This little story relates one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, but have been putting off writing about, because I have no idea how to accurately paint the hilarious picture. Even the word biker in the title doesn’t quite give the correct impression, despite being the correct descriptive word. Doesn’t make sense? I know. We’ll get to that later, though; first a little background.
South Korea’s capital Seoul has three main nightlife areas: Itaewon, Gangnam and Hongdae. Itaewon is crawling with US military personnel and is only bearable occasionally. Gangnam is so pretentious and snobby that someone even wrote a song and created a dance parodying the type of people who frequent this area, but you probably haven’t heard of it. I was in Korea before all that, so I can only imagine what Gangnam is like now—I’m picturing hordes of drunk idiots riding pretend horses up and down the streets and throughout the overpriced clubs.
For me, far and away the best option for nightlife was Hongdae and judging by the crowds, I was not alone in that. Seen as more artsy and alternative than the other areas, it was, in truth, simply the most normal. The streets and alleys leading from Hongdae Station are filled with hundreds, even thousands, of bars, clubs and restaurants and somewhere among them you’ll find a tiny little clearing with a single swing set and a slide. This is the Hongdae Childrens Park (aka Hongik Children’s Park).
During the daytime, street vendors fill the small clearing, flogging the same types of things vendors generally sell off blankets and carts. At night, at least on weekends during the warmer months, the little park fills up with partiers looking to have a few beers outside before heading into the smoky clubs. You’ll often find bands playing live music, freestyle rap circles (yes, that’s every bit as funny—and as sad—as you are likely imagining), drum circles (as moronic as they are anywhere else on earth) and several local entrepreneurs who can provide you with drinks mixed from a collection of liquor bottles they’ve brought to the park and set up as a makeshift bar.
If you hang around for any amount of time, you’ll eventually encounter one of the park’s legendary mainstays: an unbelievably enthusiastic and business savvy homeless guy who sells bottles of makgeolli (an alcoholic beverage made from rice and wheat) off a large cart. It tastes horrible, but it’s cheap and his personality ensures that virtually everyone in the park ends up with at least one bottle.
Then you’ve got the bikes. For some reason, you will always find several guys who bring their pimped-out motorcycles to the park and spend all night standing next to them in bright, shiny, colorful and clearly newly bought or rarely worn, skintight leather outfits. I can only assume they’re trying to make an impression and I suppose they do. I highly doubt it’s the one they’re going for.
On the day in question, a certain “biker” made a rather large impression, mostly because he was a rather large man who came to the park with his rather large girlfriend and his extremely large bike. It had to be large, as a regular sized bike could never carry the two of them; neither could most small cars.
Try to picture the Korean rapper Psy (you know him as the guy who always wanted a horse growing up, but never got one and had to make do pretending, which ended up making him millions). Keep Psy’s face, but add 20 kilograms or so. Now you have the girlfriend. Double the size and add a mustache and you get the man.
Now picture that man in a skintight leather outfit. I suppose you could simply picture a mustached cow that has just had a facelift—basically had its skin tightened to the point where the innards are threatening to burst through. Once you’ve got the outfit, add a helmet, but not one of those modern motorcycle helmets that covers the whole head. He had one of those old helmets that only cover the top part and naturally, it was several sizes too small, resulting in the same effect you get when you squeeze the top part of a balloon and the bottom half expands—his jowls were practically bursting out below the helmet giving him kind of a pair-shaped head. And don’t forget about the mustache.
I first noticed the lovely couple when I heard a high-pitched shriek and saw a crowd of people clearly trying to hold in laughter. Upon moving closer, I saw a large round ball of leather trying to lift up his fallen bike. People tried to help, but he waved them off saying something in Korean that likely meant “I got it, I got it.” He was clearly drunk beyond the point where he didn’t have “it” or anything else for that matter. While he did succeed in getting the bike upright, he immediately tipped it over the other way.
Eventually he got it to stand up and with much fanfare loaded himself onto it. Then he motioned for his girlfriend to sit behind him, but her weight threw off his balance and they both once again ended up on the pavement in a large pile of leather, sweat and even some drool. The whole time, he was still talking and clearly trying to show off, but you could tell it was also slowly dawning on him that people were not quite as impressed as he would have liked.
That didn’t change when they finally got themselves on the bike and sat there tall and proud. He revved the engine a few times while waving goodbye then gunned it and shot off straight into the nearby slide. While the slide was only a few meters away, it was off to his left and seemed impossible to hit given his angle, but he pulled it off. Thrown off balance by all the weight on the bike and all the booze in his stomach, he veered sharply to the left and had actually almost hit the ground by the time he crashed.
Out of all the bikers who gather in the park trying to impress, this guy actually did manage to make an impression. Unfortunately, that impression wasn’t made on the large audience he had managed to gather, but on the children’s slide; and it was a fairly large impression at that—I’m sure a few kids had some rather painful fun sliding down that thing the next day.
Our hero and his girlfriend tipped over one more time after that, but then gave in and allowed the few people who weren’t busy fighting abdominal cramps from all the laughing to help them get on the bike. Finally, he shot off with a lot less revving and waving than before and gunned it down the tiny street.
I swear every single person there that night was straining their ears at that point, fully expecting to hear a loud crash in the distance. That crash never came, so I guess our two outlaws made it at least a block or two. More likely, they simply tipped over quietly at the first red light.