The news the other day talked about the new Korean teenage hearthrob, Rain, having fun at a "booking club" in Seoul, which reminded me that I have yet to properly document the vibrant Seoul nightscene. So here's a little diversion from the Paris entries and marks the final posting from my May Seoul trip.

Our booking club outing is definitely worth a blog entry in itself. Whenever my (ahem, male) colleagues visited Seoul in the past, they always returned saying how awesome these booking clubs were without going into the details. All I knew was that it was fun and a "guy" thing to do. On my recent visit, I begged my friends to bring me along to check it out. They graciously agreed, even though my presence would cram their style apparently.

The most well-known ones are Big Boss and Juliana, and we opted for the latter as H's friend, P, knows someone who knows a waiter there. We were told connections were all that matter and once we settled in, I quickly found out why. We arrived at Juliana at around ten thirty, and the place was just warming up and lacking in action.

This is our waiter of the night who basically took care of all our needs~ and I found out quickly why it was important that you have a good relationship with the waiters here. They are the ones who assign you to the various tables, or the prime spots.

Here's how a booking club works - the guys would sit at tables on the side, surrounding the girls' tables in the center. Throughout the evening, the waiters would go to the girls' tables and randomly pick a girl and bring her to a random guys' tables and "deposit" her there. The guys then have the responsibility (or right) to chat up the girl and buy her drinks. Yes, this sounds very chauvinistic - but the girls are free to excuse themselves and leave the table at any point in time when they feel uncomfortable or bored. So the whole night, apart from a packed dancefloor,  you would also see a flurry of activity on the side as the waiters bring the girls round all the tables, mix and matching.

Now the all important question - where did all these girls come from? As we found out, many of them are fun-loving university students who are just interested in a night out with their friends, while potentially meeting some new interesting people. A bonus incentive if your table is all girls, you would receive vouchers or freebies that would translate to over 50% discount off the bill, a luxury that you cannot get if there's a guy at your table. Guess this is the bar's way of attracing more female clientele.

According to my Korean friends, these booking clubs cater primarily for guys that are in their early twenties who love hanging out, once you cross the threshold of mid-twenties and have happily settled down, the novelty wears off and the appeal drops. They'd very much prefer hanging out with their friends at the many hip restaurants and cafes/ bars in Seoul than spending a large sum of money at such booking clubs to meet girls. For them, they only came to these places if there are out-of-town tourists (ME!) eager for the experience. Mind you, these places are not cheap, as the unwritten rule is that one need to order as much alcohol as possible.

Sometimes, the girls would disappear into thin air, this is when they are "pulled" to the karaoke style rooms. These are the same as the guys' tables out surrounding the dance floor, but provides the guests with some quiet privacy. The friendlier you are with your waiters, the easier it is for you to get a "room". Since it was more of an impromptu event for us the night we visited Juliana, all the rooms were booked out. But I did get the rare glimpse of what the rooms are like~ because I was "pulled" into one!!!

All night long, I carefully hid behind my friends so as to avoid being pulled, and this tactic worked perfectly until around three in the morning, when we were getting ready to leave. As I came out of the washroom unaccompanied, someone abruptly grabbed me and led me through this long corridor leading to many rooms. Absolute horror, I kept telling the waiter that I knew zilch Korean but he was persistent, and dumped me into a random room and promptly closed the door behind me. Once I managed to excuse myself and was heading back to our table, was immediately thrushed into another room... it was like a merry-go-round! Luckily I managed to escape and find my friends after the fourth room... The people were all very nice though, trying to make conversation with me, in spite of our language barrier. Thinking back, it was quite hilarious and I have no clue why I was so fearful of being pulled...

Some would claim that this type of activity is degrading to women, and I'd rather not participate in such a debate. All I could say is that it was an enormously fun night out for us, allowing us to act silly and hang out all together. There was nothing seedy about it at all (for that, you'd have to go to a room salon, where paid girls would sit and accompany you while singing karaoke~ apparently much more expensive than the booking clubs and is not an activity that interests me) and everyone was there to have a good time. In fact, I'd say the way the booking club works made people more relaxed about chatting and socialising with others, rather then being very wary or reserved.

We finally called it a night at four ~ and got into our car accident in less than four hours!

Here's some snapshots:
Late night street stall (pojangmacha) right outside Julianna's for your supper needs~ the equivalent of Tsui Wah in HK.

NB and Juliana Disco Night (no affiliation to the Juliana booking club above) are a couple of hip hop clubs near where we stayed, which was the place for college kis to hang out. We were told by a lady we met that a lot of showbiz stars pop by to Club NB regularly ~ sadly none show up on the night of our visit. The brown panel doors you see are the entrance to the Hyatt, which houses one of the most popular clubs for foreigners in Seoul - JJ Mahoney's. I did not like the clientele there v much~ a helpful hint~ do NOT sit down at one of the tables here. Once you sit down, you are forced to order fruit platters and nachos, which looked appetizing but cost an absolute fortune. My friend was craving for some nachos, and backed off immediately when he heard it costs like US$75 for a plate of nachos!!!

An eye-opening experience definitely! Doubt it would work to the same success in Hong Kong....
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