Won Bin

By David S. Wills



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.

Won Bin

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.

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DAVID WILLS is the managing editor of Beatdom Magazine, and the author of The Dog Farm and Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult'. You can learn more about him on his website.

42 responses to “Won Bin”

  1. D.R. Haney says:

    Back in the MySpace era, I was constantly coming across profiles put up by kids in Asia (often Malaysia, for some reason) with “default images” similar to the one you display here of Won Bin, and sometimes of Western celebrities. The role-playing was pathetic and somehow, I thought, vaguely creepy; and I used to wonder why it was seemingly so specific to Asia. If a Western kid used an image of a celebrity to represent him- or herself, it was usually done in an “ironic” way. Maybe it was the absence of irony that took me aback with the Asian masquerades.

    It’s always a happy day when I see that you’ve posted, David.

    • Thanks, man. I appreciate it.

      MySpace always made me uncomfortable. I’m more happier with Facebook. Fewer weirdos visit my Facebook profile, but with MySpace it was relentless.

      And yeah, Asia’s weird. It’s just different here.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Yes, but Facebook is too safe. The thing that drove me most crazy with MySpace was too many goddamned bands wanting to befriend me — due, of course, to my superior taste in music.

        Also, the constant hacking of my account by Macy’s got to be a drag.

        • Oh yeah, that hacking thing was annoying. My friends all got it, but I didn’t, thankfully.

          I hate all the bands adding me. I can’t remember the last time I listened to any music on MySpace.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I logged into MySpace recently for the first time in ages. I was dropping in to pick up some material I’d written on my old blog there.

          I was excited to see I had a ton of friend requests: an almost unending parade of pimps, whores, teenage Coldplay wannabes and unspeakable degenerates.

          I think this is the creepiest Korea post yet…

        • I thought the “Messiah” one was creepier.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I agree. That may be my favorite post of yours — that and “The Murder House.” But you’ve had a lot of wonderful posts, David. As I wrote earlier, I’m always glad to see that you’ve put up another one.

        • Thanks, man. I haven’t been writing as well this month as I was in the past, but I’m still writing. That’s the point, I guess. Keeping writing and hit the highs and the lows.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Tell me again how these are stories that happened a long time ago and you are not getting pissing drunk all the time anymore, okay?
    This is one creepy story.
    Creee peeee.
    Is that actually Won Bin’s picture?
    He certainly could get work in Hollywood if he could learn the lines in English.

    • Oh yeah, this was about two years ago. I’m still pretty much always drunk, but I stay at home and out of trouble nowadays.
      That is indeed Won Bin’s picture, although I no longer have the ID card. I don’t know what happened to it.

  3. Brian Eckert says:

    There’s not much to do in Korea if you don’t stay plastered at least 58.9% of the time (don’t ask how I arrived at this figure).
    I once found an old Korean man’s ID and tried to use it for senior discounts…which I’m not sure they even have in Korea. I would just randomly show it to clerks and say “ajushee cah cah juseo (which I believe is a very crude way of saying older man discount). Actually I still have that shit…gonna try and pass it off at the bars this weekend…

  4. Becky says:

    No man who actually looks like Won Bin needs to capture his love interests. That’s a dead giveaway.

    I don’t usually find Asian men attractive (mostly because they tend to be short), but for him and Jet Li, I will make exceptions. The ACTUAL Won Bin, of course.

    Maybe I need to visit Korea. It sounds like some kind of bizarro world Mardi Gras 24/7.

    • Irene Zion says:


      On TV there’s a show called “The Mentalist,” and on it is the hottest Asian actor of all time. Watch it and tell me he doesn’t make your eyes widen! You sort of have to watch it for a while to get him. He’s subtle. There are lines of ladies around the block for him! Guaranteed.

      • Becky says:

        I don’t know. He’s handsome, but I’m semi-indifferent. Tough to put a finger on what it is…his face is really angular. RECTangular. I don’t know. Even that isn’t quite right.

        I can’t say what makes Jet Li attractive to me, either. There’s one scene in “The One” where he’s practicing some style of Kung Fu. “Snake, I think,” my husband said it was. It was mesmerizing, and for some reason, I’ve had a crush on him ever since.

      • Becky says:

        Husband corrects me: “No. I said it looked like mostly Crane.” I don’t know. Maybe Matt can help settle it. Matt? Bueller?

        • Matt says:

          I believe Jet Li is predominantly a Wushu practitioner, but has also studied other Kung-Fu forms such as Eagle Claw and Praying Mantis. Not my area of expertise, however.

