Monday, October 03, 2005

Texas Street

One of the nice things about the Web is that, potentially, nothing's ever lost (actually, this can be a bad thing too, but I digress ;) ). I had been thinking that I'd like to put two old essays of mine on this blog. However, the essays are not on my computer's hard drive (or any of my thumb drives). Solution? Retrieve the essays from a website (PusanWeb) where I'd had them published several years ago. Amazingly, the essays are still there (alhamdulillah).

This first essay, "Texas Street," is about my visit one night to an historically famous neighborhood in Busan, only for me to discover that it wasn't quite what I expected it to be.

Recently, we had a new student show up at the Institute, a young woman from Ukraine, I believe. The woman's presence caused a small stir among the Western teachers, in part because of the novelty of having a non-Korean student at the school and also because this woman was amply endowed. (Korea is, after all, the Land of the A-Cup, and the Ukrainian woman's bra had to be at least a C-Cup.)

After the young woman left the teacher's office, I jokingly suggested that the Institute should put up some recruiting posters along Texas Street. Perhaps we could get some new students among the Russian hookers. While we considered that idea, the thought struck me that I myself didn't know exactly where Texas Street was or what it looked like. So, on the next Saturday night, I decided to pay a visit.

Texas Street, of course, originally got its name from the Americans, but the area, officially called the "Choryang Shopping Area for Foreigners," is predominantly Russian now. There is also a growing number of Chinese there as the Shanghai Gate (Sanghaemoon) is located one block southwest of the uglier CSAF Gate. According to one of my tourist maps of Busan, Texas Street is now known as "Shanghae Street." However, despite the crazy quilt work of Russian, Chinese and Korean influences, the "Texas Street" name prevails.

Now one of the things I love about Busan is its incredible nightlife. There are a number of neighborhoods in the city - Seomyeon, Nampodong, the areas around Busan National University, Bukyung National University and Kyung Sung University - where there's an almost palpable energy flowing through the streets. Tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) walk around, shop, dance, eat, drink, and sing in the equivalent of neighborhood-wide block parties every night, no matter what the weather. It's the type of street scene that American merchants and politicians salivate for.

Which is why my visit to Texas Street was so depressing. There was hardly anyone there at all. Walking along several blocks in each direction, I saw perhaps two hundred people at the most. Many shops were open, but each had only a few, if any, customers. A few Russian hookers walked the streets, dressed in heavy coats and short skirts. They were mostly middle-aged women, perhaps a few years older than me, and not terribly attractive. Looking through the open doors and windows into the bars and restaurants, I saw few patrons (except at the Chinese restaurants). A few Russian women sat in chairs next to the open doorways. "Come, come," they would beckon, but I felt like a moth trying to be seduced by spiders and I continued to walk on.

I felt the most pity for the few Koreans working there. One woman, standing next to a credit card application table, seemed to have few prospects for the night. Another woman sat behind an empty food cart, the only one in this neighborhood in a city filled with hundreds of food carts. As I walked by, she said "Hello," and I said "Hello" back to her. For a second, I almost went over to buy something from her, me feeling so bad that she had no other customers, but I was already beginning to feel uneasy and I walked on. (A few minutes later, I walked by her again. A few men had stopped by to eat some of her food, and I felt a little bit better for her.)

After about fifteen minutes of walking around, I had had enough. I began to long for the company of Koreans, so I returned to the subway station and took the next train for Nampodong, two short stops away from Texas Street.

Copyright 2001 by John J. Dunne

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