Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Hongdae, degenerating due to foreigners, cheers to see them banned (2005-2007)

The following news reports critical of foreigners in Hongdae - from 2005 and 2007 - are blasts from the past. They were not translated by me but I have permission to post them since they're no longer online.

First up is this article from the Herald Gyeongje, published on August 5, 2005:

[Emergency on-site report, Hongdae, haven of desire] Temptation of 'One night stands'... an abundant market of foreigners

Some Korean women also come to booking clubs looking for 'blue-eyed' men

The number of foreigners walking up and down in front of Hongik University is increasing. Clubs with foreign DJs are enjoying a boom, and there are more and more Korean women visiting these and particular clubs for “booking” (for definition of “booking,” see here). The clubs in front of the Hongik University, known as the birthplace of Korea’s indie culture, are transforming in a foreigner’s “paradise for hunting women.”

As recently as the 2002 incident in which two middle school girls were killed by a U.S. military vehicle, the clubs in front of Hongik University were known as a “no-entry” area for U.S. soldiers. Foreign English teachers and foreign business folk like those who worked for financial firms in Yeouido were also banned from entry. An official with the Hongik University Club Federation said, “I remember the ban on U.S. soldiers as a measure taken out of consideration for public sentiment when the soldiers were found not guilty [in the 2002 armored vehicle incident]… The initial goal was to try to stop unfortunate incidents caused by U.S. soldiers from occurring.”

Afterwards, the flow of foreigners to the Hongik area stopped. Local residents openly complained that the Hongik area had been ruined “because of the U.S. soldiers and foreigners,” and club officials thoroughly put an end to the improper foreign club culture. The situation has changed, however. In 2003, the Hongik clubs began hiring foreign DJs and bands, and foreigners once again began heading to the area.

On official with one club in the area said, “It appears that as Korean women thinking of marrying foreigners and women who studied abroad flock to Hongik area, the number of foreigners is also increasing… We started performances by foreign bands in order to give the place a foreign atmosphere without having to go abroad.”

The reason why these women flock to the place, which seemed to have developed a healthy foreigner culture as foreigners became the norm there, is because the number of foreigners “who want to meet ‘real Koreans’” has increased. Ms. Lee, a 30-year-old who studied abroad, said, “Hongik has now become a ‘meeting place’ to meet with foreigners, with the number of younger women dating foreigners on the rise… There are also countless women coming to the area to engage in booking with foreign men.”

Hongdae is now an area hot with youthful passion that has degenerated from being mixed up with foreigners. As the recent act of indecent exposure by a punk band on live TV showed, the diversity and individuality of the area in front of Hongik University is nowhere to be found. As the number of foreigners with more of an interest in booking and one night stands than in the music increases, there are many women coming to the clubs in search of “blue-eyed men.”

The foreign men and Korean women enjoy heading to Picasso Street and “M” and “A” clubs. One foreign English teacher working in Gangnam said, “The area in front of Hongik University is the only place in Korea where we can meet girlfriends… There’s a general trend for Korean women to come up to you to talk, even if you’re just sitting in a club.”

"Hongdae is now an area hot with youthful passion that has degenerated from being mixed up with foreigners." No, tell us what you really think, Herald Gyeongje.

On January 29, 2007, YTN broadcast this news report (the video is no longer online, unfortunately).

Scandalous behavior of foreigners on weekend nights in Hongdae... police just watch.

It’s Saturday night in front Hongik University

A group of three or four foreigners with short hair ogle a passing girl.

They yell and point…

The girl, who was talking on the phone, flees the area as if she were startled.

In the alleyways, you can easily find foreigners making comments to passing women.

[Interview: local resident]

“Simply put, it’s at a point that you could take it as harassment.”

“Is this a normal scene?”


It’s common to find foreigners drinking anywhere.

You can even find foreigners drinking by fires they’ve set on the street.

Drunken, some urinate on the sidewalk, while others are making out even on the street.

Outrageous behavior such as this continues straight till dawn.

[Interview: neighborhood merchant]

“Are there many drunk [foreigners]?”

“They’re all drunk. They go around in groups of three or four. Never alone.”

With problems continuing, there are some bars that ban foreigners all together.

[Interview: female college student]

“These days, U.S. soldiers are constantly doing something, so many clubs are banning U.S. soldiers.”

Many residents are particularly worried that young drunk foreigners might go beyond simply outrageous behavior to commit crimes.

In fact, on Jan. 13, many were shocked when a U.S. soldier who was drinking near Hongik University until dawn sexually assaulted a grandmother in her sixties in a neighborhood alley.

Despite the situation being what it is, police aren’t even thinking of cracking down.

[Interview: police]

“USFK has to send MPs to patrol or something. There’s really nothing we can do.”

Amidst the thoughtless behavior of some foreigners and the failure of the authorities to maintain order, the area around Hongik University, limelighted as a street of romance and youth, is becoming a lawless zone.

One has to appreciate YTN highlighting the fact that foreigners "go around in groups of three or four. Never alone,” which is so, so different from Korean social behavior.

