Late Night Drinks with Other Waegs Part 15

As I slowly pull up the driveway of a five star international hotel which I won’t name, I am greeted by a sight that boggles the mind.  I creep up towards the valet curb, slip my sunglasses over my forehead and rub my eyes before taking a second look.  There, standing among of a crowd of tourists, moneyed up Korean layabouts, and various airline employees, is American friend Henry.  And he is not alone.  He is flanked on the left by the largest Korean security guard I’ve ever seen in my life.  On his opposite side, there is an ajumma.  Wait, I need to rub my eyes again and squint to confirm that I am not hallucinating -no, to his right stands an ajumma, approximately 4 feet tall, late 40′s or early 50′s, scandelously dressed, with her arms locked around Henry’s left elbow in an iron grip.  Henry is holding his shoes out in front of him, and is standing barefoot at the curb.

A valet attendant approaches but I hit the button activating my hazard lights, open my door and wave him off.  It is only when I reach the curious threesome that the security guard, who must be at least seven feet tall, releases Henry’s arm as if transferring custody to me.  Henry’s shoes, pants and shirt are dripping wet, but his jacket is miraculously dry.  It is a late Tuesday afternoon and as I look around and realize that everyone is staring at us, I lower my sunglasses back down to obscure my face.  I can’t afford the guilt by association, because this is the same hotel from which I usually steal my morning copy of the Wallstreet Journal while pretending to order overpriced coffee from the overpriced cafe.  Among the crowd, a distinguished looking Middle Eastern man in a pilot’s uniform appraises us and gives a look that can only be interpreted as disapproval.

As I guide Henry towards the car, a strong aroma of alcohol and chlorine wafts from his person and nearly overpowers me.  The call came about an hour earlier, and Henry is still reasonably trashed.  He is putting on a good show of faux sobriety while somehow managing to remain vertical despite ingesting what I can only assume was a  generous amount of liquor.  The ajumma -whom upon closer inspection, must be 50-60 years old, and who also looks like a retired whore- refuses to let go of Henry’s arm.  She assumes that wherever we are going, she is also going.  I look at the security guard, whom in the interest of avoiding another “scene” gently coaxes the ajumma from Henry’s arm so that we can make a hasty exit from the valet zone.

Henry is wearing a pair of white Fendi sunglasses.  They are women’s sunglasses in the style of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  I pull back over to the curb and hit my hazard lights.  “Where did you get those sunglasses?  Who do they belong to?”  He responds, “They’re mine man, don’t worry, don’t worry, just drive!”  I look in the rear view mirror and there are now two women standing with the giant Korean security guard, pointing in our direction.  I remove the sunglasses from Henry’s head, exit my vehicle for the second time, and jog back to the security guard, handing over the sunglasses, bowing and apologizing in Korean.

I roll down the windows and the rest of the trip to Samseong-dong is silent.  I choose Samseong-dong because I know of a cafe there with parking directly in front, where I can drink coffee, wait for Henry to sober up, and keep an eye on my car at the same time.  We grab an outside table and I order two Americanos.  “So, you decided to take a swim huh?” I say, stating the obvious.  “It was hot outside.  I just wanted to dip my feet in.”   This doesn’t explain why Henry is soaked from head to toe, and I can only guess that shortly after his “swim”, security was dispatched to pull him out of the pool and remove him from the property as discretely as possible.  “And that ajumma.   What………the fuck is…..wrong with you?”

Henry explains, “Oh man, she was buying me drink after drink, man.  That lady loves to party!  She said she was an artist or something, maybe a painter.”  This is funny, because it didn’t seem to me like the ajumma spoke a word of English, and Henry’s Korean ability, despite him having been here longer than myself, is questionable at best.  Henry removes a soaked pack of Marlboros from his pants pocket, takes out a single cigarette and tries to light it.  The waterlogged cigarette has no intention of submitting to this lighter, and so Henry stands up and announces that he is going out to find a convenience store.  He squishes down the sidewalk in his drenched shoes.

I take a large swig of black coffee and slowly lean back in my chair, arching my head back so that I can see the evening sky.  This is kind of an involuntary physical reaction that I have to stressful situations.  As I stare up at the polluted sky, it occurs to me that most of my friends are straight out of a Somerset Maugham novel.  What is it about expat life that so profoundly changes some people?  What is it about this place that makes people self-destruct, or sabotage themselves?  A young Korean couple sits at the table across from me.  The boyfriend has a DSLR camera.  He has been taking pictures of his girlfriend ever since they arrived.  20 minutes later, he is still taking pictures.  For some reason I begin to get irritated by this, and after 40 minutes have passed and the sound of the shutter has not ceased, I feel like shouting.

How many fucking pictures does this guy need of his girlfriend, and is no one else bothered by this?  It is a public display of attention and love.  For some reason, watching this display makes me feel slightly more advanced, socially.  I would never behave in such an idiotic fashion.  I’d never torture some poor girl by forcing her to pose for so many pictures.  I’d never be so needy as to carry a fucking camera with me everywhere I went.  As if the memories will evaporate if you don’t eternally preserve them in digital files.  It’s a fucking cafe, not a wedding photo studio.  The girl seems nice, and cute, and interested, and polite.  Why is this guy wasting her time with his compulsive picture taking?  Like, she’s going to vanish at any moment and all he will have left are his stupid photos.  I don’t get it.  I don’t understand these people.  How many pictures is he going to take?  Five hundred?  A thousand?  I keep my mouth shut.

I remember my first girlfriend at age sixteen.  Beautiful, tall, thin, popular, deep summer tan, with long blonde hair.  We’d spend our summer at the beach.  We’d go to the movies.  We’d get ice-cream.  We’d go shopping.  I’d skateboard with my friends, and she’d sit and watch with her friends.  We’d have lunch.  We’d walk on the beach.  We’d lay on the sand and talk for hours.  I was so mesmerized by her that nothing else in life really mattered.

I was too stupid to carry around a camera at the time.  I would have taken a million god damned pictures of her.

Henry comes back with a pack of new cigarettes and seems to have reasonably sobered up.  I don’t have much to say because Henry has more recently become one of those people who only contacts you when they want or need something from you.  Once these expats run out of bridges to burn, they usually self-destruct quietly, and alone.  This is one of the reasons that I tend to keep other expats at an arm’s length.  Living as an expat long-term in Korea is somewhat like camping out next to the railroad tracks and watching train wrecks.  And if you miss the most recent train wreck don’t worry; there’ll be another.  Oh yeah, and the odds are in your favor that you will be personally involved in some of the train wrecks.  The higher your income, the greater your opportunity to become involved in more spectacular and varied disasters.  Exciting, right?

For more than a few expats, the measurement of one’s current situation is a reflection of how screwed up you are in comparison with the other expats around you and in your peer group.  And since there are countless levels of “screwed up”, it’s quite possible to convince yourself that you are “normal” no matter how far you slip down the slope.  In my case, there is some evidence that I am not normal.  Does this bother me?  Not really.  Though I hope that when I start diving into hotel swimming pools fully clothed, somebody stages an intervention.

Posted in Late Night Drinks with other Waegs, The Expat | 42 Comments

The 8th Annual Expat Korea Congress

The true measure of one’s power is not land or money or physical strength.  The true measure of one’s power is control.  As in, how many people one controls.  You say that you are big and rich and powerful and successful and handsome, and that you can hold a 10 kilo kettle bell 90 degrees straight out from your body with your erect penis?  Big deal hot shot, but how many people do you control?  What’s your name, and how many people do you control?  What is the size of your army?  This is what matters; in terms of power; all else is irrelevant.  My name is Jake, and I control an army of 60 loyal expats, how about you?  ….That’s what I thought.  Go back to your kindergarten job, your gym and your dick-stretching kettle bell exercises.  We’re here to talk about man stuff, expat stuff.  Dust off the 21 year old whiskey and bring out the pipe tobacco.

The 8th Annual Expat Congress is coming up next month and myself along with a committee of 19 other members of the Korean expat jet-set glitterati have been neck deep in paperwork, power point slides, and discarded coffee cups.  Deciding on a venue poses a major logistical problem.  That any large scale expat meeting would be held in Itaewon was beyond question.  But which specific venue would be most appropriate for a large scale meeting of high profile expat movers and shakers?  Some place expat-friendly?  That narrows it down to less than 10 venues.  Some place with no upper age restrictions?  Some of my expat brothers have actually survived beyond their 40th year on this frigid peninsula, despite repeated suicide/escape attempts, so age-hostile places like the Gold Bar (no patrons over 40 allowed) are out of the question.

