The Korean Sex Industry: A Gigolo’s Story

Korean Sex Industry

A gigolo’s true story

Andy, was taking the subway home one day from his summer internship in Seoul. As he exited the subway he noticed a paper advertisement posted on a column in the center of the subway platform. An  uncommon sight, as Korea prides itself on its cleanliness.  The ad was searching for handsome Korean men that wanted to earn extra money in their free time.  Andy copied the number to his Samsung flip phone and continued on his way.

A few days later after dinner Andy called the number. It was answered on the 8th ring by a man who said to come by the next day for an interview. Arriving the following evening at a spot located near the Han river, Andy called the number again outside of the establishment.  The same voice, sounding as if he had just awoken, answered and told him to come down.  Upon arriving in the basement club, which was in a state of closure with the chairs placed upside down on all the tables, and only a few essential lights illuminating the wide space, Andy spotted his contact waiting at a table.  Andy took a seat and the interview started. Greetings were exchanged and the man asked Andy a string of questions. He also asked Andy to stand up, remove his hat and push back his hair.

This short interview was a success, Andy’s new manager, a little madame, told him to come by the club any night except Sundays in formal wear to start work.

Andy possessed the correct physical attributes that allowed him to  fill the taste of the customers. “Women who come to EDEN liked younger men, but not too young”.  They were looking for a pretty boy, not superman. Asian boy band style, minimal body/facial hair, light skin, and a skinny build were definite pluses.  Essentially, these were men that possessed  the correct “oppa” characteristics.  Height was also very important, but variations existed like an ice cream store. With no hourly wage (everything was under the table) and good commission, Andy had found his new part time job.

He arrived that next night around 10, the club technically opened at 9, but customers usually didn’t show up until 12. Sporting a suit and a tie with no jacket, he walked down the stairs into the basement club and was directed to a player room by the little madame who was supervising the entrance.  The player room was simply an unused room similar to a VIP room you see in any club.  It worked very well as a stable of sorts.  Inside, the players would wait until they were needed at a table.  Most people would smoke or text their friends in between jobs. Remember this was before smartphones, so the snake game was the hottest phone game available.  There was also a karaoke machine where players would practice their serenading skills.  On a slow night, the players were able to leave at any time.  Many would simply wait until their friends were doing something and would head out for a night on the town with them. “We never really talked.  The few conversations we had were about ‘big scores’ some of the legends had accomplished.”

A few hours later the players were called out. There was no training, no safety video, no contract to sign or tax forms to fill out.  They just sat around waiting for the first table to arrive. When the customers arrived the little madame would take them to a room.  The luxury of the rooms depended on what the customers wanted.  A typical Korean anju menu (Korean style side dishes consisting of salty snacks) was given to each group with a selection of items that come with the price of the room. The basic fee was around 500,000 KRW, which included 2 bottles of beer per person and 1 bottle of liquor for the group, as well as the company of the players.

Andy walked into the room of seated women with a group of 8 or so fellow players, and they all introduced themselves.  After a few moments, the group of 8 shuffled back to the player room. The little madame who earns around 40% of the tables total sales for the night, took the customers’ order and then informed which players were to be seated at the table. Being Andys first night, he was not seated.  The veterans were.

When the players arrive at the table they simply provide the service of good company. They pour drinks (an odd thing for men to do in Korea culture), chat and sometimes sing songs to the women. They usually arrive in groups of 2-4. Each customer was matched with a player. If a player is seated, he makes 90,000 won for 2 hours of companionship. After 2 hours, if the group had not placed another order, they voluntarily left.

The customers were 90% female – working girls who needed a drink and company after a long day at the salon.  Generally the sets were 1 madame, who was usually in their 30s to 40s, and 2 or 3 of her employes who were in their 20s, and very attractive. “The tables were turned because instead of us paying for their attention, we got paid to hang out with them,” was Andy’s take on the situation.  “Most of the players wanted to get seated next to the young pretty women, but some guys were willing to take the madame, because thats where the money was.”  It was the player’s job to make the women drink more, or to finish their drinks and leave. During this period, if a player was fancied by his women, she would ask him to leave the club with her to attend to her “needs” at a location of her choosing.  They would negotiate the fee of the players‘ “additional companionship” after they had left the club.  The  older female madames paid the most.

Many times the younger women received “special companionship” for free. “It was payment enough to sleep with the younger women.  If a player didn’t get asked to leave by a woman when their bottles were finished, they simply returned to the player’s room and waited for the next table to arrive.  A player could work a maximum of 4 tables per night.  Netting around 400,000 KRW for a night’s work, they could leave with as many customers as they physically could, although most of them were burned out after leaving with just one client.

Leaving with a girl was a semi-rare occurrence.  “The girls were looking for a place to chill and drink with a nice guy who listens to them.  [However], if you got a good sponsorship and they liked you, they would buy you things.  Generally, clothes and food were the most common payments after the initial offsite meeting”.  A sponsor is a woman who really enjoyed the players‘ “additional companionship” and would meet with them on a semi-regular basis.  This could be anywhere from once a month to a weekly basis.

Not just any group of women could walk into the club. They had to be known  acquaintances of the male managers of the club.  Some of the players would take their earnings, reinvest them at the salons the girls worked at.  At times, they would even go to new salons to establish a new client list. “If the players bring in new customers, they get  40% of that table’s bar sales.”

Do the math, if a player worked hard, they could make a large weekly cash income.  However, this was an illegal business. Police raids are common and generally the clubs didn’t stay open any longer than a year or two. “CCTV was everywhere.” If the police showed up, the club managers knew in an instance. “One time we were locked inside for an hour while the police pounded on the locked door. The managers would just shut off all the outside lights and pretended the club was closed. They open and close very regularly…they don’t move around…they get arrested.”

Andy worked at this establishment  for around a month. He was seated many times but only received one offer to leave the club with a woman. “One girl had her boyfriend drop her off and as the night went on she was really drunk and asked me how much. I asked her back, ‘Don’t you have a boyfriend?’.  She got mad and threw money at me.  Then she called another boyfriend to come pick her up.”  After this, Andy quit working at this club and prepared for his return to the USA. “I was curious what this place was, I didn’t go there to make money. I was very naive at the beginning.”  This was however far from the end of Andy’s experience of being a gigolo. He would take his knowledge of this industry back to the USA and make some real money.