On February 3, five days later, YTN issued a follow-up report in which it cheered its victory. (Note that the TV report this translation was based on is no longer online, though a report with a similar opening published the same day, which mentions that Hongdae had been off limits to USFK personal up until the previous June, is here.

U.S.F.K. makes Hongdae off limits to soldiers

In connection to a YTN broadcast that there were frequent acts of outrageous behavior by some USFK soldiers in the entertainment district near Hongik University, USFK command has banned U.S. soldiers from the area in front of Hongik University.

Since U.S. soldiers stopped going to Hongdae, peace has returned to the area.

Reporter Lee Seung-yun took a look at the changed weekend scene in Hongdae, which used to be thronged with U.S. soldiers.


A YTN report on Jan. 29 revealed the outrageous behavior of U.S. soldiers frequenting the area in front of Hongik University.

In connect with this, USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell banned U.S. soldiers from entering the entertainment district in front of Hongik, saying that misbehavior by soldiers and excessive drinking was on the rise.

Accordingly, USFK soldiers cannot enter the Hongik University area between 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. unless for specific duties.


This was an entertainment alley that just a few days ago was thronged with U.S. soldiers.

Since the ban, it has become difficult to find U.S. soldiers here.

Police who have stepped up patrols in front of Hongik University following YTN’s broadcast said that since the ban, incidents involving foreigners have greatly decreased.

[Interview: Lt. Park Du-hyeon, Mapo Police Station, Hongik Patrol]

“Since the ban, the area in front of Hongik University has maintained a state of very serene public order. After the YTN report, we’ve been stepping up regular patrols in the high-incident period of midnight to 4:00 a.m.”

The Hongdae businesses that banned U.S. soldiers because of misbehavior by drunk servicemen say that peace has returned, and the mood is a joyous one.

[Interview: An employee of a Hongdae business]

“Since (U.S. soldiers) were getting drunk and fighting, it wasn’t good, so if they can’t come at all, the businesses welcome it.”

Residents hope that with this measure, U.S. soldiers will develop an awareness for public order and come to harmonize with Koreans [Marmot's Note: Between the public drunkenness, peeing on the street and harassment of female clubbers, some might argue that GIs were doing just that before the ban).

[Interview: Lee Jae-uk, office worker]

“I think we’ll see less of drunk foreigners and Koreans fighting and bad scenes on the street.”

[Interview: Kim Min-hee, university student]

“There naturally needs to be discipline taken for causing incidents, but U.S. soldiers, too, have the right and freedom to come here.”

This is Lee Seung-yun [], YTN

It's hard not to chuckle at the police officer's comment, "Since the ban, the area in front of Hongik University has maintained a state of very serene public order." So nice of YTN to broadcast such xenophobic tripe, though perhaps it turned out this way in part because of the participation of Anti-English Spectrum, who take credit for contributing to these reports on the page listing their accomplishments:

2007.01 Personally went on location to shoot a report on the problems with Hongdae Club Day, the gathering place of low-quality foreigner English teachers, for the purpose of broadcasts and press exposure. Breaknews, YTN broadcast the report numerous times by the hour. A barrage of civil petitions were sent to Mapo Police Station, and after the news broadcast, the police announced that it would implement a crackdown.

2007.02 After our cafe’s broadcast went out on the atrocious behaviors of foreigners at Hongdae clubs, Commander Bell’s U.S. forces in Korea were completely prohibited from entering Hongdae clubs.

I thought this 'citizen's group' was targeting foreign English teachers. It's almost as if they were not just concerned with "illegal" foreign instructors but rather wanted to expel all Westerners... perhaps because of the goings-on described in the first article above.


Nurse-AB said...


Have there been any academic journal articles looking at these specific issues? Sociology, criminology, psychology periodicals et. al. It was a witch hunt from beginning to end, but often when similar "issues" are highlighted in Western Nations it is not uncommon for (usually leftist) scholars to disprove such public sentiment with studies. I realize that academic works can be manipulated rather easily (depending on your point of view) to either confirm or deny a perceived issue. Just interested if you know whether any Korean academics (or indeed interested European researchers) took up the cudgel.

Andrew Baxter

matt said...

I’d have to say no. I haven’t searched for Korean academic articles on English teachers in a while, but I’d imagine things continue as always. On the Korean side, admitting that the media and government were acting in a discriminatory manner might look like an easy topic to follow up, but since the targets were perceived as being mostly Western, white, and male, it’s not an easy sell; Western academic commentators can be expected to follow the same pattern. Everything I’ve seen written about English teaching in Korea is more interested in discussing topics like language teaching efficacy or cultural adaptation of foreign teachers. Even among progressive academics examining English teachers in the context of other migrants to Korea we find the same cultural politics of the West at work, which means little interest in the travails of privileged Westerners. My argument for some time now has been that if you allow negative media stereotypes of groups perceived to be privileged to continue unchecked, it may also pave the way for the acceptability of demeaning portrayals of other, less privileged groups.