I have made new friends. This never ceases to surprise me, I still harbour the small and scared kid with the stutter whenever I meet new people and though I find meeting people from different cultures a nice relief (no social context) meeting other people from the UK is terrifying.
Firstly, I sound like Hugh Grant on acid. This apparently charming quirk is something I have no control over and when around girls from the USA/Canada (anywhere that puts value on “having an accent”, which is so stupid I’m not even going to digress further) it comes in useful. Put me in a room with anyone from the UK and instantly the questions start flying:
“Bet you went to public school, didn’t you? Does your butler make you tea? Is your dad Boris Johnson?” etc.
What is actually amusing is that I’m only a tiny fraction of the above accusations (Jeeves doesn’t half know how to brew some Earl Grey). I’m actually not posh at all, not by some standards.
I went to state school, a top twenty (barely) University for my course and I have parents that both work in services (social work and teaching respectively, not being the Mayor of London.) For some reason, however, that never really holds weight when talking to anyone from back home, who is expecting you to say “whoops-a-daisy” any moment.
The fact is: to a guy from the Bronx, you’re English, and a prick. To a guy from Manchester, you’re Southern, and a prick. To the guy who lived down the road from me, I’m just a prick. Location has so little to do with it; mostly it’s all about how you are perceived.
I got a bit of a rude awakening from the isolation I felt (see “Cultural Exchanges”) when the new batch of EPIK teachers arrived, awash with Brits and a very funny Irishman.
It became pretty apparent that the one thing I’d missed the most was the jokes that we enjoy back in Blighty. This is not a slight on the Americans, Canadians and Saffas I’ve met who have exquisite senses of humour, it just isn’t the same.
For a start, it’s cruel, merciless, ruthless and downright nasty. This brand of humour is something I fear to crack out unless it’s to someone from back home, I don’t want to offend anyone (though I frequently do) and the level of gutter-humour that goes with this personal abuse is sometimes too much for some people with a more refined palate.
Now, before I sound like a total prat who revels in dirty jokes like a pig in shit, I should point out that the humour I’m dealing directly with here is known as “banter”.
Banter is different from other types of humour because it keeps you sane: if you walk around all day in an egotistical bubble then you essentially have no credibility with others unless they too are in bubbles of wankerdom. The ability to laugh at yourself is, I think, one of the most important things in the world and if you can do that, then even the shittier things in life are a bit more bearable.
Take my friend, who is Canadian and very very intelligent. He has wit, he is very articulate, he has an i-Phone (in case you were wondering exactly who this was) and I rinse him every day of his life about every little precious thing that he does. His friends back home in Canada see my posts on his Facebook wall, saying various and vile things about the length of his penis and his sphincter being akin to a wizard’s sleeve and they think I’m the biggest arsehole ever. He later told me that his relationships at home with his friends just weren’t the same as that, and that they didn’t insult each other. I would always argue that if you don’t feel comfortable insulting each other then there’s an issue. Why? To keep anyone aware that they’re my friend, I‘ll give them hell. If I don’t, it’s because I don’t know them well enough yet to know how they’ll react; which means we aren’t that close.
Moving swiftly on to our Chuseok holiday, we went to Jeju Island. The place was heralded for its romantic properties and glorious beaches, a honeymoon island if ever there was one. Which is why I went with two guys.
Now, we had a snag: the Chuseok holidays are always very busy and accommodation was at a premium; thinking we were getting ahead, we booked a fairly modest looking hotel and some one-way flights (round trip were sold out).
The flight out there was particularly painless, if you discount the horrendous amount we had drank the night before while eating spicy chicken wings. The lowest point of my life was doing my impression of Rodin’s “The Thinker” (the stinker would have been more apt) while we were hitting turbulence. Looking up into the cabin mirror I saw my barely-survived body being neglected by the emergency crews as they cut into the toilet with the jaws-of-life:
(Rough Korean translation) “I’m not going in there, it smells like Montezuma’s arsehole mixed with cat food. Rock, Paper, Scissors?”
“Fuck it, let’s not bother. There’s a load of leftover Duty-Freey whisky over here. Score!”
Our arrival in Jeju was very much painless: the bus transfer was cheap and comfortable and our hotel had offered to come and pick us up from the bus stop on the South side of the island for free. The bus ride gave way to some interesting conversations:
Jakub: Steve, why are you wearing rapist glasses?
