Love in the Land of Morning Calm – Chapter Three
“So has anyone explained to you about the three stages of a night out in Korea?” Claire asks.
“Nope! There are three stages?” I reply
“Figures that Claire would bring it up first. I think it’s her favourite thing about Korea.” Daniel says laughing.
“Nah, my favourite thing is the cute guys.” Claire replies laughing, “They will carry my bags when we go shopping!”
“Really?” I ask.
“Hey, we’re getting off topic.” Paul says cutting Claire off, “You were going to explain to Mandy about the three stages not about dating Korean guys.”
“Well, she’ll need to know about both,” Claire replies still smiling, “But you’re right. Since we are going a three stages night, it might be good to explain a little about it first. Okay, so this isn’t to say that all nights out will follow this pattern because some will just be dinner or a movie or something mundane. But if you are going out with work or having an actual night out with friends, then they will often follow this pattern.”
“Okay, what are they?”
“Don’t worry, they’re fun and simple. First stage is what we are doing now – eating dinner – with drinks of course. Once everyone has finished eating, we’ll move to a different place for the second stage which is drinking with food. In Korea, there’s always food to go with your alcohol even if it’s just snacks. Have you had dried squid (ojingeochae, 오징어채) before? It’s really popular to eat during the second stage if you’re drinking beer.” Paul explains.
“Ah no, I don’t think I have.”
“It’s actually a lot more appealing that it sounds and totally suits beer. But getting back to the second stage.” Paul continues, “While the first stage is generally at a restaurant, the second stage is often at a bar or sojubang (소주방), which is basically a Korean bar which serves soju (소주) in different forms.”
“Okay, that makes sense.” I reply, “We sometimes start at one place back home before continuing the night at a second but I don’t think we have a third stage. What’s that?”
“It depends on the group.” Sun Hee says, “The third stage can be a noraebang (노래방) which is like a private karaoke or it can be clubbing too. There are other options of course, like another bar, but those would be the most common among young people like us. Oh, and there are two types of clubs in Korea.”
“What? Umm, how can there be two types of clubs in Korea? Do you mean different kinds of music that’s played?”
“Nope, it’s more than that. There are clubs that are similar to what we know at home and are generally just referred to as clubs or by their name. And then, there are ‘nights’ or ‘nightclubs’ which are also called ‘booking clubs’ or simply ‘booking’ and they are a whole new ball game.” Paul explains.
“Okay, do I want to go to a booking club?” I ask.
“Definitely! You should go for the cultural experience if nothing else. In fact, Daniel didn’t you say one of your friends is managing a booking club? We should make that our third stage tonight and totally shock Mandy on her first weekend in Seoul!” Emma says laughing, “Trust me, you’ve never experienced anything like it in Canada.”
“Sure, I can text Hyun Bae now and book us a table for nine… for say 1am? That will give us time to finish eating and go to a sojubang for another round first.” Daniel replies smiling at me, “We might as well make this a night of firsts for Mandy!”
“Meat’s cooked! Dig in everyone.” Paul says.
I have no time to think about how hot Daniel looked when he smiled at me as Emma and Paul are both demonstrating to me how to take a piece of lettuce, and at the same time a small piece of meat from the grill in the middle of the table, dip it into some reddish sauce which I’m told is called ssamjang (쌈장). It’s fun following their directions as they sometimes told me completely different things but I end up with a piece of meat dipped in sauce on my lettuce topped with some kimchi and pickled radish (kkakdugi, 깍두기). I then wrap the lettuce up into a bundle around it all and plop it into my mouth. Wow, talk about a mouthful but a yummy, full-of-flavour mouthful. I am going to love living here with all this delicious food.
“Delicious, isn’t it?” Claire asks
“Oh my god, yes! But a bit hard to fit in my mouth.” I reply laughing.
“And it tastes better with soju.” Paul replies, handing me a shot glass. “Here, hold your glass while I pour for you.”
“We should tell you about drinking in Korea.” Min Ah says, “It’s important for when we have work dinners with the director and older teachers. With just us, not so much but still good to practice.”
