Summer of Soju

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It’s a Wednesday night and Joey and I are taking the metro downtown to meet Frank and Justin for dinner. We enter the bar and spot them sitting in the corner, sandwiched between an electronic dart board and an air hockey machine.

‘There they are,’ Frank calls over. ‘Get over here. Best seats in the house.’

‘How we doing?’ Joey asks as we take a seat.

‘Good, pal,’ Frank answers. ‘Just had enough of the Korean grub this week. Time to indulge in the delicacies of foreigner street.’

‘And what might they be?’

‘Oh, you know… pizzas, burgers, diabetes, heart attacks, that sort of thing,’

Frank impatiently clicks on the table buzzer. ‘Hey,’ he cries out, ‘Can we get some service around here?’

A waiter promptly rushes over, almost shaking. ‘Sorry, sirs. What can I get you?’

Frank shoves the plastic menus into the waiter’s hands. ‘Two pitchers of Hite and a bottle of soju.’

‘OK.’ The waiter bows his head. ‘And… for food?’

‘Food?’ Frank snaps. ’Give ‘em a minute, would ya?’

‘OK, sir.’

‘But hang on.’ Frank raises a hand. ’If it’s gonna be this slow, then we’ll just have four pepperonis, alright?’

‘Yes, sir.’


The waiter delivers the drinks and Frank routinely pours out some shots. ‘So,’ he says to me, ‘how long have you got left in Korea, then?’

‘Three days, I think.’

’Three days,’ he echoes. ‘Well, that’s flown by, hasn’t it?’


‘Think you’ll ever come back?’ Justin asks.

‘Well… I haven’t really thought about it yet, but—’

Frank waves his hand at Justin like he would a fly.

’He’s still here, Justin,’ he says, raising his shot glass. ‘Let’s just enjoy the moment, shall we?’

‘True,’ Justin grins sarcastically, and we all neck the shot.

The pizzas arrive in deep-dish pans, drowning in tomato sauce, the cheese so stringy it looks like it could stretch a mile long. I pick up a slice and the base breaks apart.

‘Better than another Kimchi soup or something like that, aye?’ Frank continues.

‘Sure,’ I nod, reaching for a knife and fork.

‘Pete still coming out tonight, then?’ Frank asks Joey.

Joey shakes his head. ‘Nah, not tonight,’

‘Oh… well, what about Gerry? Or Damian?’

‘Nah, not them either. I don’t think so.’

Frank sighs. ‘Bunch of bastards, man. I haven’t seen them in weeks. I mean, do they ever leave their place? What are they doin’ instead?’

‘I don’t know. They just said they’re ill.’

’What? All of ‘em?’


‘What a load of shite.’

‘Oh, well,’ Justin refills our shot glasses, ‘you said to enjoy the moment.’

Frank knocks back his soju and grunts: ‘Ugh, you’re like my ex-girlfriend. Always using my words against me.’

Justin smirks. ‘Which one’s that, then?’

’Oh, all of ‘em, lad.’

‘Anything else we have in common?’ Justin winks.

‘Yeah…’ Frank grins.

‘What’s that…?’

’Having no dick!’


After the meal, we naturally migrate to the air hockey table, but are soon politely asked to vacate the premises when one hockey puck too many gets flung in the direction of a waiter’s face.

‘You shouldn’t have put the machine in there then, should ya!’ Frank screams as we head to another bar.

Most of them are full to the brim, with Koreans and foreigners mixing together as if it were natural to them. Fortunately, though, after sending down a number of soju-pops on the streets, we gain entry to a club that goes by the name of D-hell.

We pass through the doors and float across to the bar.

Frank and Joey secure the beverages while Justin and I hang by the speakers, leaning against the wall, inspecting the current residents of the D-hell dancefloor. Koreans and foreigners pounce around the club like wild animals, their feet stamping, their fists punching, all to an ear-shattering mix of trappy pop and EDM.

‘This is insane!’ Justin exclaims, bopping his head.

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ I concur.

‘Lads! I’m breakin’ the bank!’ Frank returns, handing me a beer. ‘Heinekens! None of that Korean shite tonight!’

