X-rated and X-tremely mad

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X-rated and X-tremely mad

ILSAN - Once a quiet residential neighborhood in Goyang City, about 20 kilometers northwest of Seoul, this city has turned into a major hub for adult entertainment businesses. Bright neon lights blaze the names of love hotels and nightclubs late into the night ?names like "Hotel California," "Sweet Dreams" and "Rome" decorate one block after another. On summer evenings, nightclubs hold special parades, featuring Russian barmaids in miniskirts marching through the same streets where parents often take their children grocery shopping.

It's not unusual for Ilsan mothers to tell their children, "Make sure you get off the elevator on the right floor." Buildings in this area commonly hold a variety of businesses, and an English-language institute might be located a floor above a nightclub or a floor below a massage parlor.

Kim Su-mi, a seven-year resident of Ilsan and representative of a local civic group opposed to the recent changes, is disgusted by what she's seen: "It's a total failure of city planning."

For centuries Ilsan was a rural agricultural community. About 10 years ago, the area experienced a development boom and almost overnight, it seemed, Ilsan became a "new" city. Today it has a population of 440,000.

Four years ago, the X-rated situation in Ilsan was barely in evidence. There were a few restaurants and one or two hotels near the subway stations, just as in many other areas of town. "We were not overly concerned," Ms. Kim says, "because we thought there needs to be some sort of accommodations for people who missed the last subway train."

But with the city's rapid growth came undesirable elements. The signs soon became obvious. First, the hotels built high fences around their parking lots to protect the privacy of guests. People reported seeing middle-aged men with teenage girls in tow entering the hotels. After a lengthy investigation by the residents, Ilsan citizens discovered that license plates from cars whose owners patronized the nightclubs often matched those at the hotel parking lots - a sign that the two venues were creating an unsavory environment.

Three years have passed since the residents of Ilsan teamed up with local civic groups, particularly the Coalition Against the Construction of Love Hotels, and declared war against the city planners and officials who allowed love hotels and adult entertainment businesses near schools and residential neighborhoods. By law, schools are supposed to have a safety zone of 200 meters from adult entertainment businesses, but the establishments frequently flout those rules.

One example in Ilsan that caused a huge uproar took place when city officials allowed two love hotels to operate only 120 meters from Jangsung Elementary School. The officials gave the go-ahead, citing a clause in the law that permitted construction if "no harm will be done to the student's studies and sanitation." It was a clear sign to the residents of Ilsan that the government was not on their side. The mayor of Goyang, Hwang Gyo-sun responded by saying "It wasn't against our law to give permission to love hotels."

"You must have heard," Ms. Kim says, "that a frog doesn't know how high his body temperature has risen just before he dies. I think we are in a similar situation. We've gone way beyond our boundaries of tolerance. People are numb and desensitized." She and many others have worked hard to ban love hotels from their neighborhoods, but she remains pessimistic. "Most residents have almost given up," she says, "because there haven't been any realistic changes since the movement began."

According to Ms. Kim, however, love hotels are a minor evil compared to some of the more extremely decadent businesses that have been emerging in this part of town. New and more salacious options are appearing - strip clubs and yuribang, rooms where illicit acts occur partitioned by a large pane of glass - attract hundreds of revelers every night.

During one late evening last week in Daehwa-dong, downtown Ilsan, where many bars and love hotels are densely clustered within a few blocks, a group of female students from the nearby Baeksuk High School had dropped into a Baskin Robbins and curiously watched a drunken man and a Russian barmaid walk into a motel together. Although it's a common sight in Ilsan, it still amazes people like the owner of the Baskin Robbins, Choi Myung-shin. "I don't know what we are teaching to our children," Ms. Choi says. "I really don't know."

Another resident who moved to Ilsan seven years ago says: "We park our cars here every Sunday when we go to a church a few blocks away. When we come back from the service, there are obscene promotional fliers from the nearby strip clubs and bars on our car windows. I don't know what to say to my 11-year-old son when he asks me what they are. Even as an adult, I find it difficult to understand this duality."

Baeksuk-dong, until recently, was an area less exposed to the adult entertainment businesses than other Ilsan neighborhoods, but now a massive new nightclub is being built - one of Asia's biggest and the most luxurious, according to its owner. Complaints from the area's residents have put a halt to the project for the moment. They are demanding that the city of Ilsan repurchase the land and turn it into a library or a social center for the elderly.

"People say we are against this plan because of the real estate value," Ms. Kim says. "But that's not even part of our concern. If a nightclub settles in this area, our children will be facing some real dangers. Why do we have to put up with that?" Moreover, if the nightclub opens in Baeksuk-dong, the residents worry that the area will quickly develop into the next pleasure haunt in Ilsan. Already four love hotels operate here. It is a pattern residents have seen in Daehwa-dong and Madu-dong.

Meanwhile, trouble continues to brew. Last month, an 8-year-old Ilsan girl was raped in her home by three high school students. Students surveyed indicate that 51 percent of high school students in Ilsan have gone to a love hotel or an adult entertainment club in the area.

"Frankly speaking," Ms. Kim says, "I don't blame the motel owners. I am sure their intentions were innocent. After all, they are all here to earn some money. This is more of an institutional failure. We are so disappointed in the city officials because they have created this mess and aren't doing anything about it."

by Park Soo-mee

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