Thursday, 4 June 2009

Four Cakes, Four Bars, One Birthday

You might say that my party started on Thursday with an impromptu run-in with the foreigners downtown, but I was so tired from the week that after a pitcher of fruit Soju at IDA I feel asleep on Scott. So I really think it started with:

Cake #1

Scott bought me cake #1 on Saturday to share with the foreigners at Candy (our most frequented bar), but after a brief talk with Katie he was a little concerned. What we didn't realize is that it's customary in South Korea to share your cake with the rest of the restaurant or bar on your birthday. The cake was the perfect size for me, Scott, Katie, Alice, Andrew, and Danielle, but perhaps not up to the task of feeding our normally-crowded local haunt.

Luckily when we arrived at Candy there were only 3 other filled booths, so it was a success. The employees brought us some marinated chicken on a hot plate, some chocolate peanuts (M&M style with an extra crispy layer ), and a bowl of cornflakes and fruit mixed with slushy-style milk for "service," which is what they say when they mean it's free.

Because I've been drinking only light Korean beer since I've been here (Hite and Cass), we moved on to possibly the most expensive bar in in Andong: Wabar. The atmosphere is unmatched, and it has a ton of imported beers and mixed drinks (which are actually hard to come by here)...provided you're willing to pay the equivalent of $13 for a White Russian or $10 for the bottle of Guinness that, yes, Scott bought me. Oh Guinness.

Akdong (the "new downtown" district of Andong) was the next stop for the evening, which is about a 10 minute cab ride from the city center.

On my birthday the cab prices were set to rise from the starting rate of 1800 won to 2200 won so it was a last hurrah of sorts. We stopped at Indys, an American-western-style bar (although still with the Korean layout of booths).

Indys also specializes in the tower of beer.

Everyone wanted Indys to play the birthday song for me, but they wanted to know where our cake was. Worried that only cake + birthday = song, Scott and Katie dashed off to find a new one (luckily, there are bakeries everywhere). While they were gone, we learned that Indys wasn't playing the song not because we didn't have a cake, but because they were busy preparing:

Cake #2.

Followed several minutes later by Scott and Katie's return with:

Cake #3 (and a sparkly party hat that I wore around for most of the night)

With two cakes before me, Indy's switched on the birthday song- which was in English. So far I've heard this song at three different bars since I've been here, and it's always in English. The lights turned off, crazy flashing lights turned on, and I stood up to dance around to the "Happy Birsday!" techno remix of the classic chant. Amazing.

Cake #3 was cut, and I was intent on passing out a piece to every booth in the bar. I made sure that a large piece went to the man responsible for the construction and thoughtfulness of my cake made of fruit. Unfortunately, I only made it to three booths before we decided it was too dangerous for me to make the deliveries. The first booth gave me a slice of pineapple and a glass of beer to "One shot!!" (and I have my pride), the second poured me a shot of soju, and the third poured a shot of soju into a glass of beer and again "happy birthday! one shot!" but after one small sip, Katie stepped in to save me from certain collapse. I one-shotted a slice of their watermelon instead.

Our final stop was a restaurant/bar that we discovered several weeks ago has the most amazing food (alas, I have no idea on the name). They also bring you a complimentary large serving bowl of broth that is so spicy that it will knock you out like a shot of soju if you don't sip it carefully.

Here I met 4-6 new friends, none of whom made Scott feel very happy. Two tables of Korean men wanted to take pictures of me with them, which I didn't know when I was tricked into going over there. When one found out Scott was my boyfriend, they sent him some Coca-cola as a peace offering.

And then, well, it wouldn't be a night out without...Nore Bang!

We decided to be finished at 2am after Aerosmith's "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing", which was really 4am because Andrew's watch was broken.

Sunday was relaxing, and took no recovery on my part- thank goodness. One of Scott's co-teachers, Mrs. Lee, invited us to her husband's art studio in a converted old school (Scott has already been there, on the day of my English camp at the middle school). I could curl up in a corner of this place and be happy forever.

She arranged for a pottery instructor from a local artist community to come and show me how to make a traditional-style doll out of clay. I made the male version, to compliment the female doll that Scott made on his previous visit.

Finally, Monday came; the day of my actual birthday. While in America I would be turning 24, in Korea I'm still 25 (until the new year when I will be become 26). entering my mid-twenties won't seem so bad in a year when I return to America and can shed the extra years I'm carrying around.

On my way to work, I picked up:

Cake #4
It was a good way to reconnect with some of the teachers in my school- I wandered around the halls passing out cake. I recommend it, communal birthday cake really lifts the spirits.
Mrs. Shim was worried when I showed her the cake, because I didn't "cut it with Scott this morning." She thought perhaps he would feel left out from my birthday if I ate my birthday cake without him. I told her he was probably OK missing out on this one. If she only knew.
When I came home, Scott had this waiting for me:

I was so excited. After Mrs Lee's husband's studio, I really had an itch to paint again- but lacked the means. He couldn't have found me a more perfect gift. It also seemed to be a fitting end to the birthday journey. An empty canvas.


  1. Sounds absolutely perfect, Sara <3 Glad you had a great time and what the most special gift!!! He's a winner, Sara ;)

  2. Erk....winner=keeper Hahahahaha
    I got distracted by the cakes

  3. Usually I have some witty comment to make about your posts. Not today. What an absolutely wonderful post. Maybe because I was there, maybe because you write it almost better than it was (if possible), but I loved reading about it all over again!

  4. Sara, I wish I could have been there. Maybe by the time christmas rolls around I'll be making lots more money and can come visit so we may have some Korean shennanigans. I MISS YOU. (scott too- tell him I say 'hi')

    love Kates

  5. WOW! Waht a way to celebrate your birthday! Oh to have the vitality of youth again. I received an easel and paints for my birthday this year, I plan on painting again too! Your blog make my day happy. I love reading them and I make every one of my clients read them when they come in. Many have asked for the web site and they are as intrigued by your stories of a far away place that they will never be able to visit, but can get a great glimpse throught your writings. Glad your birthday was a great success, but if I had to eat that much cake, that often, I would weigh at least 2 tons! LOL Take care adn keep on writing, it sure does brighten my day!


    Aunt Helen

  6. Delightful, your text and beautiful photos give me a great sense of social life for young adults in Korea.

  7. Too be young again!
    No, I don’t think I still would be able to keep up with what you guys are doing.
    Glad you’re having so much fun.
    Love you,

  8. Sara,
    So glad you had a great birthday, and with soo many cakes too!!! Happey Birthday and know that we think of you often! Have fun and keep posting, it is great to hear what you are doing!!