I stepped off the plane groggy after spending the last 8 hours in a drug induced sleep to ensure my back wouldn’t cause me extreme pain again on the flight. I was immediately jolted awake from the unfamiliar feeling of cold weather that slapped me across the face. Whoa, this is going to be much colder than I expected. Then the realization that I was about to see Jeff after 10 years hit me and I was wide-awake and anxious with excitement. As the doors parted to exit customs, I scanned the crowd and there he was standing right in front with the same smile I remembered. He looked essentially the same and when I hugged him it felt like only days had passed instead of years. We chatted and tried to catch up on the whole drive north of Seoul to Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu, where Jeff was stationed for the past year and I would be calling home for the next 4 weeks. When we got in, I had to sign in at the gate and would continue to have to sign in and out every 24 hours everyday for the entire time I would be staying, which I think goes without saying that was going to be a huge pain in the ass.
The next day, Jeff had to work and I got to unpack and settle into a place, which was a nice change than living out of a backpack as I had gotten so accustomed to. That night, we went to experience my first Korean BBQ with Jeff’s co-worker and his wife, Ben and Cheryl- who would become my closest friends over the course of the next month. To say that I liked it would be an understatement. To say that I loved it would still even be an understatement. Korean BBQ was one of the best meals I had ever had. Deliciously grilled meat with dipping sauces and garlic wrapped up in leafs of lettuce was right up my alley and the kimchi was a unique combination of sour and spicy that immediately appealed to me. To compliment my first Korean meal we shared the traditional Korean drink that I had been warned about- soju, which is like a mild form of vodka that the Koreans drink like its water. We all enjoyed the local beer, Cass and shots of soju and left with a full stomach of delicious meat and kimchi and lightheaded from the drinks.
It was karaoke night at Mitchell’s, the bar on base so we decided to finish celebrating my first real night in Korea with some drinks and some singing. I was dying to do a duet with Jeff since we both always loved to sing along together back in the day. Jeff picked out Picture by Kid Rock with Sheryl Crow and at the moment, I thought I sounded really good and was giving Sheryl Crow a run for her money. Must have been the soju influence because I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had Cheryl record it on my camera with the intent of putting in here on my blog. HA- no chance I’m letting that recording get out. Jeff actually sounded decent but I sounded like I was tone deaf, however it’s a nice reminder of a fun night for me.
Over the course of the next 3 weeks, Jeff was going to be busy getting all his stuff taken care of for his exit of Korea and return to the states. Most of the days he was gone running all over Camp Red Cloud or Camp Casey nearby while I had time to myself to do whatever. The problem was that it was so cold outside with snow covering the ground that it wasn’t all that motivating for me to do a whole lot. Also, the problem with me not being able to get back on base without Jeff was an issue I didn’t particularly feel like dealing with so I spent a lot of my days in Jeff’s room watching movies, napping or online. I had full intentions of completing my online Business English Teaching course and getting caught up on my blog, but instead I think I just got addicted to Facebook and became too informed of what was going on back home than needed.
In the evenings, Jeff and I would usually go out to eat either on base or somewhere around Uijeongbu and sometimes all I would accomplish in a day would be eating a delicious meal. Fortunately, I LOVE to eat but unfortunately I am used to being much more active so I wasn’t burning it off like I was used to. On a positive note, maybe the extra layer of insulation would keep me warmer in the cold climate. We found this one Korean BBQ place that ended up being our favorite that we went to at least 5 times. I called it the “emotional spot” because for some reason (maybe the soju) we always ended up having more meaningful and emotional conversations there. Ok, maybe I was the only one who got “emotional”, but the name stuck and Jeff called it the emotional spot too. It wasn’t until the last couple times we went that we actually found out the name- Chang B. The meat was amazing there, the staff knew us, and there was rose patterned wallpaper and I will always remember it as the best Korean BBQ we had and the setting for some of our most interesting conversations.
