This had to come out some time. At some point in my life, I was going to have to tell people about my experiences with the seedy side of Korea. Here are a few tales from Incheon and Seoul, South Korea.
Incheon: Pretty Nice
My first year in Korea I worked at SLP Namdong in Incheon, a small port town of industry. It was sterile in the middle and as it spread to the working ships and stacked containers of the ports, got dingier and less appealing. When I first arrived my boss, Director Steve, told me with a father-like concern in his voice NOT to go out at night in my neighborhood. What? I thought. Is he serious? He could see the confusion on my face and told me that where I would be living would not be so nice. It was a place of bars, few restaurants and street food. It was a place of bad behavior and heavy drinking. Lots of men, he explained.
I, not realizing the severity of what he was saying, thought it sounded like heaven! Men, bars, drinking, flashy Neon?? I’m home ma! From that description I could not wait to get things dropped off at my apartment and go get my drink on. As we approached my officetel apartment building, the streets were illuminated with hot pink, white, blue and red neon. They flashed, spiraled and danced on the building walls. It was like Vegas. I noticed that a lot of these buildings had huge pictures of roses on them (I would come to learn that was code for the female member). The doorways were lined with barber poles spinning. Some with sexy ladies on them instead of the normal blue, white and red stripes. I also began noticing the motels with hyper active neon.
I was living in a red light district. I was a little confused for a while as to what I could and could not do in the RLD, afterall, were women allowed out there? As time went on I grew more brave – but I had to. Most weekends and some nights my friends from work and I would go to Arts Center or to Seoul and more often then my wallet would like to admit, I would get a cab home. The taxi driver would ask where I was going and I would say “Ganseogogeri.” (Try saying that drunk). And he would say, “What?” and I would say, “Ganseogogeri.” and he would say “Ganseogogeri???” and I would say, “yes.” And after 10 minutes of this we would finally be off to the infamous street. Ganseogogeri was the name of the intersection. But this intersection was only known for one thing and that didn’t involve modestly dressed kindergarten teachers. So this always threw the taxi drivers for a loop that I was so insistant on going there. A few times I would be taken to the apartment building. But more often then not I would be dropped off on the hooker street just adjacent on the other side of the block. Which meant I had to walk down the street to get to my apartment.
The street was lined with red neon lit windows that had curtains behind that. Between the curtains and the windows were couches and french salon inspired decor and women would be lounging around, looking bored in lingerie. They were very friendly. They would say “Hello!” and spoke decent English. I would say “hi” back and then they would ask me how I was doing and other formalities. I would see two or three girls dragging a drunk guy into their salon from time to time. Most of the time it just smelled like pot and cigarettes.
Also near my place were the stores for the girls to buy their clothing. Striper wear. But all and all, they were very nice.
Itaewon, Seoul: Not so nice
Hooker Hill is the name of the street in Seoul that has hookers on it. Sooooo clever. The windows, once again, are lined with red rope lights. The kind that are cheap and have gained popularity at Christmas time. There is a cowboy-themed bar on this street as well as some cheapo whore houses.
My friend and I were living in Incheon and were annoyed with getting a cab home for 30 – 40 dollars every Friday or Saturday night. The other alternative was to wait for the subway to open at 5:30 – 6 am and take the subway back. But that meant staying out ALL NIGHT, getting home and being dead to the world.
So we decided to be smart. Go to Itaewon early, get a motel room and then we would have a place to crash when it got late. Seemed like a great idea yeah? Except that in the day time all the streets of Itaewon look similar and if you don’t have a firm grasp on the map of things you can get really confused. I didn’t really even know what Itaewon looked like in the day time so I was real lost. It looks so different at 1pm, sober. We didn’t want a shady motel that army guys rented on the weekends – yuck! So we walked extra far down the main strip until we thought we were away from the cheap and dirty places. We walked into a motel ran by what appeared to be a lady sleeping. Behind the cash register was a stack of matresses and this old little Asian woman was lying on them with a blanket over her. She looked really surprised when we asked to rent a room for the night.
“The night?” she repeated. “Yes,” I said. “30,00 won,” she told us. That was only 15 dollars each when we split it. She took our money, hacked a cough, made a reservation and then lied back down to…um..sleep. There were also a lot of really sick cats. One was a mother and had a cone around her head and the rest were really freaky looking kittens. My friend and I must have no intuition because everything about this scene suggests that we should have found another place to lodge. But we thought we got a pretty good deal and off we went to have lunch.
That night more and more people learned of our clever idea and wanted in on the room. I couldn’t remember anything about the room: what it looked like or how big it was. But five or six of us ended walking back to the motel. It was night time and that is when it hit us. At night you can see the red rope lights. Ah, s@#! This is hooker hill! Are motel was behind the cowboy-themed bar and as we entered the motel it suddenly made sense why the old lady was shocked that we were renting the room the “the night.” People did not rent here for more than an hour or two. There was sexy music playing in the adjacent room and a thick smell of smoke. As we entered our room, our guests began to laugh at us. There was no TV., the room was bare. There was not even a sink in the bathroom! Just a movable shower head. No, no, friend, people did not spend the night here. As we all crammed and smooshed each other onto the double bed, we realized there was no light switch. “Aha!” said my friend and she tugged a chord hanging from the ceiling. That’s right. The light turned on and off by a chord hanging over the bed. Curiously, you had to be on your knees to reach it. But none of us contracted any STDs and the night was over after a few hours.
Another friend of mine also got lost and ended up on hooker hill. Hooker hill is one street over from homo hill and she was suppose to meet her gay friend at a bar. Well, she went up the wrong street and assumed the cowboy-themed bar was the place. When she opened the door, a nine-foot-tall amazonian prostitute said “No,” and kicked my friend right in the crotch sending her to her knees. The prostitute then slammed the door in her face. That prostitute was not looking to share her bar was a couple of cute “for drinks” girls. Hell know. From my friends perspective, all she could see was this giant leg and heel come out of the dark doorway. The heel hit her in the Vajayjay, knocking the wind out of her and causing her to collapse on the floor like a cheap folding chair. And the hooker yelled “No!” and the door was thus slammed. I could retell this story three and four ways. It never stops being funny. But after she got the air knocked out of her she called her friend and was informed of her error. He was one street over.