ANECDOTE: In my previous post I wrote “When I was checking in for my flight to Seoul, I remember meeting someone else headed in the same direction. He was crouching at the side of the check-in counter rearranging the weight of his bags. He had what appeared to be the contents of his dorm room, plus everything else he could possibly need. It was so ridiculous. He was under the impression that these necessities were hard to find, that blow dryers, irons, kettles, etc. were…I don’t know, only available on the black market!? Am I the only one who finds that really comical? He’d looked at my single bag and I could tell from his expression that he considered me utterly unprepared. In retrospect, maybe I was. But nothing in that mans bag that I didn’t have would prepare me for my first month in Seoul, and again, I will publish something I wrote at the time.”
Reading what I had written so long ago brought back a lot more memories about my encounter with that dude at the check-in counter in Toronto. I forget his name, so let’s call him Zack.
Zack wasn’t heading for Seoul. He was bound for some shithole outside of Seoul on account that he had been recruited by an agency looking to fill positions in some egalitarian government program to provide ESL to kids living in rural areas. Seoul was the cradle of Korean civilization, it still is. Things get a lot less civilized once you leave. For this reason, Zack will have had an entirely different experience. No less rewarding, just very different.
Now, I’m the first to admit that I am a judgmental guy. I try not to be rude, and I do my best to hide any distaste. I’ve the capacity to put up with people for a necessary length of time and then effortlessly never see them again. I say this because Zack was the type of guy whom I would never become friends with and would effortlessly never see again.
Zack cared about his hair. Zack tucked his t-shirt into his jeans. His bags were neatly packed. His boxers had been ironed with the iron in his third bag. Zack was a high-maintenance jock. I had the distinct impression Zack was the kind of guy who scrunched his lips together as he Rod-Stewart-danced his way onto the dance floor with a bottle of beer in one hand, gold chains on both wrists. My bag, in comparison had five of everything. Five pairs of socks, five pairs of pants, five button shirts, five t-shirts, and five pairs of boxer briefs, and then a few this and that’s. The ways our bags were packed made it clear how different our attitudes and interests were. We both knew this random encounter wasn’t the start of a life long friendship.
The flashbacks are spotty, but I seem to recall my Mother speaking with him more than I did. He had gathered information about Korea more useful, in my mother’s opinion, than the “I’m going to teach English at a school in Seoul with Shane for a spell” that I had offered.
With check-in complete, I’m sure I gave my mom a nice long hug before heading into passport control. I didn’t bump into Zack again until the middle of our flight, probably somewhere over Alaska. A memory fragment suggests I’d spotted him trying to cram two bed pillows into his carry on bag. I can’t be certain.
In-flight, I generally do three things to pass the time. I drink, I sleep, and I stare at the inflight progress report. I love those progress reports. They were pretty rudimentary back then so it was basically just a two-tone map of the world with Seoul and Toronto on opposite ends. A clipart plane would slowly move toward the final destination. It’s like watching paint dry, but it captivates me. I don’t watch in-flight entertainment because it makes me nervous, but I digress.
Toward the middle of every flight I like to stretch my legs, use the can, and procure some Baileys from the galley. It was during this ritual that I would bump into Zack for the second and last time. There wasn’t much to it. He was already in the galley when I got there. He was chatting up the flight attendants. I’d made some kind of awkward attempt at small talk, but his interest in the cabin crew was crystal clear. I got my Baileys and headed back to my seat.
You meet some really interesting people when you’re away from home, but you also meet a lot of forgettables and assholes. I may have been one of them. I was a lot more judgmental and temperamental in my youth. I’ve chilled out a bunch since then.
The following was written on July 15, 2003, more than a year “in country”. I was twenty-six.
“Conscious meditation. That’s the key. Not alive. Not dead.”
“What do you mean?”
“Conscious meditation. Not alive. Not dead.”
“Give me an example”
“It’s being able to fly your own private jet to the next deserted island. To your own private bar where you fly the hotties.”
“I think that’s more about money.”
“Sounds like you have a plan. Well good luck to you.”
“Not alive. Not dead.”
And so went the conversation I’d had with this fucking drunk guy who I had thought was with the people I was with. I didn’t know many of them. It turns out he wasn’t with any of us. He’d just sort of tagged along because one of the boyfriends of one of the ladies just happened to be from France. Conscious Meditation Man, let’s call him CMM from now on, was from Quebec and he was strange and his face had a very goofy look. He kept muttering “Conscious meditation. Not alive. Not dead”.
At which point did I decide I didn’t want to sit beside him? Well, let’s see. Just after having the conscious meditation talk with him, Shane shot a flame into the air using my lighter and his small can of breath freshener. Dazzled by fire, CMM decided to take alchemy one-step further. He splashed his beer all over the table and attempted to set it on fire. Flustered, he then ordered a shot of Bacardi 151, which he poured on the table and set ablaze. The chaos that ensued saw napkins come to an early death, thousand won notes with third degree burns, and an awfully annoyed Dayvmattt.
I’d had enough and finally managed to ditch the guy on a walk to a different bar. The fool had started talking to me on the street in a loud voice, inquiring whether or not I’d been able to find a good hash connection since arriving in Seoul. What a fucking idiot.
In the club, some girls laughed at me. They were total bitches, but their laughing put me in a sour mood. I’d found a ledge near the speakers to camp out and people watch, but tranquility was lost on this night. Some brunette and her blonde trophy started making out right in front of me. There was a lot of saliva and dry humping. Then she stopped, leaned over toward me and asked “can I have your beer?” to which I replied, “I’m sorry, you can’t. I’m HIV positive.”