Thursday, October 4, 2007

Itaewon again...

OK, I admit - I'm drunk! Three hours ago I had finished all of my forum posts and I wasn't tired at all! It was 7:45 and curfew was midnight tonight. I have a strong curiosity to push it just because it's there. Let me back up a bit, I had a force protection brief with one of the SEAL officers today. I learned that, despite the fact that Seoul is safer than most US cities, our force protection status has been elevated to the one just above the lowest. The reason is political, but a cerfew is in effect for military personnel! This means that as a perfectly sober colonel at 12:01 right outside the gate I'd get busted, which is a serious offense, but my 17 year old daughter and guest would be perfectly fine if they were drunk and loud at any time! Again, it's chocked up as "force protection", but is political and has been in place since Sept 11th.

In any event, I had 4 hours to check out Itaewon! After a $3 taxi ride (including tip) I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Neither the bars nor the clubs appealed much. Only some of the clubs that I walked by caught my attention, and that was because I recognized their names from our banned list, "Moulin Rouge" for example. And, true to their word, they had attractive girls at the door. My advice was basically this, "If it has girl(s) outside and there aren't any GIs in there, you probably shouldn't go". That seemed silly at first, but after hearing stories of how the human trafficing works from the Philippines, it made me sick to my stomach. My sponsor had been in Korea for several years in the late 90s, married a Korean woman, and has been back for over a year and his stories hit home. The supplemental force protection briefs emphasized the local reality of human trafficing and prostitution.

After passing a live performance and these uninteresting clubs and bars, I saw several local street vendors. The first one that I passed reminded me that I hadn't yet had dinner. I sat next to a group of older businessmen, pointed to something that looked like Won Tons and prepared to eat. It didn't take much to interact with the locals. They spoke far more English than I spoke Korean, but communication was practically hopeless - it was great fun! They offered me some of their food and sho-ju (it's like weak, 20% vodka - a popular Korean drink). They kept refilling my plate and glass - it took me awhile to realize that they didn't expect me to drink fast, but didn't want to leave me with an empty glass. I had a grand time communicating with the guys without a common language. The highlight for me - and this will sound stupid - was when I was asking what my new friend did. He said the word for "airplane", which I recognized immediately, even though now I only remember that it begins with a "P". Thank you Rosetta Stone! Somehow the immersion worked. I had spent less than an hour with it back in June, and "airplane" was part of the vocabulary. I don't know how, but it stuck! My desire to learn Korean was greatly increased!
Before I knew it, my new friends picked up my tab. I was obliged to return the favor. I dragged them to a "Cheers" and ordered a round of beers. One of the guys had a daughter who was the cutest thing I'd seen in a long time. She knew exactly how to give me a powerful High 5! We got her an Orange Juice and she and her father left early.

My new friend Dong Ju would often sock my arm and hold my hand - my "Welcome pack" explained that this was an appropriate sign of friendship, and the Army authors are very homophobic! I went along with the new group to a club that was playing music, where many young American Army GIs were hanging out. He kept pulling me out to dance, which was a little odd since he's one of very few I've ever seen who's a worse dancer, with less rhythm, than I. Oh well, it was fun.

After awhile the girls who worked at the club got up to sing with the music and dance. OMG, they were good! I was sitting back enjoying them when Dong bought a rose and was trying to get me to give it to them. I really didn't understand what he was saying except "Filipino", but he was signaling for me to go while his 2 friends did the hand across the throat motion. I remained sitting. It was only then that I realized that both (gorgeous) girls, who were excellent singers and dancers, were Filipina - and the force protection brief set in! At about the same time, Dong seemed to realize that the girls had sung the last 5 songs, seemed to be going strong, and I was eager to keep moving. We left!

Dong took me to another little booth for more so-ju. At that point I exaggerated wobbly motions and he became immediately concerned with getting me back home. He walked me back several blocks to the hotel where the AAFES taxis come. We walked past several other vendors and I got a pic on police motorcycle :--). I'm looking forward to seeking he and his friends after I speak some Korean!

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