The Giant Blue Balloon

With the Giant Blue Balloon

Marcelle, Shauna and I are walking together without talking, texting furiously and reading and texting again. Where is everyone? In the Park, still on line two, still on the number one, still sitting in Goose Goose, still somewhere, not answering.

Jill and Asia arrive and we’re surrounded by hipster students and English teaching foreigners wearing skinny jeans and short skirts, tight, flowing, multicoloured arrays of sleek, shiny black to blinding electric yellow and gold mesh, leather, latex, denim, spandex.

I can’t believe I met Jill only a week ago and already we’re hugging and posing for photos like we’re old friends, talking about how we’ll miss one another when she heads back to the States next week.

We’re making summer plans with Asia, the girl who was just a name I hadn’t yet deleted from my phone two weeks ago. She’s smiling and talking to Marcelle by the mojito man and I’m glad it’s such a beautiful, clear spring night.

* * *

On a rainy evening two weeks before, a phone call interrupts the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

“Hi, is this Sabrina?” she asks.


“Could you do me a favour?”

The name on my cell phone screen is ‘Asia’ and I kind of remember who that is. Her number’s been in my phone since we met in a bar last winter and we both promised to hang out. It’s the middle of May, and it’s the first time either of us has called.

Asia says her friend arrived from the U.S. tonight and she’s lost somewhere in Incheon. Her friend has an American cell phone with her, but Asia’s phone won’t call internationally. She wants me to call her friend using Skype.

Typing the phone number into a word document on my laptop, I realize there’s no name to go with this phone number and Asia hangs up before I can ask. The sky outside my apartment is grey and dark.

Paranoid that I’ll type the wrong number in and call a random American at 5am, I cringe, hoping for the best, “Um, hi, is this Asia’s friend?”

Not knowing the person you’re calling’s name turns out not to be important. Asia’s friend tries explaining where she is as the rain starts pouring down on the roof of the supermarket next door.

“The sign says ‘Ganseok Market’ and there’s a Face Shop right here,” she says. Ganseok has a few entrances and Face Shops are everywhere. A Korean couple is helping her, speaking slowly in the background, and she repeats their words back to me.

“Gun. Suck. Shee. Chong,” she says a few times for me. I type this out on my computer in English letters. Reading the location over a few times, I don’t know, at first, what it means.

Gun. Suck. Shee. Chong.

Gunsock shechong

Ganseok si-jang.


The name of the market.

In Korean.

I call Asia back and report what I’ve found out, even telling her about the Face Shop.

“I think I know where she is,” Asia says and I wonder if I’ll ever hear from her again.

* * *

Tonight we’re with a group of foreigners from Incheon drinking sojitos, mojitos and other mixed drinks and then we’re in the club drinking buckets of vodka lemonade. We’re dancing, laughing, hugging for hours and then we’re outside, warm without the hot stickiness of summer.

Jill, Asia, Shauna, Marcelle and I arrive in a more deserted version of The Park. Arms are linked together in an act of friendship and to hold one another up.

Shauna is suddenly holding a giant blue balloon.

“Where did you get the balloon?” we ask Shauna and she bounces it in the air.

“It just appeared,” she says, smiling. We all nod and laugh and dance with the balloon and each other.

Read more expat adventures in English is Crazy, Full Stop

And follow me on Twitter @SabrinaNemis

Happy Children’s Day! Part Two


“What we need, ” I say early in the evening, “is to find a way to combine Children’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and Ogyeopsal Day.”

It’s May 5th and Shauna, Alex and I are sitting at a rooftop bar in Itaewon, the foreigner district in Seoul. We’re drinking beer as the sun sinks behind buildings and mountains. It’s still cool in the evening and I find myself shivering as streetlights pop on along the street.

We saw children and ate Mexican food earlier, but have yet to celebrate Ogyeopsal Day. This is mainly because I think Alex made it up.

Samgyeopsal is a popular Korean barbecue menu item: pork with three layers of fat. On March 3rd we celebrated the third day of the third month with samgyeopsal. Alex insists that we should celebrate the 5th day of the 5th month with a pork dinner with five layers of fat. Thus, Ogyeopsal Day.

Alex smiles suddenly and says, “We could always grill a fat Mexican child.”

Alex’s suggestion puts off our appetites long enough to finish our beer, but the smells of other people’s dinners are wafting up to the rooftop. My stomach is gurgling in response and five layers of fat seems more and more like a brilliant idea.

We walk down narrow, uneven steps to get to a small restaurant just off the main road. The serving staff laughs at our request. Alex keeps insisting that ogyeopsal is a real thing, so we walk back up the steps and continue on.

Finding a restaurant that serves Korean barbecue in the foreigner district is a challenge in itself. Finding one that serves a meal I’m feeling more and more confident that Alex made up, is starting to seem impossible.

We turn down a narrow side street near the Taco Bell, with small foreign food stores and Ethiopian restaurants, the front walls made of glass and small tables crammed into tight rows. We come to a large Korean restaurant with a menu posted by the door. To my surprise, ogyeopsal is listed. Alex lets out a cry of triumph and we make our way inside.

We sit at a table with a metal grill in the centre and a rectangular, plastic utensil box placed to one side. There are a couple of electronic dartboards against one wall and handwritten signs for the bathroom posted at the back. There aren’t many people in the restaurant.

Within a few minutes, a waitress who clearly, and perhaps correctly, doubts our grilling capabilities, is cooking our dinner in front of us as we sit and discuss our summer plans. This early in spring, there are still so many empty weekends to be filled with beaches, concerts, beer and more barbecues.

Read Happy Children’s Day! Part One

Or read more Alex Gould adventures in Alex Gould, Legend

And follow me on Twitter: @SabrinaNemis