The subways in Seoul usually stop running at around midnight, and don’t start again until around 5:30am or 6 o’clock. The large bulk of people out past midnight who don’t have the kind of money to pay for a taxi stick around sleeping on park benches, passed out in the parking spaces near the sidewalk, breathing heavily in a large DVD room designed for quick sex, snoring in a PC room with their neck tilted back and their mouth gaped open. Most clubs that seem weak at around 11pm or even 1am stay strong and exuberent until the sun comes up. To effectively party in Seoul, I must adapt to the night in its entirely. Debauchery will not be half-assed.
In Hongdae, the district around Hongkik University, I venture to the Noise Basement, a club that is so packed even on Sunday nights that dancing becomes a purely relative concept. Here I immediately meet a middle aged woman from Osaka, an older white guy who dances in ridiculous fury, and a black man from London named Alex. In clubs especially, foreigners tend to aggregate. Together we begin to suspect locals of using us as some type of status symbol, though we may intend to use them as some type of sexual object.
Alex begins to disclose his disappointment in much of the Korean nightlife, and immediately I see his reasons manifest in the crowd around us. Every time he begins to talk to a Korean girl, whether she has friends in the club or not, Korean men stare at him with such intensity that he is forced to confront them directly: What are you looking at? He yells once, and they merely shake their head at him.
I decide to test the toleration of these so called “liberal art students” by finding a tall Korean girl in blue hot-pants, woo her with my fancy patter, then hook her with: “I have a friend here who you should meet. He’s here from London (he has a great accent!), he’s about my age but way more muscular.” At that point I take her to Alex. What]s that? Not the person you were expecting? Something wrong about my description? I watch her joyful expression suddenly shift to total confusion and panic when she discovers that he isn’t quite the Beckham-like figure she was perhaps envisioning. I do this with another girl, and Alex seems to play along this time, meeting her with a smile while trying to ignore the grimace of the Korean men around him.
As I have been told on many occasions, Japanese women seem to be the most typical catalyst for burgeoning gigolos. Indeed, the woman from Osaka reflects anything but the mundane sterility of the Korean girls in the bar, in fact, at her first dance with a Korean girl, she whispers in her ear, tugs playfully at her shirt and spirits her out of the club. I immediately propose a toast to their love, but speak too soon, as the Japanese woman immediately returns with that pissed off look I notice upon myself when fooled by a woman’s hips.
We have a drink anyway, the Japanese women confiding in me that she has been in Seoul for five days, and each night she has gotten close to getting lucky with a girl, but they never want to go all the way. I feel for her, certainly, but am also satisfied that a great drinking buddy has returned to share in the squalor.I, Alex and the Japanese woman watch as the only white guy in the room dances briskly from girl to girl.
In Bupeoung there is a gigantic underground shopping mall, and a sprawling nightlife jam-packed with Korean youth. Unfortunately, this great district of Incheon once devoted to clubs and wild bars has been almost completely replaced by “night clubs” for young Koreans, which are substantially different from a regular club. Night clubs are really “booking clubs,” usually with a stage of dancers and tables full of alcohol and food.
Here is my extremely biased take on them: They are for the upper-class youth—since it’s expensive as hell to even step foot inside, let alone order any alcohol—who are either extremely shy or who don’t put much effort into actually walking up to someone else and talking to them. Here the waiters combine tables of women and men, so that customers don’t actually have to find a reason to talk to someone, or introduce themselves, or even get up out of their chair. Sadly, Bupeoung has been overrun with night clubs, which makes it nearly impossible to meet locals unless you carry wads of cash and get someone else to do the introductions for you.
I ended up in a bar alone for most of the night, until two Canadians came in. Racially they were completely Asian, later I found they were Chinese, and suddenly the fact that they were joining me in my pathetic loneliness made more sense. They seemed to be having the same problems as me, finding the Bupeoung nightlife sterile, and that Bupeoung had especially disintegrated into a gentrified version of an otherwise seedy nightlife.
Very often as I walk alongside a new white friend, Korean women have time and again jumped out to talk to him only to completely ignore me, the shorter, racially mixed person standing next to him as if I were some impure “Western” wannabe with the same urge for the foreign as them. Their predictable leaps from the sidelines impose a barrage of the same lines: “Where you from?” “What is your name?” “Oh, I love your country!” while I, usually caught in mid-sentence, find myself trying to nudge in from the girl’s backside. These sudden coos have ceased to provide any amusement to me, and when I am so conspicuously ignored because I look more like the girl’s maid than a traveler, I feel the need to take vengeance. Such justice I have served in several ways.
Once, while trying to take a picture of a drunk man passed out on the street with some new friends, Korean girls popped out and began casually ignoring me, apparently fascinated however by the country of origin my friend’s had–the same as mine, the United States. What sweet revenge I imbibed that night! After I had let their performance carry on for some time, I whispered in my friend’s ears, confessing that I had seen certain marks on the lips of these Korean girls as they spoke, and that we should make sudden retreat if ever we hope to return home with our bodies free from inflammations.
Perhaps this was despicable, and is even less excusable since I had very little to drink that night, but—BUT how delicious it felt, how satisfying it was to see the spring in their step turn to fall, how entranced I was to see my white friends make their escape, and I quickly behind, looking back at the girls finally with a devilish smile, one that made them recognize instantly that I had been the incendiary of the terrible fire that would lay their plans for the night to ashes, that their total exclusion of me because of my mixed race, dark skin and refusal to give away my American accent, would doom them to a forgettable fate.