And then we have to consider which places my various friends have been banned from, which is an extra consideration that only people among my particular social group seem to have to address.  You say you’ve been banned from Dave’s ESL café?  Banned from KoreaBang?  Banned from every Koreaboo website on the internet?  Big fucking deal, man.  I have friends who have been physically banned for life from actual brick and mortar businesses in Itaewon.  I have friends who actually have to sign in with captain Kim at the Itaewon police station and register their presence before the soles of their shoes can kiss the pavement in Itaewon.  I have friends with GPS ankle bracelets that start to beep and send signals to the Seoul prosecutor’s office when they get within 3 kilometers of Itaewon’s magic mile.  I actually have to sit and make a list of friends names, and a list of Itaewon businesses, and then draw little lines all over the place to figure out who has been banned from where.  Painstaking work.  Expat problems.

I’ve been tasked with drawing up the meeting agenda, creating a list of topics to be discussed and voted upon by the 8th Annual Expat Congress, the representatives of which have been elected via a Kakaotalk polling application accessible to only the ~200 most influential expats on the peninsula, you know, the people who actually matter (No, you can’t join without an invitation, so don’t ask).  Complex issues such as “Who will be the next cultural ambassador to Itaewon?” will be addressed. I held the position myself for two years, as did my consigliere Johnny Drama.  Who will be next?  Big shoes to fill, lots of hands to shake, lots of people to meet.  Who possesses the required social skills?  Hushed whispers in the jimjilbang hint that someone whose name starts with “S” or “T” or “A” or “C” could be next, but these rumors are unconfirmed.

Next up for discussion is the re-design of the Expat Hell official name cards and stickers.  People always email me asking how they can join the members-only message board on this site.  Basically, it works in the same way that Korean actresses and models get hired, except you don’t have to put anyone’s penis in your mouth.  You see, new recruits are scouted in person, on the mean streets of Itaewon, Seoul, Gyeonggi-do and as far away as Wonju and Busan.  The signature Expat Hell business card is handed over to individuals who have qualified for admission into our gentleman’s social club.  The boss (me) hands a stack of cards to his underboss, who in turn distributes them to his caporegimes, who in turn pass them on to their soldiers who go out on the streets and into expat friendly places in search of new associates.  It’s all rather complicated.  Think of it as receiving Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.  You don’t choose membership, the membership chooses you.

Additional topics for discussion are the renovation of the Expat Hell World Headquarters on the 6th floor of the Hamilton hotel (room 602).  The room has been handed down from expat to expat over the generations, and frankly is in dire need of a full restoration lest anyone’s mistress complain of roaches or cigarette smoke or plastic bags full of long-used condoms hanging from cheap plastic hangers in the closet.  Which shady contractor will be used for the renovations, or will we simply renovate it ourselves?  Tough decision.  It will all come down to a vote.

The Expat Hell Senior Expat Pension System will also be revised. It would seem that some of our expat brothers aged beyond 40 have run into hard times on the job market.  The Koreans ain’t hirin’ senior citizens, and once you reach age 40, you are basically a senior citizen in Korea.  We younger expats will pay into the pension system to support the older expats who are no longer able to secure full time employment, or pay the legal bills from their 3rd divorce, etc.  Expats helping expats, a strange concept alien to most foreigners in Korea.

The Hooker Hill Relocation Charity Dinner is also in the works, and will be hosted at a well known Italian bistro with actual Italians in the kitchen.  The per-plate donation is still being worked out, with all proceeds going towards the relocation of all of the comfort women prostitutes who will soon be homeless as Itaewon’s Hooker Hill is redeveloped into tourist hotels, bibimbap restaurants and trendy faux-western/faux-authentic eateries.  Social responsibility; helping the community.

A vote will be held on which business venture will next be absorbed by the Expat Hell Hedge Fund.  The coffers are bursting at the seams and the Expat Hell© portfolio is ripe for another acquisition, but what?  Will it be a print shop?  A bar or pub?  A cocktail lounge?  A deaf/mute souvenir cart?  A Thai massage parlor? Allow me to go off on a tangent for a moment.  There is a Thai massage place near my office and in the evenings, they have two Thai girls standing next to the door, greeting potential customers.  One of the Thai girls is tall and thin, with hair down to her ass and silver bracelets up to her elbows.  She looks directly at me with deep, electric eyes every time I pass by on my way to get coffee in the evening.  Her gaze blows wind into my battered sails.  Kryptonite to the working man!  Fuck the coffee; a thousand megawatt smile is all the working man needs to clock in long hours of overtime.

My secretary asks me “Jake, why do you make a funny sound and bite your fist every time we pass by this building?”  “Oh, uhhh, errr…. I’m just trying to warm up my hands.” Riiiiiiight.  I am putting in a strong vote for buying a massage shop.  A very strong vote.  In fact, I’m writing it in big red letters across the top of my ballot, ‘MASSAGE SHOP, FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST’.  I have a strong feeling that the Expat Hell hedge fund will soon be majority shareholder in a massage shop.  Screw the cocktail lounge, forget government bonds, fuck investing in oil or gold or Indian wig factories, and screw the deaf/mute souvenir cart.

When you see the electric eyes and the thousand megawatt smile, you know you are in trouble, but you also know that you are still alive.  Women look at your face as a way of getting information from you.  They are thinking, and the gears in their heads are turning when they look at your face.  Look at any part of a woman other than her face, and she instantly knows that the advantage is hers.  She is in control of you.  She is already dribbling the ball down the field, and you are chasing her.  Chasers can be winners, but they have to start off as losers.  My friends and brothers, are you chasing something?  You are not a winner.  Yet.  The streets are choked with beautiful women.  Are they looking at you with electric eyes?  Are you looking back at any other part of their body besides their face?  Loser.  Good luck.  Me?  I’m chasing my dream of owning a Thai massage parlor.  Eyes on the prize.  And so…..

The pile of papers on my desk looks about ten feet tall, and the empty cups of espresso surrounding my computer monitor are evidence that I have been avoiding sleep and putting in long hours.  My name is Jake, and I control a loyal army of 60 expats.  How about you, Mr. ESL Café?  Mr. kindergarten teacher?  Mr. ‘imported beer is too expensive’?  Are you burning the candle at both ends?  Are you making plans for big things?  No?  Then what are you doing?

Posted in The Expat | 25 Comments

Best Burger in Seoul?

It is Saturday night and I’m driving around Mokdong in the Avante with two of my consigliere.  I have Madonna’s second album playing at full volume.  The first track, “Material Girl”, was written by Peter Brown, who also includes Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen among his clients.  The high-heeled 1984 skip pop jam hit prompts one of my consigliere to question my choice of music for today’s grueling Seoul traffic anxiety-fest.  “Material Girl”, I explain, is a song that is not only still relevant 28 years after its first release, but is actually quite reflective of contemporary Korean society as a whole.

Prompting further visible discomfort from my friends, I skip to the third track, “Like a Virgin”, written by Billy Sterling and Tom Kelly, who count Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Cindy Lauper as clients.  “Like a Virgin” is the first song that pops into my head whenever I attend a wedding in Korea.  It’s got an upbeat Billie Jean style bass line coupled with a “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” poppy, synthesizer kind of edge.  This song also serves as an excellent backdrop on those rainy nights, when all you want to do is check into a hotel, change all the light bulbs to pink, throw on your Pororo print panties, school girl uniform, and ankle socks, and then dance like a bad girl while pouting your duck lips and blowing kisses in front of the mirror (you little slut).

But I’m not really here to talk about music today.  What I’m here to talk about is burgers.  Man stuff.  You remember burgers, right?  You used to eat them before you moved to Korea.  I remember them too.  You know me; I never write about food.  I hate food blogs, and Korea blogs, and Korea food blogs that review and post pictures of food in Korea.  I hate foodies, and people who take pictures food, and people who take pictures of coffee, and mixed drinks, and then pose with the cup next to their face, as if to prove to everyone that they did in fact consume what they just photographed.  What’s wrong with these people?  That being said, this is the one and only time you will ever read a restaurant review on this website.  I am very particular when it comes to food.


Best Burger in Korea?

