Day 425

Saturday | April 27th, 2013


In 2005, after a bad time in a year of bad times, I got myself to the neighborhood hapkido joint for classes. Sort of a continuation of the life I’d had in Daegu for 2003 and 2004. In Daegu, I’d learned Hapkido because I was interested. In Seoul, I wanted to get back to it but didn’t until I needed to defend myself and knew I couldn’t.


I made great friends at Hapkido and the master (above, wearing the tie) and little master (above, wearing the cross-pattern) were great teachers—better than I was at teaching English. I learned so much from them and everyone there. While I was going there we made a club with a bank account and appointed a treasurer. Every month, I put 10,000 won into this account, then we went and did stuff together, like snowboarding.

Over the years though, like all things (even the ones I try to hold on to the hardest), this slipped away. First, was the Hapkido, I didn’t take care of a bad sprain and it got worse and worse until finally one night during flipping and throwing exercises that ankle was so weak that landing on the foot buckled the ankle awkwardly and broke it, but didn’t know it was broken. I took an extended vacation from Hapkido.

It is very poignant to me that because of this “Hapkido vacation” I went out drinking all the time and critical life shit happened:

  • I met Meow.
  • I got my nose broken.
  • I started dating Meow.
  • I proposed to Meow.
  • The ankle twisted again badly and Meow dragged me to the hospital (where I should have gone the night it buckled in class) and we found out that a tiny piece of my ankle bone was free-floating in the ligament re-injuring the ankle with every new twist.
  • I got a cast and a cane and made mental pictures of the bone fragment reattaching in the right spot.
  • At night I dreamed of running, then later just of walking without the cane.
  • I left the afterschool system for the CEC.

The CEC was like a real marriage and my real relationship and subsequent marriage to Meow more like an affair considering how the time was divided. I did make it back to Hapkido when I negotiated a contract with the CEC that saw me leave at 20.00 so I could catch a bus that would put me a block from the cheyukgwan (gym) in time to change out of my suit and stretch for a bit before the 21.00 class. But it was tight and I sometimes fell asleep on the bus (standing up!) and missed my stop. Or I would fall asleep stretching. There was also pain in my ankle where the break was.

I invited my Hapkido friends to the wedding and took classes after it, but eventually, the CEC ate Hapkido too. I even never made it back to scoop up my uniform. I forgot to donate money to the club. Hapkido, like the rest of me outside of those two marriages, fell apart.

Between seeing everyone at my wedding and April 27th, I’d only loosely touched base with two people: Moonnsung and Yeongsu. Yeongsu came to my birthday party in 2011 (the last one in Seoul). Moonnsung couldn’t make it. CY lent me his old snowboarding gear for the trip we all took ages ago. This year I caught up with Moonnsung on Kakao. I’d asked him about his avatar and status. The avatar looked like the little master and the status read: “RIP 진관장님”. I asked. The little master had become the master and then died in January. He wasn’t much older than me. Moonnsung and I talked about those days and the little master.

Going to Moonnsung’s wedding seemed important and I wanted to see my old friends and … he came to my wedding, so in the Korean sense of things I was compelled to go.

I got to Seoul too early and to the wedding hall slightly earlier than I wanted to. I was the first person to sign the book and give money. CM couldn’t believe I was there. We talked for a little before other guests arrived and he got busy. For a long time I was a wallflower, people watching, thinking of the early Seoul days, thinking about Gyeongju, being the only non-Korean, looking for familiar faces. Then, as I knew it would happen, there they were, in front of me with CY pushing the others aside to shake my hand and give hugs.


From the left: Yeongsu with his confetti payload of death; a my giant confetti banger; the bride and groom.

Jihye had a bag full of confetti bangers and spray snow. Once the old gang was in the ceremony room these things were distributed and I passed mine to Yeongsu because I didn’t want the attention (call it lone white guy syndrome). Someone then passed my the largest confetti banger in the bag and Yeongsu started asking me how to set it off and I made a twisting motion without twisting the tube. But … Yeongsu really twisted his and shot it at Areum’s head, she screamed loudly, the musicians stopped playing, and everyone stared at … me (lone white guy syndrome is not a paranoid syndrome—this shit really happens).

After an unusual ceremony that was extremely brief on the blabbery of the officiator and featured the groom playing guitar and singing to the bride, we went to the buffet. My ticket was #3 (thumbnail), everyone else above thirty. One get’s number three by showing up too early for things.


From the left: Areum, Jihye, Jinho; Jungo and his daughter; Jinho, Jiyeon (Shinji), Hyesu

At our table we talked some, well me less. I know less Korean now than when I studied Hapkido (something else sacrificed to the gods of the CEC, Korean language study). My basics are okay though and basics were all I really needed. Mostly I wanted to know how everyone was, what their jobs were, did they have someone special, were they happy?

I wanted to know everything (as one does when seeing old friends again), but a lot of what is usually said was stuck behind language barriers that shouldn’t exist on my part, yet still do. And another part of this was limited by the time available. Gone are the days when I would see these friends for an hour or two five days a week. With more time and drink, everything I wanted to know would have come out.

I finally pulled Yeongsu aside to ask who the other girl was. When he told me I had trouble remembering.

We went for coffee after and then they wanted to give me a ride back to Seoul Station. I really wanted to take a bus but they weren’t having it. I tried to warn them about the traffic even in bad Korean. They insisted. It took an hour (Saturday afternoon, Seoul, crossing the river, not taking the Hannam Bridge, small wreck). We talked some more. I asked more questions. I told them to come to Gyeongju sometime (maybe they will come this summer).

When I jumped out at the station it was hurried and I felt pretty bad that it’d taken so long to see me off. Saturday seemed to be one lengthy lesson in time and remembrance. Hyesu, the other girl, is one of two sisters that were learning the same time as me. They were middle school students. Or maybe it was just a lesson in time.

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