Month: July 2014

Introducing Expat Extractors, LLC

by Fred Colton

Hey you, over there. Yeah, you—with the hoodie and pit stained T-shirt, hunched over that convenience store ATM seeing if you’ve got enough in the account for a one-way flight back to the motherland.

I’ve seen your type before. You’re one of those infamous night fliers, stealing softly away from Korea as if from a one night stand before sun-up, never to call or Kakao again. And you’re in good company, fellow expat. It turns out that all manner of folks are trying to get off the Korean peninsula, and not just the northern half.

So who are you, sir?

-Maybe you’re an ESL teacher, a hagwon hustler, who’s found the job to be a brutal, futile one, like dumping water into a bucket with holes in it?

-Maybe you’re a rascal and a rake, a globetrotting lothario who just unceremoniously dumped your latest Korean broad (who got plastic surgery just for you,) only to find ALL CAPS death threats and severed rodent heads on your doorstep every morning?

-Maybe you’re a rookie entrepreneur who married a native and then borrowed seed money from your in-laws (their retirement savings) to launch a coffee shop in Seoul, only to see all hope of recouping your investment dashed by spectacularly flaccid first quarter earnings? (Also—what made you think Seoul needed another coffee shop?)

-Maybe you’re a rising star in the Korean drug trade, and those fine, intrepid young officers over at the local PD are closing in on your Thai hash smuggling operation?

Hell, maybe you’re all of the above, and you need to punch the eject button STAT.

Enter Expat Extractors, LLC. Who are we? We’re the only friends you’ve got now, that’s who the hell we are. We’re fixers, problem-solvers, those who believe “laws” are elastic barriers meant to be stretched. We’ll get you out, and we’ll do it right. We here at Expat Extractors offer a variety of packages tailored to your unique situation…

The Gold Package:

Also referred to as “The Mourner.”

Our graphic and web design team will create a bulletproof alibi—the sudden, tragic “death” of a family member or close friend—for your rapid departure. Comes complete with a doctored Facebook profile for the departed, forged obituary, and short blurb from the web edition of your hometown newspaper. Also includes private transport to Incheon International Airport (or your closest long-distance hub) any time of the day or night.

The Mourner is a perfect fit for you hagwon teachers on your high horses, acting like you don’t need us because “you’ll never come back to Korea.” Well, climb on down out of that saddle, because like Michael Jordan, Jesus, and boomerangs, you’ll be back. You’ll get home and take a few swift kicks to the teeth courtesy of unemployment, realize the grass there is even browner than Korea’s ever was, and frantically start Googling teaching jobs again. Do Future You a favor and keep your reputation intact and your bridges unburned so you’ll be able to acquire another E-2 visa, or at the very least score a recommendation letter if you want to skulk off to try your luck elsewhere on the continent.

The Premium Package:

Us in the biz call this one “The Hero.”

You happen upon a mugging-in-progress in HBC after sundown and spring into action as a thuggish band of purse-snatchers corner a saintly ajumma. After a vicious brawl you emerge victorious but while the ajumma keeps her purse, you pay dearly for said victory, because you’ve got sixteen broken bones, a ruptured spleen, and you’re also stuck in a deep coma like you did “Inception” wrong.

But you’re The Hero now—thanks to our stunt team you’ll be the star an obsessively choreographed show of pulled punches and the precisely-timed bursting of fake blood packets. l And the hero needs to be flown back to his homeland for an extended recovery, of course. The Hero package is perfect for earning the sympathies of your Krazy Korean ex or your newly-impoverished in-laws. No one’s going to sue you to recover the money you lost them when, for all they know, you’re back at home, mummified in the ICU, racking up an insurmountable hospital debt while fighting for your very existence.

Private transport to airport provided.

OK folks, enough child’s play. We understand that some of you need real, definitive, max-firepower solutions. So you’ve run afoul of the cops and the heat’s coming down on you fast? Allow me to introduce…

The Platinum Package:

A commuter bus T-bones a barricade on Seoul’s Banpo Bridge and explodes and—dear God in Heaven!—you were on it. You, along with twenty-three poor Korean souls were instantly immolated and sent off to the great beyond. But wait—plot twist—the corpses were from a local morgue and the bus was rigged with flashy pyrotechnics.

