Friday night. Now that I had established my new spot in lower Hongdae on coffee street, there was a conflict. Soundbox invited me to play with them, but I also wanted to play at my new spot. The solution was to do both. I showed up early instead of late to the playground, at 730 pm. By the time they got ready to play it was about 8. I played with them for about an hour. It was ok. The Soundbox experience is different from playing alone. Its about blending in with the band, playing background lines, making sure I get enough mike (loud enough) and that I can make a contribution of some kind. Then there are the occasional solos too. Of course I also try to make some visual contribution, but that is not easy since I don’t know what they are saying. Sometimes though, I can get a zinger in there. At about 9 pm I got up and just left. There wasn’t a break in the music so it was a little awkward. Though I love playing with Soundbox I don’t get much out of it, no money and usually no-one talks to me. There are too many people and too many eyes. If I try to talk to anyone, everyone will see and it will become the focus. Still its fun to just hang on and enjoy the energy and the comedy, 75% of which I can understand or at least guess at.
Then I hurried back to my apartment (only 5 minutes) picked up my street gear (my amps and mp3, sign, blanket, money hat etc) dropped off my alto and picked up my soprano, and walked over to the Lucky Strike spot, about a 7 minute walk. I was happy, that it was still open when I got there. I had made an appointment to meet Scuzzy at 1130 so that gave me only 2 hours. That was a mixed blessing. On the one hand I wouldn’t be alone late at night, on the other hand if something amazing DID happen, I wouldn’t be able to follow that thread.
Things went pretty well that night ,meaning that my playing felt inspired, people stopped to listen, and I was able to make some contact with people and take advantage of situations to allow interesting things to develop.
A frumpy looking couple sits down and settles in. They are really focused on the music, so much so that the man emotes every twist and turn of my solo in his body and face. And he’s not faking it because I see that he feels it when I do. Its amazing. His cut and frumpy gf is smiling all the while. When the song is over I ask them about themselves. Turns out they are both students at Yonsei University which is one of the top 3 Universities in Korea. They talk about going to a SKY University, Seoul National, Korea University, and Yonsei. If you’ve gone to one of those, you’ve made it, as if you graduated from Harvard or Stanford. I asked him what he studies. Frumpy guy says he studies classical guitar. I ask him if he has a request. I don’t know the one he mentions so he sings it. He has a pretty nice voice. I ask him if he ever sings to his gf. He says he does. I ask him if he will sing her a love song right there on the street at Stoop Café (my name for my spot). He seems agreeable so I set up and get ready to film it. Seems perfectly normal and wonderful. The gf doesn’t get embarrassed or anything and he sings a lovely song to her. How nice!
A geeky young guy comes up and keeps bugging me to play his request. He seems to be a Michael Jackson freak. You never know about requests so I try it. “Heal the World” by MJ. Actually it went really well and so I played another one too, Billy Jean. It was fun and I should add it to my list of street songs. Glad I respected him enough to do that. He was definetly what we would call a “wangta” which means a social outcast in Korean. Its about the worst thing you can say about someone in this group oriented society. I too, by the way, am a wangta, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be spending my weekends on the street alone. But that is negative, sometimes it is so great to be able to hang like this, that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Like this
Some women come up and are really listening well and focused on the music. They are pretty cute. Not permanent girlfriend cute but temporary girlfriend cute. Of course those categories have changed a lot over the years. Anyway, I am interested. They speak English too and my approach and delivery doesn’t scare them off like it usually does. So I am interacting with them pretty well when some drunken guys walk up. Actually they are not too drunk, maybe a 6 on a 10 scale. But from the way they walk up I can tell there is going to be a problem. They walk up with a certain attitude that says, “What the hell is this foreigner doing playing on the streets in my country. Furthermore he is talking to MY women. I see this all the time. Korean men resent it if I talk to a Korean woman. Everything about his posture, his look, his tone of voice screams that in his world view, I am trespassing. Of course that is just his view. He has a bemused expression on his face as if he is about to put me in my place. I am in the middle of chatting the more attractive of the 2 women up. I am getting into a rhythm when he interrupts me and asks me some inane question like, “Why are you playing music here?” It is the moment of truth. Who will crumble, which world ego view will win out. I look at him and look at her and decide the best way to deal with it is with humor, “Shut up!!!” I yell. It works. Everyone laughs and gets the message; “You are interrupting me.” But he doesn’t give up ground. He has the advantage of language. He says something in Korean which I don’t understand but gets a laugh from the girls. I figure its something like “Oh what a playboy he is.” Then he says the line I heard before, “She’s my girlfriend.” What nerve, what presumption. “So what’s her name then?” He makes up a name, “So-Yeon”, and I know its bullshit. I ask her her name, “Mina” I lose my cool a little and stand up and walk between the guys and girls and try to continue my conversation. I ask the girls another question, but they are completely intimidated by the guys. They don’t want to be judged as hussies for talking to the playboy weiguk (foreigner). Suddenly tensions are sky high. A fight could break out, but luckily it doesn’t. I look at the girls who are shrinking back at that point. Disgusted, I throw a word at them like a bomb. “Cowards.” They understand and taken aback. I go back to play another song and to forget the whole thing. Before I do, I speak my magic mantra, “Nongdam” which means “I was joking” “Ta nongdam” “its all a joke.”