Madonna album turned down, and we’ve been circling around Mokdong for about 40 minutes looking for this place.  The problem is that we have all been to this restaurant, just never by car.  So we aren’t quite sure where it is.  All the buildings look the same in Korea.  Generic poured concrete blocks filled with PC rooms, Cafes, Icecream shops and Pizza Shops.  If you’ve seen one block in Seoul, you’ve seen them all.  We circle and circle the block where we are fairly certain the restaurant in question (Hallasan Burger) is located.

Hallasan (한라산)  is the name of the volcano on Jeju island.  The volcano has no connection to burgers whatsoever.  The name was just a fluke idea by the restaurant’s owner.  Rumor has it that the Korean owner/head chef of Hallasan Burger studied for three years at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York before apprenticing under epic chef Eric Ripert.  The owner recently returned to Korea, and while serving as head chef at two large hotels, has opened this small boutique burger joint on the second floor of a nondescript building in Mokdong.  From my previous visit to Hallasan Burger, I remember that there are no actual signs on the outside of the building.  There is only a small green and yellow sign in the elevator area of the dingy, otherwise cookie-cutter office building in the heart of Mokdong.

I searched and searched the internet for directions, but this place doesn’t have a website (yet, that I know of), and so we took to the streets and searched for the place the old fashioned way; by going from building to building.  Finally, my friend spots what looks like the building.  He gets out and runs into the stairway to look for the green and yellow placard that reads “Hallasan” in Korean.  We have arrived.  There is no actual parking in the building itself, so you will have to park in the garage of the Officetel next door (with Thai restaurant), if you drive.

We park, exit the garage, and walk back to the “Hallasan” building.  The elevator is out of order and we take the stairs to the second floor.  On the second floor, there is a strange bar with black walls, and black lights hung all over the place.  They have a few white cats running around the bar, which adds to the creepiness, I suppose.  Past that bar and on the right side is Hallasan Burger, the small sign on the door is only in Korean, and lists the opening hours as 12pm to 3pm, and 7pm to 10pm.  We arrive around 7:30 and all twelve seats are already taken.

The single waiter, who speaks no English tells us to wait outside, and he will call us when a table is ready.  The three of us can already smell what we’ve come for; what is probably the best burger and fry set in all of Korea.  Collectively, the three of us have been in Korea for over 30 years.  That’s a lot of food, a lot of restaurants tried, a lot of burgers, and a lot of disappointment.  Searching for the perfect burger in Korea is a kind of Holy Grail challenge that can be all-consuming.  Personally, I stopped eating burgers a long time ago, because the disappointment of poorly executed burger after poorly executed burger started to wear me down; chip away at my soul.  You can only be disappointed so many times before you start to lose hope.

After about 20 minutes, the waiter comes out and tells us that a table is available.  We walk inside and sit down.  It’s a small place, with a half exposed kitchen, a single refrigerator, and three tables with four chairs each.  There is one waiter, and the chef/owner mans the kitchen with the help of a single trainee.  The menu is a single page of tan colored paper with only five burger options.  Previously, I had the “K1 ‘Premium’ Burger”, but today I order the “House Hanwoo Steak Dream Burger”, which is a flat-grilled, crisp edged cheeseburger, using grain fed hanwoo (Korean) beef.  The patty is accompanied by shredded romaine lettuce, fresh tomato, onion, cheddar cheese and generously sized slices of avocado.  The sauce is something like a mayo-wasabi mix.  Price:  23,000 KRW:

House Hanwoo Steak Dream Burger from Hallasan Burger, Mokdong, Seoul

House Hanwoo Steak Dream Burger from “Hallasan Burger”

One of my friends orders the “Seoul Burger”, which according to the menu, has a mix of rump, rib-eye and fillet steak, served with a side of béarnaise sauce, -almost impossible to find in Korea.  When it arrives, the “Seoul Burger” is somewhat disappointing.  It arrives with standard fast food trimmings, and processed cheese, which is a bit of a letdown considering the 19,000KRW price tag :

"Seoul Burger" from Hallasan Burger, Seoul.  Best Burgers in Seoul

“Seoul Burger” from Hallasan Burger, Seoul

My other friend orders the “Island Bacon Sandwich”, which is not a burger, but actually a Reuben sandwich with extra lean corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and thousand island dressing on grilled rye bread.  The set includes oven baked, sea-salt and vinegar potato chips and one 1/4 sliced kosher dill pickle.  Price:  21,000KRW:

"Island Bacon Sandwich" from Hallasan Burger, Seoul.  Best Burger in Seoul.

“Island Bacon Sandwich” from Hallasan Burger, Seoul

It is worth noting that the only available sides are house-baked sea salt and vinegar potato chips, or what the menu calls “duck fat skin-on” chips.  Personally, I prefer the duck fat skin-on chips because the sea salt chips are a touch sweet and for me, slightly under-seasoned.  Each burger or sandwich is served with a single 1/4 cut kosher dill pickle (no Korean pickles here, for the love of Christ).  The owner/chef doesn’t offer any drinks aside from water, and there are no sauces or seasonings available at the tables.  The walls are a dark green in color, and the tables look like re-purposed doors surrounded by short-legged bar stools.

Though I can’t speak for the other dishes, I will offer a short review of the “House Hanwoo Steak Dream Burger”.  This overall dish had good balance, the acidity of the kosher dill working well with the richness of the hanwoo patty, though by contrast with the duck fat skin-on chips, this dish seemed a touch salty.  The hanwoo patty itself was of high quality and had silky smooth texture yet deep, intense flavor.  With wasabi-mayo and avocado slices, it could be argued that there was kind of a “California Roll” flavor going on here.  The oven baked buns are made in-house, and present a slight hint of garlic seasoning, but not enough to be overpowering.  The burger was not so large as to be messy, and could be enjoyed without the use of fork or knife.  This restaurant is not typical Korean plastic-chemical fast food fare, nor is it gimmicky Itaewon/HBC “please take a photo of our food” fare.  Just honest burgers, with no options and minimal sides.  So confident is the owner/chef, that you cannot even choose how long your patty is cooked.  Simply order, and wait.  No nonsense, no whining, no endless options to customize.

The bill came to 63,000KRW for three of us.  Water is free, of course.  There is no restroom inside of the actual restaurant (the place is tiny), so you will need to use the restroom in the hallway outside of the restaurant.  Since no alcohol is served, people tend to eat, and then vacate their seats as opposed to loitering around.  Previously I had come during lunch time, and I didn’t have to wait, but I’ve heard that evenings are much busier, and on weekends, the wait time can be from 20 to 30 minutes.  I heard about this place from a friend, who is a chef at a well known French restaurant.  I doubt that many foreigners have been inside the place, since it only opened two months ago.  The technical precision in the kitchen is hard to fault, and the dishes had lovely flavor balance. The limiting factor for any Korean kitchen is the ultimate quality of the ingredients that can be obtained, especially with regards to vegetables (compared to the finest produce in the Mediterranean or Japan) but the owner of Hallasan Burger is clearly a top class chef. His cooking and own style have clearly developed from years spent overseas.

Best Burger in Korea?  After years of searching, I can confidently say “Yes”.

They don’t yet have a website (that I know of), so I do not have the exact address.  I’ve done my best to mark the location on the maps below.  You go out Exit 8 of Omokgyo station, turn left at the first side street, and the proceed down the street for about 100 meters until you see Kimbap Cheonguk (김밥천국) on your right.  Turn right immediately after passing Kimbap Cheonguk.  Go another 50m and you should find yourself at the intersection below.  Because there was no address on the building, I can only point you towards the general area (see picture 2).  Look for the “A+” room salon with red windows on the second floor:

Hallasan Burger, Voted Best Burger in Seoul Korea

Second floor, check the stairway for the green and yellow sign.

Hallasan Burger, Voted Best Burger in Seoul Korea

Within walking distance of Omokgyo Station.


Posted in Best Burger in Korea, Best Seoul Restaurants, Expats Helping Expats, Life in Korea, Seoul Eats, The Expat | 103 Comments

Regression and Life Reflections in the Department Store

I’m sitting on the bench across from the escalators in the Shinsegae department store on a weekday afternoon.  I’m wearing a dark navy, tailored two button suit with notched lapels.  I’m wearing a dark blue tie with subtle, diagonal white stripes against a fine grid checked navy blue and white shirt.  I am wearing a pair of John Varvatos Richards Wingtip Oxford shoes, in brown.  The suit is actually just a prop; I don’t have to work today, and I have nowhere in particular that I need to be, other than outside of my house.  I’ve got a large paper Starbucks cup filled to the top with a mixture of approximately 70% rum and 30% Coke.  I have a nagging suspicion that the aged Korean pensioner sitting next to me has caught on to my act.  I think he can smell the rum, so I turn away each time I take a swig and make every effort not to breath in his direction.  It wasn’t always this way.  It used to be more Coke than rum, but I suppose that is a different story.