Another memorable and delicious meal was the night we went out towards Camp Casey for Brazilian All You Can Eat meat buffet. We had been trying to find this place unsuccessfully for a couple weeks and I was craving it by the time we finally found it. The meal was just as good as I had hoped for and I had more than enough to satisfy my craving for red meat. The owner was from Brazil and he had a variety of steaks, sausage and chicken coming around and I ate until I felt like I would burst. Then we spent the rest of the night being shown around by Capt Kim since we has more familiar with this part of Korea near Camp Casey.
On the weekends, Jeff had more free time so we got out and did a bit more, especially since I was feeling quite restless by then after not doing much all day during the week. I started going to the gym and it helped me to feel better, but it was hard for me to go from going, going, going all the time to be dramatically less active. One of the things Jeff had told me about that we checked out together for our first time was the DVD Boom, which had been explained to him as a DVD shop that you picked a movie and instead of renting it to take home, they had individual rooms where they would play the movie and you would watch it there. I was really curious and was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. Obviously it was freezing cold outside so we picked a movie and were shown to our room, which was set up with a couch/bed with lots of blankets, pillows and a heated pad. There was surround sound and a huge projector playing the movie. It was like having your own little movie theater with the comforts of being at home. I especially loved the heated pad because I would get so cold from being out in the 10 degree weather. Jeff and I laughed about how if this same idea happened in the states, people would be doing a whole lot more than watching movies in there! I’m thinking maybe that’s why they call it DVD BOOM because BOOM is exactly what ends up going down in these rooms! Either way, I didn’t feel like it was dirty or cheap, it was clean and comfortable and if anything else was happening in these rooms, it wasn’t a concern for me.
One of the weekends Jeff was invited to his previous boss’s home for a home cooked meal down in the south of Korea. This was the first day we had really used the subway system and it was like a mini training session for me. We had to switch a few lines but ended up getting from one end of Korea to the next in about 3 hours travel time. The subways could be crowded sometimes, but when a seat opens up and the seat is warmed and toasty on your freezing arse and the heat blows on the back of your legs, it can send you straight into a subway coma. I found myself extremely amused by the ability of Koreans to PASS THE F- OUT on the subway even if they have just a few stops and are able to wake up magically when their stop arrives. It must be a sixth sense developed at an early age because they really have their public transport system to a whole new level than I have seen in the states.
At one point, I looked down the subway car to see that Jeff and I were nearly the only people awake and everyone else was passed out on each others shoulders or head back and mouth dropped open. When we finally made it to the house for dinner, the meal was so delicious and well worth the people watching tour of Korea subway systems to get there. It helped me to get more familiar since I would be doing all this on my own once Jeff flew home.
The next weekend, Jeff had been so busy with his last few days and we hadn’t gone out much so he decided we would head into Seoul and spend a night in Itaewan at a hotel, have a nice dinner and check out the city life. It was so spur of the moment that we just grabbed an overnight bag and a cab and off we went. The hotel was nice and we decided to eat there on the suggestion of the front desk.
IT smelled delicious and wasn’t a bad meal, but we both agreed it didn’t stand a chance next to Chang B. Chang B knew what they were doing and knew what we liked. We ended up heading to one of Jeff’s favorite bars nearby and noticed the bar above was the Bulldog Pub AND had the exact same mascot logo as the Fresno State Bulldogs. Both Jeff and I being alumni decided it was a good sign and checked it out. The place was awesome, small with a pool table and darts, plus a DJ. I made friends with the bartenders and even had a new local friend and a plan to hang out the week I had on my own. We just continued on the street popping into whatever bar caught our interest.
We ended up in full on clubs, empty clubs, regular bars with pool tables and high backed couches. We tried to end our night of drinking in Seoul with some greasy non-hangover food at KFC and I about lost my mind when I found out they didn’t have mashed potatoes. We slept late the next morning and checked out to walk around the city in the day for a few hours before heading back to Uijeongbu.
A few days before Jeff had to go, his fellow workers had a nice dinner for him to present an award and see him off. We went to the German Haus and I was trying my hardest to be on best behavior with all the “higher ups” that I would be around and not know how to be appropriate.