‘Mmhmm,’ I mumble.

’And I do accept these bars are awful,’ he continues, ‘but the girls are into us down here! They come to foreigner street for a reason! Right?! You can’t be comin’ to foreigner street and hatin’ on foreigners! It doesn’t make any sense!’

‘Word up,’ Joey sniggers, and turns around to face me. ‘You doing alright?!’ he shouts in my ear.


‘Cool.’ He pulls back and starts grooving around our area, bobbing his head to some forgotten Sean Paul song.

‘Oh, shit!’ he suddenly calls out.


He points over to the other side of the club, to a handful of Koreans all circled around a tall dark-skinned girl. ‘See that girl over there?’

‘Yeah?’ I say. ‘You know her?’

‘Yeah! Amanda! She used to go out with Justin. Absolute wild child, I tell you.’

‘Right.’ I grin, observing the girl. She falls onto Korean boys and girls around the circle, levitating from one to the next, building up their excitement until they’re just about ready to burst out of their skin… and then, she leaves them, high and dry and hungry for more.

‘She swings both ways, you know?’ Joey carries on. ‘See how she’s grinding on all those Korean girls?’


’They think it’s all horseplay at first… that she’s just messing around, you know, but she knows what she’s doing. She’s tapping into a forbidden market. These girls here, some of them at least, they’re curious, and she’s giving them the opportunity to taste that forbidden fruit. That’s why they come to foreigner street - because the rules are different. Sure, they might not even like it in the end, but they’re curious, and that’s enough for her.’


’They’ll laugh it off sometimes, you know… they’ll try to fight it. But most of the time, they really want it. And she can feel that, you know? She can smell it.’

I watch Amanda carefully as she acts out her ordinary routine, her body slinking like a sensuous coil until she decides to throw herself onto a random bystander, this time a girl. She grabs the girl’s hand and the girl looks for help, laughing nervously as she scans the club for a friend, but still not pulling away. Amanda sticks a knee between the girl’s legs and jiggles it around until her face glimmers like a diamond, her eyes dazzling as her mind fills up with all sorts of tiny wonderful explosions… and then, as per usual, Amanda slips away.

‘We should say hi!’ Joey says. ‘She’s fun!’

He notifies Frank and Justin before gravitating towards her, pretending to be an ordinary member of the audience grinding up against her.

‘Fuck!’ she screams, spinning around to face him. ‘Joey! What the fuck! How’s it, babe?’

‘Great!’ he yells, pointing to the rest of us. ‘Look who else is here!’

‘Justin! Frank!’ She hugs them both.

‘And my brother, Leon!’

‘Your brother!’ she gawps, throwing her arms around me. ‘Good to meet you, hun!’

It’s not too long before she returns to her routine again.

At one point she starts to dance with me, bending over to a ninety-degree angle, aggressively rubbing her arse against my crotch.

She pops back up and I shout in her ear: ‘So, you went out with Justin?!’

‘Pah!’ she sprays. ’We were just fucking!’

‘Right!’ I glance at Justin who seems totally unfazed by the situation. ‘Cool, then!’

She resorts back to her ninety-degree angle and proceeds to assault my crotch tenfold. My loins tingle, and in a split-second of delirious arousal, I gift Amanda with a heavy-handed slap on her juicy, bouncy arse; but for some reason, she shudders and jumps away. ‘Sorry!’ she yells. ‘I know what you want! A Korean girl!’

And she disappears into the crowd.

Justin shuffles over and cups his hand around my ear. ‘Man!’ he shouts. ‘She’s as crazy as when I used to go out with her! Too much to handle!’

I nod in agreement, and before I know it, she bounces back in sight, staggering through the crowd to join us again.

‘Sorry! No luck!’ she cries, swaying her arms above her head. ‘This place is a sausage fest!’


Aside from the occasional offhand comment from Frank, the good vibes naturally flow throughout the night.

