“Is there anything else I can help you with tonight, sir?”
It’s 8.10pm and I should have finished work ten minutes ago. I’m fantasizing about a night in with the Socceroos v Malaysia game, a little Dead Island, and maybe a few episodes of Big Bang Theory.
You know, a regular hard-core party kind of evening.
I’ve thrown my satchel over my shoulder and I’m preparing to make my way to the bus stop when my mate Ben stops me.
“Keen for a few beers?”
I should say no. I’m doing horrendously with my diet and I’m on a budget. But it’s been a long Friday and the night I’d had planned for myself doesn’t exactly ring true to the kind of wild nights I had when I lived in Gwangju or Busan. A night out sounds pretty damn good.
The Stratton Hotel, conveniently located approximately fifteen metres from where I work, is our venue of choice. It’s hard to say no to a pub that has $4 Oscar’s beer from Monteith’s Brewery in NZ on tap and friendly staff who know me by name. The beers begin to flow as we dissect our days and I boast about my upcoming Queensland trip and my bargain purchase for next year’s Fiji trip.
Olivia, one of the bar staff, just happens to hail from South Korea. She also happens to be pretty gorgeous and super friendly. Many a drunken night has been passed with me trying out every phrase I learned during my team ESL teaching in Korea or bemoaning the lack of good Korean food in Sydney.
On this particular evening Olivia was knocking off early, so she joined Ben and I as we drank beers. While poor Ben listened on and tried to keep up – the two of reminisced about Korea, discussed the nightmare that is being a student in the country, talked about our experiences of racism as minorities in a new country, and talked about how much greater her town of Iksan is than neighboring Jeonju. Having been to neither, I could offer no opinion on the matter.
I left Korea for the right reasons, but I often find myself missing my lifestyle there. I miss the way that even on a bad day there’d be a few kids who could brighten my day with either their silliness or by grasping a difficult concept.
I miss the way that every Friday or Saturday night out – even if it was at the same few bars every night in Gwangju – introduced me to new people and lead to great experiences with old friends. I miss meeting like minded people and occasionally even taking them home. What? I’m only human.
It was funny hearing Olivia talk about how she hated being in Korea because she felt like she got lost in the shuffle. That’s exactly how I feel about being in Australia.
I wonder how many of my fellow travelers do what they do because they don’t feel like they belong in their home countries?
I don’t know that I’ll ever go back to Korea full time. While I’ll always have fond memories of the place, it feels like it would be a waste of my limited time on this earth to dedicate more of my youth to the place. For two years Korea was the place where I grew as a person, fell in and out of love, and had the time of my life. I’ve still got friends there I’ll be inviting to my wedding when I manage to find Mrs. Right and friends who I like to think I’ll consider friends until it’s time for me to shuffle off this mortal coil.
But while I do have a lot of fondness for Korea, I know I’ll never go back there to teach again. As I said: there are too many other places I need to visit and experience. But that doesn’t mean I can’t miss Korea…
Oh, Hi Mum!
I was downing beer number 5 or 6 when I received a text from my mother. Excellent son that I am, I had forgotten that she would be in Sydney for the evening and that she wanted to meet up.
Thankfully the Stratton Hotel is only a block from where she was staying, and so Olivia and I (Ben had to pike) wandered off to meet her.
Our talk of Korea had stirred up a huge hunger for good Korean food in the both of us, and my mother’s love of all things Korean meant she was a willing participant in our hunt for BBQ.
I’d originally wanted to try out a new restaurant I’d seen because it served albap (similar to bibimbap but with fish eggs stirred through) but Olivia put the kibosh on that. Apparently she’d worked at the restaurant in question when she first moved to Australia and she’d left on less than amicable terms.
Never fear! BBQ City again came to the rescue. I’ve talked about this particular slice of Korean culture in the heart of Sydney before, and it didn’t disappoint as it again turned out a fine spread of galbi (BBQ beef), bibimbap (rice, vegetables, and spicy paste), kimchi, and gochu (peppers) dipped in seomjjeong (soy bean paste) to fill our rumbling stomachs.
The staff even recognized me from my recent visit with Nicole for our Bite with a Blogger interview.
On this particular evening the South Korean national football (soccer) team was also playing on the big screen – so there was lots of raucous cheering from customers and staff alike as Park Chu Young grabbed a rapid fire double to snatch the lead. It almost felt like I was back in Korea as the Wonder Girls danced on one screen, the football covered the others, and the staff capitalized on the quiet evening to watch the game and have a bite of their own.
I’m a big fan of BBQ City. As far as Korean food in Sydney goes, it’s even held in high regard by Korean natives. Their prices aren’t quite on a par with the dirt cheap menus you’ll find in Korea – but the food is authentic and the atmosphere is very similar to what you’d find in the land of the morning calm. There’s Korean beer and soju. There’s the tacky plastic cups and ugly napkin dispensers.
The only thing missing were the service buttons on tables that you’re usually able to press insistently if you want service. Sort it out!
With midnight approaching and the last bus to Lane Cove not far off, we decided to call it an evening. Our meal for three only set us back $66 and I think all three of us were full to brimming. A good night out.
Making New Friends
After saying my goodbyes to my mother and promising Olivia I’d make an appearance at her expat BBQ on Sunday (where there’ll be three former ESL teachers from Busan in attendance!) I began the stumbling walk towards the bus stop. Along the way I decided to duck down an alley to cut back on my travel time and stumbled across a small Korean grocery.
The young Korean behind the counter was super excited after I asked him where to find seomjjeong. I love how proud of their home country Koreans get. Soon he was following me around the aisles pointing out various snacks or treats he thought I might remember.
Fifteen minutes and $15 later I was leaving with a haul that included:
- 1kg of kimchi
- 1 pack of Choco Digits
- 1 pack of gim (dried and salted seaweed)
- 1 roll of gimbap (similar to a sushi roll)
- 1 deck of Go Stop cards
- 1 can of grape drink with pieces of real grape
- 1 bowl of spaghetti ramen
Oh, and the phone number of the guy behind the counter. He was keen to get some new friends in Australia and me, I’m just a friendly guy. Maybe he can help me finally learn to read hangeul?
With my arms loaded up with Korean goodies and my stomach full of delicious galbi, I hopped on the last bus to Lane Cove and reflected on a wonderfully random night.
I’ve waxed lyrical about Detours in the past and tonight was a prime example of one. By all accounts I should have ended up back at home watching TV – but instead I managed to make two new Korean friends, eat delicious food with my awesome Mum, and discover a great (and cheap) place to buy Korean food in Sydney. Winning.
And totally worth today’s hangover…