The Man-tastic Voyage

7 Sep

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.  But sometimes that’s more of a challenge than it sounds; how’s a dude to get his testosterone flowing in a land of man-purses and male cosmetics?  It’s a hard trend to fight.  Western men come here and scoff initially, but almost to a person, we get caught up in it.  I tried growing a sweet mountain climber’s beard, but it frightened too many children.  I’m a man, not a monster.  Gradually, my jeans started getting skinnier.  I started moisturizing more often.  And my hair?  Fabulous!  I was nearing a crisis stage and needed a boost to remind me of what I am.  But in my hour of darkness, just as Solyee had almost convinced me to do a facial mask with her, Matt called from L.A.

“Hey dude, I’m coming to Seoul!  You ready for a bro-nado?”

“Hell. Yes.”  Just as soon as I finish up with this facial mask.

Matt was part of a wolf pack that has dwindled significantly over the past year.  He and I went to high school together and by coincidence came to Korea at about the same time.  Thus, we cut our Seoul teeth together, helping each other learn the necessities:  speaking the language, where to find the best street food and how to rock a crowd in 노래방.

The Wolf Pack howling

Unfortunately, John and Matt – left and right above and c0-members of the pack – left Korea while I stuck around to hold down the fort.  In the absence of their peer pressure, retro-sexuality started creeping into the realm of metro-sexuality, as previously described.  And though Matt and John were both victims of the same process, mine had advanced farther due to more prolonged exposure.  Matt saw the signs as soon as he arrived.

“We need to have an intervention,” he said.  “Hell, I could use a boost myself.”

We decided the best strategy for re-energizing the bro-jo would be a 24 hour man-a-thon which we planned carefully.  First, we had to reconnect with our caveman roots and since slaying a saber tooth tiger was out of the question, we decided consuming raw meat was our best bet. Next, we needed to do something ballsy; to stare death in the face and laugh.  We considered Russian roulette but weren’t sure we could procure a firearm on such short notice, so we settled on bungee jumping.  Finally, to round it all out, we needed to display our excellence at a skill (after a nap, of course).  Bowling would be the final test.  But we both suck at bowling, so we invited Solyee to join in and make us look good.

Friday, 20:00

I wrapped up a day at work and came home to find Matt in my apartment shirtless, blaring Outkast and already sipping on a tall-boy can of Cass.  I was going to berate him for starting the party without me but before I could, he produced another can for me from the fridge where several more cans lay in wait.  So much to my neighbors’ enjoyment (I’m sure) we stood shirtless on my roof, jamming to old school hip-hop and fueling up on cheap Korean beer.

Friday, 21:22 

Having reluctantly donned shirts that modern society requires a man to wear in public, we grabbed a cab to our first stop of re-dude-ination:  re-connection with our caveman roots.  Raw beef, or 육회 (yook hwae), is not as difficult a task as some dishes that I have tried.  Some people may turn their noses up at first, but in my experience, few who try it walk away unhappy.  It’s like all the goodness of a rare, bloody steak without all the waiting.

Eating raw beef is also not unique to Korea, only the way it is served and eaten.  One type is called 육사시미 (yook sashimi) which consists of very thinly sliced strips of beef served with salt and sesame oil for dipping purposes.  The more common type, yook hwae (mentioned earlier), is tender, julienned beef served with pine nuts and, oddly enough, julienned slices of Asian pear.

Yook hwae and pear slices

Yook sashimi and accoutrements

This was nothing new to Matt or me.  I had eaten yook hwae several times before and Matt had had steak tartar.  Any steak aficionado will tell you that simpler is better, and beef doesn’t get much simpler than this.  And this tasted like triumph.  Like victory.  These may sound like silly words to describe  food, but hear me out.  Logically I know it was nothing more than the end result of high-quality beef prepared at the hands of an expert chef.  It was also the joy of having a good meal with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.  However, I prefer to imagine that our instinctive selves were bubbling up to the surface; that the freshness of the beef had tricked our ids into believing we had slain the animal ourselves and stopped to consume it then and there.  When you look at it from a hunter’s perspective, tasting like triumph makes perfect sense.

We took the meal slowly which is a decidedly uncaveman thing to do but the beef was too good to rush through.  So we reminisced and bullshitted and laughed our way through the meal, feeling proud of ourselves for a plan well made.  The first step had been a success and we were feeling strong for steps two and three.

Saturday,  09:00

I rolled groggily out of bed and shut off the alarm blaring its wake up call next to my face.  I trudged upstairs and kicked Matt’s bed to get him moving.  Raw beef had only been the beginning of the previous night.  With our engines successfully primed, we had headed to another spot for makgeoli (rice wine) and kimchi pancakes.  After a long night of makgeoli, neither of us was feeling especially keen on jumping off of a 40-meter-tall tower.  Yet neither of us was willing to admit that in front of the other.  We had blathered on and on the night before about the bad-assitude to come.  And besides, real men don’t rest when they’re sick; they suck it up and pretend they’re fine.