Folks, this one is the big daddy. The Nuclear Option, the re-set button; guarantees no government agent, loan shark, or process server will ever catch up to you and you’ll never be extradited. Includes facial modification surgery in Gangnam, new passport and identity (you’re now Chad Baker of Idaho), and employment position in a Bali scuba shop. Private transport to airport (in a blacked-out SUV) provided.

Call us today at Expat Extractors, LLC. Because a proper withdrawal is difficult to execute. You don’t want to just pull out real fast and leave a mess behind.

Regards,

Fred Colton

Marketing Director, Expat Extractors, LLC

010-GET-OUT

www.expatextract.com

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10 Things In Korea That I’ll Never, Ever Do

by Mr. Motgol

I wrote this  piece a few years back, and while a few things have changed since then, most have not. As it is currently boshingtang eating season, not to mention Mudfest time, I thought that a re-post may be apropos. I’ve made a few small revisions. Enjoy. And don’t take it too seriously.

I like living in Korea. I’ve been here for almost ten years now, so if I hated it, I would have split a long time ago. I like hiking, I like the food, I like riding my motorcycle, checking out the street markets, and drinking my ass off. It’s a crowded crazy little place and I’ve grown to love it, for better or for worse. Plus, the girls are bangin’ hot. I should know: I married one.

That said, there are a lot of things here that I think are totally lame and that I have no interest in doing. Ever. Here’s a list of ten, in no particular order:

1. I’LL NEVER, EVER GO ON A TEMPLE STAY

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Does wearing pajamas, waking up at 3 a.m., eating soggy flavorless food, bowing hundreds of times, and sitting crosslegged for hours on a hard wooden floor sound like fun to you?  Doesn’t to me. In fact, it sounds totally shitty and boring as fuck. Yet countless foreigners head to the monasteries every weekend to do  “temple stays,” as if it’s some essential “cultural experience” that will leave them with a better understanding of Korea. If you really want to understand the culture, pick up some of the language and get drunk with some ajoshhis at your local soju tent.

And a lot of people give Buddhists a pass because they’re all “nice” and don’t bomb abortion clinics, but Buddhists believe that people are poor because they were assholes in their “past life.” That sounds like a load of horse shit used to keep people in their place to me. Screw Buddhists. I’d rather be a Muslim any day, as at least they believe in egalitarianism.

2. I’LL NEVER, EVER WEAR A HANBOK

hanbok1

Nothing seems to tickle the locals’ fancy more than dressing up the big goofy foreigners in hanboks, which are colorful, traditional Korean attire.  Schools love to make their teachers put them on for festivals and special days; some losers even get married in the things, no doubt at the insistence of their ball-busting soon to be a battle-ax ajumma future wives.  Hanboks suck.  They make any woman who dons one look pregnant and pretty much every foreigner look like a stupid, fat clown (which is how they see us, anyway.)

clown

In short: jarg clobber.

3. I’LL NEVER, EVER GO TO THE BORYEONG MUD FESTIVAL

mudfest

Nothing says “newbie” like the Boryeong Mud Festival: Packs of fresh-off-the-boat teachers wandering around in various states of undress, covered in mud that’s not even from the beach (it’s trucked in for the event) and celebrating the fact that they can publicly drink without getting arrested. The locals have caught on too, gouging the drunken tourists with quadruple-priced rooms, drinks, and meals. The whole thing is a like ESL spring break, though instead of Cancun, the event takes place in a gurgling petri dish. No thanks.

4.  I’LL NEVER, EVER SEE THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS

cherry

The only thing as dreadfully boring as a temple stay must be the yearly pilgrimages to see the cherry blossoms every April.  People pack into their Hyundai Sonatas and wait hours in horrendous traffic jams just to catch of glimpse of the “beautiful cherry blossoms that sooth the soul.”  Sure they’re kind of pretty, but they’re just little fucking flowers on trees. Are they that desperate for natural beauty in this country that blossoms on trees whip them up into some sort of sightseeing frenzy? I don’t get it. I’d rather wash my cats, or spend the weekend watching National Treasure 1 and 2 on a constant loop.

5.  I’LL NEVER, EVER HELP THE ORPHANS

crying-asian-child-photo

It’s seems like every month, somebody’s doing some kind of benefit to “help the orphans” – concerts, silent actions, volunteer trips – you name it, those orphans are getting a lot of love, not to mentions some big coin. It’s as if they’re the only charity that foreigners care about. Who are these “orphans” anyway?  I’ve never met any. I thought all of the orphans in this country get adopted by needy and neurotic white Christian couples from Wisconsin.

