Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention.
There's a new guy living in the apartment next door to mine.
Lately I've taken to sitting on the floor in the little area between my kitchen and my bedroom, using the little floor table I've got, because I've discovered a particularly warm spot in the ondol there. This positions me very near my front door, and with my back pressed against his living room wall.
Yesterday morning, as I was having my coffee, I heard a knock on his door and a young female voice chirp out something about "keoppi", using a "nida" (honorific) ending.
A coffee girl?
Read a lot about them, not on purpose, but as a matter of consequence of the general subjects expat men in SK tend to dwell on.
In every society, I guess, there are things you just can't know for sure, unless you experience them directly. Walking home one night, for example, with an unusually candid Korean companion of mine, we passed a second floor building with two spinning barber's poles out front. He seemed as good a person as any to confirm a rumor I'd heard: "What do those poles mean?"
"What, those? Barber shop...."
"Yeah? Just a barber shop? Hm."
"Wae? What did you think?"
"Well, nothing. I was just curious. Because I've heard they're supposed to mean brothel."
"Brothel? What is this?"
"Oh.... oh! Oh, yes, actually. Could be."
Gee. Thanks for the clarification.
Anyway, the general line here with coffee girls is that, after you place a simple phone call, a coffee girl will ride a scooter to your apartment and greet you with a hot cup of coffee and her company for the duration of the cup of coffee.
I'm sure you can see where this is going. In general, I get the feeling it's a bit like the occupation of masseuse back in the States -- it doesn't necessarily imply prostitution at all, but it sure is a convenient front. And rumors fly.
Apparently, on seemingly rarer occasions, there are also coffee boys.
I dunno. I don't know what my preoccupation with the sex industry is. I think it's a pretty interesting lens to view society through, and I think it is almost always way, way oversimplified when people decide to try to talk about it -- always tinted by what position the speaker takes (for or against) and how directly involved (as buyer or seller) the individual is.
And then there is the overwhelming habit of just not talking about it.
I'm not as interested in the obviously exploitative sex trade, where people in dire poverty are forced into devastating circumstances. I have my own opinions about that, and don't find anything about it fascinating at all. What I'm talking about is not the sex trade, but the sex industry. If that makes any sense. People who have a decent chance at life to begin with, but genuinely choose the sex industry, for one reason or another. They seem to me to be a breed apart, often crushingly intelligent and intuitive nearly to a fault about human emotion, psychology, be that from the experiences they've had in the industry, or just a natural inclination. And they seem to be people who know the true weight of bare-bones honesty.
This is all leading to something, I'm sure, although I haven't the foggiest what, yet....