Although prostitution is supposedly still “illegal” in Korea it hasn’t disappeared entirely in places like Daejeon’s seedy labyrinthine underbelly just opposite the train station where ajumoni—acting as agents of the flesh—ply the narrow streets on the look out for possible customers.
And even if it is not as obvious as it once was (I still see on occasion two spinning barber poles—a indication that a guy can get more than a haircut and a shave on the premises) it has either gone underground or manifested its ugliness in other ways, like online for sex tours.
According to a recent article in the Korea Times, “a packaged sex tour to Southeast Asian countries, called the ‘Emperor’s Tour,’ is luring men on the Internet.”
More than 11.6 million Koreans traveled overseas last year, about 25 times that of 1986. Thailand was the third highest destination choice for Koreans with one million tourists, while the Philippines was fifth with 450,000.
At the same time, according to the article there has been a steady rise in Korean men’s sex tours to Southeast Asia. “To make things worse, many of them do bad things and leave an “ugly Korean image.” According to a survey of 116 Thai and Filipino women in the prostitution business conducted by Naeil Women’s Center for Youth Korea, many women criticized Korean men for treating them like sex slaves. Men beat them, called them bad names and played porn videos asking them to re-enact scenes.”
This is nothing new. It’s been a problem that has been increasingly getting worse over the years. And I probably wouldn’t have mentioned this article if it hadn’t been for one of my Korean male students.
The other night in class, this student—a Korean man in his mid 50’s—told me that he was going to Laos for his next vacation.
That’s nice, I told him.
He proceeded to tell me he has a twenty-year-old Laos girlfriend there and that, in his broken English (he can barely put two sentences together) how she was a virgin when he met her and how he hurt her the first time he had sex with her. It was the way that he said it though, like he was bragging how he could have sex with a virgin. I couldn’t understand why he was even bringing this up in class. In fact, he not only said it once, but said it (and again in broken English) two more times.
I asked him if he was going to marry her, trying to change the subject a little.
Oh no, he said. I have a wife in Korea. She can never come here.
Like I said, this student cannot put more than two sentences of English together and probably couldn’t talk his way out of a 7-11, but he ends up in Laos. After I read this article, I wondered if he had joined one of these sex tours.