Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Drinking with the islanders

AS SOON as he heard the word Irish he straightened upright, alert, like a Meer cat. Id exchanged a few words with him - a Korean in his late twenties who worked at a local hotel - at the last pub seemingly one of three in Seogwipo city, Jeju Island. He was at this place too. Id spotted him across the bar as soon as Id sat down. It wasnt difficult to run into someone in a place with as many brothels (they are called Room Salons, which is accurate in so far as they are rooms in which you pay for sex) as drinking dens and people as stray cats.
After my nationality was revealed in conversation with the bar staff, he hopped off his stool and saddled over. He set an almost-full bottle of tequila down in front of him.
Can I sit with a real Irishman? he asked, sitting before I could reply.
Eh, sure, I said. One thing I could indeed claim to be was a real Irishman.
I am Irish. I am a man. I neither chose nor earned either of these wonderful qualities. Besides, nationality isnt like sportswear. The Chinese dont churn out poor quality Irishman knock-offs for export. There is no windowless factory in Beijing lining Britons, Poles, French and Greeks on conveyor belts to have shamrock stapled to their chests, potatoes stuffed in their pockets and whiskey sprinkled on their breath at least as far as Im aware. But give it time.
My new Korean friend was enthralled by Ireland. He had even been there several times. It wasnt long before he insisted I have a drink of his tequila (cactus poison) and another. And another. An almost-full bottle became a much less full one. He didnt drink like a fish. He drank like a Humpback whale.
At 5 a.m. he decreed we go to another pub. He could barely speak. Words left his mouth with the intelligibility of a jelly-eating Russian reading Finnegans Wake - in Chinese. I tried to protest. It was late. Id had enough to drink. But I was wasting my breath. I would have had more luck convincing Kim Jong-il to change North Koreas official name to George W. Bushs Glorious Republic of Capitalism.
He dragged me, quite literally, to another place. We sat down and he ordered a bottle yes, bottle of 12-year aged Jameson, priced at a tidy 130,000 won (90 euro approx). What in Gods name was he doing? He could barely talk. He could barely even stand. Should it have come to it, I didnt feel up to trying mouth to mouth resuscitation.
He swayed on his stool and blabbered away inanely in a guttural, spit-laced parody of English. I didnt know what he was talking about. I wasnt quite sober and was distracted. The barmaid was gorgeous. She had mounds of curls and big brown eyes. I stared at her. I would impress her with my wit and charm. In Korean too. Of course. Genius.
Ne-eel shee-gahn iss-uh-yo (Are you free tomorrow?)
Ops uh-yo, she replied, beaming. (I dont have time/Not likely buddy.)
Hmmm. . . Well, if at first you dont succeed. . .

Ne-eel shee-gahn iss-uh-yo?
Ops uh-yo.
That was the problem with knowing only a dozen phrases in a language little room for maneuver. She wasnt having any of it. But she didnt walk off or stop smiling - she was enjoying the attention all the same.
It was then I noticed that my Korean drink-sponge was gone. His coat, wallet, bag everything wasnt. Ten minutes later he hadnt reappeared. I asked the owner if she knew where he was. Home probably, she said, and took his stuff behind the counter for safe-keeping.
The next day I found his business card in my bag and sent him a text telling him where his stuff was. He sent back: sorry, john. Because much drunk, cut film of myself. got the my stuff in G-bar.
He hadnt made it home, but slept in the stairwell of another bar. Of course.
Well, P. J. ORourke hadnt honoured (?) Koreans with the dubious title, The Irish of Asia for nothing. Forget that Irish counterfeit factory in Beijing.
Theyd do it better in Jeju.

1 comment:

  1. 90 quid for a twelve year old Jameson is a fucking crime...