Round Robin of Song

모슬포 (Moseulpo), South Korea. 1997.

After my guided tour, I went in and crushed out a nap. The dinner gong roused me and I went in to eat more rice. Before every meal Mr. Kim would say out loud: "잘 먹겠습니다." Others at the table would say the same, just not as loud or enthusiastically. After filling up on rice, a soup, and some side dishes, Mr. Kim would lean back and loudly proclaim, "잘 먹었습니다." I loved that about him and took it upon myself to do likewise. (Back home in the States I taught a friend of mine to say that, and a couple other Korean words. He went to Medical School in Seattle and would treat any Korean patients to a barrage of Korean non-sequiturs: "잘 먹었습니다, 맥주, 남대문, 집주소." He was usually met with either uproarious laughter, or total confusion on the part of the Korean patient.)

Mr. Kim fired up a cigarette and we sat around the table talking while someone did the dishes and cleaned the table. After dinner we moved out to the main assembly room that adjoined the kitchen and dining area. Conversation continued. He called for the Soju and our seated circle expanded. Soon there were 6 or 8 of us in a circle pouring Soju for one another and chattering away. As is inevitable in such a situation, somebody suggested we sing. Around the circle we went with each person singing a solo while the others clapped or blissed in one way or another. I wasn't sure if they were really going to make me sing too, but I was prepared just in case my protesting fell on deaf ears. Secretly I hoped my singing might fall there too...

They insisted. I relented. A standing ovation followed. I'm sure it wasn't that they thought I was a great talent (I'm not), but I sang with commitment and passion. And I treated them to an oldie but a goodie. I hadn't sung that song since 1987 when Mr. Shin and I sang the occasional tune while eating spicy Octopus and drinking Soju, so I was surprised the right words and tune came out at all. But the applause and the look on Mr. Kim's face was enough to say I had done right.
The song I chose for my effort that night was "고독한 연인 by the lovely 김 수희. I think I might still have the LP hanging around somewhere... Anyway, I sang with Soju-enhanced passion and really finished strong with a heartfelt "모르는 사람들 처럼."

Singing continued around the circle until it reached Mr. Kim's wife. She took up a guitar and sang a beautiful song I had not heard before. She played a nice guitar, but her voice was clearly better than most. We all felt like we had experienced a special treat. But the rotation did not end there and before long, it was my turn again. I took a risk and introduced my next song as one popular in Seoul at the time: Juju Club's "16/20." I nailed it. But I imagine it was a bit strange for such traditionally-minded Koreans to see a whitey like me singing such a teeny bopper tune. Say what you will, JuJu Club has a few songs I cannot get over. Even today, "견뎌야 하겠지" maintains a constant spot in the rotation on my iPod.

It was late into the night when we all retired. A pretty good day I must say.

2 comments:

Melissa said...

OH MY GOD!! Ju Ju Club! :)

I had totally forgotten about them. We used to go dancing at a little basement bar in Kwang Ju (1997) and Ju Ju Club's music was one of my first experiences with seeing a bunch of people (Koreans and foreigners) just blissfully dancing together because it was fun - and not because they were trying to be sexy or whatever. Was the song "na neun na" or something like that?

Wow. I love reading your blog! Great stories. Just great ...

White Rice said...

Yes "naneun na" is in there for sure. Back then I wrote on a T-shirt: "my life is a JuJu Club song. 나는 나." I wore it to the gym and stuff.
I still have 3 of their CDs.
Thanks for reading and commenting. You might be my only reader.