6.  I’LL NEVER, EVER WATCH AN “EAT YOUR KIMCHI” VIDEO

eat your kimchi

Really. Those guys should be flayed with razor wire.

7. I’LL NEVER, EVER PAY MONEY TO SEE A SUPER COOL LAPTOP BAND

xiuxiuwadsworth

There have been a smattering of bands coming through Korea of late, which I do applaud.  However they’ve all been small combos of unshaven emaciated vegan hipsters playing electroclash or whatever bullshit is passing for cool among the ironic mullet set in Williamsburg, Silverlake, and Portland, Oregon these days. A few years back an outfit called Xiu Xiu came to town. I checked out their video on youtube, and it was a steaming glass of pretentious cat piss. This isn’t surprising, seeing how they’re signed to my home town of Olympia’s super-elitist Kill Rock Stars label, who have always put out music so “cool” that it doesn’t even have to be good.

Call me an old, out-of-touch jerkoff, but if you require a laptop computer to play a show, you’re not a musician and I probably will hate you and want to burn down your band.

8.  I’LL NEVER, EVER LEARN HOW TO MAKE DEOK

ddeok

Deok, or Korean rice cake is culturally cherished, but it’s really like eating concentrated apathy. It’s nothing but rice that’s been smacked to death with a huge wooden mallet. Koreans love the things and are always forcing them on foreigners, oblivious to the fact that most of us do not think that “Korean rice cakes are the most delicious rice cakes.” But it’s always in front of your boss or at a home where you teach a very lucrative private, so you choke down the slab of “deok” that looks and tastes like it was cut straight out of a Nerf football.

Some silly and stupid foreigners go on weekend retreats where they learn to make the shit.  That’s just wrong. Some recipes need to stay in the family.

9. I’LL NEVER, EVER EAT BOSHINGTANG

boshingtang

Boshingtang is Korean dog meat soup. It’s pretty much only eaten by men (to make their dicks hard), and is eaten mainly in the summer, often with su yuk (steamed dog meat). Most foreigners rightly turn their noses up a the disgusting and depraved practice of eating fido, but there are a big enough minority that give it a try, some with gusto even. They think they’re getting some “real” cultural experience, but no, they’re just eating nasty-ass greasy dog meat and patting themselves on the back for really “getting into Korea.”

Fuck that. I’ve been to the Gupo dog market and seen those poor guys stuffed in their cages and looking out at me with sad, defeated eyes, resigned to their unfortunate fate, which usually involves being strung up and beaten before getting killed. This supposedly makes the meat more tender or delicious or some other load of crap, but I think it’s just because the people who raise and slaughter dogs are just plain mean.

dog

I know, I know. I’m a hypocrite because I eat other meat and those animals are too, treated brutally. But I say fuck you, dogs are different and should not be eaten. Chickens and turkeys, on the other hand, are fair game. (rimshot)

*10.  I’LL NEVER, EVER PAY OUT THE ASS FOR OVERPRICED SHITTY FOREIGN FOOD 

curry

How many times have I gone to an Indian, Thai, or Turkish place in Korea and gotten totally hosed? I never trust any foreigner who says, “Oh, there’s this amazing new middle eastern restaurant in Kyungsungdae.  It’s awesome.” Why? Because it never is. Most all of these places require a wheelbarrow full of banknotes to pay for portions so small that they’d leave a Darfur refugee wanting for more. One time I counted three microscopic pieces of chicken in a sixteen dollar curry at an abortion of an Indian restaurant. The worst is the time I went to the Thai place in Haeundae and ordered the crab and shrimp curry (thirty six bucks). The dish arrived, with a handful of small, spiny, gum-slicing crabs.  Upon further investigation I discovered there were no shrimp at all. When confronted, the indolent waitress just shrugged, told us that they were out of shrimp, turned and walked away. And I won’t even write about the massacres that are Korean attempts at Mexican food, except to say that the ceviche I tried in Masan was made with ketchup. Motherfucking ketchup.

I’ve pretty much given up, and so should you. Wait until you leave this country to get your fix of foreign food, or make the shit yourself – that’s what I do. And to all you wannabe food critics out there, stop writing glowing reviews of awful foreign restaurants for those English language publications. I haven’t read a negative restaurant review yet, and believe me, some of these places need their rectums reamed.

Me? I’ll be sticking to bibimbap, galbi,  and my daily jeong shik. As for the shitty foreign restaurants? Just like the holocaust: never again.