Steve: These aren’t rapist glasses, they’re aviators.
Me: They’re rapist glasses.
Steve: Maybe because I like to rape so much.
Well, from there we embarked on a rollercoaster of poo, a skibob of shit and it all started with my inane joke about our driver (who didn’t say a word, just gestured slightly creepily to get into his car) tying us to radiators and having his wicked way with us for at least a decade.
Upon arrival at our hotel, I regretted making said pun; the hotel was in the middle of nowhere. It would have been less eerie if it wasn’t for the overcast and windy weather, the pathetic fallacy doing little to dispel thoughts like “we’ll never see our families again.” This was aided ever so slightly by our discovery of only a double bed for the three of us to share, despite the room being advertised as being able to sleep five, their guest measurements must have been for Lilliputians.
On closer inspection, there were floor mats; but it was just one of the many things that the hotel had claimed to be/have that turned out to be fabricated at best and total bollocks at worst.
For one, and by far the most insulting, was the photo-shopped exterior of the hotel on the website, it should be visible via this link http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/photo.php?pid=14808761&fbid=10150261347300034&id=833375033 but if not, let me just tell you that it was in no way close to the reality of it all.
Nobody had any real plan of what to do next, but the location was such that we found getting anywhere almost painfully expensive (especially as cabs were, by and large, absolutely clueless as to where we wanted to go.) Finally reaching a beach, we stepped out of the taxi to find a place so deserted that it could have passed for the haunted sandbank in “Whistle And I’ll Come To You.” This wasn’t helped by the speakers on the (closed) restaurant behind us, blaring out “I’m Your Lady” as we stared stonily out to sea, each in our own personal hell.
Then, thinking it couldn’t get much worse, we hopped in a cab to go back and drew our worst card of the day: the moronic, aggressive driver. He took us the long way around, despite us having given him the hotel card and by the time we got there the fare was easily a good five thousand more than it was on the way there. We gave him what we thought was a fair fare and exited the cab, he went ballistic. Now, usually my experience with Korean men is that they are very placid and slow to anger, this fellow clearly was a special case. He came bowling out of the taxi, making fists and shouting at us with such force it looked like a fight was inevitable, especially as Steve was in full Silverback-mode and telling the driver exactly what we thought of his navigation skills.
Eventually, when it seemed the stand-off was going nowhere, we paid up. Nothing was worth tarnishing the name of foreigners on the island and a punch-up would only have meant trouble for the rest of our trip. I’d have imagined that we’d never be able to get a taxi ever again on Jeju, and one bad driver didn’t make a batch, we let it go and went inside.
After meeting the girls, and having a pleasant evening at Gecko’s (the one pub/restaurant within twenty minutes’ drive of our hotel) where Steve and I played pool with and beat a pair of mean looking Russians who were clearly better than us, we awoke the next morning feeling like new people.
Firstly, the beaches on Jeju are absolutely stunning. I always feel fantastic after being in the sea and the water was just right for swimming/body -surfing in the waves.
We then relocated to the North side of the island and despite being told we’d be joyless in our hunt for accommodation, we struck out with a motel right in the heart of Jeju City. In the words of Alan Partridge: cashback.
We hit bars, played darts, talked rubbish with people and had a wicked time for the next few nights. Only one thing was looming over our heads: getting back to the mainland…
Steve and Jakub had decided that going to school on the Monday was not an option considering the only ferry back was on the Sunday evening, leaving them miles from Gangwon. I was able to get back but it would mean arriving back late on a Sunday evening, standard weekend for me.
Our ferry, however, was fantastic: it had a Noraebang (singing room) and a large Isaac Toast on board. When you combined these two things with copious amounts of beer and cards, you have an idea of what kind of return journey we had. Sitting on a slow train from Mokpo to Daejeon with a pair of beers and fuzzy heads was, I think, a fitting finale to what had been a most enjoyable jaunt.
All in all, the fun I had on Jeju was a great antidote to the stresses of work and the banter throughout the trip was part of what made it so enjoyable, tough love in a new and unfamiliar place is the best.
And, while I’m on the subject, you’re all a bunch of wankers.