Saturday, 10:27  

Our subway car arrived in Bundang and we exited in search of the chariot that would take us to the tower of destiny – in this case, a taxi to 율동공원 (Yul Dong Park).  The park was huge and had no clear markings directing us to the bungee jumping site.  Thus, we would have to rely on our masculine sense of direction – bonus points in this quest of manliness.

Like homing pigeons with built in TomToms, we found the tower beside a sculpture garden.  My stomach jumped up into my throat when we stood under it.  Matt held it together a bit better than me but I sensed he was feeling the same way.  Compared to other bungee jumping sites, this one was relatively tame:  a permanent installation, 40 meters tall jutting out over a lake in a highly developed country.  I was certain that safety precautions were tip-top but I’ve never been a big fan of heights.  I was beginning to doubt myself so we headed straight in to buy tickets before I could chicken out.

Unfortunately, we were thwarted in our plan to get the ordeal over with quickly.  The employees were just leaving for their lunch break which, God only knows why, lasted 2 hours.  One would think that professional adrenaline junkies would eat a little faster.  So Matt and I were left to our own devices for the time-being.  Time for a sculpture garden photo shoot.

Bro-nucopia

Bulletproof Tiger

Saturday, 13:15

Because of the delayed jump, Solyee was able to make it to the park to provide moral support and photography services.  We met her at the entrance to the park and then wound our way back to the jump site.  Before we could even see the tower, we could hear the shouts of other brave souls jumping before us.  Matt and I had hoped that seeing others go before us would steel our nerves but found exactly the opposite to be true.  Solyee, in all her tenderness, cackled at the fear and apprehension in our eyes.  The way I saw it, each person to jump before me was another person to weaken the ropes and rigging, setting me up for some ghastly, elaborate Final Destination style fatality.

I took a deep breath and so did Matt.  No more hesitation.  We emptied our pockets and gave the contents to Solyee and headed to the tower elevator.  After a quick weigh-in, harnesses were slapped around our waists and we were ushered to the elevator that would take us to the top.

The elevator was slow.  It crawled up the tower like a sloth, teasing and taunting as the ground inched farther and farther away.  I felt like John Coffey walking the mile and for once Matt wasn’t smirking at my fear anymore; it’s likely he felt like Del.

After an eternity and a half, the elevator dinged to announce our arrival at the platform.  We shuffled out but our legs didn’t seem to want to carry us.  We felt silly for being so scared and the sight that greeted us at the top only made it worse:  a little girl, no more than 6 or 7 years old was bounding around the platform, happily waiting for her turn to jump tandem with her father.

“Annyeong,” we said to her.  “Ahn moo seo weo?  Woori neun jinjja moo seo weo!” (You’re not scared?  We’re really scared right now!)

She didn’t bother to answer.  She just laughed at us and continued her reckless frolicking.  And that lit a fire under our asses.  There was no way this little girl was going to get away with laughing at a pair of raw meat-eating Adonises like us.

“Let us show you how it’s done, princesses,” we said to the girl and her father.  Perhaps Matt wanted to go before me, but the little girl’s taunting had induced tunnel vision so I didn’t even think to ask.  I sauntered up to the edge of the platform to be hooked onto the cord.  Then stupidly, I peered down.  My legs, normally as solid as Valyrian steel, began to shake so hard I had to grab the railing to steady myself.  The operator instructed me to jump out as far as I could, but I honestly didn’t think I had strength to do much more than tumble forward.  I wasn’t about to admit that, however, so I nodded that I understood.

“Okay! Three…two…one,” the operator shouted and to my amazement, my legs propelled me forward as I hollered “AMERICA!!”  The water below came rushing up to meet me but thankfully the bungee yanked me back upwards just in time.  Then came the scariest part.  I had no idea how far back up I was going to fly and was convinced I was going to smack my head on the platform I had just jumped from.  After a couple of seconds, my rebound reached its apex and I was plunging back down toward the water.  The yo-yo process continued for another bounce or two but gradually slowed until I was simply dangling like a worm on a hook and shouting incoherently.  A man in a row boat came to fetch me and return me to shore where I could watch Matt make his leap.

AMERICA!!

뭐야!?!?

Matt’s jump proceeded the same way.  A countdown, a war cry, a long plunge towards the water and a perilous rebound back towards the platform.  When the boatman retrieved him and returned him to shore, we started chattering and laughing and reliving like a pair of tweens leaving a Justin Bieber concert.

“OMG I totally thought I was going to die!”

“OMG! Me too!”

“The guy was like three…two…one…”

“Yeah and then I was like ‘RAAWWWWR!’ ”

“Fuck yeah!”

“Fuck yeah!”

We felt like we were going to burst from the adrenaline and there’s only one proper safety valve when the dudeliness reaches such a critical point:  high-fives.  And high-five we did.  All the way back through the park, in the taxi back to the subway station, on the subway back to Seoul, at dinner and all throughout the rest of the night we rained high-fives, low-fives and medium-fives on each other and even the occasional passerby.

