Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Drinking

Last weekend I ended up at an "all you can drink" event at a bar here in Seoul. The bar was actually pretty decent, the night started with a line up of local Korean bands, (one of which I swear is the new Korean version of Heart) and ended with a decent alternative DJ set. "All you can drink", however, is never without its share of mishaps. One of my friends lost her wallet, jacket, and one of her shoes. Another fell of the stage, hit his head, and passed out in a chair. I managed to get an entire beer poured on me by a close friend. But all and all, it wasn't a bad night. This is probably because the words 'all you can drink' don't ignite the same kind of desperate frenzy in people my age that they used to. In fact, when I tried to remember the last time I had attended an "all you can drink" event I initially drew a blank. But then, like a wave a nausea, it all came back to me.

When I was eighteen I was a freshman at San Diego State University and frequently made trips to nearby Tijuana to get sloppy drunk with my like-minded peers. After begging someone to drive their car across the boarder, and going through what I recall in 2000 was a very minor security check, we stumbled in chunky platform sandals and flared jeans down a series of sketchy back alley looking streets, past depressing families with small children selling chiclets, and on to the main drag that was home to our common destination: Safari.

Safari was a club that offered 'all you can drink all night' with a five dollar cover. Once inside, we found ourselves in a post-apocalyptic nightmare of a room, walls adorned with a series of amature murals of bart simpson and speedy gonzales, and every conceivable surface covered in a thick sticky substance that I could only guess was a combination of kamikazes, vomit, and tears. Walk through this room and we arrived in a larger open space used as a dance floor. A thin rickety metal staircase led up to an elevated observatory type walkway, held together by thin mental rods and used primarily for co-eds to practice their pole dancing moves.  None of this deterred us from returning week after week however, because as I mentioned,  it was five dollars ALL YOU CAN DRINK. We felt like we had our fingers on the pulse of the coolest party in the world and we delighted in ordering every cocktail and shot we had ever heard of. I'm sure I would have continued in this grand tradition until the day I turned 21 if it hadn't have been for this one night that changed everything.

It started out like any other night, with a plan to go to TJ (as we lovingly Americanized it) with a group of girls from our dorm. One of the girls brought a friend from her high school who loved to party and was approximately 6'1" and 375 pounds. I vaguely remember her being mildly obnoxious and taking plenty of pre-bar shots in our room, but didn't think anything of it. We had been in Safari for all of 30 minutes when a frantic brunette with chunky blond highlights found me and told me to come to the bathroom quick.

Her high school friend had apparently taken several more shots and was now passed out, sitting against a wall on the floor of the bathroom, puking on herself. There was no waking or moving her, and as we stood there trying to figure out what to do, I saw the bathroom attendent, a sober Mexican woman in her 40's, take a cup of water and pour it down this passed out girls front side, effectively washing the vomit off of her and on to the tile floor where it circled into a nearby drain. The attendant looked unfazed. For me, this was a moment of clarity. I walked back out into the club and viewed it for the first time with fresh eyes.

Aggressive predatory men were circling around girls who could barely stand, flushed 19 year olds were gyrating against 40 year old men whose faces they had probably never seen. The overworked bartender was servicing condescending frat guys who called out derogatory names when their drinks took too long. It felt like all of this was happening aroud me in slow motion and suddenly everyone seemed to melt into each other, into some primordial blob of terror.

I started to cry, as I often did in those days, but this only turned out to be a victims call, and men quickly swooped in to comfort me. "Hey baby whats wrong?" they asked. "Nothing." I said. "Look I just want to help," they persisted. "Just please leave me alone!" I screamed. "Whatever you fucking bitch!"

I managed to find my friend Taylor a little later and tried to tell her about my recent, if not overly dramatic, revelation: "We are in hell!" I managed to croak out through sobs. "This here, this very bar, this is hell on earth!" She looked at me with the blank eyes of a blacked out teenager and I let out a sigh of defeat. Something told me I should document the moment, so I reached for my kodak disposable camera, wound the film, and told Taylor to smile. Just then a familiar beat came over the sound system and a wave of excited screams ripped through the crowd. Girls started running towards the dance floor. Apparently, I thought, they play the Thong Song in hell. 

So that wasn't exactly about travel or Korea huh? And if you're looking for some sort of moral or summary of what I've learned about humanity here at the end, you won't find one. To be fair this blog comes with a disclaimer that I myself don't even understand it. It should be obvious, however, that I eventually managed to escape hell, but not without this gem of a photograph:

And ten years later I still live on to 'all you can drink' another day...


  1. I really enjoyed the raw honesty of this piece.

  2. "surface covered in a thick sticky substance that I could only guess was a combination of kamikazes, vomit, and tears." favorite line.

    So Seoul is a bit different from Tijuana I hope?

    When I studied in Germany they had this great deal at this sleazy bar on Wednesdays where they would let the girls in 45 min early for free to drink for free, and then the boys could come in for an enormous cover to begin buying mind-blowingly expensive drinks. Overall, the bar made money, girls drank for free and I never heard a guy complain about it. Everyone's a winner, right?