I was sitting in a dimly lit bar in Andong, South Korea with my cousin Nick and his wife Lanie. We were drinking flavored soju from tiny glass bottles and listening to the hysterical laughter of a nearby group of college students playing rock-paper-scissors. Whenever one of them whispered the word “waegukin” another would sneak a glance at our table.
“Gawi! Bawi! Bo!” They cheered, hammering back shots of rum in rhythmic unison.
“My students play that game,” Nick said as he motioned for our waiter. “It’s weird to see it as a drinking game.”
Nick and Lanie had quit their jobs in Nashville a year earlier and moved to South Korea to teach English. They were bored in the states and anxious to go on a big, life-changing adventure. When they applied to teach in Korea they’d hoped Seoul or Busan, but had instead been assigned to the outlying city of Andong.
“All of the food in Andong is local and traditional,” Nick said. “You can’t get a lot of Western food here. We have to take the train to Seoul if we want deli sandwiches or mashed potatoes.”
“So you go to Seoul when you want…soul food?” I said, like an asshole.
The waiter arrived before anyone could come up with an excuse for not laughing. Nick ordered a beer for himself and a cocktail for Lanie and a few more bottles of soju for me.