[ITAEWON WANDERINGS]Love now, asylum later

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[ITAEWON WANDERINGS]Love now, asylum later

There's been a change of plan. This week's column was going to be about the Halloween parties in Itaewon last weekend. But there weren't any. I could still write about Itaewon, Halloween and last weekend, but the theme would be The Most Embarrassing Moment of My Life.

Bit of advice No. 1: Before you go to a costume party, call to make sure there is one.

So the theme of this piece has been changed at the last minute and at great expense to My Best Itaewon Story.

Itaewon stories are great because they often start like this: "I was sitting in that bar Hollywood, before it became La Tavola, with two Latvian dancers, a couple of Korean mafia types, the son of the Chilean ambassador and his Venezuelan girlfriend, and another guy, a Bulgarian lion-tamer."

My Favorite Itaewon Story goes like this: Back in 1994, when Itaewon's Hooker Hill was still the place for expats to be, Colin was the guy to know. Colin was Libyan, and had come to Korea on one of those pay-Third-World-saps-peanuts-to-do-the-jobs-Koreans-look-down-their-noses-at working visas.

Colin, who looked like a young Moammar Gadhafi mellowed by a boyhood spent smoking hash, was too clever and charming to break his back in a factory job. Before long he fled all that and took odd jobs in the bars on the hill. He even taught a few English classes. He was the type of guy everyone knew and loved.

One night I was sitting in Hollywood, the old one, at a table with my friend Keisha, a pretty, smart and bubbly American girl who was teaching down in Jeonju and came up to Seoul every other weekend. Colin was at the bar, and called me over. He had to meet this girl. I introduced him to her. Fireworks went off.

Smitten, Colin changed within days. He gave up smoking and drinking, and started going to the mosque. Meanwhile, Keisha came up every weekend.

Colin, after about a month of religious piety, asked Keisha to come to the mosque with him, and she agreed. Once inside, Colin sat down with her and a cleric, who proceeded to marry them.

Afterward, Colin and Keisha called to tell me the news. I asked Keisha, "How do you feel about this, his tricking you into a marriage?" She said, "I'm in shock, but I feel pretty good."

That night a big group gathered to drink to the new couple. "What are you going to do next?" everybody asked. "We don't know," Colin and Keisha said. Keisha had called her parents in Philadelphia to tell them they had a Libyan son-in-law, and they were none too happy.

Two weeks later I learned that Colin had had a plan after all. He and Keisha called me from Vancouver, where he had just applied for political asylum. He had got-ten on a plane at Gimpo Airport by putting his photo in his British friend's passport. Then he told immigration officials in Canada that he was wanted in Libya for drug charges. I told him to call me back, so I could keep tabs on him.

He never did, and I don't know where they are now.

Bit of advice No. 2: Before you go to the mosque with your boyfriend, call the imam to see what he's got on his schedule that day.



"Itaewon Wanderings" appears Tuesdays in the JoongAng Daily.


by Mike Ferrin

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