Dancing with young Korean boys is some of the most fun I’ve ever had – I’ll be rocking my body to the beat, waggling my posterior in all directions as I check out the local produce, and then I’ll catch eyes with some other free spirit, strutting his stuff, making his way towards me. We’ll move closer until we’re practically sharing the same square metre, both marvelling at the other’s moves, each carefully gauging the other’s reaction as our dancing becomes more and more experimental.

This tends to go on for about five minutes before one of us interrupts the dance-off to ask the other a question. Usually it’s the Korean, often opting for the infallible choice of ‘Where from? Where from?’

These conversations might last another five minutes, and then, when they run dry, we go back to dancing like we did before, eventually slinking off like nothing ever happened.

Frank and I head to the bar for more drinks.

‘Four pints! Or whatever-the-fuck millilitres you guys deal in,’ he proudly smirks.

‘Of what?’ the barmaid responds bluntly.

‘Whatever you like!’ Frank tosses a 50,000 won note at her. ‘Just no Cass or Hite! Alright?’

‘Yes, sir.’


We return to the circle, and like a pair of heroes, we distribute the beers amongst the men. Justin appears to be in the middle of a dance-off with a young Korean boy while Joey grinds up against Amanda, sipping from his glass tankard in one hand, stroking her body with the other.

Frank and I dance stupidly together, making patterns with our fingers and craning our necks to the ridiculous tunes of the D-hell DJ. Justin and his new friend hover towards our duo to make a quartet, the four of us now bouncing around the dancefloor together with carelessness and style.

The DJ randomly throws Sexy and I Know It into the mix and Justin responds by putting on his black sunglasses, bopping up and down with crossed arms. The Korean can hardly contain himself at the sight of Justin, struggling to keep himself up, falling to the ground in a fit of laughter.

Justin pulls him back into the circle, and then he seems to levitate towards me, his eyes twinkly and hopeful, like he’s expecting me to showcase some home grown moves – and by god, he’s right.

I begin my usual routine by raising my arms and clicking my fingers, swaying my hips until the right beat comes along, the young Korean gazing the whole time, ready to be amazed, keen, yearning, waiting…

But then, out of nowhere, the poor Korean falls to the floor, his eyes nearly bursting out of his skull as Joey falls on top of him. Joey jumps back onto his feet and confronts a stern-looking Korean standing in front of him. ‘What the fuck?!’ he yells, prodding the Korean’s shoulder.

‘Fuck you!’ The Korean prods back. ‘I fucking was dancing with her!’

Joey looks over to Amanda, who’s unperplexed and dancing by herself. ‘Her?’ he sniggers, then back to the Korean: ‘Fuck off!’

The Korean scowls and pushes Joey again, but this time Joey grabs his wrists and overpowers him, knocking him to the ground, now sitting on top of him with a leg either side. The Korean squirms helplessly, ‘OK! Sorry!’ he cries, but Joey shakes his head, raising a fist high, and like a rolling pin slamming onto a hard piece of dough, he smacks the Korean’s face, once, twice, almost a third time before another Korean pulls him away.

Frank then charges forward and kicks the guy holding Joey, knocking him into a group of girls behind him. Another Korean steps forward and Frank grabs him by the shoulders, pulling his body to the floor as he jabs a knee into his stomach and tosses him aside. Frank clenches his fists and swings his arms in a frenzy, threatening whoever comes near him, his eyes red and wild and full of hate.

But no one dares challenge him. The Koreans back off, and Frank places a hand on Joey’s shoulder.

‘Come on,’ I think he says as he drags him out of the bar.

My heart sinks and I feel lost.





Justin grabs my arm and pushes through the crowds, the endless waves of faceless blurs, all heckling and shrieking as we make for the exit.

Outside, I take a deep breath and spit on the floor, still dizzy and tired and sick. I try to put a cigarette in my mouth, but I drop it on the ground, my hands too shaky to hold it. Justin spots Frank and Joey stumbling away further down the street, so he picks me up and trudges towards them, fighting to catch them as they flee from downtown.

But they’re too fast. They speed round one corner, then another, then another, their bodies gradually turning to mere silhouettes floating through the mist, colourless and faded, and then, finally - to nothing.

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