An Adventure Begins...

Seoul, South Korea. 1997.

When our two other roommates returned from the states all full of their wedded bliss, my substitute teaching responsibilities were done and I had no other plans. And I certainly wasn't ready to head back home. I decided to take off on my own and see some more of the rabbit-shaped peninsula. I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to go to Pusan, but I did want to make it to Jeju Island.

I sketched out a rough itinerary in my mind to head straight south and eventually catch a ferry down to Jeju-do. Nothing concrete, just looking to see some countryside and be by myself for a while. I packed a small backpack with some clothes, my electric razor, and my Lonely Planet. Before leaving I borrowed JT's hair clippers and gave the dome a fresh buzz (my first in over a month in country because the 학원 boss man wanted me to have as much hair as possible), and I went online to get the train schedule from 서울 to 목포. I found I could get a 10:16 pm train from 영등포 station so I could sleep a bit and save the cost of lodging for one night.

The evening of my departure JT, 지수, and I went to Cyber Zone Coffee Shop near 신정네거리 to kill a few hours. The coffee was instant and the place was smoky, but the clientele was unmatched for its freshness. I knew JT was in heaven but still desperate to experience the forbidden Korean female fruits. He lit up a yummy Marlboro (he had taken up smoking again--most often when drinking, or trying to fit in, or trying to impress) and 지수 fired one up too for good measure.

The conversation turned to Pusan (지수's hometown) and 지수 gave me the phone number of her best friend. I was to call her if and when I got to Pusan, but she warned me that her friend was a very traditional, conservative girl where guys were concerned and that I shouldn't get any ideas. I told her that I didn't have any ideas, but that I thought all Korean girls were traditional and conservative in that regard. She told me I was wrong and that she had even heard of girls who sold their sex for money on a street near Youngdungpo station. She said she had never been there because she was scared. JT suggested that we go see it on the way to dropping me off for my train.

Around the corner from Youngdungpo station, we took a left down a narrow alley. Past a locksmiths and a restaurant the road widened a bit. On both sides of the street were glass-fronted shops with scantily-clad girls smoking cigarettes under an eerie red and yellow fluorescence. The overactive butterflies in my stomach became increasingly agitated as we drove slowly by, eye-shopping the spectacle as these women banged on the inside of the glass with cigarette lighters. The noise surrounded my head driving me lower in the back seat until I was just barely peeking out like some shy acne-ridden teen gazing at his first nudie magazine. I knew they weren't inviting us in for just a smoke.

These were the red-light women that Eight-Shot Dave had told me so much about. (One of whom blessed him with the phrase: "bring it here.") At the end of the street, 지수 flipped a U-turn for another look, slowed in front of one open window and asked "How much?" in Korean. It was like preparing to barter as one would at NamDaeMoon market. The young lady inside just waved her off.

I slept only fitfully, balled up on a benchseat of the nearly empty night train to Mokpo, but woke up sweating as the train pulled in at 4:30 a.m. I detrained into the chill pitchblack, grabbed an instant mini-cup of coffee from the nearest machine, pushed my way through the cabbies who were soliciting riders to god-knows where, and made for town.

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