Korea 004 – Salarymen at the Hof
After our meal of bi-bim-bap, Robert and I began to walk back to the Inn Dae Won. At the first corner we encountered more salarymen. Five of them, obviously very drunk, were coming towards us and taking up the entire width of the alley. They had their arms about each other and were weaving down the alley shouting and laughing. Their identical rather ill-fitting dark suits were brightened at every step by a flash of white socks as their too-short pantlegs lifted up. It was so far removed from the fast crumbling image I had in my mind of Asia and the mystical Far East, I was more than startled when one of them stumbled and fell flat right at my feet. He looked blankly upward and began humming a tune. His friends all stopped and gathered around him and tried to lift him in a tangle of arms and legs. One had him by his tie and pulled hard, oblivious to the strangling gurgling noises coming from the poor fellow. All of their tugging and pulling and yelling was to no avail. One of the remaining four finally gave up, broke into loud song and dragged the others away. They slammed into me sending me spinning into the brick wall and then were gone around the corner. The fifth lay there snoring undisturbed by our scrutiny. We finally stepped over him and continued on our way.
We passed two more farther down the alley, one propped sitting against a wall, his legs splayed, the other flat on his back with a pool of vomit around his head. At the next doorway we passed several more salarymen in a big tussle at a cash register. They all had money in their fists and shambled from side to side. Their eyes stared unfocused at the floor as they screamed and yelled at each other in fury. Each time one got his money close to the Ajimah’s hand, the others closed in and shoved him back. I ducked inside to take a closer look at this spectacle.
A large plastic menu announced that the name of the bar was the Rhine Hof. Every table was rocking and rolling with singing, toasting, pushing and shoving salarymen. The same suit, shirt, tie, shoe and sock combination on all of them. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. One salaryman at first glance seemed to be levitating above rolling green hills and a German castle. A closer look told me he was simply holding hard to a post while two more salarymen had him by the feet and were trying to pull him loose. Behind him on the wall was a giant mural of the German castle. On another wall was another mural showing a typical scene from a German bar. These identical pictures I saw again and again in hofs all over Korea. As I watched, the levitating man’s grip on the pole loosened and he fell to the floor with a hard thud. His friends let go in surprise and he, finding himself free got to his feet and unsteadily moved back to his table. He sat down and had just got a glass of beer to his lips when his two friends landed on him again, this time with reinforcements. They dragged him past the post, but just before they got him outside, he managed to grab the door jamb in a death grip. The group around the register were still milling around, chest butting and catching each other with nasty elbows to the throat no one as yet having won the right to pay the tab.
I turned to Robert who had followed me inside, “Is this common?”
“Every night. Night after night,” he replied. “I joined a group of salarymen the other night for a drink and I thought they would end up killing each other to see who got to pay for my drinks. Very hospitable people, but a bit odd about it.”
A couple of salarymen at different tables waved at us and indicated we should come over and join them. But I’d been awake for 36 hours by this point and my first impressions of Korea were starting to become overwhelming. I thought it best to go get some sleep and Robert agreed. He was leaving for Thailand early the next day. We walked back to the Inn Dae Won through the icy wind that showed no sign of letting up. Robert said goodnight, disappeared into his room and I never saw him again.
I collapsed onto one of the couches in the corner and listened to the night sounds. I could hear the traffic and occasionally a snatch of voice as more merrymakers passed by. My ears were unnaturally sharp and I picked up the rumble and crash of the sliding walls for blocks around. I heard voices from the rooms around me and even the rustling sounds as people shifted in their sleep. I detected dozens of unfamiliar odours in the air, though I was unable to trace them to their source. Even my eyes presented me with an unusual richness of detail. I was reluctant to go to sleep and determined to stay awake a while longer to savour the newness.