1460 and Forever

On May 24th 2008, shortly after I took the picture at the top of this post in a club in Busan, South Korea, I met a girl who told me that her name was Chloe even though it wasn't. I could have gone to that club on any other night. That girl could have been in any other bar that night. We could have never met. We could have so easily never met.

I have never forgotten the way those first few months panned out. The awkward first phone call, the songs I first sent her, the late-night Skype chats that ended at dawn. I have never forgotten how she became my best friend first. And how we hardly slept and fell in love that first night.

And I'll never forget what she has done for me. How she believes in me. How she has stuck by me and taught me what it is to be loyal. How she tells me that I can do anything - and I believe her.

And with 4 years behind us, she still makes me laugh every day. I hope that when she's nearly too old to do so, she still starts dancing for no real reason and cracks me up. I hope I'm lucky enough to see that.

And no matter what shit gets thrown our way, we stand as a team and throw it right back. Because she has shown me what it is to be strong. She's my partner in every sense of the word. She makes me into a better version of me.

When I think of what we've been through. The places we've been and the things that we've seen. And how it hasn't always been easy - I'm so proud of us.

Across 3 continents we have built something truly special. We're unbreakable. Nobody can fuck with me and my Canadian.

Stumbling into that club was the best thing I have ever done.

I love you, K.A.

Love, Smithy x


Cinco de Mayhem

I should come out early doors and say that I absolutely love Mexican food. I haven't been to Mexico, granted, but anything that even tries to call itself Mexican food is going to get eaten by me. Korea does not do Mexican food (or Tex-Mex) very well. Tacos are actually quite popular, but almost all restaurants that pop up in this country attempting to make authentic Mexican food like we know in the west are almost instantly bastardized by the damn natives of this peninsular and suddenly you've got olives in your burritos and gochujang where the salsa should be (although, actually, that spicy red pepper paste will end up playing a vital role in this story, so maybe the natives are on to something).

Anyway, I know a guy who shares my love of all things Mexican. His name is J-Mao and he is a sexual deviant. Don't bother following that link either because he hasn't updated his excellent blog in over a year. Regardless, on each of the previous two May 5ths that we have spent together in this country we have approximated a Cinco de Mayo party. I'm English, as most of you know, and have no idea what the fuck Cinco de Mayo means - 5th May obviously, but in terms of an excuse for a party, I'm not sure. Nor do I really care. My American friends introduced it to me as a day to make Mexican food and drink Tequila so I was sold. Anyway, the first 2 parties we threw were fine, but we were determined to make this one (almost definitely our last, by the way, as J-Mao is pussying out and moving back to the States) the best of the bunch.

We started thinking about the catering quite early because, regardless of the fun and the frolics that would undoubtedly occur, this party was mainly a way for J-Mao and I to stuff our faces with bomb food. With this in mind, we made a recce trip to Vatos Tacos in Itaewon. Inspired by the Kogi BBQ Truck in LA, Vatos is run by a couple of Korean-Americans with the view to combining the huge flavours of Korean and Mexican food and wrapping them in home-made tortillas. The place is fire and, whilst a couple of their ideas don't quite work, some of them really, really do. Their Kimchi Carnitas Fries are a lot of fun and they do a Samgyupsal Taco which is fucking ridiculous. If you're in Korea and you haven't eaten there, you're an idiot. Go there immediately, order a Makkeolita, and tell them that Smithy sent you. Just kidding, they won't know who the fuck I am.

This year, Cinco de Mayo fell kindly on a Saturday with the preceding Friday given as a rare day off for us hapless Hagwon teachers. I spent the day shopping and eating pastrami before J-Mao arrived in the evening armed with Patron and a winning smile. Despite an insistence that we would not get drunk that evening due the amount of work we'd need to do the next morning, we simply had to try a shot of tequila to make sure it was working okay. It was working fine as it happened, and that's how we found ourselves a few hours later pounding soju, grilling galbi and cackling like rapid hyenas. We managed to make it home at a reasonable hour, thankfully, as important work was to be done. J-Mao organised an orgy of seasonings, swirled it up in a ziploc bag with some tequila, dunked the chicken and pork into it and held them down 'till they drowned in that shit. The smell was intoxicating. As was the Patron.
Breakfast Burritos

