It has now been over a week since I left South Korea. In that time I have aggressively reunited with my friends–the type of partying you would expect in New Orleans and Baton Rouge after 7 months apart–exhausted Bumble and Tinder swipes, drove my vehicle around town solely because I could, and finally acclimatized myself back into what is normal. I have been busy. But I have not forgotten Korea.
I have not forgotten the memories I made and the people I met. They have stayed with me. I still think about my best friends at Hands Coffee and I still worry about our pet turtles Walter and Jesse. I miss the cheap ballpark beer and I miss the Korean stadium attendants who sold me that beer–becoming such good friends that they gave me one or two free beers, always, before they closed in the seventh inning. And I miss the adventures and experiences of Korea. I did a lot of cool stuff and I did a lot of resonant stuff; stuff that still helps me now. In tribute form, I want to honor all of that. I want to honor all that and then some–namely Henry Ruf, 18 months and my American best friend. Henry will get his own bullet.
- Temples: I want to begin by mentioning the temples of Korea because in the vast scheme of this trip, in its entirety, not much else really got to me in the same way. Seon and Zen Buddhism are widespread in South Korea. Their respective temples are interspersed amongst the landscape in some of the most remote and serene locations you can imagine. They also are located in populated urban areas–still just as special. Each time I made a visit, whether it was with friends or by myself, the sanctity was always present, always palpable. But there was a kindness, too, that in a way defied a lot of customary religious tension. Each visit left me feeling more connected with the world around me and, for lack of better language, wanting to be a nice dude. Religious affiliation didn’t matter. Kindness did. Also, there was a monk who gave us sweet potatoes from the temple garden each time we visited. That meant a lot and the sweet potatoes were legit AF.
- Thursday Party: Taking a firm 180 from Buddhist temples would lead us to Thursday Party. Thursday Party is a bar in downtown Daegu that became very special to me. After three months the doormen and bouncers dapped me up upon entrance, which I returned in earnest bow, and free shots usually presented themselves hourly. I still didn’t have much luck with Korean women here, which is surprising considering the elevated status I acquired, but that didn’t matter. I posted an undefeated record on the Thursday Party beer pong table while also teaching many Koreans the correct way to in fact play beer pong. They have natural talent, as bounces are adeptly swatted with dazzling quick judo strokes and their shooting strokes are efficient, but they needed me for some refinement. I provided it, happily, and always enjoyed myself here. The owner and staff, perpetually convivial, became my friends and I miss them. Zach Petrick never won a game of beer pong in the six months we played.
- Samsung Lions Baseball Stadium: First, this stadium was very nice. It is three years old and still felt/looked as if brand new. I spent a majority of my evenings here, when the Lions were at home, and this is where I made most of my non-American friends. What made the experience so great was the all-access pass I acquired before the season started. I never technically had a ticket. The pass, fashionably fixed to a lanyard, allowed me access to the stadium, but it did not denote any specific seat. If the stadium ever sold out, I would have been in a tough place. But during my wanderings, picking new spots each game, I made most of my friends. As mentioned in the introduction, the two stadium attendants who served me bottled beer were my favs. They became excited as I approached–bagging up my customary two beer order before I even met the register–and I became both equally excited to say hello and drink the beer. Throughout the stadium, with minimal English or Korean spoken, I made friends. The cheerleaders also straight up get it and they dance to unedited American music.
- Hands Coffee: Almost every morning, after I flailed around in the gym for a long enough time, I went to Hands Coffee. I came here to do most of my reading and writing. Sometimes Anthony would come here, if baseball permitted, and he would work on his Spanish (trying to impress, communicate with his pretty Spanish speaking gf). We quickly realized, within weeks, that the owner of Hands Coffee was one of the nicest human beings we had ever met–Julie. Regardless of the crisp, delectable Americanos she made, she was simply the nicest. It wasn’t about the coffee but more about her friendliness and visible, overt excitement stemming from our presence. Her younger sister worked most days too and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree (not sure of Korean equivalent to that metaphor–bamboo and lotus flower seemed aggressive and inappropriate). I’ve honestly felt guilty buying coffee at Starbucks since returning stateside. Nice people at the SB, don’t let me disparage that, but it’s not the same. I miss Hands Coffee and my two friends.
