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Red Lights in Seoul


There was this girl-there’s always a girl-Irish, that I had met at the “Seoul Pub” on Itawaen Boulevard in the red light district of Seoul, South Korea. A place where the party was supposed to be at 24/7. Bullshit. My buddy and I were in Korea three weeks for World Cup 2002, on the cheap, following the U.S. Team from town to town. We experienced the matches and the freaks with total abandon, but not in this part of the city. This side of the capital was as exciting as a room full of teachers discussing their TSA options.
The whores were too goddamn expensive, which really was a surprise-at least for the civilians-so you had to get a load on in order to enjoy the night. Sure, other nights were filled with Cup festivals, and street parties following the pertinent contests, but on crappy-match days, with no events scheduled, well, then, shit, pass the bottle…
“Seoul Pub” was one of those ex-pat bars. Every goddamn country represented. Yes, even Canada and Australia. Or is “Australia” a continent? Who cares? Fuck ‘em either way. Those whiny cunts, they couldn’t even qualify…
And, sorry to say, nearly every one of those drunks was a teacher. English as a Second Language. Christ, the last thing you want to find on the road is another goddamn teacher. They’ll bore you to death. Most do not how to swing, they may think they do, but they don’t.
Only the truly decadent can be trusted.
“I’m a teacher.”
“Oh, wow, great,” I‘d reply. “I’m unemployed.”
And that would be that. No comparing of notes, no trade secrets. You get to talk like people instead of talking shop. A human being though is often difficult to find amongst adult ESL teachers; but at least you have a better chance with them than with the Suits that “supervise” them back at their sites.
Like you’d ever find a Suit at a real bar anyway…
The music was rap, 70s rock, disco, Sinatra; you can’t even say “American Music” anymore because in every pub or bar you stumble into on this planet you hear the same tunes, from Edinburgh to Berlin to the Czech Republic and all the way to Seoul….
<!–page–>The young teachers and the old teachers and the ones in the middle who hated and dreaded the ones on either side of the fence were having a grand time getting liquored up, singing along to their favorite songs, smoking like trains, tossing darts, shooting pool, and wavering back and forth in an attempt to dance, badly, in place.
The male teachers were trying to impress the hot females who came with their hot female friends-you’d be amazed at how incredibly beautiful the young female ESL teachers overseas can be-and the drunks were getting drunk in their dark corners.
I was having a blast up until that point, shooting the shit with Joey about our U.S. victory over overrated Portugal. We ordered up another monstrous pitcher of OB Beer along with the Jameson whiskeys chasers, clinked glasses to the fact that our dollar was worth almost three times more here than it would have been in Japan but I was still lonely. I needed a woman. There’s only so much I’d ask my buddy for…
Most women there were already hooked up, or were in groups of a dozen that made it difficult to penetrate. A couple of strays to sit at the end of the bar would have been nice.
A lot of Irish were there. Some wearing the team jersey, some painted up green, but that was strange since Ireland was playing their first round matches up in Japan, the Cup co-hosts. Same for the English but they were all over the place too. For the life of me though we never came across any Portuguese, or the Costa Ricans or Brazilians, the teams playing in Korea, and those are the people who know how to tear it up.
Then, two strays walk in. A red head and a blonde. Early 20s. Not raging beauties-fuck, neither am I-but they were very damn cute. Jeans and T-shirts. Looked like they were going out for a quick Sunday coffee. They’ll do.
The music gets louder, the night draws on, the booze continues to pour, and somebody has to take point.
“My name’s Jim, what’s yours?”
“Elizabeth, “ she whispers, slams back her whiskey. “Where you from?”
“Los Angeles.”
“Thought you were Italian or something.”
“Do you want me to be?”
“I’m from Dublin,” she says.
She orders up another round for herself and her funky, hippie girlfriend, then swivels around on her bar stool and gives me her back. They talk it up. Fine. I’m too inebriated to care. Joey snickers and tries hitting on a local woman sitting next to him.
A few minutes later, leering at one of the waitresses, I feel a woman’s breast brush along my shoulder and I turn to see the hippie friend squeezing in next to me to order more drinks and the red head I wanted is gone. “Where’s your friend?” I ask
“Don’t you want to talk to me?” she yells in my face.
I don’t answer.
“She had to pee.”
“So where you from?” I ask.
“Canada.”
I know from experience Canadians can be fucked up.
But we chatted. I liked the way she was brushing against me, I got hard, tried moving in closer several times for a kiss but she would step back, she wanted to be in control. All right, fine, then fuck off. I lose interest. Begin to look around as I’m talking to her.
Then suddenly she prances away from me, actually pirouettes and falls onto Joey. Great. I get it going and he gets the drunk one all over him. But that’s my fault.
<!–page–>I stare at the TV they have over the bar showing a replay of a match from Japan with the sound turned down, order another whiskey. Then the redhead comes back from the can, uses my arm for balance as she takes her seat. “Sorry,” she mumbles.
