Jonathon, Thomas and I were standing outside a Family Mart at about five in the morning, amidst the humid stench of Daegu, drinking from little paper cups of soju. The bars were closing down and the clubs were emptying into the vomit-soaked streets as the sun began to rise and burn through the smog.
We were drunk and had been drinking for about nine hours, and Thomas and I had to work at nine. It was a routine that had gone on for several months. There wasn’t much else to do, and work was about as tolerable sober as it was in the grips of a killer hangover.
Suddenly I screamed as someone slapped a handcuff on my wrist. In a moment of shock I yanked my arm away, pulling the cuffs away from the person’s hands.
“What the fuck?! Is that an oompa-loompa?”
As I stepped back into the street and was almost run down by a taxi, I saw that the person who’d slapped the cuffs on me appeared to be a child. I guessed that he was about fourteen years old, but it was hard to tell. He was short and skinny, but his face – although youthful – said that maybe he was as old as eighteen.
I wondered to myself what a teenager was doing on the streets of Daegu at five o’clock on a Tuesday morning, or why he had slapped handcuffs on one of my wrists.
The kid reached out and took his handcuffs back, all the while staring into my eyes and smiling. It was a hideous smile. He was speaking in Korean and it sounded like he was flirting. Every now and then he’d stare at my crotch and push his skinny chest towards me.
As all this was happening Thomas and Jonathon were laughing, but not saying anything. I was the new boy in town and they’d probably seen this happen before. The kid had eyes only for me, and I was freaking out, walking backwards into the path of yet more taxis.
“Is he a fucking child prostitute?” I asked. “’Cause I’m not cool with that… I thought Korea was better than that.”
Still looking into my eyes and grinning, the kid gave me an ID card and claimed it was his. He said that the man in the picture – who looked like he was in his mid-twenties – was him, and that he was born in 1977.
Jonathon read the Korean writing on the card. “His name is ‘Won Bin,’” he announced.
“No way, man!” I shouted. “This is a fake!”
Thomas grabbed the card from Jonathon and laughed. “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”
I looked at them, hoping they knew what was going on. If they’d been in Korea as long as they had, surely they’d seen something like this before. But they looked as baffled and amused as me.
When the kid tried to grab the card back from Thomas he handed it to Jonathon, and then when he went towards Jonathon, Jonathon handed it to me. We kept the card away from the kid for some time.
“We’re not giving you your fucking fake ID!” Jonathon shouted, but the kid kept smiling and trying to take it from us. He was a persistent little fucker.
After it became apparent that we weren’t going to give him his card back, the kid grinned and lifted up his shirt, revealing a toned stomach. He flexed his muscles and the look on his face said that he thought he had a rippling six-pack. All along his belt were pairs of handcuffs, gleaming in the light of the rising sun.
The kid reached for my cup of soju and I batted my hand at him – an international gesture for “fuck off.” This time he took the hint and walked away, approaching other drunks and being quickly dismissed.
With the kid gone, Jonathon decided to use his ID for some fun. He began flagging down taxis and motorcycles and asking people if they’d see his lost friend, Won Bin. “Chin-gu! Won Bin! I’ve lost my chin-gu!” he screamed at people. (“Chin-gu” means friend in Korean.)
After seeing the amused reactions of the drivers and passers-by that Jonathon accosted, Thomas and I took turns with the card, asking people if they’d seen our lost friend. We couldn’t understand why everyone thought it was so funny, but we liked the results. Some even walked past us twice, just to figure out what exactly the three drunk foreigners were raving about.
Several hours later Thomas and I were standing in the teachers’ room at school, sipping coffee and trying to remember the previous evening. We both remembered the Won Bin incident pretty well, but everything before it had been a blur.
Drawn by our laughter and disheveled appearances, Karen, another teacher, came over. We told her about the kid with the handcuffs, and about his fake ID.
“Won Bin?” she asked. “You mean the actor?”
She explained that ‘Won Bin’ is the stage name of an extremely popular Korean actor and model, whose name and face would have been instantly recognizable to just about anyone in Korea.