 

*Okay, I’ll admit that foreign food options these days have gotten a lot better. I’ve had passable Indian, okay Thai, and some very good Mexican, but this is a new development. I should probably remove #10 from the list, but just let me stew in the hate of days gone past. 

World Cup Identity

 

by Pablo Harris

 

Doesn’t take long, living here in the ROK, before you get used to the same mundane questions from the natives. Before you just tune them out altogether. At least my first year, years ago out in the sticks, many brief interrogations/conversations went something like this:

 “Ah, nice to meet you. Where you from?”

 California.

 “Ooohhhh! But you have dark hair, dark eye?”

 Yeah, well there’s many different kinds of people there from all over the world. Have you ever been to LA? There are many people there that look like you. And they’re Californian, many American too.

“Ah, Koreatown, LA. Good?”

Yeah, I like it.

“You can eat spicy food? You like kimchi?”

 Yes. I like it very much.

 “Good! Hmm, how old are you?”

Thirtysomething

“You married?”

Nah.

“Why no marry?”

 Uh, well, that’s a long story, I guess.

 “Ah, ok! Playboy, one shot!”

 Ha! Thanks. Gambae!

This year, though, over the last month there’s a new question that has popped up nightly. This time not from a local but from some friendly waygukin:

 “Hey Pablo, hope you don’t mind me asking, I know you’re American but still. Got to ask. Who do you root for in the World Cup? What if USA is playing Mexico?”

 No, I don’t mind . . .

 

*  *  *

 

TJB, a tall, tanned Polish gypsy who was a beast of a sous chef I once worked with before I left for Korea, came over to pick up some equipment leftover from a basement indoor farming project I once had in Sactown. TJB saw this picture on my fridge.


20140308_133242

“That’s you, Slippery?”

 Yeah, that’s me and my grandfather outside his house between Hanford and Corcoran.

 After a high-pitched donkey bray and whistle, he howls, “Yeah, I know that dust! I come down sometimes for the midget car races out on the Kings County Raceway. That’s you, you little little? (Another donkey bray), I know that dust.”

 There’s a kind of dust and desolation you only find along California 43 that connects the mighty 99 of the Central Valley with Interstate 5 from Vancouver to Tijuana. On the northern end just south of Fresno, William Saroyan country, The Human Comedy, veer right at Selma, the Raisin Capital of the World, down 98 miles to the west end of Buck Owens Blvd. and downtown Bakersfield. Right smack in the middle, exactly 200 miles south of San Francisco, 200 miles south of Sacramento, 200 miles north of Los Angeles, you’ll find where I’m from: Corcoran, California.

My first home was Corcoran. Now if it’s known for anything at all it’s just because of the maximum security prison there that’s been housing Charles Manson since 1991. But back then, it was called the Cotton Capital of California, a one-stoplight town of about 2000 people where at least 1900 of them were Mexican, where Ceasar Chavez is still both celebrated and reviled. Of those remaining who weren’t Mexican, Mojado, or Wetback, they were either the descendents of Dust Bowl Okies and Arkies or the progeny of the Boswells and Gilkeys who once owned all the water rights, all this land, owned all the pickers (both human and mechanical), and all the cropdusters and a couple of personal planes out at the slip and slide spit of an airport. Though it’s a good two and a half hour drive to the Central Coast, the dust is like sand from the beach: you can’t ever fully rinse off from it.

Fortunately, I grew up thirty miles east of all my Mexi-kin in, compared to the other valley towns, the posh big city of Visalia. Population of 50,000 on the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley in the windward shadows of sunrise below Sequoia National Park and John Muir Wilderness. It was a reversal of where I was born; everyone was white except for the Northside of town redolent with taquerias, panaderias, and wafting skunky schwag. But I’m not a Norteno.

 Being on the westside in the new subdivision of Crestwood, there’s one question that annoyed me until my end of days there:

 What are you?

 I’m American.

 “No, I mean, what are you? What kind of American are you?”

 I’m American. Ok, really, I’m Californian.

 “No, I mean, where is your family from?”

 My parents were born in California. My grandparents were born here, too.

 “No, I mean, are you Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, I don’t know, what are you?

 Well, I guess, my parents and grandparents speak both Spanish and English but I can’t speak Spanish. My great-grandparents, grandparents, and, at times, even my parents have all had to pick cotton at some point. But I ain’t doing that. I had my baptism and first communion at St. Mary’s but I’m no longer going to Catechism. Sure, we eat enchiladas and tamales for Christmas but you’re never going to find a better turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving than my mom’s.