I defy any hangover to cope with the onslaught of one of J-Mao's breakfast burritos and the spicy, starchy, bacony, eggy goodness that I rolled up into a warm tortilla, stuffed into my face and washed down with some stupidly strong coffee obliterated the faint throbbing in the temples from which I was suffering. I can't tell you how awesome those were. We were good to go. The Canadian and I cycled down to the supermarket for some last minute supplies and, once we returned, we got stuck in to chopping tomatoes for salsa and mixing Sangria while J-Mao worked his magic on the guacamole and the various sauces we had to look forward to. One in particular, with a nod in the direction of Vatos Tacos, had a gochujang base and was immediately christened 'Dank' by yours truly due to its intense, aromatic flavour. And the fact that it was the bomb. One of my favourite parts of this party came later in the day when, with completely straight faces, our guests were asking people to 'pass the Dank, please' as if it was the most ordinary name in the world. It was fucking dank, though.
Bonathan Punch & one of the bottles of Tequila
©Priscilla Vasquez

The guests soon arrived and busied themselves in the punch that Bonathan had created. J-Mao and I hustled in the kitchen, him creating food and me being 'his bitch' according to my Canadian girlfriend. I saw it at as helping but, whatever. The food made it's way out and people were soon snarfing up the food like there was no tomorrow. My personal favourite were the beer-battered fish tacos with homemade coleslaw and a healthy slathering of dank, but the pork tenderloins were meaty and intense and the chicken was light and fragrant and damn tasty. I'm drooling onto my lap right now which is a repulsive sight for my sorry co-workers but, damn, that food was good. I wish it was Cinco de Mayo every day so I could just turn into a disgusting, fat sweaty pig. That's the plan for my 50s.
Chicken, Guac and yes, that is Dank in the centre.
©Priscilla Vasquez

Anyway, the rest of the day/night was a foggy haze of leftover quesadillas and mucho, mucho tequila. We played Ring of Fire at some point which, in a moment of genius from La Canadiana, was filmed by a hidden camera. Watching that back now is like one of those 'found footage' movies (you know like Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity?) but, instead of a rising climax and jumpy moments of terror, you've got 10 drunken idiots from all over the world, screaming at each other in mockney accents and calling each other Sharon. Fun, it was.

So, what can we learn from this? Cinco de Mayo is a fun-ass holiday that should be adopted the world over. Expensive tequila > inexpensive tequila but, at the end of the day, any tequila > anything else. And mate, that sauce was fucking dank.


Love, Smithy x


A Grey Day

It's a grim and miserable day in Bucheon today. The rain is drizzling, the temperature has dropped and the Umbrella Army left a trail of damp puddles throughout each aspect of my thrice-weekly taekwondo commute. I left The Beast tied up this morning so as not to subject her to more rust-forming rainwater while chained beside Songnae Station.

And it is a grim and miserable day inside my heart as, last night, Manchester City were crowned league champions for the first time in 44 years after the most emotional 90 (95) minutes of football I think I have ever experienced. When City struck with those two late goals, I covered my face with my hands and waited for the tears and devastation to wash over me - but they never came. All I felt was a resignation, an acceptance bordering on relief, actually. City were definitely going to start winning trophies at some point - the talent they have in that team made that fact inevitable. The truth is, if QPR had held on last night, if Joey Barton hadn't, once again, proved himself an actual maniac, we'd have won the title and, for the first time, I really don't think we'd have deserved it. There is too much work to be done at United, and I just hope that Fergie has the time - and, most importantly, the money - to make the required changes. Being a United fan in your 20's means that you have never experienced failure. It is difficult at times to suppress that sense of entitlement but it is important to remember that success is not a Fergie-given right to all United fans. Ferguson has created team after team after team that wins things. Chelsea, Arsenal and Blackburn all had runs at us, and we batted them away. City have so much money behind them that this could be the biggest challenge of them all. Fergie doesn't have too much time left at United - he is 70, after all - and he now needs to build a team capable of competing with, and beating, City and Barcelona. It's time for the Glazers to put their hands in their bearded pockets, or simply fuck off.

Anyway, it's important to keep positive. We have a cracking new hanger for our tea towels, for example. And it's fish curry for tea tonight. So, you know, every cloud and all that.

Love, Smithy x


The (Alternative) Expat Lifestyle

I don't know if it was turning 26 and acknowledging that my early-20s are actually over, or the realisation that this really, actually, will be my last contract in Korea, but I am making the most of my time like I never have before. Working hagwon hours - the 2-10 shift - makes it very easy to live a vampiric existence of late-night Facebooking and unnecessary weekday drinking. This is how I spent my first year in Korea - although 6 hour Skype-sessions with a certain Canadian I was in the process of wooing also cut into my sleeping time somewhat. Back then, I would rise at midday (at best), work through to the evening and then stay up till dawn. It's no way to live.

