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Shopping at a big Korean outlet in the middle of a day situated right in the middle of the week is akin to being in a foreign country within a foreign country. A visiting alien would think that Korea is 90% homemaker, 10% other if he were to consider the employees and patrons to be representative of greater Korea.
Usually, I have a very specific list of things to buy in these places and get in and out with surgical precision. It’s a guy thing; our brains are wired like that. I’m too aware that the more time I spend there, the greater the chance of buying things I don’t need. The only department where I let my linear economic logic slip is in the beer and wine section.
Also, the longer I stay in one of these stores and observe, the less disposed I become to nesting. Now matter how painfully solicitous the ajumma clerks are, I can’t help but think that out on the street, I’m just another bag of bones for them to dig their elbows into. And the way the foraging housewives visually molest products like they’re looking at porn is off-putting. Granting a lifetime sponsorship award to one of these gals is just not for me, and won’t be for a long time.
In fact, being in this environment frequently reminds me to re-up on homemaker prophylactics, which are sold right in the store.
This Lotte Outlet in Gwangju has various elaborate Japanese condoms for your exacting pleasure as well as good ole durex rubbers. FYI, the jeans rubbers are, well, almost as thick as jeans. They’re definitely secure but you won’t be able to read the braille on elevator buttons with them the way I like to. The Japanese sheaths are better suited for that aberrant hobby of mine, even when taking blood constriction into consideration.
It always surprises me how closely the toiletries/detergents/shampoos/soaps & condoms section is guarded at this particular Lotte store. There were eight—E I G H T—ajumma clerks guarding only six shelves. Half were actually there to help you out and the other half were there to watch over the whole process like ground personnel on a casino floor. Part of the reason is because condoms are a frequently stolen item.
The ajummas’ chatter was incessant and even sounded a little euphoric to me. I wonder if all the ajumma employees jockey to be placed in that section whenever possible. There’s probably a mild high that comes from standing and chatting in the domestic chemistry section all day. It probably feels like low-intensity huffing, which I’d line up for too if I had to work there.
Have you ever wondered about some of the basic logistics of delivering Korean call girls to and from jobs? Of course you have. Thoughts like this are probably why you regularly check into this living digest of disrepute, this compendium of things better left unsaid. I consider my expatiation on such topics a public service on behalf of those foreigners who think like sinners but live like saints. Here you’ll fit in nicely.
Whore trafficking in some parts of Gwangju, especially during winter when it’s too cold for motorcycle deliveries, is done via the call girl cavalry—a group of youngish taxi drivers who assemble in certain centrally located areas and wait for the signal to shuttle their slatterns to and from sundry Johns. Think of it like a reserve fleet delivering high heels on wheels. Here’s one such corral in the western part of the city, right where highway 12 meets the bustling Sangmu area:
Notice how they’re not in a fixed queue like most idle taxis in Korea. If you try to hop into one of these taxis and bark orders for where to go, the driver will shoo you out. The insides always reek of cheap perfume and cigarettes, and all the seats are made of leather, which makes wiping off nefarious stains much easier. Lots of the upholstery jobs resemble gaudy night club interiors. Some even include mini disco balls hanging from the roof.
Sometimes I like to just hop in and lie prone on the backseat cushion, taking in the variegated scents ground into the seasoned leather seats. Once in a while, I even taste it a little before the driver pulls me out by the ankles onto the street. I repeat this in as many taxis as possible before other drivers get wise and lock the doors. In the rare even that they’re queued like normal taxis, I’ve found that it’s better to sniff seats starting from the back of the queue. You know, catch ‘em by surprise.
One of the ajeossis I had dinner with last night wanted to bounce something he’d long had on his mind off a foreigner to see what it all meant. He’d read a story online about a Korean baseball player going to the States to play in the major leagues and innocently setting off the gay alert by simply exercising Korean culture in the wrong place at the wrong time. It went something like this (translated approximately from Korean):
Concerned Ajeossi: The Korean player was in a bathhouse with his teammates and he asked another player if he wanted his back scrubbed. Koreans do this for each other all the time in bathhouses, even with complete strangers. Is this gay in America?