 “Hahaha, I heard that about your mom. I heard that she’s good for stuffing .”

 Fuck you, Matt.

 “Haha, Paul, come on, it’s a joke.  Speaking of jokes, I got one. Why do Mexicans eat tamales for Christmas?”

 I don’t know.

 “So you have something to unwrap.”

 Fuck off, Scott.

 

*  *  *

 

Come middle school, high school, there’s a different kind of awareness and identity that I was confronted with on a daily basis. Outside the boys bathroom was an intimidating wall of bussed-in vatos and cholos that made us evade their gambit and their epithets, such as pocho (English-speaking Mexican), maricon (gay),or joto (faggot), just to take a leak.  Later in college, girls from La Raza would call me a coconut (brown on the outside, white inside) or a Mexican’t (can’t speak Spanish, can’t play soccer, and certainly cannot dance).

 

*  *  *

With the U.S. hosting the 1994 World Cup, my identity and rooting interest was definitely questioned. Do I root for my home country with the presidential looks of Captain John Harkes and a footballing version of Grateful Red Alexi Lalas (who I swear I once got two ganja gooballs and a miracle from outside of Shoreline Amphitheater before a kind Touch of Grey opener)? Or do I root for Mighty Mouse in goal in Jorge Campos and the cagey veteran of Marcelino Bernal, especially with Bernal being a family name? I chose to don the jersey of El Tri. Tired of the insults and somehow being an inferior American because of my skin, I wanted to see some brown people victorious over the honkies. Before Jorge Campos, all we had as Mexican-American or Mexican heroes was Pancho Gonzales and Fernando Valenzuela. Though Mexico was certainly better in soccer, we still feel like an underappreciated, undervalued, underdog versus America, especially on their home turf. Therefore, Viva Mexico!

This continued on through the Campos, ‘El Matador’ Luis Hernandez,  and Rafael Marquez (a true captain for life). But really, at an English pub on Koh Samui there to watch the 2009 Confederations Cup semi-final of U.S. against Spain, the switch was flipped. 

A local who saw me watching the game with great interest (me being a Tim Howard/Everton fan) approached me and asked, 

“Where are you from?” 

Uhh, hmm, I guess I’m Mexican but I’m from California? 

“Ah, hmm. Ok. But where are you from? Are you from Mexico?” 

Uhh, no. I’m from the States.

 “Is your passport from Mexico?” 

No, I have an American passport. 

“Well then, that’s it, you are American.”

 

*  *  *

 

Growing up, somehow, I could never feel American. Or Mexican, for that matter. It wasn’t until I got to Asia did I truly feel American. Now, I’m perceived and understood as American. What’s your passport? American. No more questions asked.

 Furthermore, as Mr. Motgol has described the plight of many, some of us wash up on these kimchi shores looking for something better, something they just couldn’t find in their hometown, or (for many) just an opportunity to start over after all the shortcomings, failings, and inability to cut it back home. But I don’t know about that. For this California Vato in King Joseon’s Court, I simply no longer have to answer the question what are you? I’m American. Love it or leave it. Or maybe some of both. 

Also, being from Red-State California, it wears on you and I knew I had to leave from a very early age. I knew there was a whole different country out there, different world, out of the valley, back then when all that mattered was Pop Warner football or Future Farmers of America. Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts, Wranglers, or Guess Jeans; it was all about Soashes and Shit-kickers. Perhaps I just wanted to go someplace where status is not determined by how big is your ranch, your ski cabin in the sierras, or the size of your speedboat. That it really doesn’t matter how many acres, horses, pick-ups, or Mexicans your family owns.

 There’s also the fact that I’m allergic to dust. Right between Waukena, population 108, and Corcoran, is the cemetery. My great-grandparents from my maternal side are buried there. My grandparents from both sides rest there. There is also my Uncle Larry, my nino (Godfather), my Uncle Fernando, my Aunt Cecelia, my Uncle Ee-Dee-Wah (a name he picked up from the Korean War), my cousin Racquel who is even younger than me, other Mexi-kin I’ve only heard of but don’t really know. I’m allergic to that dust. But one day, I probably will return there. Should return there. I hope to return to that dust. But Inshallah, God willing, not today.

