Birthday

My friend Clara and I share a birthday weekend, which is something we discovered when we first met and which was just one thing on a list of similarities which we would discover was actually quite long, lending a slightly spooky vibe to the already-rainy and grey June afternoon on which we first met.

We’d been “instagram friends” since at least April, but between our schedules it’d taken quite a while to meet in person. But within a few hours of having met outside Hapjeong station, I was telling her things about my past and my current experience that not even some of my good friends know, as well as my plans to get a tattoo soon (and what it would mean) and my desire to get the same cartilage piercing she has in her right ear.

We kept in touch regularly after that and when I told her that my plans to travel with another friend over our birthday weekend had fallen through, we decided to do something together.

So on Saturday the 15th, which was my birthday, we met at Jongno 3-ga station to go explore 익선동 (Ikseondong), a neighborhood of tiny streets, cute cafes, and a very “Korean” style which Clara told me came from the fact that they’d modeled the neighborhood based on the typical neighborhood in Seoul during the 1960’s.

We ate a late lunch and went to a cafe where I got tipsy on Sangria; then we walked to 인사동 (Insadong), passed through and ended up in 서촌, where Clara found a cute pub (칼리가리박사의 밀실) and we got another drink, which completed my journey into tipsyland. I’d told Clara before that I wanted a cake so she said let’s pretend the pizza is cake and that sounded like a good idea to me. I forget exact details of what we talked about but remember a few things that were said, such as Clara saying this about celery after I told her one of the only foods I can’t eat is tomatoes: “the smell is so scary, and it’s not cooked so I feel like a rabbit.”

We joked that day about “a quarter of a century” and I explained the meaning; there’s a different phrase in Korean, meaning “half of fifty” (반오십). While I’m really a year older than her (almost exactly), depending on how you look at it we’re both twenty-five.

Since I was born in 1992, counting by international standards, I’ve just turned 25 this past week, but in Korea I’ve been 26 since January 1st. Since Clara was born in 1993, she just turned 24 this past week, but in Korea she’s been 25 since January 1st. It took me a good few months of repeatedly asking and frowning at what I took to be incomprehensible explanations before I fully understood the system of Korean age. And it was a total aha! moment when it happened. I still remember the feeling.

Anyway, we joked about it. I went back in time a year so we were both 25.

The next day, Sunday (16th) was Clara’s birthday so we made plans to meet for dinner and drinks in Hongdae. We met outside the station at 6; she’d brought her friend since middle school Chan Woo with her and told me that another friend would join us around 9. We went to a rooftop bar (루프탑 720) and suffered the humidity–it took me until well through my giant mojito to loosen up enough to talk much. We moved to a place I knew for makgeolli and jeon (막걸리 싸롱) and spent a few hours there drinking enough makgeolli to get me a bit drunk before Reina joined. I’d heard a bit about her from Clara because Clara told me that Reina and I were similar and that she’d told Reina about me even before we’d first met, so I’d been quite curious to finally meet her. By the time she arrived I was already a little drunk so I remember staring at her a little bit, something that I wouldn’t have done had I been sober… Anyway although I was already full and Clara said she was too, we headed out for a third round and ended up at a place called 치즈오타쿠김철수 (Kim Chulsoo the Cheese Nerd [?]) where we ordered a giant platter of various things and the inevitable soju.

Because I had to work the next day and I’d already told them I couldn’t drink soju well, they didn’t make me participate, but I was very shocked when I saw the way to make somek. I had imagined something that was more beer (because who wouldn’t imagine that) and didn’t process the meaning when Clara said it was a ratio of 9:1 in favor of soju, and I probably wouldn’t have processed that even if I weren’t already drunk. But when I saw them pour the drinks even looking at the amount of soju in the cups made me feel ill… she hadn’t been exaggerating. I would venture to say that it had even been 95% soju. They poured me a glass of beer instead and said it was a one-shot so I did it in one-shot too, watching in horror as the other three downed their drinks with all the appearance of drinking a glass of water. Only Reina coughed when she finished hers, the way I do after a single shot. As Clara had predicted… culture shock.

We played drinking games that I invariably could not play well–for example, the one where you have to try to flick the twisted part off the soju cap, I could barely muster any strength at all to flick it and almost missed once, and Chan Woo, being on my left which would make me the one who had to drink if he flicked it off, would barely touch the thing before passing it on, having taken pity on me, I guess. (Thank you.) Every time the cap would come to me Clara would beg me to do well–please, Lily… 정신 차려!– but I couldn’t help it. I was weakened by alcohol. Also, by the fact that I am weak.

At some point Clara and I went to the bathroom together and when we returned to the table, everyone was gone. Reina came back after some time–she’d been on the phone outside–and some time later–time is all really difficult to track in memory, as I only really have flashes of things and couldn’t be paid to relate a chronological series of events–Chan Woo came back with a little cake/pie whose candles were already lit. This brought on a half-rendition of the Korean “happy birthday” song and a long series of photos of which I will post a couple below.

I couldn’t tell you at what time we left–we spent enough time there to have a couple more rounds of drinks–but I remember getting home around 1.30AM and not much after getting home. Although a couple months ago I couldn’t have imagined that I’d spend my birthday weekend this way it was a really nice way to meet new friends and mark the occasion.

