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.

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