        • Becky says:

          Yes, Wushu I knew. And a dancer, I thought. Just looked at some Wushu forms and they look similar but not quite like what I saw.

          Whatever it was, I liked it. I found the movie clip, but it’s hard to tell what he’s up to since you can’t see his feet and he moves partially out of frame a lot.


        • Korea went into meltdown a few months ago because a girl on TV said “All short guys are losers!” It wasn’t particularly wise thing to say, especially in Asia. But worse is that Koreans are fucking nuts… They took to the streets in protest to this one girl’s halfwit opinion, and began stalking her. In hours her name and face were all over the TV, and websites were set up simply to keep track of her every move.

          So Becky, careful when you say Korean guys are short…

        • Becky says:

          I’m safe here in America with all my Amazonian friends.

          Aren’t I?

        • Watch your back… They’ll hunt you down…

  5. Irene Zion says:


    I misread the intro to this piece.
    I thought it was the “Land of the Morning Clam.”
    I have been thinking and thinking what that could mean.
    I just read it again.
    I seriously do have dyslexia.

    • “Land of the Morning Calm” is a phrase that goes back many years. However, it only exists in English. Most Korean people aren’t aware that’s what their country is known as.

      Some people here call it “Land of the Moaning Clam” as a joke.

  6. Matt says:

    Oh man, that’s just hysterical. Makes me wonder what trick that kid was thought he was playing on your guys with that ID.

    When I was working in night clubs, I got very good at spotting phony IDs, even ones from states & countries I wasn’t familiar with. Every now and then, for whatever reason, someone would use one with a celebrity, even one that didn’t resemble them at all. Goofballs.

    • In Korea there are old women on the streets and they’re basically pimps or pushers of women. I don’t know who thought that prostitution would flourish with ugly old women doing the dealing, but they’re the ones who tell you about “ah-gah-si” (young women). They’ll normally hand you a card (looking like an ID card) with a female celebrity’s picture.

      I wonder if that kid was trying to get business for himself, or if he was trying to direct us towards other male prostitutes…

  7. Zara Potts says:

    You know, David – I would really like to go out on the tiles with you one night and drink more than is necessary.
    I’m sure I would get some great material out of it!

    • That sounds like a lot of fun, Zara. Although you should know that I’m a nice, sensible guy nowadays. Most of these stories took place in the distance past – about two or more years ago.

  8. Angela Tung says:

    both funny and disturbing.

    in china was the first time i encountered child beggars. it was upsetting at first, but then i got told off by a little 5-year old girl while her mother looked on, grinning. weird.

    • Yeah, there aren’t many child beggars in Korea because it’s so affluent, but I know what you mean. In China it’s bad, and in S.E. Asia it’s worse. Their parents stand watching them as they berate you or sell you stuff.

  9. Simon Smithson says:

    Could be worse – one NYE a while back, a friend of mine was making out with this girl. He thought he was doing really well until she pulled back and said ‘Look, I’m having a really nice time, but if you want to go any further, it’s going to cost you.’

    No, wait. I think your story’s much worse, now that I think about it.

  10. Greg Olear says:

    Great piece, David, as usual. You set a really nice tone up front.

    It’s funny that the kid tried to convince you he was Won Bin, and that you guys decided to ask people for your lost friend. They probably assumed you were joking, and in on the joke, so it could have been worse.

    They sell those celeb Drivers Licenses in LA. For $5.99, you can be Adrian Grenier or Paris Hilton.

    • Thankfully, there are a couple of big military bases in Daegu that spill their staff out into the nightclubs… Koreans no longer assume we’re in on anything. They see a Western-looking person and assume we know nothing, like the soldiers who’ve been giving us all bad names for the past fifty years.

      I wish I spoke more Korean back then so I knew exactly what the kid was saying. But then again, it probably wouldn’t have been so funny if I’d actually understood everything.

      One of the first phrases I learned in Korean was “nam-ja do-oo-me” which means “man helper” or male prostitute. I see quite a few ID cards on the ground with another famous dude. Maybe Won Bin went out of fashion a few years ago.

      I’ve never heard of Adrian Grenier, but for $5.99…

  11. Ducky Wilson says:

    Funny and creepy all at the same time. I must confess, I don’t think I’ll be adding Korea to my “places I must visit” list.

  12. Erika Rae says:

    Great piece, as always, David. And now I can put your handsome face and voice with your writing! But you never told us how you got the handcuffs off!

  13. […] has met people who have claimed to be a South Korean superstar; claimed to be the Messiah; claimed to not find it unusual to be cutting hair without wearing […]

  14. Jessica says:

    Lol He flexed his musclesm like what, that was going to convince you he was Won Bin?

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