In the single language exchange app that I’m continuing to use, although I have on my profile that I’m not interested in dating and I’d rather make friends with girls than boys, predominantly men send me messages. Today I blocked a 31-year-old man who’d asked me where I lived as his first message, and then the next day (today), although he could see I’d read his previous message and had declined to respond, had asked me again in Korean. Is it stupidity, bullheadedness, cluelessness, aggression, a simple lack of regulation of internet behavior?

I block men all the time on that app. These days I admit to being a little trigger happy; it takes the smallest impetus to bring my finger smashing down into the “report/block” button, but even when I look back at the list of blocked people in my account settings I can justify each profile being there.

Yesterday morning I had to block a kid who’d messaged me like seven times over the course of a few months on this app and had messaged me back in February on a dating app. Despite my persistent lack of response he continued to send me messages such as “herro” (hello), a simple :3 (oh, sexy, I’m gonna be all over that … yeah good one), and finally, the straw that broke me– “you there?”

Yes I’m here you creep, yes I’ve ignored the last 7 messages you sent me on this language exchange app and the others you sent me on that dating app that I’ve since deleted.

Before I blocked him I sent him a “do not message me again” so that I could have the pleasure of knowing that he’d probably try to respond to that and then receive the app-generated message: this user has declined to receive any more messages from you.

 

 

There’s a whole host of things that makes this app’s users immature, aside from there being creepy men on there who ignore your profile that clearly says “I won’t date you even if you pay me $10000”–

by the way, while I’m on this subject, what  the heck. Do you think you’re super extra handsome or something so that’s gonna make me forget that I ever said I had no intention of setting up a date through this app? Actually, in Korea, I wouldn’t be surprised if a guy who knew he was handsome also knew he could get away with stuff like that because in Korea he can.

But I was talking about immaturity. For example, someone messages me with a short self-introduction and then their next message is “will you be my friend”?

Um… hello…? There’s a reason that only works in kindergarten? I used to just ignore messages like this but these days I’m feeling slightly belligerent, offended by all of the immaturity and dunceheadedness allowed to flourish around me while I alone seem doomed to live an honest and decent life, so I’ll respond with something like “since I don’t know you at all it’s impossible to say whether or not I want to be your friend but I’m leaning towards the opposite” which of course is way beyond their English-learning level. Which is slightly mean of me but when you’ve got a personality like that that just goes out there and asks something like that you should be surprised once in awhile by someone who’s actually not friend material so that you stop asking that in the future. Only I’m pretty sure that based on the rate that men and women alike ask me this question, nobody else in the whole app’s infrastructure is letting anybody know that it’s very childish to ask someone to be friends with you before you even can know if you’d like to be friends with them in the first place.

This leads into my second big problem. Say I’ve chatted with someone for about a day on and off and without actually saying “look, I’m sorry, this isn’t working out” I’ve sent them quite simple replies or have left long gaps of time between responses, but they’re not getting the message. They insist that we meet up for language exchange or that they can help me with my Korean. They think because they’ve taken a liking to my profile and I seem to be a kind / an interesting person everything’s gonna work out how they want it to and they ignore the fact that my will to continue this is also at play. So then I have to tell them “look, I’m sorry, this isn’t working out” and they get mad at me. Mad! Like it’s my fault our personalities are incompatible or something. Like it’s my fault they’re not my style!

Why, why, why can’t people, I mean these are adults (!), realize that you can’t be friends with everybody…? I feel like that’s a kind of childhood life lesson. You won’t like everyone you meet and not everyone you meet will like you. But this is more subtle than that because it’s a matter of personalities and needs matching up and honestly the likelihood of finding a suitable match online is really low.

 

Luckily for me I’ve made some great friends in this very app (as unlikely as you’d probably be to believe that now) and I keep searching for more. But it’s slow, and along the way I have to suffer inanely boring conversations or plot all day as to how to tell the 56 year old woman who’s asked me to be her friend that I can’t be her friend in this universe or any universe and never will want to be even if I’m reborn as someone who’s her same age. Because she wants to be friends with me in this life.

 

 

These days I just want to pick a fight with everybody. Why do you think it’s okay to think this way? Why are you living this way? Why doesn’t anyone want to think their own way and look how they want to look and do what they want to do and just to hell with what everyone else would say to their mom about it? These days out of reaction to ordinariness I become myself aggressively, I pick verbal fights with people who say stuff that needs to be fought over, I challenge the stupid comments or questions I receive daily, I don’t worry about hurting their feelings if they’ve disregarded mine. Aggressively myself. Something boils inside me. Anger is still new to me. I’ve only felt it for the first time as recently as a few months ago. I mean real, seething anger, a sense of injustice on steroids. I refuse to suffer fools, I’ve always said that about myself. But usually that was a silent intolerance, retorts said in my head to myself or mere avoidance of those I found to be foolish. These days I’m waiting, as they say, with open arms. Try me. I’ll probably bite your head off. And I’ll probably do it so underhandedly that you’ll have no idea I’ve done it. Aggressively myself.