- Cuisine: I thought Korean cuisine would eventually give me fits. I typically eat everything, always once, but I kind of just assumed I would grow tired of their food–at least after a few months. That never happened. The kimchi kept getting better, the Korean BBQ stayed appealing, and samjung–the greatest sauce in the world–goes well on everything. Koreans also don’t eat as much rice as racism would have you believe so my carbohydrate intake stayed lowed… Mr. Lee, you deserve individual recognition too. Your bbq was great, maybe even elite, but you memorized our order and brought us fresh beer before the last sip was taken. You were also very nice, and I won’t forget you.
- Transportation: Korean taxis are insanely cheap. I would have taken them everywhere, but they can be difficult to flag down–if you’re white. Within a few hundred yards of our condo, though, was a subway station. Initially hesitant, I soon realized that the subway system is the way to go. It is a dollar a ride, wherever you go, and transfers are free. They have a few rules, typically unwritten, that I only found out about after breaking them; namely, the pink seats are for pregnant ladies. The trains are a lot of fun though. As with most other interaction in Korea, people are friendly. I also brought beer onto the trains per several different occasions and no one said anything to me about it… I don’t think anyone said anything to me about it.
- Hiking: I’m typically annoyed by the people who claim to enjoy “sports” and then just go hiking. They bother me. Korea, for the most part, changed that perception. In a terrain full of mountain and hill, where everything is green, there is hiking everywhere. Views are amazing, picturesque in their vantage, and there are national parks widespread. I loved it. And I went hiking a lot. Beer is always served at the national parks, too, in convenient little marts at the bottom of the hills. Hard to beat a nice hike, quick summit meditation, and a six-pack conclusion.
- English speaking squad: First, are the Rufs and the Petricks. Darin Ruf and Zach Petrick were two of Anthony’s “foreign” teammates. Libby Ruf and Adria Petrick were the wives of Anthony’s two “foreign” teammates. They are great people and I miss them. I owe the Rufs several thousand Won for meals and taxi fare. The team also employed two translators: Alex and Jason. Both translators became my friends and I hope they visit Korea. But this isn’t about them and it’s not about the two couples I just mentioned. It’s not. It’s about Henry.
- Henry Ruf: Before Korea, as I had just turned 27, I was assuming a “Clooney” mindset. What I mean is, I had been single for a while, loved my life, had a great time, and didn’t think the relationship/family thing was really for me. I was beginning to accept things and I was giving up on that path. Then, as you’d expect, after a month in Asia, Henry showed up. In understated essence, Henry is the coolest. But there’s more to it. Small children have always scared me. I enjoy being around them, but, if you ask me to hold, or watch, or clean, I’m out. I’m not sure where that fear or hesitancy came from–but it was there. It was there and I was scared, honestly… Five months with Henry now has me wanting to find the first moderately attractive girl with a job and minimal debt and start a family. Henry was that cool. I know I don’t think there will ever be another like him, and his legitimacy is credit to his parents–who are awesome btw–and grandparents I was fortunate enough to meet, Doug and Betsy, but I’ve now seen the end game. I know this will be absolute symphony to my mother’s ears, but Henry Ruf, my 18 month old buddy, has made realize that there in fact may be more rewarding, fulfilling life trajectories than “stay single, stay fun.” Henry was that fun.
- Electric scooter: Anthony bought an electric scooter. I became a part of the Gyongsang fabric as the bearded man cruising and waiving. Anthony just flat out scared people on that thing as it added 8 inches and he was a tatted 6 ft 7 giant to begin with.
- Walter and Jessie: The names of the two Korean turtles Anthony and I bought. You both would have secured a main, integral bullet but you got dull the last few months in Daegu. I gave you new cage/tank configurations every week–post clean–and all I got was more lethargy. I still miss you, though, and I know you will be happy in the small pond Anthony and I placed you.
- Homeplus: Korean Walmart, but nicer. Directly adjacent our condominium complex. They sell everything and their food court was legit. Cold noodles and eggs for a $4.99 equivalent. I miss it.
- Seoul: 3 of the ten Korean Baseball teams are located in Seoul. Seoul is an absolutely breathtaking city that most aptly, in my opinion, compares to a Chicago-type because of its river set up.
- Itaeweon: The “foreigner”, club district of Seoul. Great food and nightlife. There were two specific reasons why I liked Itaewon so much. I have since messaged both reasons separately.