Perhaps the pensioner is staring at me because my hair is a mess.  This day was particularly windy here in Seoul.  That’s one of the things I miss actually; the sound of wind.  There are lots of old oak trees in my home town, and during the autumn months you could hear the wind ripping through the oak trees –it sounded almost like running water passing over round stones in a shallow river bed.  You could smell oak and cedar in the air, and touches of salt water.  The smell of freshly cut grass, summer barbeques, and chimney smoke (remember that?).  In downtown Seoul, the wind rips through the concrete office buildings, and the smell in the late evening?  Well, I wouldn’t exactly describe it as ‘oak’ or ‘cedar’.

I check my reflection in the glass screen of my cell phone, the battery having long since died.  I’d get up and check my appearance in the restroom mirror, but there are groups of roving pensioners circling the plush benches like vultures.  The instant I got up, a pensioner would snatch my spot on the bench.  For many of Seoul’s elderly, the plush benches in an air-conditioned department store represent a pleasant change from what they would otherwise be doing on any given weekday afternoon.  So no, I won’t be giving up my seat on the plush bench.  At least not until I’ve finished my rum and Coke.

This particular bench is in high demand due almost entirely to its positioning on the ground floor of the department store.  It is from this bench that one has a clear, unobstructed view of women coming down the escalator.  Imagine a conveyor belt that deposits women right at your feet every few seconds.  I used to walk around whenever I wanted to people-watch, but now I’ve got it all figured out.  No need to move at all, the escalator does all the moving –technology.

The pensioner sitting next to me continues to glance over in my direction, without making any attempt to disguise his glances.  Wait a minute; perhaps he is staring at me because he’s seen me here before.  Perhaps we shared this bench last week as well.  Perhaps we are former bench mates.  I’ve become somewhat of a regular here, you see.  I’ve always struggled to remember things that are not important, like the faces of the people I share department store benches with.  Perhaps when I’m older, and nothing else matters, and life is winding down towards its eventual end-point, I’ll have a sharper memory for the inconsequential things that I currently ignore.  Perhaps I’ll remember the faces of strangers.

As the time passes, my pensioner benchmate and I watch as streams of women are delivered at our feet by the magical mechanical moving stairs.  As a result of Korea’s plastic surgery epidemic, watching women come down the escalator gets a bit monotonous, as it feels like I’m seeing the same women come down time after time, only in different outfits.  Wait, there’s one!  She looks natural!  I look up from my coffee cup.  Paper-white skin, tall, cheek bones higher than her eyes, arms like long wet noodles.  Sweet Mary mother of Joseph, she’s like an angel descending down the second floor escalator.  And here I was, about to get up and leave. My interest has suddenly been renewed.  I’m thinking I should call someone and share this brilliant experience, but my phone battery is dead, and all of my friends are at work anyway (sucks being an adult).

I look over at my pensioner benchmate, but he is busy looking at the woman who just came down the elevator.  She is probably several centimeters taller than he is, due to dietary differences between the older and younger generations.  He looks at her, and then looks at me, and then says nothing. I have often wondered if people get quieter as they age because they have been disappointed by the human race so many times.  And for most of us, not too many people show up at our death bed.  All those years, all of that emotion, all of those hopes and dreams, all the reaching out; and no one shows up.  It makes reaching out to others look like a fairly poor investment.  You are unlikely to get much back.  Maybe that is why it is so rare to find people who can be selflessly kind to strangers without any sort of hidden motivation.  It represents risk-taking without any obvious payback.

After staring at me for a moment, the pensioner slaps me on the knee and says “예쁘다!” (beautiful).  He may not be a player anymore, but he knows quality when he sees it.  He’s no longer a player, but he’ll always be an enthusiast.  Our bodies, and energy and stamina wane with time, but enthusiasm is something we can all maintain until the end.  Perhaps he’s got a cranky old wife at home, 할머니 tits hanging past her belt, who gets on his case about money, and soju, and cleaning the house, and smoking, and “Why do I always have to wash the goddamned dishes?”  He and I are not players, but we are actors on the same stage, at the same point in time.

Many, many years ago, before I set foot in Korea, I had a beautiful girlfriend just like the one who came down the escalator.  She never really had much to say, but she was gorgeous.  I assumed that she was quiet and reserved because she was ‘deep’.  Perhaps there was character there, somewhere.  Maybe she was the ‘one’.  After time, I realized that she was not ‘deep’ – she was just a stupid, vapid, aimless drifter with hardly any brain activity at all.  But I liked her.  I’ll never know why.

The pensioner sitting next to me probably has several decades of knowledge to impart on a younger person such as myself.  From time to time, in situations like this, I wish I spoke Korean well.  We are two men sitting on a department store bench, sharing the sight of a beautiful woman.  We are like two old fishermen staring at the night lights of a luxury oceanliner as it passes us by. The pensioner has stories to tell, and I have stories to tell, but neither of us can communicate with the other.  What a shame.  A decade from now, I’ll probably still be coming here, to this same bench.  My benchmate having long since passed away, the rum and coke having been replaced by straight soju, and the tailored suit no longer fitting like it used to.  In life, it’s important to realize what makes you happy, and to chase it.  And if you can’t chase it, you can always sit at the bottom of the escalator in the Shinsegae Department Store and be an enthusiast, like me.

Posted in Life in Korea, The Expat | 27 Comments

Lies (You’ve Probably) Told to (Korean) Women in Bars

expat2It’s Saturday night and I’m driving to Itaewon to meet a friend.  As I stop at the red light before the Banpo bridge, a woman in a new silver S-Class Mercedes pulls up next to me.  Her window is down, and she is smoking.  She is in her mid-20’s, and is attractive.  She is inhaling and blowing smoke out the window, glancing over at me as we wait for the light to turn green.  I glance back.  This is as close as we will ever get.  She smiles.  I smile.  We are two beings on the same path; we will only ever meet side by side, never in opposition.  Sometimes two particles spinning around in the Large Hadron Collider will momentarily meet side by side.  Some particles meet in opposition and smash, but sometimes, every once in a while, particles meet side by side.  That is us.  We are those particles.  Smoking Mercedes girl and myself are two particles that will never meet in opposition.  Two different worlds bound never to collide.  Our collision would result in the shattering of necessary illusions, and illusions are what keep most of us going.  The light turns green and we go our separate ways.  Two particles in the Large Hadron Collider; headed in the same direction at the same speed.

At Sortino’s in Itaewon, I am joining a Korean female friend of mine who is accompanied by a white guy I’ve never met before.  Apparently, this is the “new guy” she is dating.  My friend comes from a good family.  She is well educated, and lived in the States from elementary school until she finished her MA at a well known east coast university.  She is well rounded, English-fluent, open minded, fashion-conscious and a scholar of the arts.  She is also witty, and a good conversationalist.  My plan is to join them for a glass of wine, and then make a false claim about having another appointment (actually I do have another appointment, to drink cheap beer alone at the Hollywood Grill).

I shake hands with the other white guy (TOWG).  He has a firm handshake.  I make small talk with my lady friend, catching up on recent events.  Out of politeness, I make small talk with TOWG.  I ask him what he does for a living.  He tells me that he is an investment banker.  I try not to spit red wine all over the table.  He has board marker stains on the area of his hand between his pinkie finger and his wrist, which is a dead giveaway to ESL teacher status.  Unless of course, he is an investment banker who writes on a whiteboard all day.  He is wearing an off-the-rack suit jacket and he is about 23 years old.  His appearance and age, and the board marker stains on his hands all scream ‘ESL Teacher!’.

I have to exercise great restraint in order not to blurt out “That’s funny, I used to tell Korean women the same thing when I’d be out at bars or clubs.”  Apparently, Itaewon and Korea are full of western ‘investment bankers’, and they are all 23 years old, and they all have board marker stains on the palms of their hands.  We’re all investment bankers between the hours of 6pm and 5am, at least that’s what we tell women, in bars.

