Locate out more concerning women-only host bars in Gangnam, Korea
South Korea's quick financial advancement has actually indicated some shocking changes within its conservative social structure, consisting of the surge of so-called host bars, where well-off ladies pay the matching of hundreds of dollars for male company.
In the dark light of a below ground room, a lots flawlessly brushed boys kneel in rows, calling out their names.
Muscular, with shiny boy-band hairstyles, they stuff side by side into the slim space, waiting for us to make our selection. Outside in the passage, more of their associates are arriving for another evening at the office. It is 2am, and also we are their first clients.
Hidden beneath the sidewalks of Seoul's ritziest postcode, Gangnam, the males at Bar 123 belong to a growing market, which outgrew the lengthy customs of Japanese geisha and Korea's kisaeng houses but with one vital difference - the clients here are all females.
Recognized as "host bars", these all-night drinking rooms supply women consumers the possibility to pay and select for male friends, occasionally at a cost of thousands of pounds a night.
Among the women I satisfy at Bar 123 is Minkyoung, a waitressing supervisor for a first-class hotel. She claims she comes to host bars once or twice a month.
Minkyoung is really rather and also her clothes are immaculate. She does not look like someone who would require to pay for male company. But the attraction of host bars can be refined. Here, she says, she has more attention from her male companions, even more choice and also, most importantly, even more control.
" In routine bars the individuals that drink with me have just one goal - to have a casual sex. But I don't desire that, so that's why I come right here, I intend to have fun," she states.
Hosts are worked with by bars like this one to supply friendship and home entertainment. Formally that means pouring beverages for their customers, chatting as well as dancing with them, and also singing karaoke.
Host bar in Seoul
Sex is not officially on offer in the majority of host bars. That would be illegal yet also Minkyoung appears satisfied to flirt and touch with her host, as well as the guys below estimate that around half the clients wish to pay for sex, either on or off the premises.
James has actually been working at Bar 123 for a number of years. In Korean culture, he states, there is a whole lot of pride and also bargaining a cost for sex is never ever done clearly. Instead, he tells me, it is all to the host's very own evaluation.
" The guys right here are pros - we recognize what we're doing," he states.
" After chatting to a girl for a hr we essentially know just how much cash she makes and also what she does for a living. We've already analysed her personality and what she wants to offer."
James and various other hosts state their customers include several of South Korea's elite, and also that the cash and also benefits on deal boggle the mind. One client James fulfilled, during his first week in the job, asked him to authorize himself over to her for 2 years.
" She said 'let's make a contract. I've got this item of paper and I've numbered it 1-5. Whatever you compose down alongside those numbers, I'll get you.'".
James claims at the time he took it as a joke however given that figured out the very same female invested ₤ 60,000 ($ 97,000) on one more host.
" If it occurred currently, I 'd do it - I 'd be believing straight.".
Actually perhaps, host bars grew out of one of Korea's most established as well as, some say, misogynist company practices - the space beauty parlor. These are private drinking areas where groups of guys select, and also are offered by, attractive female people hosting.
It was the hostesses' requirement to allow off heavy steam after job, says expert host Kim Dong-hee, that produced the first demand for host bars, with all-male personnel.
" What these hostesses want is to [make us] do the same thing they had to carry out in their own work environment. These girls are required to do points they don't intend to do for cash.
" I assume a great deal of them are in pain, and also a great deal really feel lonesome. Basically, they wish to acquire our time as well as our bodies.".
People hosting still compose a large percent of the customers at host bars right here, yet at Bar 123, for instance, up to 40% of the clients on an offered night are now from other strolls of life.
The reasons for that growing appeal are locked up in South Korea's quick financial rise. Within 50 years, the country changed from post-war destruction to OECD member.
However, according to Jasper Kim, head of the Asia-Pacific Global Research Group in Seoul, something important was lost along the road.
" I believe that with all this rapid growth comes rapid adjustment, as well as Koreans simply don't know just how to manage it. Progressively, industrialism is overtaking standard societal standards that you would certainly expect a pair of years earlier.".
Jasper Kim states South Korea's notoriously lengthy working hrs have left many Korean women feeling lonely, while the nation's technical breakthrough has actually left many individuals feeling removed.
" The human aspect of Korean culture that existed in the past merely doesn't exist today. People are focused on innovation, individuals are concentrated on their work, they aren't concentrated on human relationships any longer.
" In many means, Korean society today sort of advises me of 1960s culture in the United States, where it's on the brink of some sort of cultural change.".
The grandfather of Seoul's host bar scene, Kim Dong-hee, concurs that many of the women that pertain to host bars are not paying for sex however for friendship, which is why he opened up a new chain of freshly-marketed outlets focused on the mainstream market - called Red Model Bars.
Red Model Bar hosts.
Hosts at Red Model Bars can not touch clients.
" Men wish to have visual satisfaction and also intend to really feel things, they're tactile. Females like to chat and also to pay attention. And also that's why I thought about opening a bar such as this - a sort of discussion bar.".
Red Model Bars are different to standard host bars in one crucial respect - there is a no-touching policy. Hosts sit on one side of the table, consumers on the various other, and no physical call is allowed, as well as definitely no sex.
Probably as a result there is an absence of furtiveness amongst individuals who function or consume here - the lights are low, the decoration mainly dark red and the space is separated into very discreet booths, yet it is an open-plan space and also clients and also hosts are split in each booth by a big table.
This brand-new company design depends entirely on women paying the equivalent of hundreds and even hundreds of dollars to speak to fine-looking young males over a beverage. Still, it appears to be functioning - 3 brand-new branches are because of open this year.
Resting at a table at one end of the bar was one of their routine clients, a floral designer called Kim Nayu. She tells me she comes right here every day to meet her favourite host and also go over problems she is having at job.
The rate for this slice of male interest is $487-650 (₤ 300-400) a day.
" Talking to buddies would certainly be less costly" she confesses, "yet they don't listen as much. They're hectic, and quickly to speak about themselves. Right here, individuals will take note of me as well as they'll listen to me.".
" I spend a great deal of money yet it deserves it of what I get emotionally. Individuals pay to head to see a psycho therapist or psychiatrist, so it's similar yet much less stressful.".
Nayu's preferred host Sung-il says it can be hard to keep his personal and specialist life separate.
" Honestly I 'd be lying if I say I haven't been tempted to take things even more with some customers, due to the fact that we're human, we're guys, but there are policies.".
One of his clients yapped to her hubby concerning him and when the 3 of them met, Sung-il and also the spouse came to be buddies.
" No one hides - the workers do not hide that they function right here, as well as consumers can be open too.".
This visibility is posing a new type of difficulty to South Korean society, different from the in some cases shabby abyss of standard host bars and also their hinterland of male prostitution.
By using ladies a "reputable" method to test conventional sex duties as well as flex their financial power, these brand-new bars ask inquiries of Korean culture that are coming to be tougher to overlook.
Listen to the full report on BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents. You can pay attention by means of the Radio 4 internet site or through the Crossing Continents podcast.
The appeal of host bars can be subtle. Here, she says, she has more interest from her male buddies, even more option and also, most importantly, more control.
James has been working at Bar 123 for a pair of years. Rather, he tells me, it is all down to the host's very own analysis.
And that's why I thought of opening up a bar like this - a kind of discussion bar.".