“That’s cool. Use me anyway you want.”
“You’re trying too hard,” she says, reaching for her glass.
“I’ve been told that.”
“What?”
“You want another drink?” I offer.
“I can buy my own.”
“Sorry again.”
“I’m being a cunt,” she puts her glass down, pushes it away. “I’m sorry. What are you having?”
“Jameson.” I shake my already half empty glass.
“That crap nearly killed my father.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty wicked.”
“I’ll buy you one then. How do you take it?
“Rocks. Water back.”
“Doesn’t mean anything though. It’s just a drink.”
“Ok.”
“That’s it, we’re just talking here.”
“Right.”
Fuck it. A woman wants to buy me a drink I don’t argue. I get that a lot from the U.K women.
Drinks are ordered then that awkward silence appears. You’ve met, you’ve quipped, you’ve gotten that all-important second drink going to keep the juices flowing-sorta speak-but then…the silence. The both of us look up at the TV and pretend to care what’s on. What do you say? How do you restart it? Christ, I’m not 19 anymore, come on, say something goddammit…
“Did you catch that Irish match?”
“I don’t give a fuck about football. I mean, I do, and I don’t.”
“Not a patriot?”
She lifts her glass and looks into it, the amber rustling over the crushed ice. “Home,” she whispers.
“What?”
“Home is where I want to be though.”
“Why?”
“I miss Ireland. I miss my dad. I miss all my friends. I miss Dublin and a proper pub,” she rattles off as if she’d been holding that in for a week.
“Then why did you leave then?”
“I wanted to get away from my boyfriend. My ex-boyfriend. We’d been going out since high school and I had just turned 22 and we were still going out. I had to stop it. I had to get out.”
“So you leave your country to get away from a man? That’s a bit extreme isn’t? Did he beat on you or something? Sleep with your sister?”
“No, never. He was so sweet. So kind. I didn’t want to break up and then just stay there. I’d see him every day. Everything around me would remind me of him.”
“And just taking the one-hour hopper to London was just out of the question I suppose.”
“I’m no West Brit.”
“Didn’t say you were. Maybe stay in country then, head over to Galway. That’s beautiful out there. You could’ve hung out for a while. Go live on one of the islands”
“You’ve been?”
“Spent four weeks backpacking solo across in 2000.”
“Don’t meet many who’ve been to Ireland. Most of the people there want to get the fuck out, go to New York. Well, not anymore, not lately I guess…I miss it though.”
“I know.”
“I miss it so much.”  She leaned in close to me. I put a hand on the back of her neck and rubbed. She didn’t resist.
“Then what the fuck are you doing out here? You’re not here for The Cup?”
“I’m a teacher.”
“Really? Wow. You too, huh?”
“You?”
“No, but roll a grenade into this joint and you’re likely to take out half the ESL teachers in the damn country.”<!–page–>
She looked at the TV above the bar again and mouthed something.
“What?”
She said, “I’m just so vulnerable,” and she scooted in a little closer.
She didn’t just say that did she? A hot, beautiful, inebriated 22-year old Irish woman, in a bar, in Korea, at the World Cup, in my arms, actually said to me, a 34-year old beer-gut-drunk ‘I’m vulnerable’.
And it’s not costing me any cash?
Dozens of others there, a dozen years younger than me; still with the gleam of an unseen future in their eyes, all with 0% body fat, who never wake up with an aching back, don’t have to pound a handful of vitamins just to make it to the shower, don’t hesitate at times before a nasty bender because you know how it’s going to kick your ass for the next two days, grateful that you get your color back by the third day, and only needs to piss once a night and only for a few seconds instead of the four visits and the three minute racehorse sessions I have to put in.
These young gods, these precious few, these that do not know, these boys…
“I have to go again.”
“Hurry back.”
She slid off the bar stool, wobbled, used my shoulder for balance, stopped, looked at me, said, “You have an honest face.”
“I do?” I did?
“I can trust you.”
“I won’t hurt you that’s for damn sure, lady.”
“You better not.”
I reached for her hand, she took it hesitantly, then let it go like she made a mistake. She definitely wanted something, but being a woman, she didn’t know exactly what. And this had been going reasonably well, in a quick, efficient, no bullshit manner. Surprised the hell out of me.
Which proves my assertion that a woman, any woman, can walk into a bar and pick who she wants to fuck. Women are the only ones capable of this and for that I have to admire them greatly.
A man certainly can’t make that claim. Oh sure, a lot of guys can throw around the swagger, talk loud on their cell phones and pretend it’s important, use their looks and charm, or if they have it, shit loads of cash, but a woman’s success can be 110% if she wants.