They were all good people but not understanding the ranking system in the military to the fullest, I didn’t want to say the wrong thing and make Jeff look like a fool so I kept pretty quiet. They all had such nice things to say about him, that I already knew, but was so good to be a part of and hear how much he will be missed. Feeling a bit down myself that he would be leaving in a few days, it made me feel grateful to be a part of this time here with him and hear how much other people love the big guy! It was a night to celebrate and although everyone was sad to see him go, they knew and I knew, he was ready to be back near his kids and family.
Since Jeff and I spent most of our times out around Uijeongbu eating out or going to local bars, I am truly sad we didn’t find this most amazing little place until the final few days. After eating at our favorite Korean bbq- Chang B, we decided to walk around and see what was near. We hit the jackpot. Since one of the things I always felt were special memories with Jeff was always singing along to the same songs together. On the street, we heard some good music coming from a bar inside called LP Café. I felt like I had stumbled into a gold mine. Being a huge fan of actual vinyl records, I was pleased to see we had found a café/bar where they had ALL LP’s and a wall of rows of them.
You just requested what you want and he checks for availability. Lots of couches, dim lighting and a really chill vibe, it was easily the coolest bar I had ever seen. This was my kind of scene! Jeff and I laughed and sang along with so many good old tunes. Half the fun was thinking of old songs we loved and seeing if he had them- which he had almost all of them. The Korean owner had the perfect “smooth DJ” voice that just completed the whole package. By the end of the night, I was dancing with Korean couple at the table behind us- having a blast. We were able to make it back one quick time on Jeff’s last night but I could have gone there every night and been happy.
Finally- it was Jeff’s last night and although the past week I had been thinking of him leaving and getting teary eyed about it but always cut myself off before I got too upset. Now it was the day of and I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t want to make him feel bad for me crying so I tried to hide it or go outside but I was feeling the impeding deadline of his departure start to suffocate me. I hadn’t seen this guy in 10 years, only to spend nearly 24/7 with him for a month. Not sure how he put up with me as I know that was really different for us both, but it was like a reminder of home, the comfort of a friend who you can let your guard down around and the assurance that being your goofy strange self is expected and appreciated all wrapped up in 4 weeks and none of those are things I was used to experiencing in my constant movement traveling around. It was nice in some ways to be still for a bit and not have to think about constant movement and new environments each day. One of my favorite nights in Korea was when it had snowed and Jeff and I stayed in his room trying to identify all the unnamed music in my itunes. We sang and laughed and joked and it felt like it would be just a regular day at home, which was probably what I needed at that moment. Now here he was standing in front of me about to leave and we both knew there was a not a plan to see each other again in a couple years at least. I never like to face anything unpleasant until its inevitable.
I waited until this moment for it all to sink in. I hated saying goodbye, I wished we had some plan to see each other again, I wished I was leaving too so I didn’t have to watch him leave. But mostly- I was just going to miss my buddy who I had gotten so comfortable seeing everyday and it made my heart hurt to know I didn’t know when I would see him again. Jeff left, I cried. Finally went back to sleep after half a bottle of wine until it was time to pack up and check out.
I went to Ben and Cheryl’s place until it was time to leave the Bu, Camp Red Cloud and all the reminders of my past 4 weeks. I was feeling emotions I hadn’t had much experience with in the past year or so. I get homesick every once in a while but it usually pass quickly and isn’t too bad. When Jeff left, I felt like I was starting over on my own at the beginning of my travels again.
I had become so comfortable at the same place for 4 weeks with the same person who wasn’t just a good friend, but a reminder of home and where I grew up. I find myself making connections everywhere I go but not on such a level that I find it so hard to part ways. I almost felt like my level of independence had dropped dramatically and I was afraid to go back out alone. I spent most of the day napping and when it was time to head off to Seoul to meet up with my couchsurfing host, I had a last meal with Ben and Cheryl in Uijeongbu and then carried myself and all 3 heavy bags to the subway and off to my next chapter in Korea minus my partner in crime.