Creatures of the Night: Itaewon Edition

by Fred Colton

Tourists, travel bloggers, K-Pop enthusiasts and all you lovely people of the Internet: This is Fred Colton, intrepid armchair anthropologist, reporting live from the main drag of Seoul’s famed Itaewon district at 11:45 on a Saturday night.

I’m en route to tonight’s hotspot of choice (more on that in a moment), making a casual traverse along a low, curving canyon of bars with names such as Geckos and SinBin and clubs with names like Cake Shop and Pet Sounds. This region is bracketed from the west by both a mosque and the notorious Hooker Hill, while a US Army Garrison rests down the slope to the east. Some off-duty soldiers hustle past me in a tight pack, trying to get back on base before curfew. Hmm, now wait a tick. These gentlemen don’t look like Muslims leaving prayer time. I’d give you two guesses as to where they just left, but you’re only gonna need one.

This is Itaewon. A paradox, an urban anomaly nestled in the shadow of Seoul’s Namsan Mountain. I use the word “paradox” because the nearby HBC (Haebangchon) neighborhood features tony villas leased by Russian expats, situated directly next to rows of scummy flats that you can pay cash to rent if you’re on the lam. I use the word “paradox” because the joint I’m passing on the right is a high-roller establishment with uniformed staff and velvet ropes fit for a behind-closed-doors mafia powwow, and it’s situated directly next to a grubby little dive that looks like where Han shot Greedo.

Ah, Itaewon. Den of vice, foreigner’s shopping mecca, international hub. Itaewon is the wreckage you get when you throw a dozen different cultures on converging tracks and ram them all into each other at high speed. So this neon-lit scene is thick with expats, hailing from every country you’ve ever heard of and all the ones you haven’t. Globetrotters who aren’t so keen on kimchi and mandoo and therefore treat Itaewon as their cafeteria, wandering the steep cobblestone alleys in search of shawarma, braai barbeque, or copious amounts of Guinness on tap.

The sidewalk is jammed with carts manned by Itaewon’s resident platoon of entrepreneurial ajummas, hawking panda socks and boxer shorts with Korean money printed on them. It’s a congested setting fit for a frantic, shaky-cam Bond movie foot chase. Somewhere beneath my feet, hundreds of twentysomething Koreans are awkwardly bopping to EDM in subterranean nightclubs. But that’s not where I’m heading tonight, no sir. Tonight, I’m turning it up a notch. Tonight, I’m heading to the best show in town.

Up ahead, there’s a massive sculpture of a dog head on the rooftop of a Thai massage place, sticking its tongue out at me. I enter a 7-11 and purchase a tall boy of OB Lager, Korea’s rough equivalent of Miller Lite. Then I move outside and post up in of the plastic chairs on the sidewalk. No, this isn’t the pregame. This is the game. I’ve arrived at the hotspot.

I crack open the OB and rub my hands together. Time to watch the parade. The parade in question is, of course, the Archetype Parade.

 

*          *          *

 

You’ve never done people watching like I’m about to do it. Itaewon is a microcosm of the planet’s misfits. You can see all makes and models of homo sapiens here. Drifters and rejects from every corner of the globe, finding comfort in this anonymous chaos. This variety makes Itaewon as close to a futuristic spaceport as we currently have on this planet. And in the future, when it actually is a spaceport, I don’t expect it to change all that much.

-May I have your attention please, ladies and gents, he’s here! Please welcome our first archetype of the night: the NMK (New Money Korean). As Korea’s economy booms along nicely and the won strengthens against the dollar, the NMKs are spawning quickly. This NMK is easily identified by his calf skin man purse (with the price tag still on it) and the popped collar on his multi-colored Gucci polo. Those already accustomed to premium polos know not to do this, but this guy just can’t help it. He’s so new to money, in fact, he doesn’t even know where to flash it yet. I know this because he’s trying to party here, in Itaewon, rather than Gangnam, the baller capital of the capital, the epicenter of conspicuous consumption.

He was just the opening act. Itaewon is just warming up. I take a pull of OB and continue to speculate on the backstories of the passersby.

-Ah, here’s a common sight. Two SCOINs (Shady Characters of Indiscriminate Nationality) stalking by with their hoods up. I’ll bet you 10,000 won these fellows are laying low in Itaewon because there’s an outstanding warrant out for them in their homeland.

