A Trip to the Massage Parlor
Alright, it’s me again and I’m here to continue my story about the night that I got left high and dry by Monica after meeting her at Mike’s Cabin in Shinchon.
So that night, it was cold (it was around mid-March) and it was raining, and fuck it was raining fucking hard too! It was too late to take the subway, as the trains stop running at 1am, so I was forced to either stay out and drink til 5am or take a cab home. If I remember correctly at this point it was about 2:30 or 3am and I was pretty drunk. I was pissed off about Monica leaving all of a sudden and I was pissed off at not getting any, and I was pissed off at Korean girls and how utterly confusing they can be. I’m standing in the rain with no umbrella on a busy street in Shinchon trying to hail a cab, but no cabs are stopping. They pull up, the little red light is on inside showing that they are vacant and open to taking passengers, but no, they’re not open to taking a foreigner. Time andtime again they passed me by only to stop a little further down the road to pick up a Korean. I understand that foreigners get a bad rap here, andI also understand that some Korean cab drivers might not want to take on a foreigner because of their possible lack of Korean, but I don’t buy that 100%, because I’ve asked hailed cabs and asked them to stop and I’ve told them where to go in Korean. I know how to say “Take me to _______ subway station” and I also know how to say “left” and “right” and “straight”. Despite showing them that I can speak Korean, they still don’t pick me up. Another strategy that I’ve employed in this matter, is to hold out a wad of 10,000 won notes and wave them down with the Sejongs. Despite doing this, I still got passed cab after cab. Finally, some ajjoshi stopped and picked me up, but it wasn’t until well after 20 minutes of waiting in the cold pouring rain.
I got home and there was this temptation nagging deep inside of me to fulfill my needs with instant gratification. It is at this part of the story where I must provide some backstory to tell about how I came to visiting a massage parlor.
Earlier that week myself and my two closest friends (guys I met at the orientation who got hired on at the same time as me) went out cruising to pick up some girls and check out some bars. We went up to Nowon because we heard that there was a lot of cool bars up there. Well we were wrong. Nowonwas a bust, with the exception of one place that seemed alright. Most of the bars on the street that we visited were the kind of bars where you have to pay some exorbitant amount of money for a whole bottle of whisky andinstead you’re really paying for the company of some cute young bartender. Being English teachers we really didn’t have that kind of money, so we just stuck to looking for pubs, especially considering how most of those bottle service bars were completely empty!
We headed back to our neighborhood to drink in the local pub that we started to frequent, but on the way there from the subway station we passed by a place that we thought was maybe a bar. It was in a dingy old rundown building, but it said it had something on the 2nd floor and then billiards on the 3rd floor. So we figure it was a bar, but there was also these revolving barber poles. Before I came to Korea, I read here about how barber poles sometimes mean that a place is a brothel or a “special” massage parlor. We were really looking for a bar, but all being new to South Korea we were interested in looking into what such a place had to offer.
It really is true though, you see the double barber poles everywhere and you really don’t know what to think. In the West a barber pole signifies the place of business where a barber cuts hair and nothing else. Here, they seem to be everywhere, single ones, double ones, giant ones, triple ones, and none of the Westerners or Koreans can even agree on what they mean.
So, curious, we walked into this building and up the stairs to the 2nd floor where the place with the spinning barber poles was. My mates had me walk in first because I know the most Korean. I opened the door and walked into this dimly lit foyer. I was greeted with a horrible smell, I dunno it smelled like a stable or farm animals or something…and beyond the foyer was a dimly lit hallway with little rooms and curtains separating them from the hallway.
Sleeping on a mat was this old man who was suddenly awoken and up and standing at the surprise of three foreigners in his little place of business. The guy was what smelled like farm animals, and he was old and crusty, and the only other way that I can describe him is by saying that he looked a lot like the old monk guy from the Eddie Murphy movie “The Golden Child” (1986).
Realizing exactly what kinda place this was, and that everything I read on the internet must have been true (because really, everything you read on here istrue!) I got all nervous and got weak in the knees. I didn’t know what to say, so I reverted to our previous mission of looking for a bar, so I just started saying, “맥주? 맥주? [mekju]“ which in Korean just means “Beer? Beer?”
“아니요! 아니요!” (“No! No!”) he yelled as he quickly pointed to the door and seemed to just brush the foreigners all out with a swift swish of his hands.
Outside of the ”special” massage parlor we all laughed at how I tensed up and didn’t know what to say and how I just acted like a confused foreigner and started asking for beer. It was a funny night and we all laughed about it, but I didn’t really look at neighborhood quite the same after that. Here was a place like that right by my home, within walking distance of my apartment. If ever I felt lonely or wanted some sexual satisfaction, I could just walk over there and get some. It was different, because in NYC prostitution is illegal, and there are certainly rub and tug massage parlors throughout New York, but they’re not common and they’re not so obvious as they seem to be here. To find one in NYC you’d have to look for an ad in the back of the Village Voice and then do some hunting to actually find the place. Here you walk down the street and you see double barber poles spinning everywhere.
