Making friends in a new country is never easy. When I first landed in Seoul I didn’t know a single person in this hemisphere of the world. Unlike my home school I wasn’t living on campus in a dorm. I was in an apartment with old ladies as my neighbors. Only two other people from my program were even in my building. There were orientation events and classes to make new friends but ultimately it was hard to make lasting bonds with people and find the sense of community that I had at my home school. But when you are in a new place, community comes where you least expect it.
Me and a friend from my program one day in September, went to check out a Hold'em Pub in Sinchon called Seven Red. Gambling is illegal for Koreans however in the nightlife area there are Hold'em Pubs that will be open for play. You can’t win real money at these places, instead you just win free buy-ins.
The first night we walked in we were greeted with no English speakers. The workers did their best to explain how the Tournaments worked and considering I already was very familiar with poker I was able to sit down and play easily. I barely knew the numbers so when I called 만이천 (12000 won/about $9) with 9-10 off suit, some eyebrows were raised.
The demographic was people of all ages and backgrounds. One of the first people I met was a guy who played guitar at a nearby underground club. He invited me to see him play guitar one night but the club he was playing at didn’t let me in. It didn’t end up mattering because he actually decided not to play guitar that night and was instead at Seven Red. There was a girl who went by the name “Clover” who would always call me “Harry Potter” and always had a traditional fan that she would open and close periodically. There were a decent number of old guys who would play until late in the night. There was a mother son duo who would always bring snacks for everyone. There was a civil engineering professor at Yonsei, a guy from Madagascar, a guy from Tunisia, scores of couples.
The absence of real money added a whimsical nature to the game. It certainly didn’t stop some from losing seemingly everything they had. There was this one guy who we called “Big Homie” who would play unbelievably loose and loud. He would go all in on stupid hands like 2-5 off suit and scream his lungs out when he lost. Sometimes I would go all in with hands like 7-10 off suit when it was heads up between me and him just because he always had nothing. When I would knock him he would just tell “HARRY” and then rebuy.
The language barrier seemed intense at first but me and my buddy had a way of breaking the ice on that front. After most exciting hands or all ins we would just yell “Let’s go” whether we won or lost and pretty soon the entire place started doing the same. People I had never seen before would just call my bet and say “Let’s go.” It didn’t matter that we couldn’t communicate in language, we could still have fun together. Everyone there always had a smile on their face when I walked and was not phased at all by me being a foreigner.
I had many fun times at this place and will always hold the regulars there close to my heart. It was the first time I really got to experience meeting people in a more grown up setting. It’s one thing to make friends through orientation or through classes. But it is an entirely other skill to walk into somewhere random and meet new people, some who don’t even speak the same language as you.
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My name is Harry Pogorzelski-Ponichtera and I am currently a music composition major at Ithaca College. I have been playing guitar since I was 7 years old. In my spare time I enjoy making music and gaming with friends!