-Next up, a gang of KCMs (Korean Christian Missionaries) wearing sandwich boards and shouting into megaphones. Hm, they’re mobile tonight, going fishing. Are there conversion quotas at their church? Normally they just clump over on the sidewalk by exit 4 of the subway. As they draw closer I slump in my chair and affect the blacked-out pose of a soju addict.

Then I pull out a bingo card I that designed, printed, and laminated during office hours at my school (don’t you get bored, too?) and check off my spottings so far. I’m waiting here for some friends and—call me retro, old-fashioned, grandpa, whatever—but I don’t need a smartphone to pass the time. Like I said: this is the best show in town. The archetypes keep on coming, dispersed almost equally, as if being nudged down a catwalk by a stage hand.

-It must be quitting time for the ajeossi who sells tailored suits by the nearby the What the Book? store. He floats by, wrapped in a cloud of cigarette smoke so thick I can’t tell what color his jacket is.

-Ah, here we are, folks. My personal favorite. The power couple, the dynamic duo. We have a JQE (Mr. John Q. Expat) who is 56 years of age and weighs in at 220 pounds, and is living the Asian Dream. He’s gliding along, arm-in-arm with a KYK (Ms. Kim Y. Korean) who is 28 and, thanks to genetics and daily yoga, will never in her life weigh even an ounce over 110.

See, John is bald and he sweats a lot. He took a beating in the divorce, so he sold his Camry and bought a one-way ticket to Korea and it was the best move he ever made. I’m happy for them both. I never judge when I see a JQE out and about. This is because I like living abroad, maybe too much, and unless I hightail it home tonight and kiss enough derriere to get an underpaid position at CubicleWorld, morphing into a John Q. Expat is my eventual destiny. Good to see that there’s hope. I take another sip of OB and grimace slightly as I realize that if the typical JQE pattern holds true for me, my future spouse won’t even be born for another two years. Maybe those are her parents over there, the…

-HKCS (Horny Korean College Students) holding hands, suppressing their giggling and trying to act like they’re not scouting for a love motel.

Whoa, hold up, now. Oh God, this is too good. Just when I thought it could get no better, Itaewon pulled out the big guns…

-At this juncture we are treated to three GEPs (Ghosts of Expats Past). Americans guys, in tank tops and visors. Fresh-off-the-boat bros, recent university graduates who suffered a hard crash landing after tumbling down from the boozy heights of the fratmosphere. Finding Reality to be about as much fun as inserting a catheter, they Googled TEACH ENGLISH ABROAD!!! (in all caps) in a last-ditch attempt to keep the party going. They’re still ecstatic to be here; the enthusiasm in their eyes has yet to be snuffed out by the crushing monotony waiting for them within the walls of a hagwon. By the way, you’re walking the wrong way, guys. Hooker Hill is behind you.

-And lastly but not leastly, two women who need neither an introduction nor an acronym. Two trollops, clip-clopping past, precariously perched atop the Mt. Everest of high heels, figures contained by cocktail dresses the size of hand towels. Let’s stop beating around the bush and just call it how we see it: they’re ladies of the night, making the commute over to Hooker Hill. But here’s the real question: are they 100% honest-to-goodness, all-natural hookers, or are they actually ladyboys? I’m not an expert. I don’t know the answer to that. But I advise you not to go all-in with your bets when you guess. Itaewon is nothing if not full of surprises.

The clock strikes twelve. My OB is drained and I tuck the archetype bingo card in my pocket. That was fun. I think I’ll start selling these cards soon (specifically tailored for any city in the world—yes, I take requests) and make my millions that way.

I rise to meet my confederates, who have just arrived on the last train into the city.

 

*          *          *

 

Addendum: Inner monologue of an aspiring Korean writer who lives in HBC (translated for your convenience):

“I’m walking along Itaewon-ro with a bottle of soju in my hand, taking mental notes of the characters I see as I search for inspiration.

Up first: a young Western expat drinking cheap beer in front of the 7-11, leering at two prostitutes walking by. He stands up a moment after they pass and then heads in same direction as them. So typical of these droves of young, unemployable foreigners, who can’t find good girls to marry in their home countries.

Oh, look. A text from my wife. She’s wondering where I am, so late on a Saturday. Sigh, I think she wants to have sex tonight. I’m over it, though. By now it’s clear she just married me so she could procreate. That much is clear. I keep telling her, now is not a good time for a child. My book sales are slow. I say let’s wait two years, when my finances are set, and have a child then. She wants a girl. I think a girl would be nice.”