Friday, December 15, 2006

Itaewon: a place of foreigners

When I first arrived in Korea, I didn't like Itaewon. Itaewon is an area of Seoul near that USA army base that attracts all sorts of foreigners: soldiers, teachers, businessmen, and tourists. I wouldn't allow myself to like it because it had mostly lost any feeling of Korean culture. It was a place to go once in a while to drink in the Western-feeling bars and to see my soldier boyfriend. I had preferred to spend my Saturday nights in Hongdae, an area with more Korean nightlife.

As time has gone by, however, I have grown attached to Itaewon. It mostly started one day when Paul heard that there was a pita restaurant. I vaguely remember the first time that we went there. I orded a chicken ceasar pita, which was made fresh with the vegetables that I chose. We sat on the balcony and watched the people shopping at the street vendors. The pita was delicious. Paul and I were hooked. The restaurant offers a deal: buy 10 pitas and get a free. It's not that great of a deal in reality because each pita costs about $6.50. But the wonderful taste of pitas drew us to Itaewon each week. We have eaten our free pita plus four. Now it's cold so today we had to eat inside. The pitas were still delicious but not as enjoyable without the view.

We have also discovered some other great places in Itaewon including "What the Book." It's the best place in Seoul for new and used books and magazines. They will even order books for you. The prices are okay.

Itaewon is an interesting place. As a person walks down the street, you are approached by many men wanting to sell you a custom-made suit. Fake designer purses, sunglasses and scarves are also sold. There is a large Muslim population in the area. They have built a mosque and school on a hill. Paul and I walked up there to have a look today. It seemed so strange to hear these Middle Eastern men talking Korean in stores because Korea is such a homgenous country. Korea is still about 99% ethnically Korean.

I read in a newspaper that Itaewon has been the home to foreigners for hundreds of years. But I wonder how Itaewon will be affected when the US army base at Yongsan moves in about five years. Will it survive. It probably will because of how many foreigners live there not tied to the base.

Other foreigners living in Itaewon include Nigerians who sell African jewelry and Russian women who work in the bars and probably as hookers. Most of the prostitutes that I see on "Hooker Hill" are Korean women and Korean male crossdressers. The women often sit idly in the doorway talking on a cell phone and looking bored. Sometimes when I look inside, I see Western and Korean men drinking at a bar. The male crossdressers stand on a corner and talk loudly. The women do not approach the men. American soldiers are not permitted to go to the places of prostution. Besides the bars and love motels, there are karaoke rooms and massage parlors that offer "happy endings." I'll write more another time, but Korean prostitution is mostly supported by Koreans and not by the Westerners or American soldiers.

All this diversity in people makes for some really good restaurants and bars. There are Indian, Turkish, Indonesian, Thai, American and Korean all in a small area. The bars offer a variety of atmospheres. Everything from the Grand Ole' Opry to Gecko's and Rocky Mountain to Helio's.

I have learned to appreciate Itaewon for what it is. A place to escape food boredom, to buy a good book, to people watch and to knock a few back.

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm your student chloe,,:)
Now, i'm back home just a little
time ago,.
Today I met my ex-student,.
It's a good time for me~
We took a sticker-photo,too.
i will show that on Monday,.
And how about your day??
I read your writing..but so long,.h
So. I read half of that.
I will read remain thing later~~
I leave my minihompage address~
I blocked that as like you.
Becouse I can't stand someone who have for the purpose of ad. write ad.
So, You can't write comment and can see only little thing~
But,if you want see more and write.
I can open that for you~~hh