Hang on tight ― they’re still out thereYou may have noticed that until recently, Itaewon had banners strung up at both ends of its main drag that said, in Korean and English, “Beware of purse-snatchers!”
But the signs are gone now. So has the threat passed? Can we relax and start carrying our bags on the street sides of our bodies again?
“We’ve caught a few guys, but we still get about one case a week,” said an officer at Itaewon’s central police station, who asked that his name not be used.
The purse-snatchings, as is common in many other Asian countries, are usually pulled off by a pair of criminals riding double on a motorcycle, the officer said.
Speeding by an unsuspecting target, the rear rider, with his hands free, grabs away the purse before the victim knows what happened.
So do the culprits target men with handbags as well as women with purses?
“No men, at least not so far,” the officer said. “Only women.”
That’s nice to hear. Where in Itaewon are women most vulnerable to this kind of theft?
“Intersections are where most of the incidents occur,” he said. “They’ve also happened on sections of sidewalk that are wider than average.
“Women should be especially careful when crossing the street, and it’s a good idea for them to carry their purses so that the strap is around their necks,” he said.
Were the purse snatchers who have been caught foreign or Korean?
“They were Korean,” he said. “They tend to be really young guys.”
Now, when you put things in perspective, one incident a week doesn’t seem like anything to get hysterical about.
But don’t tell that to Kim In-suk, an Itaewon resident who until recently bartended at the Russian nightclub Rio, and who will soon start working at the Spy Club.
“I was walking home on that road next to the Limelight club,” she explained. “It was late at night, and I had just been visiting a friend at a bar nearby. Two guys on a motorcycle came up and the next instant my bag was gone.”
The perpetrators were wearing helmets, and were calm and said nothing as they committed the theft, Ms. Kim said, so she couldn’t tell whether they were foreign or Korean.
So how much did they get?
“The really terrible thing was that that was my payday,” she said.
“I lost more than 1 million won [$850], plus they got my handphone and several ID cards.”
These terrible things don’t only happen in Itaewon, of course. Talk to just about any Korean woman, and she’ll tell you how she or a friend had a purse snatched in downtown Seoul, or in Gangnam, or in Incheon.
And always, it seems, by a pair of guys on a motorcycle.
So even if the signs are down, ladies, wherever you are, hold on tight.
by Mike Ferrin