Another one of those nights… Seoul, Korea. September 2014.
Another one of those nights… Seoul, Korea. September 2014.
Night Steps. Seoul, S. Korea. Aug. 2014
Technically, this was a 7/11 afternoon…
The weather forecast had promised a typhoon but had failed to come up with anything more than drizzle, and so T. and I strolled down to ‘Bar 7’ in search of a table and some light refreshment.
'Bar 7' is, ostensibly, nothing more than a 7/11 Convenience store in a grubby little back street, with some wonky plastic furniture out front, squashed up my the bins. However, it could actually be the centre of the universe. All walks of life must, and do, pass through here. After all, the 7/11 has something for all, no matter what the time of day- whether it's toilet roll, a lunch time snack, sugar for your coffee, a pack of cigarettes to easy those junkie jitters, or a few cans of beer to enjoy outside. Cars pull up and drivers or passengers dive in and out; brisk business men on their way to the train make a brief, scheduled detour; high-school students in lolling packs playfully push and shove each other through the doors and round the aisles; housewives missing an all important ingredient; builders needing a boost line up for the caffeine/nicotine deluxe combo and old fellas with nothing much else to do converge here to drink beers and bottles of shoju; and all of them set that little cluster of chimes on the door ringing, ingress and egress, summoning the clerk from the back room, or his thoughts.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet people from all walks of life and gain an insight into everyday Korean culture in the few short weeks that I’ve been here.
Today was no exception:
As we stroll up, we spy the table is occupied by 4 aging ladies, one veering beyond aging to ancient. The table itself slumps at a perilous angle and yet is filled with an array of snacks and bottles of beer and shoju (mixed together to make somak). They’re hooting and howling with drunken glee, their voices dialled up in their debauchery and it’s not even five p.m yet. The oldest of the group gets up to go for some more booze from the ‘bar’ and there’s cross words and confusion, tempers flare for a moment over a disagreement over who’s paying and who’s paying what and for a moment I wonder if the whole table is going to be thankfully cast aside, allowed to meet its slow, sinking destiny much quicker than expected, and old, brittle claws be unleashed. But it’s all smoothed over and these golden gals are whooping and waving and clutching onto each other with dear, drunken love.
We manage to squeeze in to one side, pushed up against the bins and open our own beers and it’s not long before we’re drawn in.
The ladies have no English and, to my discredit, I still haven’t managed to pick up any Korean. Regardless, we manage and move through any potential problems by falling into the flow of it all: the laughter, the smiles and, if anything ever began to slow or stick, we’d raise our beers and say "Gambei!" (cheers!). All I really glean from them is that one of their number is 83 and still going strong.
I’ve seen her about, a withered prune of a woman, buckled slightly by the years weighing down on her and shrinking into the obscurity of old age but always dressed in some wonderfully mismatched riot of colour.
Eventually, it’s time for them to go. One of their number is flagging, her eyes look painted on, glazed and her face is slumping into her palm and soon she’ll follow the inevitable descent of the table at which she’s sat. However, as they gather their things- bags, umbrellas and those weird, wide visors so popular amongst older women in Asia- she perks up enough to dash inside and recharge our beers before planting a big, wet materteral kiss on my cheek! (I had hoped my first kiss in Korea would be quite different).
Still laughing and waving and whooping, they totter off homeward into the drizzle, no doubt to berate husbands, or stumble round the kitchen preparing dinner, or to take blissful, snoring naps in front of the TV. Whatever their afternoons held in store for them I wished them well and raised my gifted beer in their health.
Yongsan, Seoul. South Korea. July 2014
Photography is more about luck than anything else- being in the right place, at the right time and being fast enough to capture the shot.
I walked out of the shopping mall, lugging my new printer, and was crossing the short, covered space to the station when I noticed a man just staring out of the windows to one side. Following his gaze, I saw this…
Cable Car. Seoul, July 2014.
These guys told me their names but they got lost between their drunkenness and mine. It was late and they pulled up seats next to mine at ‘Bar Seven’. We “talked” for over an hour, me without a word of Korean and them with only a handful of English at best. Somehow we communicated- they taught me the Korean word for ‘cheers!’ and we used it a lot. The guy in the right asked me if I liked kimchi - a sort of spicy, fermented Korean coleslaw- and I said that I did.
"My wife’s kimchi number one! She make you!" At which point he insisted, really insisted on taking my address so that he could send me some of his wife’s grade-A kimchi.
We shuffled conversation around a while longer, those guys draining shoju, me with my beer, and then a huge black car pulls up (the cars here come in only black, white or silver. They’re usually Kias).
"Aha!" proclaimed the man on the right, excitedly, "My wife!". The woman in the drivers seat looking at me, smiling but somewhat off-guard, over the slight annoyance of having to collect her well-oiled husband from his fun.
"You will make him kimchi!" He said, pointing at me as he fell into the back seat of the car. The wife smiled nervously at me, shooting a scolding look back at him that bounced off his shield of inebriation.
I still haven’t received any kimchi.
L & B. Seoul, July 2014.
Seoul, S. Korea. July 2014.
Train Girls. Seoul, Korea. July 2014
This is “Eebu”. Or rather, “Eve”- a combination of Asian pronunciation, exacerbated by a cold, turning Vs to Bs. It’s his nickname- he was born on Christmas Eve. He’s my local ersatz bartender, he;s the all night Seven-Eleven clerk. I drop by there every night, for water, or toilet paper, or smokes, something to eat, or tonight, to sit outside and drink some beers. Between customers Eebu comes out for a smoke and a chat. His English is broken, but conversant. The result of having an aunt, or a cousin, married to a foreigner.
"When I was young my parents wanted me to be a judge, or something at City Hall. But in school I joined the band, learned the trumpet. Before that I was a good student, study velly velly hard. I was in the Top 8 in the school.
But I velly, velly LOVE the trumpet.
When I tell my father I want to be a trumpet player, he hit me! My mother cry.
But I love trumpet.
My father, my mother, my sister, I haven’t seen them for a year. Maybe next year I will see them”.
I’m not sure when this rift occurred as he;s way beyond high-school now. early thirties maybe.
I ask for his photo, he’s initially embarrassed, zipping up his company tabbard and asking me not to get his sandalled feet and leopard print cotton pants in shot (the only trousers Ive ever seen him wear).
"In Korea, Musician is paid very bad. I play for symphony orchestra but not enough money, so I also teach trumpet and, at night, I work here"
"When do you sleep?" I ask.
"Maybe two or three hour every morning, between here and my other job. Teaching.
When I was younger I played a lot of football- I football CRAZY! Now I watch all games. I like premiership.
I was good football player but I broke my leg and then I got very ‘pat’”- the Korean /f/ /p/ difficulty (Which often results in me being called ‘Pin’)
-“But fat is good for trumpet!
At two or three o’clock in the morning there are no customers, so I practice trumpet. I LOVE playing trumpet”
I like Eebu a lot. He’s a nice guy on hard times, the way nice guys often get, hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to hear him play sometime…