It’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. We may meet side by side, but never in opposition.
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 Korean 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.