Korea, June 5, 2000
It'aewon sure will eat your won!
This confirms it, I've been outta
the USA way too long, or otherwise I'd enjoy this bar. It is filled with
Americans, the English menu is priced in dollars, Pearl Jam is cranking on
the stereo, and Mr. B is buying me drinks. As you might suspect, I ain't
in China, and one look at the thick necks on the all-American crowd tells
ya that I'm just outside a US military base.
I'm in Seoul, Korea, and this bar in the It'aewon district is rivaling the worst of Thailand in its pure sex play. With girls calling us from every doorway we pass, and 'massages' offered by babushkas on the sidewalk, it took all of my persuasive powers to keep my companions from disappearing into a random red doorway.
I've run into two American programmers from Japan, who, like I, have spent too long outside the US, and are shocked by the very American surroundings. We're out and about in this bar with Mr. B, a random Korean who's apparently a tailor by day and a sleazy party-boy by night. Even though my disgust level is rising by the minute, for the GI's are doing the best impression of Redneck Americana that I've seen in years, I'm gonna stay till our benefactor runs out of greenbacks.
See, it took me a hour to get here, as the brown subway line drawn on the map doesn't exist yet, so I tried to walk it from the nearest station. Two big circles from two different stations later, lost, pissed, and on the edge of going home, only an odd desire to press on led me to It'aewon, and I'm not about to repeat last night's homeward journey.
After the endless lines of Korea customs, where shuttle traders were shoving for position even before our ferry from China made port, I went to the Taehangno University district, looking to unwind with a few beers and decent music. What I found shocked me, for this was not your usual cheap and funky poor-student zone.
No, at $4 for a beer while lounging on pristine white couches, I knew I was in the wrong part of town. trying to get home, I found that not a single taxi driver could read the simple map on the back of my hotel's card, and I would up walking the four kilometers to my traditional Korean hotel early in the morning.
Tonight, I'm sucking down free Koran Hite beer until one guy starts babbling about Fragile Rock and I look up to see the Culture Club singing on the TV. Then, my 80's kid childhood comes back to me so strong, I have to flee down 'Hooker Hill,' diving into first taxi I see.
Luckily, this taxi driver understands the map I gave him for my hotel and we speed home with other hopefuls shouting their intended destinations at us as we pass. They're hoping the driver would follow the local custom of doubling up on fares, but good for me he doesn't, and I'm back home to tell you this tale by the glow of the late night TV.