She’s pointing at the Joongang Ilbo because she apparently does not understand what I am searching for, what I am in need of. She and I are in the same solar system, but we are communicating at different wave lengths, man. So I switch to Korean. “No, no, no. You see, I’m looking for the lowest quality, most bottom-feeding journalistic rag on the Korean peninsula.” Her eyes come alive with understanding. I think we have a comprehension breakthrough moment. Then the middle-aged clerk at the MiniStop convenience store across from the UN Club looks me dead in the eye and tells me “Sorry, we don’t carry the Korea Times here.” Dejected, I spill back out into the street.
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m in Itaewon with a pocket full of cash and a whole day to kill. Everyone I know is either busy, gone, dead or under ‘Korean wife house arrest’ with balls, credit cards and cash buried in a kimchi jar somewhere. This is my sad state of social affairs. I normally sit down at the Seoul Pub with a copy of the Korea Times and a Sharpie pen, making mature journalistic annotations and commentary in the margins when I come across something thought-provoking. Before starting, I discard the sports page, ‘culture’ page and ‘English times’ page. I am assisted in this process by several glasses of beer:
Once I finish with the newspaper, I usually neatly fold it and return it back to the store from where I purchased it so the next curious expat can enjoy the Sunday paper with all of the dull sections removed, and colorful commentary added as a kind of bonus content. Thank me later.
I decide to set a budget of just 100,000won for the entire day. I have already had 24,000 worth of beer, leaving me with 76,000 won. I call my whoremonger friend R. who is under ‘Korean wife house arrest’. He is under ‘Korean wife house arrest’ because his wife caught him jerking off in the living room to a photo of a bikini-clad racing model I sent him via Kakaotalk. Addiction counsellors would say that by sending him a provocative photo, I intentionally triggered an ‘addiction relapse event’. Somehow, I feel partially responsible for his current predicament. I ask him what kind of trouble I can get up to in Itaewon with 76,000won. “Well, 76,000 is handjob/blowjob territory, you can’t get much more than that. But there is this one deaf-mute woman working on Hooker Hill up at the top on the left side up that tiny stairway. She’ll give you a piece of paper and basically you can write down what you want, and a price, and she’ll grab the pen from you and write down her price, trying to haggle. She doesn’t read English, so you have to kind of draw a picture of what you want.”
Hmmm, I think I’ll pass on that one. “Well, if that ain’t your scene, you could try one of those massage places. I heard you can get a prostate massage in the basement of the Hamilton hotel for 50,000.” I google ‘prostate massage’ on my smartphone after hanging up. I then dial American friend Henry, who is also under ‘Korean wife house arrest’ after blowing a large wad of cash on these very streets last month. He’s been here since 1998, he should know. “Ever heard of a prostate massage?” I ask. “Yeah man, I got you covered. See, there’s this little place I go to in Mokdong run by this grandmother. Been goin’ there for years, man. What you do after paying is you get up on this kind of table/bed thing while the old lady gets oiled up, and…..” Henry stops short when one of his kids finds him hiding in his home office, phone to ear, hand cupped over mouthpiece and threatens to ‘tell mommy’. “I gotta go, chat later.” He hangs up.
I decide to go for a normal massage. I pay my 50,000 to the front desk woman who leads me to a small dark room and hands me a little plastic bag with something inside of it. She tells me to disrobe, and walks out to get the masseuse. I open the plastic bag to find a hair net. I think to myself, ‘Why do I need hair net?’ Maybe they don’t want to mess up my hair during the massage, or maybe I have to shower first. I put the hair net on my head and disrobe. The masseuse comes and starts to laugh. “That for you body, you not put on head!” Oops, I guess the little fish net thing she gave me was actually some kind of strange massage underwear that they use for oil massages. I wondered why it had those two holes in it. I guess that’s where you put your legs through
After a G-rated, but professional massage, I’m feeling pretty good and I still have 26,000won in my pocket. I walk the mean streets of Itaewon desperately trying to blow the last of my Korean currency load. I browse the shirts being sold by the street vendors. One of the novelty t-shirts reads “SHITPISS FUCKCUNT COCKSUCKER MOTHERFUCKER”. I ask the kindly 70-something grandmother how much this fine shirt costs, and she says 15,000. Another shirt says “Blow Me or Go Home”, while a red shirt featuring Santa Clause says “Twerk, Bitch”. Nothing catches my eye. I pass the counterfeit Dolce and Gabbana underwear seller, the fake hand bag seller, the tailor touts, the shouting Turkish ice-cream man, the fake Hermes belt vendor and the grandmother selling fake Rayban sunglasses.
I decide that it might not actually be possible for me to spend the whole 100,000won in Itaewon. If you had 100,000 in your pocket, and a day to kill in Itaewon, what would you do?