Me: Yeah, if you don’t understand Korean culture, that could easily be misunderstood by Americans.
Concerned Ajeossi: So if I go to a bathhouse in America, what would happen if I offered to scrub another man’s back?
Me: You might get punched.
Concerned Ajeossi: Really? Oh my God!
Me: No, wait a minute. Actually, we don’t have a strong bathhouse culture in the U.S., so maybe any bathhouse you visit would be full of Koreans, Europeans and gays, with plenty of overlap.
Concerned Ajeossi: Gays???
Me: I’m just guessing, but yeah. Hell, if you ask someone to scrub your back in that situation, you might get more than a back scrubbing.
—Silence and wide-open eyes around the table—
Ajeossis: Shot! (x4)
A little while later, another ajeossi wanted to know what American men would consider out of bounds that Korean men might accidentally do while traveling abroad.
Traveling Ajeossi: What if I get drunk with a friend at a bar in America and we walk out together holding hands? Is that gay?
Me: Way gay.
Traveling Ajeossi: Really? What if I rub his shoulders like this? (rubs my back like we’re in a bathhouse together)
Me: That’s gayish if you don’t do it sarcastically. And you shouldn’t do it more than once.
Traveling Ajeossi: What if I feed my friend?
Me: Like a mother bird feeds her chicks?
Traveling Ajeossi: Yeah, like this… (feeds me something like a nurse feeds an invalid, upturned palm under my chin and all)
Me: Eeeeeeeeh, that’s sort of beyond gay, stretching into perversion.
At that point, I noticed that I’d become a test dummy for what’s gay and what’s not gay and I wasn’t liking it. However, my mention of perversion sparked another ajeossi’s interest. He jumped in with his questions:
Perv Ajeossi: What if I see a cute little kid in the U.S. and want to touch him/her? What would happen?
Me: That’s nuclear. Don’t do that.
Perv Ajeossi: Would that make me a pervert? You know, because sometimes when we see a cute kid here in Korea, we can ask the kid to give us a kiss, even if we’re strangers.
Me: Holy fuck, really? Definitely don’t do that. You’ll get taken to court and then blacklisted as a sex offender for life. If you get jail time, you’ll be in big trouble because prison guys especially hate child molesters. Lots of guys in prison have kids themselves, so… And if you’re in the showers in prison, don’t go around offering to scrub backs. You’ll get penalized hard.
—Again silence and wide-open eyes around the table—
Ajeossis: Shot! (x4)
After seeing the steady stream of piss-poor replacements attempting to court my position as chief paleface, yesterday my boss attempted to buy me out indirectly using the head teacher as her mouthpiece. The terms were that the boss would be willing to give me a 5% raise if I agreed to stay with her another year. That would bring my salary to a level that’s still far lower than any hagwon teacher with experience and self-respect would agree to, and she knows this.
All I could do was brim with a mirthful, shit-eating grin. Actually, the head teacher almost laughed when she delivered the boss’ terms of concession to me. We shared a LOL when I said through a smirk that “She could give me a 50% raise and I wouldn’t stay.” By the way, even the loyal head teacher hates the boss now, too. My recent strife with the queen of bitter queefs has given headsy the strength to admit to herself that she hates the boss and needs to get out, too. We’ve grown closer because of all this.
Overall, this glimmer of compromise isn’t a victory for me; it’s actually a slap in the face. Who else but a sociopath would expect someone to agree to remain unhappy for another year in return for an extra $100 a month? Though disrespectful, at least I got a kick out of the way she tried to save face by using an intermediary rather than get a wad of rejection spit right in her own face. Bitch is sweatin’ a little now and I love it.
To respond in my own indirect way, I’ll be cranking the floor heater in my apartment every day now that I just paid my bills for the last time yesterday. By the time the bills come again, I will have been paid in full and long gone. My goal is to jack the heating bill up to at least 5% of my salary before moving out.