TOWG tells me that he’s big into climbing the corporate ladder.  Like, he’s working his way up to the top and pinwheeling at terminal velocity towards international banker big swinging dick status.  I know that TOWG is being economical with the truth, and by being economical with the truth, I mean that he is telling a bold faced lie about being a high flying investment banker when he is in fact a hagwon teacher.  And herein lays the dilemma.  You see, there are various codes that men live by and on top of those rules and unspoken codes, there exist further codes that expat men of alpha male intelligence observe and abide by.

One of those unspoken expat rules is that one expat should never publicly question another expat’s stories, no matter how wild and fantastical they are.  Another of the unspoken rules is that one expat shall not c-block another expat or otherwise hinder him in his pursuit of female attention.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.  These are silly frat boy rules that no grown man would ever dream of observing.  But, my friends, you are overlooking one of the fundamental aspects of any civilized society; that social and behavioral norms and rules are set by the majority and within those broad sets of social rules, various subgroups set their own norms and rules by which they live.  Without organization, there would be chaos.  So I refrain from questioning TOWG’s story and I refrain from attempting to c-block him.

And by the way, someone should do a masters thesis on the lies that (foreign) men tell to (Korean) women in bars.  Somewhere there is a 300 page thesis on this topic waiting to be written.  For example, what is the most common false occupation that ESL teachers claim in Itaewon bars, and why?  And then contrast that with the most common lies that English teachers tell in Hongdae bars.  Are the lies different?  Is there any actual measurable benefit to telling such lies?  Like, do women maintain their interest in you for just a little longer if you tell them that you are an investment banker, and not an English teacher?

“I am an English teacher” is what you say to women when you are not interested in talking to them, apparently.  Of course, in shittier, cheaper, more hipster bars in HBC and Hongdae, the ESL teachers also spin fantastical lies, except the lies aren’t the same.  Instead of saying “I’m an investment banker”, they say things like “I’m an artist” or “I’m a musician” because in the bars of Hongdae or HBC, the women have never heard the words ‘investment banker’ before, and so it holds no social (or hipster) currency.

Plus if you are a white person in one of these bars, everyone already assumes that you are an English teacher, so it’s always interesting when these guys attempt to spin wild stories about how they are not English teachers when in fact the women who go to such bars, who are English-interested and open-minded are in all likelihood okay with the idea of talking to an English teacher.  In fact, they are probably looking for free English practice anyway, and on top of that, you are probably dumb enough to buy them drinks as well, so in effect, they will be getting free English practice, and free drinks.  It’s a good deal for her; she gets to practice English, she gets free drinks, and at the end of the night she gets to go back home to her Korean boyfriend while you get to go home alone in a taxi.

So perhaps there actually IS a reason to tell the “I’m not an English teacher” lie.  Perhaps if one tells this lie, then the locals will be dissuaded from seeking free English conversation during your off hours.  Perhaps if you tell people that you are an artist, or an investment banker, or a musician, or a photographer, or a race car driver, or an engineer, then their needy little eyes won’t light up, a free English lesson will not take place, and drinks will not be purchased.  Sometimes I get the feeling that when you tell Korean people that you are an English teacher, they make the mistake of assuming that you are their English teacher, or better yet, you are English teacher to all Koreans, and that your visa dictates that if you are stopped by a Korean at any time, that you are obligated to provide them with free English conversation.  Hence the “I’m anything but an English teacher” lie.

What, then, happens when you’ve been stringing some poor gold digger along, telling her that you are an investment banker, and finally you lead her back to your one-room ESL teacher lair?  How do you explain that, exactly?  Bringing her back to your place was the endgame goal, right?  But bringing her back to your ESL teacher hovel will surely shatter any illusion of high flying investment banker status, so what’s an ESL teacher to do?  Perhaps tell her that your mansion is being renovated and that you’re temporarily staying in a love motel until the Chinese day laborers replace all of the marble tiles in your three story villa?

What happens when you’ve been leading on some poor 20 year old English sponge from the Ho Bar in Hongdae, telling her that you are a musician touring with your band in Korea, and when she gets back to your one-room ESL teacher hovel she sees that there is no guitar, no bass, no drums, no instruments at all?  What then?  Do you tell her that your gear is all stored in your “studio” where your “band” rehearses?  I’m always curious how these things play out.  There’s a book waiting to be written about this topic out there, someone just has to conduct the interviews and string them all together, MBC style.  “Shocking Truth About Relationships with Foreigners” style.

The only problem is that a Korean can’t be trusted to compile the interviews, because they’ll just lie and BS the entire thing, including the sources.  Nope, it would have to be western-researched, and western-written, published solely in English.  “Lies I’ve Heard Foreign English Teachers Tell in Bars” written by Anonymous, or something like that.  And you (the author) would have to be out of the country when it hit the presses.

I can imagine it now, the victims will give their statements.  “He told me that he was in a rock band, but when we went back to his apartment to have sex, there were no instruments, just piles of grade school English tests, and board markers strewn across the floor.  I thought I was having unprotected sex with a musician, but I ended up having unprotected sex with an ESL teacher.  I feel so dirty, so violated.  I was lied to and taken advantage of.”

Or, “He told me he was an investment banker, and showed me the key to his Mercedes Benz.  I asked for his business card, but he said he didn’t have any.  I agreed to go back to his place with him, but he said that his Mercedes was in the shop, so we had to take a taxi.  When we got to his place, he said that workers were renovating it, and that he was staying in a love motel until the renovations were finished.  When we got inside the love motel, he told me that he’d lost his wallet and asked me to pay for the room.  After having unprotected sex, and while he was in the shower, I checked through his jacket pockets trying to find his ID card, but all I found were whiteboard markers.  I feel so cheated, so dirty.  I thought I was having unprotected sex with an investment banker but I ended up having unprotected sex with an ESL teacher.”

Shocking stories of deception and greed, broken hearts and shattered dreams, next week on MBC.

I finish my glass of wine with my Korean friend and TOWG, and then excuse myself.  I proceed across the street, down to the Hollywood Grill and order my usual beer.  I’m into my second beer when two Korean college girls sitting to my left ask me what time it is.  Yeah, these two university students, early 20’s, in the most wired country on the planet, and neither of them has a smartphone or wristwatch to check what time it is.  I am married, so “Giving Free English Lessons to University Girls”, however tempting, is no longer listed on my CV.  I make small talk.  They ask me how long I’ve been in Korea.  I tell them that I’ve been in Korea for many years.  Usually, this is an instant mood killer for women who hunt white men in Korea.  To them, “I’ve been in Korea for many years” translates into “I’ve had many Korean girlfriends, and I know how Korea, and Korean girls operate.”   Most women instantly lose interest when you tell them that you’ve been in Korea for several years.

My new friends then ask me what I do in Korea.  I think cycle through the inventory of lies that I have committed to memory. The longer you have spent in Korea, the more creative you have to be with your personal life history.  Not wanting to give out a free English lesson, or explain what an “investment banker” is, I simply tell them that I am jobless, and that I am very poor.  This is usually a surefire way to deter even the most aggressive English hunters.  When women hear “I don’t have a job”, they translate this to mean “He can’t spend money on me”, and they usually split.  My two new friends however seem to think that this is very funny.  They laugh, “We also have no job, we are just students!”  They are going camping next weekend, they ask me if I want to join them for camping and drinking.  They ask for my phone number.  God bless Itaewon, and god bless the Hollywood Grill.  Cold beer, no k-pop, and attention given to expats of the lowest social status; no ‘Investment bankers’, ‘musicians’ or ‘artists’ allowed.

Posted in The Expat | 73 Comments

Late Night Drinks with Other Waegs Part 14

Making the trek out to Seoul National University Station ain’t exactly simple for me if I can’t drive.  By car it takes just 20 minutes, but by subway we’re talking at least 50 minutes, sometimes 70.  Problem is, American friend Henry and kyopo friend “B” live on the other side of the Han river, and while I don’t normally talk to/associate with people who reside on the north (wrong) side of the river, I make a rare exception for my two oldest friends.  We all travel equal distances to arrive at Seoul National University station to get trashed and share expat war stories.  That’s right; we’re real men, doing real men things.  When the alcohol flows, our chests will begin to puff out as one war story trumps the next.  We’re keeping bar stools warm and likely propping up the “Beer Hunter” Hof during times of economic uncertainty.  Well, sort of.

I arrive after both Henry and “B” who are already engaged in a heated philosophical conversation.


Henry:    “…yeah man, but it’s not who I AM.  What I do doesn’t DEFINE me, man.  I teach English, but I’m not a teacher, you get it?  It’s how I fill the empty hours of my life, keep my kids clothed, and keep my wife from pestering me.  I teach, but I’m not a teacher.”