True, not a whole lot of women do this, slink around looking for dick; they’re not the primal animals men are. Ever been to Amsterdam or any other decent Red Light district? When’s the last time you saw rows of windows with straight men sitting in them ready to serve horny women? You don’t because women, if the need ever arises, can always walk into the nearest market, bookstore, coffee shop, museum, or bar, and take care of it.
“What’s your name again?” I have to ask.
“Leslie,” she said. Then left.
Wait a minute…
Naw, fuck it. I was hard, happy. But where do we go? Take a cab across town back to our cesspool at the end of a crack alley? Shit, what about Joey? He was entertaining the Canadian. Maybe the girls had a place nearby. We can go there.
The Canadian, barefoot now, her sandals on the bar, darted to the toilet as well.<!–page–>
“I think I’m in love,” I tell Joey.
“Mine’s a fucking psycho.”
“What? She’s all over you, man!”
“She’s keeps yammering on about UFOs and how she fucked an alien last week and this and that. Dude, she’s a fucking nut case!”
“So? Mine’s practically in my lap.”
“Then take her somewhere.”
“It’s not like we can just check into any motel during the cup you know. Besides, they came together. My girl seems nice, not the type to fuck around. She didn’t plan to come here and dump off her friend. She’ll probably go if we all go.”
“So I have to fuck this broad because you want pussy? Catch some fucked up outer space disease she’s carrying?”
“Dude…”
“I don’t know, man. She’s scary. I actually feel like hitting her.”
“Fuck it then, maybe she’ll dig it.”
“Maybe.”
I swivel around to see if she’s coming back and some other dude is in the hallway right outside the third story bar entrance and is hitting on my woman. He’s wearing a floppy green golf hat, an Ireland team jersey, and a god awful green-plaid kilt. Shocking orange hair spills out of every inch of his person. Gave me the shivers. But apparently it didn’t bother her none. The clown’s hand is on her shoulder, he‘s whispering into her ear, she’s using him for balance as she holds his arm and is listening and laughing and moving back and forth to some Haircut 100 the whack-fuck bartender has put on.
“That’s fucked,” I hear Joey say behind me.
And like that, any spell I had over the young lady is gone. I look away. I don’t want to care. I had seen him sniffing around earlier, figured he’d try with her sooner or later. A desperate bastard’s last option: get them leaving the bathroom. The women are relieved, away from their man, comfortable, and completely off guard. Sometimes it works.
I watch the TV above the bar and notice that in all Korean commercials the people are dressed in white. What’s the significance of white I wonder? The bartender, also in white, dances on top of his bar, in slow motion for some reason, and he’s screaming, “Yeah, yeah, American music numba one, baby!”
Freak.
But she comes back, slides in next to me. “What are you doing here?” I ask pissed, drunk, betrayed.
“You fly ten thousand miles across the planet the last person you want to sleep with is somebody from your home country.”
“I agree,” I say and signal to the freak for another round.
Just then the Canadian-Cunt comes bouncing back into the bar and hits up my woman. “We all set?” she asks her.
“In a minute.”
“You going somewhere?”
“We gotta get up early tomorrow. We have to take an early train back to our village. We teach at the same school.”
Goddamn.
Suddenly she’s coherent. Suddenly she’s lucid. Suddenly she’s putting her shit back into her purse.
“Why now?” I want to know. I deserve to know. I point at her friend. “What did she tell you in the bathroom.”
“Nothing. Nothing. Come on, we just gotta leave is all. Be nice. You’ve been so nice to me.”
“Let’s go somewhere,” I get off my ass, take her hands, push in close. “We can get a place around here. I have money.”
“I want to…”
“Let’s go, time to go,” the Canadian fiend says. “We need to leave now.”
“We have a place to stay here, a spa,” my girl says.
“Then let’s go…”
“It’s women only. They have lockout times. I think it’s 3am. We have to get going.”
I kiss her right cheek, her nose. She smiles, puts her hands on my shoulders, slides them down to my forearms. “Don’t do that,” she whispers.
“What, this?” I kiss her forehead, her left cheek, the sides of her lips; wet, soft, inviting, desperate, scared.
“We’re going to get locked out,” the Fuck-Canadian says from behind her.
“I better go…”
Dammit.
Not one to ever force a woman, so used to having them fuck me over that I’d rather not deal with the pain or put up a fight anymore, I simply release her and step back.
“You’re so nice. Don’t be like that.” She takes my hand and kisses it.
“Then stay.” I step up close again; say into her ear, “Just stay. Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go.” I’m nearly in tears, my voice is barely audible, hoarse. “Don’t go. Please-please-please-please-please-please-please…”
She kisses me on my lips, cups my face in her hands. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” I say and watch her get her purse. The Canadian girl is already bouncing in step at the doorway. Then, she’s gone.
“That’s not fair.”
“It’s bullshit if you ask me.”
The music changes now. It’s something by English Beat.
I look back up at the TV. “Fuckin’ bullshit.”

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