It’s hard for outsiders to understand just how prevalent prostitution is in South Korean society. People from Europe or the United States will think of prostitutes in terms of stereotypes lifted from movies, and the occasional drive through a bad neighbourhood. These girls, we think, are a small minority working street corners for pimps.
In South Korea, however, prostitution is everywhere. Certainly there are places notorious for brothels, but they exist out in the open across every city in the country. It is technically illegal, but these American-introduced laws are largely unenforced, and “crackdowns” are just for show, to appease the international community.
You might be forgiven for overlooking prostitution as a tourist, unless you pass a U.S. military base or perhaps visit Seoul’s famous “Hooker Hill,” but once you know what you’re looking for, it’s hard to miss. Perhaps the most common example is the “barber shop.” Of course, these places don’t even pretend to offer haircuts. They are simply apartments with rotating barber shop poles outside, and they can be found in even the most well-developed areas of the country.