B:    (sarcastically) “Uh huh, I totally get it.  Every English teacher I meet in Korea isn’t actually a “teacher”.  They’re all journalists, future law school students, photographers, professional bloggers, “consultants”.  I get it.”

Henry:  “I mean, If you were to create several different categories of human being, one of them being “teacher”, I doubt I would lump myself into the “teacher” category, you know what I mean?  I instruct, and I play the role of a teacher, and I go through all of the motions that a teacher goes through, but when I die, the word “teacher” won’t be anywhere in my obituary.”

B:    “Yeah man, no one wants to be pigeon-holed.”

Jake:    “Well H-man, I’m pretty sure you don’t want the words ‘Lehman Brothers’ anywhere in your obituary either.” 

(Henry worked as an analyst at Lehman Brothers, and later on at Lehman Brothers Korean branch until 2008, when they went belly-up.  When asked why he hasn’t secured another job in the same industry, he cites the “Lehman Curse”.   After a long and drawn out battle with his Korean wife about moving back to the USA, Henry started teaching English in 2009 to pay the bills.  His wife refused to let the family leave Korea, and both of his kids speak practically no English anyway.)

Henry:   “You guys don’t really get it.  My character, my persona, is not really that of a teacher.  I merely exist in such a situation because I allow myself to do so.  I wake up and every day is a repetition of the previous day.  Being a ‘teacher’ is the only career in which a person does not advance, but merely completes a year of contractual obligations only to repeat the same exact routine the next year.  There is no forward motion.  It’s essentially a “Ground Hog Day” career.  You know, like that Bill Murray movie where he wakes up and acts out the same day over and over and over….”

B:    “What I don’t understand is why a 36 year old man with an F2 visa and an economics degree is teaching English at a public middle school.”

(When the after-school program he worked at went bankrupt at the beginning of this year, Henry didn’t get paid and was left searching for a new job.  He settled for a public middle school because it was fairly close to his house in Seoul.  They hired him on an EPIK contract, where they basically took a black marker and crossed out the word “EPIK” and penned in the name of the school, since EPIK no longer provided funding for Native teachers at his particular middle school.)

Henry:    “My taking a job at a public middle school was decision based entirely on economics and logistics.  Let’s say I’m at the bottom of the EPIK pay scale around 2.1million KRW per month.  I then get a housing allowance even though I own my apartment and don’t pay rent.  This bumps my salary to 2.4 a month.  In the summers and winters, I do 1 week of desk warming maximum.  With the other month of free time in each season, I work a summer and winter camp which pays 4.5 million per session.  This increases my yearly salary by 9 million won before taxes.  This doesn’t include the other 20-something days off I get per year when my students take tests, or go on field trips.”

“Let’s say I took a job at a hagwon instead and was offered the average salary of 2.2 million, plus a housing allowance of 400,000krw per month.  I wouldn’t be able to work the summer and winter camps, which would put my salary at 2.4million LESS per year, with longer daily work hours at the hagwon.  My public school job is lax.  I teach a maximum of four classes per day.  I arrive at 9am, and leave at 4pm every day.  I teach business English both before and after school, and I teach two Saturday intensive classes.  Furthermore, I commute less than 15 minutes between each job, and less than 15 minutes to my house at the end of the day.”

B:   “And exactly how much crystal meth do you have to smoke to work those suicidal hours?”

B is probably right.  Really, no happy, sane human being pushes 80 hours a week and then goes home smiling on Saturday night.  It’s only a matter of time before Henry crashes hard.  I change the subject:

Jake:  “Hey “B”, what’s up with Legs?”

“Legs” is what I call B’s latest blind date turned on-again off-again girlfriend.  B’s Korean mom and dad live in Los Angeles, but via the Korean Ajumma Underground Church Network ®, B’s mom has managed to arrange a countless string of blind dates for “B” here in Korea.

B:   (He dodges the question entirely)  Look, I don’t really like going on these blind dates, but I can’t really turn them down either, you know?  And plus, each blind date is like hunting for Easter eggs.  Think about it, if I were back in the States, my pool of potentially blind-datable women would be much smaller; basically Christian chicks in K-town who go to my mom’s church.  Anything other than that and I’d pretty much be on my own.  Here in Korea, when you’re single, other people do all the work for you.  They find the women, they screen them, and they give us each other’s contact info.  All I have to do is show up.”

Henry:   “You don’t even go to Church, how are you going to live with someone who doesn’t even share your religious beliefs?  Look at me; I tried going to church but when I finally couldn’t stomach it anymore, my wife blew up on me.  Plus she was secretly donating like $350 a month to the church without telling me.  Are you really going to live like that?”

B:   It’s not really like that.  I’m telling you, half the women I meet don’t care about church either.  Half of them don’t even want a serious relationship; they’re just going through the motions like I am.  It’s the ones who are dead set on finding a man that you have to worry about.  

Jake:  “So basically you’re using your mom’s church network to hook up with easy women?”

B:  Yeah, basically.  But it depends on how you look at the situation.  These women are just as likely to be doing the exact same thing that I’m doing.  Once these women see that I’m not all uptight or traditional, they kind of relax a little, you know.  Let loose. 

Henry:   What ever happened to GNN?

GNN (GangNam Nose) was B’s last casual girlfriend, who was basically just a social climbing tart with a fake nose.  According to B, she asked him to buy her a new cell phone after their first date.  When B didn’t agree, she showed up at the second date with a new cell phone that some other guy had bought for her, and proudly announced this fact to B.

B:   I just got tired of her, all she ever talked about was money, and how she needed more of it.  The girl didn’t even have a job.  I’m guessing she had a different man paying every one of her bills, including the bill for the surgeon who operated on that bitch at least four times a year.  She basically saw my money as her money.  Remember?  She was being sponsored by some 60-something year old ajeossi.

Jake:   Yeah that’s right, I remember that!  We saw her in the Rouge bar that one night with some greasy old grey-haired dude sticking his hands down her skirt.  Classy!  

B’s new girlfriend “Legs” basically looks just like GNN.  They probably have the same surgeon.  She’s a bit taller, employed and slightly less skanky.  I don’t mentioned it aloud, but having met “Legs” twice already, I predict that it won’t be long before she’s asking B for a new cell phone, or handbag, or car.

Henry:  “Hey, have you guys been watching the coverage from the Nuclear Security Summit?”

Jake:  “I tried to watch it, but CNN and BBC had minimal coverage.  Arirang TV is covering the event intensively, but the news anchors are so dim-witted and incompetent that I had to watch it on mute to avoid getting a headache.”

B:   “Yeah, what the FUCK is up with THAT?  There are supposed to be over 10,000 gyopos living in Korea, and they can’t find two who are capable of reading the news in English without fucking it up?  Give me a break!  That one girl who had all that plastic surgery is the worst, I swear to god she said the word “umm” thirty times in one minute.”

B then stands up with beer in hand, drunkenly flips his neck-tie over his shoulder and goes into his best rendition of Arirang’s faithful English TV news anchors (grown men, doing man things, you see):

“Next up umm we have the umm Prime Minister no umm Prince of Jordan.  Umm no wait the King.  Umm the Kind of Jordan, King Abdul umm Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein umm who is the umm reigning King of Jordan umm who visited umm is visiting Korea for the second umm time, yes.”

Jake:   “That’s the best Arirang TV anchor impersonation I’ve ever seen.  No shit, there have to be thousands of Korean-Americans on the peninsula who can sit in front of a camera and read the news without fucking it up consistently.  Why in the world don’t they just hire a gyopo, like that guy who reads the sports.  At least I can understand what he’s saying.”

Henry:   “B, don’t you have some type of gyopo special interest group that meets and discusses all things gyopo-related?  Isn’t there like some club that you belong to with a special handshake and secret password or some shit like that?  Maybe you can start a petition to have Arirang TV stop embarrassing itself with bumbling announcers and poorly written garbage scripts.”

B:  (now more excited)  “Last night I’m sitting there right, trying to watch the same coverage and the news anchor breaks off into a mini-speech about how the world’s dignitaries are enjoying Korean cuisine and culture.  I couldn’t handle it; I had to turn that shit off.  Made me gag.  Like some visiting Presidents and Prime Ministers are really thinking about fucking han-shik during their three day visit to Seoul.  Didn’t they see that one video of Bush senior puking after eating Sushi in Japan?  Are they really trying to push culture and food that hard?  It’s so fucking desperate and childish.  I wish they’d give the whole culture and food bullshit a break once in a while but then I’m sitting there watching coverage about the Nuclear Security Summit, and the dumb ass news anchor starts talking about Korean food.  Fucking totally unprofessional.  I can’t imagine any other country in the world so desperate to shove its food down other people’s throats.” 

