Taking the pulse of a mob

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Taking the pulse of a mob

Have you read the news? The situation is desperate, as usual.
Every few months one of the dailies runs a piece on Itaewon and how bad business has gotten in recent weeks, months or years. But you should be aware of the genesis of the articles.
It goes like this: An editor, having heard from his friend’s cousin’s secretary-in-law that the situation in Itaewon is desperate, will tell a new writer to go there and find out exactly how desperate the situation is. The writer will draw up an outline about how the tourists are no longer coming and the soldiers are no longer drinking. Then he will go to Itaewon, for the first time in his life, and scare up some gloomy quotes.
That’s not hard to do: Koreans are famously humble when it comes to business. Ask one how business is ― he’ll give you that lemon-eating grimace and say “lousy,” even while he’s tidying and cornering six-inch-high stacks of 10,000 won notes.
The economic pulse-feelers here at Itaewon Wanderings hit the streets the other night to do our own survey, but without any orders from the higher-ups dictating what the results would be.
First, we wanted to check if the tourists had vanished. But with the sidewalks so crowded with shopping-bag-laden foreigners, it was hard to see. We ducked into our favorite shirt shop and said hello to the owner, who was tidying and cornering a big stack of 10,000 won notes.
“How’s business?” we asked.
“Terrible,” he said, with that lemon-eating look.
Next we checked if the soldiers had stopped drinking. We skipped the bars that haven’t changed since 1978, and went to a fun and friendly one, Geckos. Up at the counter were tons of soldiers trying to order draft beers, so we were unable to ask the bartenders any survey questions. We went outside and down to another good place, the UN Club. Again, we tried to talk to the bar staff, but they were too busy making goo-goo eyes at the soldiers.
The way to get the gloomy story is to go where nobody is, so we went to the notorious hill. It was empty of foreigners, but had quite a few prospective pollees ― the girlie bars had all their hooks baited. Outside one, Rocky Top, a barely-clad creature accosted us.
“Come in!”
“We’d like to ask you how business is.”
“Come in and I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you everything.”
She took us in the back and had us buy her an extortionately-priced drink. We asked about business, but she, Seon-hee, wanted to talk about “love.” We persisted, and she began to break down. She shot us that lemon-eating look. Still, she refused to talk business, insisting that we first buy her another incredibly overpriced drink.
Alas, our budget was tight, so we had to leave unsatisfied.
The conclusion of the study? There are two Itaewons. There’s Old Itaewon, run by the cynical, defeatist and myopic. Then there’s New Itaewon, run by the upbeat, smart and liberal.
One more thing. We hope our chief editor won’t be too peeved by the article-genesis potshot. We could lose our jobs. Gentle reader, could you check back here next week, just to make sure we’re all right?

by Mike Ferrin
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