With more of a prevalence, prostitution becomes more of an option.
That night that I came back home from Shinchon after being left high and dry by Monica, I opted for the next best thing. Confused with Korean women and how to get by here, I was frustrated and in need of some sexual release, something to help get out all the pent up steam from moving over here and starting work here and adapting and having to learn new customs and ways of doing things. So I figured I’d take a trip to the local massage parlor and test out their wares.
I’d never been to such an establishment before. I really didn’t know what to expect. I went in from the rain, and was greeted by the same old guy who was laying down again. I didn’t know what to say, but I remembered seeing 안마 [ahnma] outside and looking it up. It means massage. So I went in there and this old guy’s looking at me, and I had a hat on this time (to be more discreet, I figured if I was going to become a john, I needed to be discreet about it). I felt a little embaressed about my last time there. I was hoping he wouldn’t remember me.
I doubt he remembered me, but that didn’t really matter, because there I was standing in front of him and I didn’t know what to say again. I could order myself a beer, I could order myself food, I could direct a cab to my apartment, but I didn’t know what to say to a pimp in a brothel, I didn’t know how to order or prostitute or even what I should say in such a situation. So I pulled together what little I knew:
“안마 주세요” (which pretty much means, “Give me a massage”).
The old man led me down the dark hallway with the different rooms. I could see that none of them were occupied because the curtains were all up on them. In each room was an empty bed with a single pillow on it. At the head of each bed was a sink and a mirror. He took me to the end of the hall and then down another hall that led to the left. There were probably around 10 or 12 rooms in the place, all of them empty. I was quiet and cautious, afraid of seeing someone. But no one was there. I didn’t know what to expect and my heart was pumping fast. The adrenaline was flowing, and I was nervous, but ready. He turned the light on inside this little room all the way at the very end of the hall in the room furthest away from his little mat where he slept in the foyer. I thought this would be good—I wouldn’t feel so self conscious about him possibly hearing some sounds that came from the room. I know that during the act, he’d be the last person I’d want to visualize or think about, and knowing that he’s right outside the door would make things difficult.
He took off his shoes and stepped up onto the wooden floor of the room. I did the same. He pulled back the blanket on the bed to show me…well I guess to show me that it was indeed a bed. I took jacket off and sat down on the bed trying to relax myself through my nervousness. Then the old man put up his fingers and said some indecipherable number plus “won”.
It was time to pay the man. He held up 8 of his 10 digits. I stood up to get my wallet out of my back pocket. Standing next to him I realized how much taller than him I was. I also realized that in this little room we were standing pretty close to each other. I tried not to think of that. I tried to think of the hot girl that would come in and take my clothes off. I pulled out a 10,000 won note, thinking he meant 8,000 won. “No” he shook his head and showed me 8 fingers again, this time pointing to my 10,000 won note. He was trying to tell me:
Ouch. That’s a lot. About $80 U.S. dollars. A lot of money for…well I wasn’t even sure. Would I just get a massage? Would I just get a handjob? Or sucked off? Or fucked? Would that cost extra? What if she wasn’t hot? What if she was fucking ugly? Could I get my money back?
Regardless of all this, I didn’t have any money anyway. All I had was 12,000 won, quite shy from the 80,000 this ajjoshi was asking from me.
“What can I get for 12,000 won?” I asked in English, not even trying to say it in Korean. “Huh? What can I get for 12? Handjob?” With my hand I made the international symbol that means ‘handjob’ and he laughed.
“Hehehe!” he laughed from his raspy throat, “Nothing.”
And he laughed at me some more and I could smell the horrible stench of his breath as it came through the gaps in his smile.
Humiliated, I put on my jacket with a feeling of defeat, dressing myself when all I wanted to do was be undressed. The old man stepped off the wood floor and into his slippers. I tried to just shove my feet into my sneakers, but caught the back part of them too far underneath my foot. I struggled to shake and shimmy my foot in. My humiliation and embarrassment surely didn’t help me. The old man ran off. As I got my other foot in, he came back with a shoe horn, which was now unnecessary. I followed him down the hallway again, and just before the lobby there was a doorway with a curtain of beads. This doorway led to a backroom that was dark and only lit with a blue light. Behind the beads I could only see the sillouette of a woman, a tallish, kinda curvy woman, standing there poised and waiting, ready to be told to come out and work. She must have heard me and the commotion I made with the old man.
I walked out and imagined the old man telling her the story,
“Would you believe that silly foreigner? All he had was 12,000 won!!! What did he expect to get with that? A pat on the head?”
I went home feeling even more defeated and confused at this place. I contemplated going down to the ATM and taking out 80,000 no 100,000 won and fucking the shit outta that whore, but no…that was just way too much money to spend on that.
I calmed myself down by jerking off. Sometimes its the only thing you can do. I fell asleep and woke up the next morning–going another day without sex hadn’t killed me. I was still sexually frustrated, that was for sure, but I could live.
Little did I know that in just a few days I’d get laid for my first time in Korea…