Jake:  You guys are missing the point entirely.  Neither one of you fit into the target demographic of Arirang TV.  Their target viewers are people who are Korea-obsessed, people who are Kpop-obsessed, Koreans in Korea who want to learn English from other Koreans, and Koreans born abroad who want to watch TV shows about Korea, but whom don’t actually live in Korea.  All those other programs they air are just filling the gaps between the non-stop cultural, political and gastrological drum beating.  

Henry:   “Whatever.  It’s still the most Mickey-mouse amateurish attempt at a newscast I’ve ever seen.  The news anchors couldn’t even pronounce the names of the visiting dignitaries.  It’s like they didn’t receive any preparation at all for the event, they just showed up and winged it.  No preparation whatsoever.  Even the worst news anchors would probably sit down before hand and practice pronouncing the names of Presidents and Prime Ministers who are visiting the country, so as not to offend them.  

Instead, these brainless morons sat there chatting about food and could barely list a single fact about any of the visiting dignitaries or their home countries.  They’re sitting there covering the event like it’s some Hollywood red carpet show.  Seriously; instead of having your normal dumbass reporters and anchors trying to cover a serious event, you might as well just bring in an expert, or at the very least, someone who can read the teleprompter in English without embarrassing themselves.  Like the sports guy, they should have just had the sports guy reading the teleprompter; at least he can string together sentences without saying “ummm” every three seconds.”

And so ends another late night drink with other waegs.  Henry is going home to pass out for 5 hours before starting his 18 hour daily routine again.  “B” is going home to study for some type of test he is taking related to his job.  I’m going home to watch Season 5 of the Jersey Shore, which promises to be more mentally stimulating than Arirang TV’s coverage of the Nuclear Security Summit After Party.

Posted in Late Night Drinks with other Waegs, The Expat | 14 Comments

Late Night Drinks with Other Waegs Part 12: Back at the Beer Hunter Hof

The Setting:  The Beer Hunter Hof near Seoul National University station.  Where Korea’s expat intellectual titans and high-society glitterati gather to discuss pressing social and economic issues.

The Cast: 

Henry:  Mid-30′s.  Long term Korea expat.  Technologically retarded (doesn’t surf the Internet), socially retarded (doesn’t own a smartphone), financially savvy (worked for an investment bank until 2008, controls his household finances).  Has two half-Korean kids, one in elementary, the other in diapers.

Jake:  Your author.  Just turned 30 years old (happy birthday to me).  Seven years in Korea.  Married, no kids.  Self employed.  Working long hours these days, and the long hours have been paying off.  Thinking of selling my business in January, but we’ll see.  Set a new all time profit record in November.  Life is good.  Got a huge stack of new books at home and no time to read them.

“B”:  Korean-American male, early 30′s, single.  Has a job so unique that I have to omit it entirely so as not to ‘out’ him.  Has been looking to settle down with a “Real Korean girl“.  Says that Korean girls back in L.A. wear too much makeup and have “bad attitudes”.  His parents (mother) have set him up on a string of dates over the past year; all of which didn’t progress beyond date number two.  Has a good job, and up until now has been attracting money grubbing gold diggers who are marriage minded.  This is possibly because he found his last two “girlfriends” in nightclubs.  Personally I think he’d do better back in LA.


I’m sitting with Henry as “B” approaches the table.  “B” recently got a k-pop haircut, in an effort to attract more local ladies, and to show his sensitive side.   Personally, I think it looks horrible but haven’t bothered saying anything because Henry beat me to it.

Henry: “Jesus Christ B, what the fuck did you do to your hair?  You like like a 14 year old boy wearing grown up clothes!”

B:  “Hey man, my stylist said it works for me, plus girls like it.  Don’t hate!”

Henry: “Is that a fucking purse too?!  A purse now?  Please tell me you aren’t carrying around a purse now.”

B:  “It’s not a purse, it’s a man-bag.  Plus it’s dark green, like an army bag.

Henry:  “It looks like a fucking purse, B.  Just because it’s green doesn’t mean you can stop calling it what it is.  Fucking purse!  Look at this guy.  He’s here for a year and he’s already gone native!

B:  “Hey man, you’ve been here for how long?  Your Korean still sucks!  At least I can speak Korean!

Henry: “My Korean is better than yours, and both of your parents are Korean!”

Jake:  “Anyway B, what’s up with GNN? I haven’t seen her at your place in a while.”

—–GNN is the nickname we gave to the girl that B was dating recently.  She has one of those crazy fucked up GangNam Noses that every girl in Gangnam is rocking like it will never go out of style.  Short, thin, and turned up at the end.  I think the Gangnam Nose is hideous, but then again I’m just an ignorant foreigner, what do I know?  Clinics in Gangnam have gotten so good at breaking, shaping and setting the noses of wannabe starlets that I’ve heard they can bang out an entire operation from start to finish within 15 minutes of the patient going under.  ——

B:  “We stopped talking.  I think she was just interested in money.  Plus I think she was seeing someone else at the same time.

Henry:  “You think?  I pegged her for a gold digger from a mile away.  Girls with Gangnam Noses are really good at sniffing out money.  It’s almost like the fucked up nose-job somehow improves their ability to sniff out assets.   Like some kind of fucked up extra-sensory perception.  Creepy.”

Jake:  “That’s true dude, if you ever lose your wallet, you can get one of those GNN girls to come over to your house and sniff it out for you.”

Henry:  “This girl I used to date had a GNN, but she ended up having to go back to the doctor twice to “get it fixed“. 

B:  “And you probably paid for it too!”

Henry:  “Shut the fuck up.  I only ever offered to pay for her breast implants, but she refused to get them because she was “a good Christian girl“.

Jake:  “Yeah, a good Christian girl who spent her life savings on a Louis Vuitton bag, and went under the knife four times..

Henry:  “Actually, she went under the knife three times.  She had her nose and eyes done at the same time once.  Anyway, she ended up marrying some gyopo ex-gangster dude or some shit.”

B:  “My mom set me up with another girl.  I’m meeting her this weekend.

Jake:  “Where does your mom find all these girls?  It’s like she’s tapped into some never-ending spring of single women.

B:  “Two words dude:  Korean Church.  Church is like the Korean version of the craigslist classifieds.”

Henry:  “I’ll bet your mommy carries around a picture of you in your work uniform and passes it around on Sunday with the other ajummas, like a fucking trading cardYou’re like one of those ‘kangaroo’ kids who lives with his mommy until he’s 39.  Heck, you probably stopped breast feeding last year.  Why don’t you find your own girls?”

Jake:  “Actually, I’ve heard that it pretty much works exactly like that.  Ajummas gather around after church and exchange pictures and ‘stats’ of their single relations, basically pimping their single relatives to anyone who might be looking.  Is it that shameful to just stay single and free?”

B:  “I don’t know how it works dude, and I don’t question the power of ajumma social networking, but all I can tell you is that I’m going out with new girls every weekend while you two suckas go home to the same women every night.”

Henry:  “Maybe your mom will set you up with a hair stylist, so she can fix your fucked up haircut.  My wife tried to drag me to church once.  Absolute nightmare.  They even had a wannabe k-pop performance.  Then some 22 year old girl stood up and read a long speech about how she used to be a gang leader, but then she found Jesus and turned her life around.  Then her mother and father came on the stage, hugged her and cried.  Then there was another fucked up k-pop performance with three teenage guys dancing and everyone stood up clapping.”

Jake:  “At church?”

Henry:  “Yeah but the gangster chick was pretty hot, man.  I could tell she had a little bit of gangster left in her, you know what I mean?  Like at any moment, she could revert back to her old gangster self again.  Plus I caught her looking at me.”

B:  “She was probably looking at you because you were the only foreigner dumb enough to get dragged to a Korean church on Sunday morning.”

Jake:   “How long were you stuck there?

Henry:  “I think it was like three hours or something.  I took out my pen and started drawing giant penises on the blue flyer they gave me at the door.  Then I started drawing smaller dicks on the bigger dicks, like a giant dick-tree.  Did you know that iguanas have two dicks?

B:  “So I’m guessing that was the last time Ji-young ever dragged you to church.”

