For Miles R.
To find a good beer in South Korea,
ride for five hours on the Mugunghwa
train from Masan to Seoul in winter,
drinking warm Hite lagers and flooding
the shaky cabin with English voices
debating your one American friend
over the necessity of grains
in the human diet. In Seoul Station,
ride the five-story escalator down
to the cold, clean streets; take the subway
to Apgujeong where the western-style
restaurants are overpriced. Ogle
a thousand different porcelain-faced
Korean girls at the same time,
as their heels clap along the sidewalks.
Find that the brewery you’re seeking
has been closed for months and settle for
cola-colored beer in a bottle
at 7/11. Consult travel guides.
Find out that at the other end of the city,
Gangnam, forty-five minutes by subway,
there’s a microbrewery with Belgian-
style ales. Go there. Ignore the eyes
of other foreigners on the green-line;
blend their faces into the suited mass.
Off the subway, grab the first street food
with incomparable scent; spicy chicken
skewers, fishy odeng strips, sticky sweet
rice cakes in red sauce. Walk an hour
and a half in accumulating snow
which stains the cuffs of your jeans with street sand
and slush. Face the fact that you are lost;
ask a man in the street: Odeeso
Platinum Maekchu? He will tell you
in perfect English: “Platinum Beer?
Take two lefts, below the movie theatre.”
Don’t be too embarrassed by your shitty
Korean. Holler with relief into
frozen air when a massive chrome
fermentation tank appears on the
wet snow-laced sidewalk horizon.
Wring your snow-soaked clothes on the brewpub’s floor.
Absorb the yeast-sprouting warmth. Order two
ales and don’t linger over the inflated
price. Be patient for a minute. Freshly
sobered and patient. The glasses will come;
pale bronze rising to an unmistakable
frothy head born of Belgian yeast, malt extract,
boiled candy sugar. Hold the moment—
dim room, high table with tasteless bar snacks,
your friend from Portland who is all you have
for a brief few months in Asia, the smiling
waiter who bows and sets down your pints.
Delay the first sip, before the taste
is all you expected and still wholly
disappointing, as all things lost, then found.
Photo by Kent Kanouse