we tried: a transsexual club (that had a cover charge for men but not for women – it wasn't clear what the transsexuals were paying to get in), another Latino bar with three people in it, a Rock and Roll Cafe with nobody in it, a shady place called Justin, and a couple of buskers singing Lady Gaga songs. If I learned one thing that night, it was that there's a lot of buskers in Seoul, and they're all European and most of them are no bloody good. The Lady Gaga ones were good though, but then they started on their own material, and we fled to the other side of the street, to the Seoul Pub.

Finally, some normality. If normality is a room crammed full of 18 year old GIs, drinking Jagermeister as if their life depended on it, while a frankly mental Korean bartender who was old enough to do better orchestrated a series of drinking games and card tricks (and sometimes when he was lacking inspiration just put the television on to the porn channel). I'm not sure why he was wearing a very tight cycling top, but I suppose that's just how they roll.

We left at 1am, and headed back to the hotel. And now I'm typing this while waiting for room service to bring breakfast, with my sunglasses on as the bright new day pours inconveniently through the window. Hello Seoul.


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