“Hey how’s it going?” I ask.
“Good how have you been?” The bartender asked me as he is pouring some drinks for other customers.
“Same old stuff” I say. “Can I order 30 wings for me and 20 for my girlfriend?”
“Sure!” He takes out a pen and paper and deducts 50 wings from the total that our group of friends reserved the day before.
“What’ll you have?” He asks me while he places the order to start the wings cooking.
“I’ll have a Cass. I’m really looking forward to these wings.”
“Haha I can see that.”
I look over to the pillar in the center of the bar to look over the banner that has been sitting there for years. It has pictures of the days past when Bucheon used to have more English teachers. I talked to a few of the senior teachers who have been here for a while and they have been telling me that a lot of academies and schools have had to hire less teachers due to less enrollment. Despite this, our bar ‘Rhythm and Booze’ has remained open; all thanks to our favorite owner Kyu. I went to this bar every day on Monday when I first arrived in South Korea because they had a buy a burger set and get a free draft of Cass. This was a great way for me and my coworkers to relax after a long hard day of Monday teaching. I felt at home here because everyone was welcome despite your race, language you spoke, ethnicity, or culture.
Each year South Korea has a mud festival called the Buryeong Mud Festival 보령머드축제. When it was my first year in Korea, I was excited to try new things and experience Korean culture. Kyu offered to rent a bus, drive us there and back, provide housing accommodations, cook for us, and do it for a very low cost. He hosted rooftop barbeques on the weekend where he would bring the meat and provide kegs of beer for low costs. His bar became a meeting place, a place to socialize, play pool, darts, board games, beer pong, and other drinking games. It impacted me a lot in just these first two years. Some other foreigners have echoed this and spoke about how he had been there for them as a bartender, friend, watchful uncle, and to some maybe even a father figure. Sometimes you can just tell that some people genuinely mean well and do all they can for you to be happy at the cost of their own time, money, or feelings. He treated us like family. When it was someone’s birthday, he would bring out mixed drinks of his choosing and it would be on the house. Once it was my coworker’s birthday and he has been sticking to a fairly strict diet, so it was a special occasion for him to be drinking. Kyu decided to make 20 lemon drops and gave it to all of us.
Jumping back to that night at the bar…Little did I know, that would be the last time that Kyu would personally pour my beer and mixed cocktails for me and my friends. I attended his funeral with some other coworkers who were compelled to attend as well. When we arrived, I greeted his sister and other family members. It was nice to see that although Kyu had family, there were a lot of foreigners because of the impact he made on the Bucheon community. This was also surprising because Korea allows three days for family members or friends to come pay respects before going forward with the burial or funeral processions. I felt a strange feeling of sadness and happiness because I was filled with all the positive memories I had of him and the things he did for me and the rest of my friends out of selflessness. It became emotional when we went up to his picture and I mentally said my last words to him. In today’s age with technology and the fast paced movements of society, he still kept up to date. The last thing I said to him besides talking to him at the bar was through a Facebook message.
It reads “We love your wings. They remind me of home.”
To which he responded with “Thanks Tej *heart-eyed smiley face emoticon*”.
This guy sent emoticons with his messages haha. His food was pretty good too, especially after a long day of work or some food to go with your drinks. He was the cool uncle. The one that listened to what happened in your day and continued to ask you questions about your life. He did all of this after listening to these answers many times from countless others for the better part of two decades. Kyu 황규영 passed away on July 4th 2017. He had stage four cancer. He told very few people of his condition, but some of us suspected it was something. I didn’t realize it was this severe. What is is about dying that causes so much stress and emotion? Is it our level of familiarity between the departed? Does this mean that the closer we are in terms of kin or friendship dictates how much pain we are supposed to feel? I only knew Kyu for a couple of years, but the impact he made really stuck with me. Grieving is dealt with differently around the world, but there are many similarities that I have noticed. In most cultures, there is a sense of respect, memorial, and time allotted to understand the reality of the departed leaving this physical world. Death happens just as regularly as babies being born. It seems that we live in a day where technology is so high that we are constantly making advances in medicine to the point where when someone does pass away, it always come as a shock. We have the mindset that we are invincible and we will live forever. Suddenly death occurs and brings us back into this harsh reality. Then when it does happen, sometimes it’s easy to get upset with the departed because some people can be stubborn to ask for help, but when you look at the opposite side, maybe Kyu didn’t want to be a burden on others. He definitely thought of the well-being of others rather than himself. Hats off to you Kyu. I’ll think of you whenever I’m with close friends and family. You won’t be forgotten.