A tip for newcomers: Beware of the bookstore predators

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A tip for newcomers: Beware of the bookstore predators

I love bookstores. On Sundays I’ll spend five or six hours in one, reading the first 10 pages of one book, then the first 10 of another. Seoul has some excellent bookstores with impressive English-language book sections. But there’s one I’ll never go to again: the Kyobo Bookstore in downtown Seoul.
Why am I afraid of Kyobo? Because whenever I go there, I get attacked.
You see, I like to be alone and undisturbed in bookstores. Unfortunately, I can’t be alone and undisturbed at Kyobo. Someone always disturbs me.
If I’m reading a Shakespeare play and am lost in reveries, I know that before long an ostensibly friendly person, usually an older Korean man, will intrude. He’ll politely introduce himself and ask me to sit down and have a coffee with him.
So what’s wrong with that?
Nothing, if that’s all there was to it, a friendly conversation.
But these bookstore haunters are often trying to inveigle an English lesson, I’ve learned.
So what’s wrong with that?
Nothing, if that’s all there was to it, a friendly English lesson.
But many of them go beyond that.
The first time I went to Kyobo, when I had only been in Seoul for a few weeks, a charming, gracious man asked me to have coffee with him. He told me that he wanted his children to learn English from a native speaker, like me, and that he could pay me a lot of money to tutor them. A lot of money.
He described his children to me, and they sounded like perfect little angels. We agreed on a tentative schedule, and an outrageous wage, and he told me that he would call me soon to finalize everything.
I left the bookstore elated. What luck!
I was in high spirits for a few days, computing how much more money I would make during my year here in Seoul. But a few days passed, and the man never called.
I went back to Kyobo regularly, and it kept happening. An affable, well-dressed gentleman would approach me and ask, “Where are you from?” Then he’d sit me down and tell me that he wanted me to teach his children, or his nephews. On to the game, I would nod impassively and say, “Yeah, sure, just call me.”
And he never would.
Now, if I even think about going to Kyobo, I get bookstore anxiety. I’m afraid that at any moment somebody is going to offer to buy me coffee and tell me about bogus tutoring jobs.
Luckily, Seoul has plenty of other bookstores. I recommend the Libro in the Euljiro 1-ga subway station, on the No. 2 line. Its English section isn’t as good as Kyobo’s. But I haven’t been accosted there yet.

The writer, from Chicago, is an English teacher in Seoul.


by Gregory Goetz
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