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Mike's Adventures in Korea 1994

Part 4: Song-tan

The first important thing about Osan Air Base is that while it is named for the nearby village of Osan, it is actually no where near Osan.  In fact, the community that is right outside the gate is known as Song-tan.

We spent our first weekend visiting the shops, bars, and restaurants in Song-tan.  Now saying that Song-tan is representative of Korea is like saying Tijuana is representative of Mexico or that Jersey City is representative of all of the United States.  Unfortunately, many Americans never get much more exposure to Korea than this small village, as many who are stationed over there do not venture far from the base.

The market is not unlike those in Mexico...
Jim in the market.  Everything is for sale.

The first thing you notice about Song-tan is that aside from the Hangul characters on all the signs, it really is not different from Mexico.  I mean, if I took Nuevo Laredo and Song-tan and covered up the signs, you would practically see no difference between the marketplaces.

Something's fishy here...
Mike in the fish market.  Ummm, smells good...

In Song-tan, there are a lot of shops where you can buy custom made suits, Starter jackets, Coach purses - you name it.  There are also many open-air fish markets in the alley.  When we took these pictures, the outside temperature was near 100 degrees.  The fish vendors smelled a lot.  I was wondering how these old women could sit all day selling this stinky fish, and so I asked one.  Turns out that they wear this small necklace in which incense burns, masking the smell of the fish.

You can't imagine the smell...
More pictures of Jim in the market.  Fish and fruit were popular commodities.

There are also a lot of fruit and vegetables for sale in town there, although we warned to stay away from eating any of them, as they are not quite up to our agricultural standards.  However, there was a slight problem - often you couldn't get what you wanted at the base commissary because of the black market.  There were limits on certain items at the commissary (for you civilians, it's like a big supermarket) - bananas, apples, milk, ox tails to name a few.  And yes, you heard me, ox-tails; not a popular food among American servicemen, but apparently in high demand at the Osan Commissary.  Because we didn't have ration cards, we couldn't buy any of the limited items at the commissary.  Damn, I guess I can't make that ox-tail soup...

The fruit looks better than it tastes.  Trust me.
Is that Casper?  Oh, wait, it's me in front of the fruit stand.  Wow, I guess I am really white...

Okay, I will be honest with you, I did sample some of the fruit.  It was awful.  I was in a club with some Koreans, and they offered me some of the fruit from this giant plate that they were eating.  In wanting to maintain good relations, I ate some.  They have these really bland and sour melons that were awful, but I smiled and nodded my head.  Then, they offered me some grapes.  Dying for anything to help kill the taste of the awful melons, I gobbled some down, and they were the very worst, most sour grapes I have ever had.  No more fruit for me, thanks.

Lots of shoes!
Shoes, shoes, everywhere!

Shoes are a very big deal in Korea.  In fact, everyone was telling me to get Nikes when I was over there, but the shoe market isn't what it used to be.  But, I did see these big platform shoes everywhere, before they became popular over here in recent years.

Which will lead me into my story about the real stars of Song-tan: the juicy girls.  The juicy girls are these girls who are not quite strippers and not quite prostitutes who hang out in the bars in Song-tan frequented by GIs.  They work in the bars and clubs there in town, where they come sit by you and ask you to buy them a juicy.  A juicy costs $5 and is basically a shot glass worth of orange juice.  They will sit there and drink this juicy next to you and then whine for you to buy them another.  They usually wear bikinis and try to dance (they have NO rhythm).  They are usually there in a sort of slavery by their families, who send them there to work to make money to feed the family at home.

Juicy girls might sound really cool, but they are actually really annoying.  I know you are thinking Hooters girls, but actually, think of those whiny girls you see in anime.  It's kind of cool for like five minutes, when you walk into a club and think "wow - look at all these chicks" and then find out that they are all there because they have to be.  And they don't really want to be there, which is why they are most definitely unsexy.

But juicy girls are persistent.  They are like rats to cheese when you walk into a club.  They see you, they don't recognize you, and they are on you to buy them a juicy.  So, our first night out in Song-tan, they kept coming over to Jim and I - and then I learned the secret to make juicy girls avoid you: Canadian money.

This one juicy kept coming over and just wouldn't leave me alone, so she said if I bought her a juicy, she would go away.  So, she wanted $5 (I guess the ahjima, who is an older pimp-type woman who used to be a juicy girl, was going to keep sending juicy girls over until we found one we liked).  So, I looked in my wallet, and I saw I still had a bunch of Canadian money from my previous trip to Canada.  Hey, I thought, if I am going to pay this juicy girl to go away, I might as well only be out $3.50 from a Canadian $5 bill rather than a whole $5.  So, I pulled out the Canadian $5 and handed it to the juicy.

Then, the ahjima, the bar owner, and a dozen juicy girls went into a fit.  "No kiwi!" they kept saying, pointing to the back of the Canadian bill.  "Aussies fight, break bar," the owner tried explaining.  Eventually, I figured it out - they saw the kingfisher bird on the back of the Canadian $5 bill and thought the money was Australian.  Then, they assumed I was Australian.  Australians are notorious in Song-tan for getting really drunk and getting into really terrible brawls.  So, since they thought I was Australian, they were afraid of me.  As a result, flashing my Canadian money generally got me a lot of respect in Song-tan, and it also helped keep the juicy girls away.

Anyway, what did juicy girls have to do with shoes?  Well, one night, Jim and I were talking, and these two juicy girls walked up and made there usual "Hello GI want to buy me juicy?" small talk.  Then, they went into "Hangul-secure" mode, where the two girls start talking about you in Korean so that you don't know what they are saying about you.  So, Jim and I went into "Español-secure," where we talked in Spanish to confuse the juicy girls.  "Ella es alta para un Korean (she is tall for a Korean)," Jim said in Spanish.  "Ella tiene zapatos altos (she has tall shoes)," I replied in Spanish.  Then, one of the girls hit me.  "Talk in English," she said.  "Why don't you?" I replied.  They left.  Within hours, the word was out - avoid the Spanish speaking Australians with the funny blue money...

Mike in front of Soju Bang Missi
I am in front of my favorite place in Song-tan.  We never actually went in, but we liked the name...

So Ju Bang Missi Sign
A close up of the name we liked so much.  The proper reply was "No, dju?"

I have many great stories of adventures in Song-tan.  But, I won't bore you with any more of them.  Most involve me in some degree of intoxication...

Continue on to Part 5: Seoul