Itaewon is a foreigner enclave in the center of Seoul that evokes a quality similar to Tijuana’s Revolution Avenue: by day, stalls and storefronts line the streets full of slogging marketeers bargaining with tourists over knock-off Louis Vuitton handbags; by night, it’s drunken bedlam. The alleyways leading to the small back-streets, away from the main thoroughfare that cuts through the center of the area, are like narrow arteries that can be inviting in the way that a tourist trap lures a conventional visitor looking for more deals, or they can be provoking in a manner that arouses a young sailor snooping for fun. Many expatriates who’ve lived in Seoul for some time know Itaewon in varying degrees: charming, warm and welcoming, hedonistic, debaucherous.
On a late Saturday afternoon, the mood is sober, an almost urban tranquility. It’s a pleasant setting for people-watching from the second floor of a Starbucks while sipping an Americano. Fast forward twelve hours to the near-dawn moments of Sunday morning and the scene is in stark contrast; streets teem with indisposed young men, lives of the party just a few hours prior, zig-zagging down sidewalks struggling to carry themselves. Others, philanderers up to the last desperate minute, emerge from bars and clubs pondering the next stop to try their hand at hope for a hook-up; some get lucky. A favorite thing to do was to hop on the last train to Itaewon (the subway stopped running at midnight), arrive at 12:30 A.M., and party buck-wild until sunrise. We’d hop back on the subway, get home after an hour’s ride, then sleep all day.