In Korean business culture, socializing with one's coworkers after the workday has finished is very important. The term for this is hwaeshik (회식), a term which essentially encompasses going out to dinner and drinking copious amounts of alcohol with one's colleagues. It's easy to see how many a 회식 could easily end badly. Sadly, my first 회식 with my new company crashed and burned before it even got started.
I am highly susceptible to motion sickness. Cars and buses are the worst offenders, although I've been motion sick on trains, planes, and boats as well. Cars are generally okay as long as we're moving rapidly and smoothly, and as long as I've got plenty of ventilation. Sitting in the front seat generally helps, too. Sitting in the backseat of a hot car with no ventilation during Seoul rush hour, driving from Yeouido to Gangnam did me in. I wasn't physically sick at that point, although I was rather surprised that I wasn't. Our first destination was a really fantastic seafood buffet in Gangnam, and the food looked absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, for me at least, one of the worst things to be exposed to when I'm feeling nauseous is the smell of food. I wasn't able to eat anything, even though most of the food looked really, really delicious. (In particular, there was a huge and beautiful selection of sushi rolls that I'm incredibly disappointed I couldn't sample.)
Luckily my coworkers were very understanding and concerned about my well-being, and it would've been a pleasant dinner, if only I could've eaten.
Well, one of the dishes I probably wouldn't have sampled, even had I been up to snuff: not so much live octopus, as freshly killed and still reflexively wriggling octopus:
At 8pm, just as I was thinking that soon I'd be able to go home and collapse... I learned that our boss had booked a "round two" for us. Round two was at a noraebang (노래방, Korean karaoke). Unlike karaoke bars in the US, where one goes and makes an ass of one's self in public, in Korea, you rent a private room with your friends (or coworkers) in order to limit the number of people who get to see you making an ass of yourself. I really didn't want to go on to round two, but as this was my first 회식 with these folks, I figured I should. (I had also thought that our department head - my boss - was going to go on to round two as well. Had I known that he wasn't going, I definitely would've skipped it... but I found that out a tad too late.)
The 노래방 that our department head had booked for us was super-swank, at the top of a building with a kickass view of Seoul from our room, which was well-stocked with tons of snacks and booze. (Have I mentioned that this was a Thursday? Apparently hwaeshiking on Thursday nights is pretty common... although getting one's workforce shitfaced on a Thursday night seems a little counter-intuitive in terms of productivity.) Unfortunately, our 노래방 was a 15 minute drive from the restaurant. I had sat in the front of a taxi with two of my coworkers (WG and SM) in the back, thinking that I felt substantially better and could surely make it as long as I was in the front... I made it about halfway there before being violently ill. Luckily we were at a stoplight and I was able to open the door, so at least I wasn't sick inside the taxi. Also, the taxi driver was very kind and understanding (as opposed to many who probably would have yelled and kicked me out right there). Amazingly, I felt a lot better after that.
We arrived outside our destination, and WG and SM convinced me to go inside with them. Again, I still thought our boss would be there, and knowing that socializing with your coworkers is so important, I gamely went along. This wasn't my first time inside a 노래방 by any means, although it was my first *sober* time inside of one. Everyone else was getting pleasantly sloppy and singing their hearts out. Meanwhile, I washed the vomit out of my hair in the 노래방's bathroom sink, then sat in our room feeling a little awkward. Even though I felt substantially better, I knew that there was no way I was going to drink any alcohol, considering the state of my stomach.
After about an hour and a half I decided to leave. There are only two women in our department - and the other one - SM - is 11 years younger than me (she's an intern; still a university student). Even though the men in our group all seem like really nice, reliable, trustworthy guys, I really didn't like the idea of leaving her alone in an enclosed room with them, as they were all drunk. (Okay, so I went out drinking with two of them for my birthday, but I'm older, wiser, bigger (!), and much more likely to punch a fucker in the face than SM.) Luckily, she wanted to leave at the same time I did. We took a taxi to the nearest subway (it would've been a really long walk otherwise), and I seriously barely made it there without puking. Sheesh. And then I had to face an hour or so long subway ride. Sigh. At least the subway didn't set me off, and I made it home okay.