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But one time when I visited him there were no other friends to be found. It was the end of university semester and his friends, in particular the girls he knew, who were mostly his juniors, were preparing end-of-semester essays and studying for exams. KH was, I think, technically still at university in some sense, but either he had finished his important studies, or he had in some fashion managed to extend his time at university to avoid looking for work, in the tradition of university students worldwide. So there were no friends to meet; in particular no girls to talk to, which was a disappointment to both of us.
So KH suggested we go to a bar.
I knew what he meant by “a bar”. These establishments are sometimes called business bars, or hostess bars; they’re frequented by Korean businessmen, and from what I’d gathered were disreputable places, one step above brothels.
I’d never been to one of these places. Well, that’s not true; I went to one accidentally with some friends in my first year in Korea. It was a tenth floor establishment and its name, Sexy Bar, was prominently advertised across the width of its darkened windows. We were taken with the frivolous idea of drinking at a place called Sexy Bar, as you would be when you’re new to Korea. We went up and walked into a large, completely empty bar. Around the walls stood some amazingly attractive girls in high heels and hotpants, shifting their weight from foot to foot and looking bored. We immediately got the sense that we were in the wrong sort of place, but persevered long enough to look at a menu, which offered only bottles of whiskey and other spirits starting from around 150,000 won. We quickly left. And that was all I really knew about Korean hostess bars.
KH asked me if I’d ever been to one; I said no. To convince me he told me about another waeguk friend he’d once had; a guy he’d worked with at an English camp. This guy, from the sounds of it, was something of a dissolute figure. According to KH, he had introduced him to the pleasures of a Korean hostess bar, and the guy had become addicted. He would go there frequently and drink himself into a stupor; the bar girls would have to ring up KH to come collect him.
I wasn’t too convinced by this story. But the evening was going nowhere, and as I wrote on here once, it’s a good idea to accept invitations from Koreans; it can take you to strange and interesting places. And I trusted KH – if I was ever going to experience this aspect of Korean culture, this was the only sort of circumstance in which I was likely to do it.
Michael Chabon once wrote, “All male friendships are essentially quixotic: they last only so long as each man is willing to polish the shaving-bowl helmet, climb on his donkey, and ride off after the other in pursuit of illusive glory and questionable adventure.” There’s truth in that.
KH had a theory about finding a good hostess bar. We’d been drinking in the university area, and although there were such bars around, it was not a good place for them. “There are too many young men here,” he said. “It is competition. If we go to another place, then there are only businessmen. So the girls will want to talk to us.”
I also wanted to find a motel for the night. What we needed was the part of the city where love motels bloom like strange orchids; where the noraebang advertisements feature pictures of girls in bikinis. KH knew where to go, and we caught a taxi. We wandered the neighborhood while I looked for a motel to stay.
We found a place, and I got a room. The bar KH knew was across the street from my motel, on the second floor. We went up to it, KH leading the way.
A story like this typically has a disclaimer: I’m no expert on this topic. What I know is what I heard from friends. Some words to let you know that I’m not a degenerate.
In this case, it happens to be true. What I know about hostess bars, and the various forms of prostitution in Korea, could be literally written on a postcard. If I were to do that, the postcard would say something like this:
1. Prostitution is really common in Korea.
2. Despite this, a foreigner is unlikely to randomly encounter it. It is not hidden, exactly, but there is a code to it, and it’s not obvious if you don’t know the code. For instance I’ve heard about “Kiss Bangs” plenty of times, but if I’ve ever seen one, I didn’t recognise it.
3. To quote KH, “There are many business models”. If you want to know more, there’s this useful reddit guide.
4. From what I can tell, with some, though not all, of those business models, sex is not a given; there is some process of mutual sizing up and negotiation. The girls can say no, which seems like a good idea.
OK; maybe it would be a long postcard. Hostess bars, from what I can tell, are at the milder end of that spectrum. They offer the illusion of attraction and intimacy; the bar girls will flirt with you, laugh at your jokes, pour your drinks and light your cigarettes. But it is mostly illusion. Just the same, from what I understand from KH and others, it’s not impossible to make arrangements to leave the bar with a girl.
#sexy #young #teen #lesbian