Closing time at HeliosA man in Belfast, referring to all the violence there, once said, “Anyone who isn’t confused here doesn’t really understand what’s going on.”
The same could have been said for Itaewon last week, when the neighborhood swelled with foreigners in town for the Chuseok holidays, and some Irishmen got pounded on for no good reason.
If you’ve lived in Seoul for a few years you know the Chuseok routine ― the city empties out as Koreans return to their hometowns to honor their elders and ancestors.
But the opposite happens in Itaewon. During Chuseok, foreigners living in other parts of the peninsula, mostly factory workers and English teachers, all come here and pack into local yeogwan and living rooms.
Most of last week’s swelling comprised workers from places like Pakistan, Algeria and the Philippines, who clustered at night outside the big clubs. Some had their Korean girlfriends hanging off them. Others were on the prowl, telling bar girls they were from Spain or Greece in an attempt to dodge negative stereotypes.
With that confusion of ethnicity all drunk and teeming and seething, combined with the usual contingents of American GIs and Russians, it’s remarkable how civil everything remained.
Except for one incident, that is, down at the upscale club Helios.
We heard from an ear-to-the-ground type that on Saturday morning, a little after 3 a.m., a brawl broke out on the sidewalk outside Helios, with a bunch of Korean bouncers punishing a group of English teachers from Ireland.
Curious, we went to Helios the next night, and were able to get an account of the donnybrook from an eyewitness, a bartender there.
She said it all began when closing time came, and the Irishmen were loath to drink up and leave. “They asked us for one more song, so we played one more song ― we did them a favor,” she explained.
But the manager at Helios, evidently, was ticked off by something. “He speaks fluent English, and he heard them using bad language toward him and the bar,” the bartender said.
The manager grabbed a club and started banging it around. “It wasn’t a baseball bat, just a stick,” the bartender said. The local rent-a-thugs, who’d been called in, swept the teachers down the stairs and out the door.
Our eyewitness wisely chose to stay inside, but was able to see a little of what happened next. “I went over to the balcony, and saw two or three groups of people fighting, and the security men shooting their gas guns,” she said.
Some of the Irishmen were reportedly bleeding rather badly after the fight, we told her. “That must have been from hitting the ground,” she said.
Satisfied, we finished our Hite, paid the tab and thanked the bartender for her time.
Walking out, we tried to understand the situation, and what to learn from it: If you go to Helios, find out when it’s closing and get out well in advance? Or don’t go at all?
We’re confused here.
by Mike Ferrin