For room salon fans, it's quite a site

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For room salon fans, it's quite a site

December is the month for year-end parties and reunions. It's also the busiest season at room salons, where men often go after get-togethers to keep the party going.

Married women may not like the idea, but there are thousands of room salons in Seoul alone. And these bars are not your typical watering holes -- they are strictly for men, and included in their high prices is the companionship of giggling young hostesses.

Unsurprisingly, in a country that has online clubs for everything, an Internet site for room salons is up, www.vip24.com. Go to the site's directory, arranged in a map format, and click on an area. You'll see a list of all the salons in that area, with addresses, phone numbers, prices and photos. Click your way to the Gangnam district alone and 253 salons come up. One typical such salon, Kaos, charges a minimum of 270,000 won ($225) for two men, which includes a small bottle of whiskey, side dishes, soft drinks and a couple of new friends. But don't enter there thinking you'll get out with only that damage to your credit card. An evening can easily run to 10 times that amount.

An employee at a room salon in Gangnam, Choi Hyun-woo, 28, said the Web site brings in perhaps half the club's business. The site provides more than basic information; it also has a "community" of members and a place where they can post messages.

One thing the male members of the site like to do is what they call a "lightning bolt." One will ask if anybody wants to join him for a session at a room salon. Another will agree. Then they pick a salon and a time to meet, the sooner the better.

Over at the site's message board is the other side of the story, as the women who work in the salons tell about their experiences, hopes, and frustrations.

One hostess, with the member name "Star," said in a post: "Although I'm really hungover now, I feel stronger because I'm earning a lot of money. It's good that we have this site where we can encourage each other."

Another complained about a particularly rude group of customers: "I've been doing this for two years, but this is the first time I've been asked to do something that was more than weird."

The only thing conspicuously missing from the site is advice for men to follow to make sure they don't go home with lipstick on their collars.

by Lee Ho-jeong

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