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

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