“True, Mandy this is something you should just learn and use while you’re in Korea. It’s never a bad thing to be too polite and after James being an ass all the time and not caring anything about Korea, it’ll look doubly good for you to adopt some Korean customs. Everyone will appreciate it and you’ll look good.” Emma explains.
“Just think of it as rules in a drinking game.” Claire adds.
“Never pour your own drink.”
“Hold your glass with two hands if someone older or more important is pouring.”
“Same if you’re pouring for someone older.”
“Hold your glass with one hand but with that arm supported by your other arm like this otherwise and same with pouring.”
“Never let someone’s glass stay empty.”
“Always drink it in one shot.”
“Enough,” I say laughing, “Wow! How am I going to remember all that?”
“Lots of practice!” Claire replies laughing. “Cheers!”
We drink and eat and laugh and just generally enjoy each other’s company. My impression of Korea after only a week is just so positive. Lots of friendly people, lots of people in general, great food and fun times. Perhaps I’m looking at everything through rose-tinted glasses but it’s been such a great experience so far and I’ve already got a group of friends. How great is life!?!
“Young Jae just texted. He and Kyung Mi are running a little late so I told him to meet us at Lemon.” Paul says, “We’re almost finished here anyways.”
“Is Lemon the name of the booking club we’re going to?” I ask.
“No, it’s a sojubang that’s right around the corner. We’ll introduce you to soju cocktails before heading to… hey Daniel, where are we going?” Paul turns to Daniel to ask.
“It’s near Gangnam,” he replies.
We finish up and walk a block or two over to Lemon, which to me just looks like a bar. I guess the difference is just in what they serve. Young Jae and Kyung Mi join us there and we order two different soju cocktails – lemon soju which I’m told this particular bar is famous for and yogurt soju. I’m seriously hesitant about the yogurt soju, who ever heard of mixing yogurt with your alcohol, until I try it and then I fall in love. Wow, this could be dangerous! It doesn’t taste like alcohol at all, just like I’m drinking liquid yogurt. You know, like those Yop drinkable yogurts kids like… okay, that I like. I’ll have to be careful with this as it’s way too easy to drink.
We decide to hop into cabs instead of the subway and are at the booking club in minutes. During the cab ride Paul and Emma explain to me that our booking club experience tonight won’t really be a normal one as we are going as a mixed group but that it would still be fun to watch. Of course, I had to ask them to explain what a normal booking experience is. He explained that Koreans would normally go in smallish single sex groups, book a table, booth or room which comes with some sort of food like a fruit platter and either beer or a bottle of alcohol. Then waiters – all male – select girls (sometimes a guy will ask for a particular girl too) and bring them over to a booth or room. Don’t worry; it’s not about sex but rather the Korean version of speed dating. The girl generally stays for a drink and they may even exchange numbers but that’s about all that happens. I was intrigued but glad we were in a mixed group as I wasn’t sure I wanted to be ‘booked’.
Daniel’s friend, Hyun Bae, met us at the door of the booking club and escorted us to our table. He apologized that he wasn’t able to get us a booth but they were fully booked as it was a Friday night. It turns out they had met in university during the exchange year Daniel did at Yonsei University. We settle in and Daniel pours drinks for everyone.
Looking around, it looked like the cross between a restaurant – lots of tables and booths – and a club – dark lighting, DJ booth and a dance floor. I wonder what would happen next? Paul and Emma had reassured me in the ride over that with my red hair, I probably didn’t have to worry about actually getting ‘booked’ so I was ready to enjoy the show.
All of a sudden, a waiter grabs my arm and tugs. Crap! What do I do? I can’t speak Korean!
Laughing at the expression on my face Claire says, “Just follow him. You’ll be fine!”
What am I going to do? They told me this wasn’t going to happen. I think of the few Korean words I know and realize they aren’t going to be much help as they’re pretty much all about food. Oh no, we’re heading down a hallway and into a room. There are four guys in it, all about 30 and that’s pretty much all I have time to register as the waiter gently pushes me down beside one of them.
“Annyounghasaeyo (안녕하세요). Hi, I’m Jin Woo”