Best friends. Two women come up and listen for a while. When I finish I say hello. What do you say after you say hello though. If there are 2 women, I like to ask if they are best friends. A lot of women if they are hanging out together are best friends. I don’t know much about how that works, so I like to ask. “are you best friends?” Usually they know and say yes. Sometimes they never have talked about and are. They look at each other and agree on the spot that they are best friends. Sometimes they joke around and look at each other disagreeably and say, “no I don’t even like her”.
“How does it work”, I ask this couple. I never had a best friend. “Ahhhhh” they both emote at the same time and in the same inflection, a sure sign of best-friendness. “ Will you be my best friend?” I ask the cuter one. “Sure”. “really” “Yes”, she agrees. Great. I tell them about the past practice of blood brothers and the spit shake which surprisingly they know about. “so who is she?” I demand now that we are best friends. “She? She’s my best friend. “ “No I am your best friend, make her go away.” This gets a good laugh. I try to take their picture but internet paranoia takes over and they take off, so much for best friends……but it was fun anyway.
A mixed couple stops by. I think I saw them before. “Give me your phone number,” they demand. That’s a bit strange for me. It turns out he is an English teacher (of course) and she speaks English well. Apparently they have some money. They want to have me play for their big house parties. I’m up for that. Especially if there is good food and lots of nice people to meet. I give them my info, but I don’t expect much.
2 women stop by. There is a good crowd of about 15 people at that point. One woman across the way who is quite drunk is so moved that she starts clapping to the music. Koreans don’t know about clicking their fingers to jazz in a subdued hip way. So she’s clapping away. After about 15 seconds of this I yell out in mock anger, “Stop clapping, you have no sense of rhythm.” The prettier of the women across the way laughs out loud at this. Wow. Not only did she understand my language but she also understood my humor and liked it. I immediately take note of this. I start talking to her and tell her just that. I find out that she is a haegwan English teacher. Haegwan is a private school that Korean youth all go to after regular school. In fact, most Korean teenagers have to go to school until 11 pm at night. The competition if fierce for the best schools. They start studying for the college entrance test way back in 7th grade. Its a career making test. Actually its not a great job to be a haegwan teacher. Much better to be a public school teacher. But this one can actually speak English. Many of them cant. Of course they may understand grammar quite well but it is rare to meet one that can actually speak well. Can I have your phone number. This is quite a risk to ask such a question right off, but I don’t want to lose my chance. “Why” she demands. I tell her the reasons above and this makes her laugh. Another point in her favor. Her friend pipes in, “Give it to him. You don’t have a boyfriend anyway.” The teacher looks at me and smiles sheeplishly. From this point the conversation goes downhill. They become resistant and I figure I blew it again. However when I look at my notebook, she has written all of her information, the email and the telephone, so I guess she was interested after all. All in all it was a pretty fun night and I was looking forward to the first warm weekend and many hours of street music ahead. 75