Summer of Soju

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제 7 장

The jimjilbang has essentially been deserted by the time we wake up. A few leftover Koreans spread themselves around the room like quadriplegic starfish, but the rest of our companions are nowhere to be seen.

I can imagine them peeling themselves off the floor, taking one repulsed glance at the bodies surrounding them and thinking: OK… let’s get the fuck outta here.

Outside, another sweltering afternoon lays waste to our fragile shells.

The three of us stand in a misshapen triangle, dry and dishevelled, pondering over what to do next.

Breakfast, we all agree, is a good place to start.

Joey opts to lead the hunt, speeding down the promenade with Justin and I slugging behind, but our optimism soon begins to dwindle as an unappealing selection of restaurants passes us by: Korean, Korean, Japanese, Starbucks, Korean, Korean, Italian, Korean, Korean.

’Oh, it’s hopeless,’ Justin whines. ‘And it’ll be too late for a proper breakfast anyway, even if we find a place.’

‘No!’ Joey charges on, feverishly waving his fist at the sky. ‘There’s gotta be an English pub somewhere.’

Korean, Korean, Korean, Starbucks, Chinese, Starbucks, Korean, Korean.

‘Ah-hah!’ Joey halts, grinning triumphantly at the sight of the street corner up ahead, a brownish-red building with a neon four-leaf clover hanging from the roof, drooping beside six glorious words: Top o’ The Mornin’ Irish Pub.

Oh, what a blessing! Oh, lucky lucky day!

Beyond the sticky black staircase is a shady airtight room, decorated with Guinness posters, toy leprechauns, and more four-leaf clovers. A group of lads slap their palms against the table and applaud as we walk in, generating nothing more than an awkward smile and nod from our party.

‘Every expat in Korea must be in here,’ Joey mutters as we step further inside.

The lads start hooting again as a Korean waitress directs us to a table. Her face sags as she hands out three menus.

‘Full English,’ I burst out before she has time to get away, too hungry now to delay things any further.

‘Two please,’ Justin smiles, raising two fingers.

‘Toad in the hole for me,’ Joey says, licking his lips. ‘Been a while since I’ve had a proper sausage.’

Justin lays his head on the table while the lads continue to wreak havoc upon the pub. Two of them rip off their shirts and another starts dancing on the table. He picks up his pint and douses his face with beer, most of it missing his mouth, instead splashing down onto the heads of his companions. Clap clap clap they go as he swings his hips in all directions, clap clap clap clap clap clap clap.

Forty-five gruelling minutes pass before our orders come to fruition.

The waitress finally delivers two gargantuan plates of breakfasty goodness - fried eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, fried tomatoes, black pudding, buttered toast – and a gigantic Yorkshire pudding for Joey, soaked in onion gravy with three sausages stuffed inside.

The fragrant fatty aromas creep into my nostrils and inject my brain with a ravenous urgency, so potent that before I know it, I’m engulfing every item on my plate like I haven’t eaten in weeks. Joey immediately starts filling his gob as well, slinging both toad and hole down his throat with little restraint, a stream of gravy consequently dripping from his mouth.

‘Enjoying that?’ I grin at him. ‘Good sausages?’

‘Wonderful.’

‘Enough to bring you back home?’

‘Oh, almost…’ he raises his head, grinning back at me now. ‘Almost, brother.’

*

Justin decides to get the next train back to Daegu after we evacuate the pub.

I wouldn’t mind going with him, but Joey wants to make the most of our day in Busan, so we walk Justin to the nearest metro station and send him on his way.

Joey’s face displays a thoughtful expression as he paces around the station entrance. ‘What to do, what to do…’ he mumbles to himself, oblivious to the surge of Koreans trying to circle around him.

‘Oh!’ He leaps forward abruptly. ‘The fish market.’

Pfft. Fish market? Come on, I just ate.’

Yes, brother… but it’s a real sight to behold. The biggest in Korea.’

’Oh, the biggest in Korea? Well, why didn’t you say so?’

*

The pungent stench of deceased sea creatures wafts into the bus through an open window. Joey follows the stench off the bus and into the market, a behemoth that spans over multiple streets and alleyways like a little fish market village. Laid across the stall counters are the carcases of giant octopuses, squids, tunas, swordfish, and everywhere you look are cramped glass tanks full of live fish awaiting their deaths, the odd one being yanked out for a hungry passer-by.

Aimlessly, we meander through the market, occasionally pointing out a weird-looking fish to each other.

‘What do you make of Frank and Justin, then?’ Joey asks. ‘Now it’s been a couple of days?’

‘Oh, Justin’s nice,’ I say, pointing my finger at a slimy blue eel. ’And Frank… well, he’s… a character. But I like him, too.’

‘Not wrong there.’ Joey chuckles to himself. ‘A character indeed.’

‘Was he alright last night?’

‘Yeah…’ Joey inspects the eel closer. ‘He’s just erratic, you know… unpredictable.’

‘Right.’

‘We’ll get to hang out with my lady friend next week, too,’ he says. ‘She’s excited to meet you.’

‘Cool. Sounds good.’

I then point across the road to the most hideous fish I’ve ever seen - long sharp teeth and great bulging eyes, like a fishy Steve Buscemi on steroids.

‘Still not enough to get my appetite going,’ Joey smirks, approaching the strange fish.

’So, how’s your lady friend then?’ he asks, gesturing to the fish with overstated enthusiasm.

‘She’s fine,’ I say, watching the stall owner scoop up the fish and dump it onto a weighing machine.

‘You keen, then?’

‘On what?’ I snigger. ‘The fish?’

No…’ Joey laughs. ‘The lady friend.’

‘Yeah.’ I smile at him. ‘She’s good for me, you know. Makes me happy.’

‘Well, that’s good, brother. Glad to hear it.’

He steps back from the counter and places a contemplative finger on his lips. The stall owner gazes up at us again, bright-eyed as he prepares the ugly bastard fish.

‘No, no, you know what,’ Joey sighs, shaking his head. ’I’m sorry, but, it’s just… too ugly.’

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