South Korea's fast financial growth has actually suggested some startling changes within its conventional social structure, consisting of the surge of supposed host bars, where wealthy ladies pay the equivalent of countless bucks for male firm.
In the dim light of a below ground room, a dozen completely groomed boys kneel in rows, calling out their names.
Muscular, with glossy boy-band hairdos, they pack side by side right into the narrow space, awaiting us to make our choice. Outside in the corridor, more of their colleagues are showing up for an additional evening at work. It is 2am, and also we are their very first consumers.
Surprise beneath the pavements of Seoul's ritziest postcode, Gangnam, the males at Bar 123 belong to an expanding market, which grew out of the lengthy traditions of Japanese geisha and also Korea's kisaeng homes but with one crucial difference - the clients below are all females.
Known as "host bars", these all-night drinking areas supply women customers the possibility to pay and choose for male buddies, often at a price of thousands of extra pounds an evening.
One of the women I satisfy at Bar 123 is Minkyoung, a waitressing manager for a five-star hotel. She states she concerns host bars one or two times a month.
Minkyoung is very pretty as well as her garments are immaculate. She does not look like a person that would certainly need to spend for male company. But the allure of host bars can be refined. Right here, she states, she has even more attention from her male companions, even more choice and also, crucially, more control.
" In normal bars the men who consume with me have just one goal - to have an one-night stand. I do not want that, so that's why I come right here, I desire to have fun," she says.
Hosts are worked with by bars similar to this one to supply friendship and enjoyment. Formally that implies pouring drinks for their customers, dancing as well as talking with them, and also vocal singing karaoke.
Host bar in Seoul
Sex is not formally available in the majority of host bars. That would be illegal yet also Minkyoung seems satisfied to touch as well as flirt with her host, and the men below approximate that around half the clients wish to spend for sex, either on or off the facilities.
James has actually been functioning at Bar 123 for a couple of years. In Korean society, he says, there is a whole lot of pride as well as bargaining a price for sex is never done explicitly. Rather, he informs me, it is all to the host's very own analysis.
" The men here are pros - we understand what we're doing," he claims.
" After speaking with a girl for a hr we generally know just how much money she makes and what she does for a living. We've already evaluated her character as well as what she's prepared to give."
James and other hosts say their customers consist of some of South Korea's elite, which the money and perks on deal are astonishing. One customer James fulfilled, throughout his very first week in the task, asked him to sign himself over to her for two years.
" She stated 'let's make a contract. I've obtained this notepad and I've numbered it 1-5. Whatever you create down alongside those numbers, I'll get you.'".
James states at the time he took it as a joke but because figured out the same female spent ₤ 60,000 ($ 97,000) on another host.
" If it happened currently, I 'd do it - I would certainly be thinking straight.".
Actually perhaps, host bars expanded out of one of Korea's most established and also, some claim, misogynist service traditions - the room beauty parlor. These are exclusive drinking rooms where teams of men pick, as well as are offered by, eye-catching female people hosting.
It was the people hosting' requirement to let off steam after job, claims veteran host Kim Dong-hee, that developed the preliminary need for host bars, with all-male personnel.
These girls are forced to do points they don't want to do for money.
" I assume a whole lot of them are in pain, as well as a lot feel lonely. Merely put, they wish to purchase our time and our bodies.".
People hosting still make up a big percentage of the clients at host bars here, however at Bar 123, for instance, as much as 40% of the consumers on an offered evening are now from various other walks of life.
The factors for that expanding allure are bound in South Korea's fast financial surge. Within 50 years, the nation shifted from post-war destruction to OECD participant.
According to Jasper Kim, head of the Asia-Pacific Global Research Group in Seoul, something crucial was lost along the way.
" I think that with all this rapid growth comes quick adjustment, as well as Koreans just don't understand how to cope with it. Significantly, commercialism is surpassing fundamental social norms that you would anticipate a number of years earlier.".
Jasper Kim says South Korea's infamously lengthy functioning hrs have actually left numerous Korean females really feeling lonesome, while the country's technical advance has left many individuals feeling detached.
" The human aspect of Korean culture that existed in the past merely does not exist today. Individuals are concentrated on technology, individuals are concentrated on their jobs, they aren't concentrated on human relationships any longer.
" In lots of ways, Korean culture today kind of advises me of 1960s society in the United States, where it's on the edge of some kind of social change.".
The grandfather of Seoul's host bar scene, Kim Dong-hee, agrees that a lot of the women who concern host bars are not paying for sex however for friendship, which is why he opened a brand-new chain of freshly-marketed outlets targeted at the mainstream market - called Red Model Bars.
Red Model Bar hosts.
Hosts at Red Model Bars can not touch customers.
" Men intend to have aesthetic enjoyment as well as intend to really feel points, they're responsive. Females like to talk and also to pay attention. And that's why I assumed of opening a bar such as this - a type of discussion bar.".
Red Model Bars are various to typical host bars in one essential regard - there is a no-touching rule. Hosts rest on one side of the table, consumers on the other, and no physical contact is permitted, and definitely no sex.
Possibly because of this there is an absence of furtiveness amongst the people who function or drink below - the lights are low, the decoration generally dark red as well as the room is separated right into discreet booths, yet it is an open-plan space and hosts as well as consumers are separated in each booth by a huge table.
This new business model depends completely on females paying the equivalent of hundreds and even thousands of bucks to speak with good-looking young guys over a drink. Still, it seems to be working - 3 new branches are because of open this year.
Resting at a table at one end of bench was just one of their regular customers, a flower shop called Kim Nayu. She informs me she comes here on a daily basis to satisfy her preferred host and also discuss problems she is having at job.
The price for this slice of male focus is $487-650 (₤ 300-400) a day.
" Talking to good friends would be less costly" she admits, "yet they do not listen as much. They're active, as well as in a rush to speak about themselves. Here, individuals will take note of me and also they'll listen to me.".
" I spend a great deal of money but it's worth it wherefore I get emotionally. People pay to head to see a psychologist or psychoanalyst, so it's similar but less stressful.".
Nayu's preferred host Sung-il says it can be tough to keep his specialist and personal life separate.
" Honestly I 'd be existing if I say I have not been attracted to take points better with some clients, because we're human, we're men, however there are guidelines.".
Among his clients yapped to her spouse about him and also when the three of them fulfilled, Sung-il as well as the husband came to be buddies.
" No one hides - the workers don't hide that they work here, and customers can be open as well.".
This visibility is posing a brand-new type of challenge to South Korean society, various from the sometimes seedy underworld of conventional host bars as well as their hinterland of male prostitution.
By offering females a "respectable" way to test traditional sex duties and also bend their economic power, these new bars ask concerns of Korean society that are ending up being more difficult to overlook.
Listen to the full report on BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents. You can listen through the Radio 4 site or through the Crossing Continents podcast.판교룸싸롱
The attraction of host bars can be subtle. Right here, she states, she has more attention from her male companions, more option as well as, crucially, more control.
James has been working at Bar 123 for a pair of years. Instead, he informs me, it is all down to the host's own analysis.
And also that's why I assumed of opening a bar like this - a kind of dialogue bar.".