This year, I am making the most of the fantastic opportunity that this shift pattern opens up to you. I wake up at 9:30am, check the weather (which is increasingly blue-skied and temperate) and hop aboard The Beast (my bicycle) and pedal over to either the local subway station for Taekwondo training on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, or down the road to Gorilla Gym (yes, that's really the name) on the other 2 days of the week. Saturday's usually begin with a joint trip to the gym with my Canadian girlfriend before spoiling it all with bacon & eggs, and Sunday is basketball day at the local park where I try valiantly and fail miserably. Basically, I'm a keep-fit machine with guns of polished steel. I'm disgustingly attractive nowadays.

But isn't just my exercise regime that has taken such a giant leap in recent months - nowadays, I just get shit done. I'm organising nights out and exertions with my friends, hosting parties (got a nice little Cinco de Mayo shindig coming up this weekend, did somebody say fish tacos?), completing paperwork for my Canadian visa application (this is a bitch, believe me), writing articles for expat magazines, orgainising my finances. I know this is all normal stuff that normal adults do - but I now feel that I am one of those normal adults. And far from bored by that realisation, I feel invigorated. I'm confident, fearless, ambitious. I'm all the things I wasn't for quite a while.

And it was with this confidence, and my beautiful girlfriend and laughing friends, that I strolled down the Cheonggyecheon River (more of a renovated stream, to be honest) in central Seoul on Saturday past, towards the bustling, noisy, neon-lit Gwangjang Night Market. Here, I sat beside The Postman (who now works with me in a nonsensical twist of fate) and gorged on sundae (Korean blood sausage), pig's feet (basically inedible, it would turn out) ddeokbokki (a deliciously spicy street food) and noodles, washed down with shitty - but cold - (s)Hite lager. And as I looked around, I couldn't help but smile to myself and feel proud at where we are and what we've done. My Canadian and I have got through so much together that we feel invincible. No matter what gets thrown at us, we turn around and batter it back.

It is a glorious feeling that comes from knowing that everything is going to be okay. I just wish I could say that about the match tonight.

Come on, United!

Love, Smithy x


April Sun-Showers

Let's get this show back on the road, shall we?

Life is good here in Bucheon. I can confidently, and comfortably, admit that I am happier and more positive than I can remember being in my adult life. I was relatively happy and positive as a toddler, but a fucking cynical teenager. And my early-20's are probably best - and actually - forgotten.

But it's all good now (I used to hate the phrase 'it's all good' because most of the time, it wasn't) and my Canadian girlfriend and I are really enjoying our 3rd stint in this weird little country of South Korea. Was it John Lennon that said that life is what happens when we are making other plans? I was reflecting the other evening (as I'm wont to do after one too many Long Islands) and I realised that Korea has been the making of me. I've spent all this time slagging the place off but, over the course of 4 years, it has turned me from a sniffling little rat-boy into a man. Now, let's not speak too soon of course, it could still all go tits-up, but I'm more confident than ever that it won't. Life is what happens while you're making other plans, but that's fine as long as you fulfill those plans eventually. And we're well on the way to doing that.

Speaking of things going tits-up, how about United's title bid? A couple of weeks ago we were 8 points clear and you couldn't read a single opinion piece that even gave city a shot of getting back into the race. But now, with 3 games to go, United are a meagre 3 points clear with a visit to Middle Eastlands coming up a week today. That will be a 4am kick-off for me and if, as I suspect, we lose, city will go top on goal difference. How did this happen? city were crowned champions by the press after they beat us 6-1 at Old Trafford in October but, while the Berties Pozman'd around like drunk lottery winners, we just got on with the business of winning games and putting points on the board. The inevitable city collapse came in March as they dropped points against Swansea, Stoke, Sunderland and Arsenal, and the press seemed to have it right when they gave the title to United. We don't lose 8-point leads, in the same way that we don't draw games after scoring 4 goals. But we fucking do, don't we? 3-1 and 4-2 up at home to Everton and we end up drawing 4-4. A nonsense result that was baffling to watch. city followed on by sending Wolves down with a 2-0 win and that leaves with this 'fascinating title race for the neutral'. I'm not a bloody neutral though, am I?

But yeah, besides this blip on my radar everything is A-OK. I'm training hard at Taekwondo and working out in the gym, getting out with the Canadian to explore the fair city of Bucheon and saving hard for the exciting things we have planned post-Korea. But, that's for another day.

Love, Smithy x