However, raw meat, adrenaline and high-fives do not make a man.  We still had not displayed the discipline and know-how that all men must possess.  To truly stand among the greats of our sex – Teddy Roosevelt, Johnny Cash, Randy Savage – we needed to demonstrate our excellence at a skill.

Saturday, 20:15

Good bowling alleys are hard to find here in Korea.  I have heard that bowling was once big here, but the non-athletes’ sport of choice these days is golf which has become an obsession for middle-aged Korean men and women alike.  So where is a dude’s dude to go to get his roll on?  Most of the alleys look like they were built in the 80s and have only seen minimal maintenance since.  Worse, they don’t serve beer.  One excellent place remains, however:  Pierrot Strike in Apgujeong.

I often describe Pierrot Strike as looking like the love child of a normal bowling alley and a club.  The space is shaped like a backwards L, with a bar area occupying the horizontal and about 15 lanes lined up along the vertical.  Dimly lit with electronic mash-ups blaring throughout, this is one of the most popular places to start off the night in Apgujeong; a place where celebrities and plastic surgeried rich kids come to be seen.  And then there’s Matt and me standing out like a couple of bridge trolls shouting Big Lebowski quotes at bowling partners and strangers alike.

I know what you’re thinking:  the Dude and Walter would never be caught dead in a black lit joint that plays techno.  I beg to differ, though.  As the sole alley in Seoul that serves beer, I believe Walter and his Dudeness would see Pierrot Strike as the only real option.

Despite being a super-trendy joint, the per game rate is reasonable.  The wait time for a game is not however, which is why Matt, Solyee and I arrived early enough to score a spot relatively high on the waiting list.  We put our name down and then grabbed up some pool cues to kill time while we waited.

Our name was eventually called so we put on our clown shoes and our game faces and headed to the alley of destiny.  This was a big moment for Matt and me.  If we did not beat Solyee and display our skillful dominance, all of our work over the past 24 hours would be for naught.  For what is a man that can’t roll a ball down a lane and knock over a set of neatly arranged stationary pins?  Nothing, that’s what.

I picked up the first ball and electricity coursed through my arm.  I checked my left and right to ensure that I didn’t interrupt my neighbors’ peripheral (it’s called sportsMANship for a reason), raised the ball to eye level and strode toward the boards.  I swung my arm back then forward again and sent the ball hurtling down the lane at blinding speed – straight down the middle, of course; curving the ball is for sissies.  The ball connected and all ten pins literally exploded from the impact.  Shards of pin shrapnel pelted us and the other bowlers around us and a cloud of pin dust billowed out behind the shards.  Strike one.  Matt’s turn followed mine.  Instead of rolling the ball in the traditional way, he approached the boards, turned sideways, wound up and pitched the ball Kenny Powers-style into the pins, decimating them.  Strike two.  We would have high fived but feared the resulting sonic boom would be too much for the women and children in the area.  Solyee did her best to keep up but by the time the dust had settled the score stood 322 to 332 to 104 (we got bonus points when the shock waves from our throws toppled pins in neighboring lanes).

Clobbering time

Like a boss

At least that’s how Matt and I remember it.  Solyee insists that the two of us barely broke into triple digits and might have lost if we hadn’t distracted her by shouting taunts during her turns.  Plus she claims that we high fived every time we managed to knock down more than three pins at once.  Whatev.  The point is that we won, rounding out our epic journey and cementing our spot among the titans of man-dom.

This really happened

Epilogue

Matt flew home a couple of days and dozens of high fives later.  Though we completed the journey almost three months ago, the brawny sense of accomplishment has yet to wear off for either of us.  I think I have even sprouted a couple extra chest hairs as proof.

Still, it does feel good to look your best.  And those facial masks sure make my skin baby soft.

My shame is Solyee's joy

Aww, shit.  You win, Korea.  You win.

5 Responses to “The Man-tastic Voyage”

  1. Mama Bear September 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    Graham-Reading this made my day. So glad to read of your manly journey. Horrified to see pictures of my son flying off a platform secured only by glorified ponytail makers. Thrilled that Solyee cuts you no slack whatsoever. The piggyback picture of you, Matt the Manly Men made me LOL loudly. Good job.

  2. Dad September 7, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    Good to know such a manly man can raise such a manly man. Enjoyed the post! Glad to hear that such testosterone filled creatures could beat Soylee at bowling but I imagine she was secretly cheering you on. Yuck on the 육회 though.

  3. Heather September 8, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    Haha, amazing. Simply amazing.

  4. Your Sister September 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    Ok…I haven’t made it past your first picture. The dounut shirt makes yet another appearance but this time on Matt. Does this shirt bring y’all magical powers or something? Does the wearer of this scared shirt become a master Noraebang singer? I am going out and buying you a stack of v-neck t-shirts today.

    • eastmeetsmacon September 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

      You’re giving me an idea for a new theme. I think I’ll wear this shirt every time I try a new restaurant so that it can make more appearances.

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