Henry:  “Yup, now I have Sunday mornings all to myself!”

And so we finish our pitchers of beer and then head our separate ways.  GangNam Noses, former gangster church girls and giant dick-trees.  Just another Monday night.


Posted in Late Night Drinks with other Waegs, The Expat | 6 Comments

Waygook Go Home: Part 2 of 2

Hi, The Expat here.  I once smoked a crack rock with a homeless person on a street corner in Los Angeles, but today I’ll be your driver.  Where you may ask?  We’re going to Incheon International Airport.  I’ve got 6 Mercedes Benz double-decker tourist buses on lease from the Korean government, and I’m running the Underground Waygook Express.

Each bus has 66 seats, totaling 396 seats.  As of right now, 121 of the seats have been reserved.  Years of marriage have significantly reduced my finances, and I am unable to provide for the Underground Waygook Express Bus Service alone.  The following Korean groups have contributed to the “Get Whitey Out of Korea” fund:

  1. All major newspapers in Korea
  2. The anti-American Beef Daum Group
  3. The Mothers of Hagwon Children Naver Club
  4. The Korean Male Recruiter Association
  5. The Anti-English Teacher Union of Seoul
  6. The Korean Bureau of Immigration
  7. The Association of Mail Order Brides from Vietnam
  8. The Association of Big White Girls Married to Koreans.
  9. The Association of Male Hagwon Owners
  10. The Association of Lonely, Single 30-something Korean Males
  11. The Association of Unemployed Candle Light Vigil Protesters
  12. The Citizens’ Association for Lawful English Education
  13. The Citizens’ Association for Monitoring Foreign Male Minority Groups

And the list goes on..  I know that most of you want to leave, but you can’t.  Your boss is holding your salary as collateral, or you face the prospect of being black-listed if you do a midnight run.  Or maybe you just have a mental barrier in place that is preventing you from leaving Korea.  Obviously, you are in the wrong state of mind, my friend.

When you hear the horns honking on my Mercedes Benz Double Decker Tourist Bus as I pull into your neighborhood, you will have approximately 15 minutes to pack one bag and make a run for it.  There’s no turning back.  If you don’t have a ticket, you can pay at the door, assuming seats are available.

The six buses will run up and down the peninsula and from East to West.  We’ll make stops in Incheon, Daejeon, Gwangju and Seongnam.  Our brothers on Jeju island will have to take a raft to the main land and proceed to the nearest large city.  Then we’re stopping in Ulsan, Bucheon, Suwon and Anyang.  I’ll only honk twice, and you’ll only have 15 minutes to make it.  We’re not turning back.

Then it’s on to Changweon, Pohong, Masan and Euijeongbu.  I’ve received emails from enlisted American soldiers asking if they can board my buses.  I’m sorry to all of my Army brothers, but at this point, we’re just taking ESL teachers and other lifers.  Priority will be given to those who have spent the longest amounts of time in Korea, as well as those who are the oldest or have accumulated the most divorces.  You get bonus points for time spent living with a woman, children or in-laws.  If you’re young and you’ve just arrived in Korea, you may have to catch next year’s bus, sorry dudes.

We’ll snake on through Cheonan, Kunsan, Pyeongtaek and Yeosu before finally locking the doors, baring the windows and pointing these 19 ton metal beasts towards Incheon airport.  On the buses there will be no kimchi, no k-pop, no Koreans and no women.

I’ve received a few emails from desperate gyopos asking me if they can board my bus.  Gyopos (who have been personally screened by myself) may board the bus, however they must sign documents swearing never to return to Korea again.  They’ll have to place their hand on the bible and kiss an American flag before being granted a ticket to this bus.

Here are a few emails I’ve received in response to my efforts:

“Hey Dude, I’m an American businessman who came here one year ago.  I invested 3 million dollars of my personal savings, and hired a staff of Korean workers.  Three months into my stay here, I found that eight different Korean companies were copying my products and pushing me out of the marketplace.  Furthermore, the public prosecutors office is chasing me.  I’ve been living out of a brief case, under a bridge in Bucheon, please send me a ticket for your “Waygook Express Bus”.  –Sincerely, Bobby in Bucheon

“Hi man.  Before I came to Korea, White people kept telling me that as a Black man, I’d face discrimination here.  I thought they were just trying to scare me out of a job, so I came anyway.  I’ve been here for a year and I can’t take it anymore.  Every time I use a public restroom, Korean men try to stare at my penis.  Just yesterday I was walking in Gangnam, and a group of Korean university students began hooting at me, and making monkey noises.  Those White people were right, fuck this noise!  Please send me a ticket for your “Waygook Express Bus”.  –Sincerely, DeAndre in Daejeon.

“Expat, dude, that last post of yours was a real eye opener dude.  I’ve been here for 3 years and accomplished absolutely nothing in my life.  My boss never pays on time, and I share a tiny apartment with four other waygooks.  When I walk down the street, people scowl at me.  I don’t have enough money to get out of Korea, but I heard that you’ve helped other individuals like me, in similar circumstances.  Please send me a ticket for your “Waygook Express Bus”.  Sincerely, Mark in Masan.

“Yo man, I’m gone my brother.  Your words really spoke to me.  I’ve been living in Korea for 12 years.  My wife doesn’t love me, and my kids treat me like a walking ATM machine.  I’m 38 years old, and I have a degree in Chemistry, what am I doing teaching English?  Fuck ‘em, I’m ready to go.  I’ve ripped up their passports and documents.  Where I’m goin’, they ain’t followin’.  I don’t even feel guilty about it.  Give me a one way ticket outa here brother.”  From Paul in Pyeongtaek.

Jacques, my good friend.  You must help me.  I am a French man who owns a French restaurant in Seoul.  Every day I’m dying little by little mon ami. The water here is not sufficiently clean and fresh to make proper French bread, and I cringe when I see my customers eating the shit we are forced to produce.  I’m closing up shop mon ami, please send me the ticket now and get me out of here, Ca me fait chier! -Etienne in Bangbae

We will start in the northern part of Korea and make one final tour of the country from north to south and into the northwest. It will be a ten day trip. A final hoorrah. A final goodbye. No Korean wives and no Korean children allowed. This bus is only for guys who have finally made the big decision. Korea is history.

On the buses you will be able to eat (no Korean food) and drink (no Korean beer) and socialize (no talking about Korea).  You can start to forget every Korean word you’ve learned.  You won’t need them where we’re going.  You may sit quietly on the bus and reflect.  A time to regroup and re-think before getting on the plane and heading back to responsible people and dependable services and emotions you can rely on. Back to the real world.

You can talk about interesting things with your comrades, things like art, and philosophy, and engineering, and history, and science.  No, these interesting subjects did not go away while you were in Korea–you went away.  It’s ok. You don’t have to pretend anymore.  There won’t be any tour guides on these buses.  Only 396 men who have decided to move forward with their lives, onwards and upwards.  A page turning moment in your life that all of your adult friends will respect.

Some of you may cry and others will be in shock. The shock of acknowledgment that the horror is finally over.  No more Korean language classes, no more fear of persecution, no more getting paid late, no more getting shafted by hagwon bosses and owners and government officialdom, no more trips to other stupid unsympathetic places on visa runs, no more incompetent doctors and mystery pills for what turned out to be a common cold.  No more grown men wearing backpacks.

No more lying to friends about how great Korea is, no more surreptitiously reading copies of the LA Times to find out what is happening back in civilization, no more dropping friendships with migratory ESL expats who come and go every year.  It is over. Finished. It is smiling time.  Initially it will be disorientation as you board, then shock, then tears, then sleeping, then smiles.

You made a horrible mistake by coming to Korea.  You know that now. Years were wasted, emotions were wasted and parts of your life can never be retrieved. But you are still alive, and still breathing, and still interested in seeing sunrises and sunsets. Just not in Korea.

Stepping off the plane in civilization you’ll feel as though you’ve been re-born.  You’ll wish you could go back and retrieve friends and former co-workers who are still clinging to ESL pipe dreams with false hopes for a better tomorrow.  This is the last boarding call for the Underground Waygook Express headed for Incheon International Airport. Your documents are in order and your tickets are in hand.  Your home country will honor your passport and there will be no drug tests, AIDS tests or document authentication tests. You are going to get another chance at life.  You have a degree, and you have value as a human being.  Don’t mess it up this time.

Posted in Cultural Commentaries, The Expat | 2 Comments