“Refined” Korean Brothels: Room Salons


This entrance to one of Korea’s “refined” brothels, also known as Room Salons or Room Bangs, seems a little run-down, don’t you think? There are other room salons than this one, but the entrance to this one caught my attention. It appears to be wide, and your first step will take you onto a stairwell that leads down into a place fit only for wealthy businessmen. The establishment isn’t actually visible because it is far below the street level. I understand why these types of men would visit these locations because I’ve visited room salons numerous times myself. Yes, my corporate bosses in America have taken me—a woman—to these locations more than a few times. The surroundings and atmosphere are designed to make most men feel king-like. Men don’t feel as though they are engaging in any type of misconduct with the women who work at these places because they are extremely well-dressed and articulate, like, say, a street-walking prostitute.

Although the general concept is the same, room salons in Seoul, like the one in the picture, operate a little differently than ones in the United States. I’ve been to room salons in California and Seoul, and I know there are also locations in other parts of Korea and the US. Do you see the valet worker standing beneath the minuscule canopy? In addition to directing his coworkers to park or retrieve people’s cars, he also keeps an eye out for any “stray cats” that might wander downstairs. What happens when, say, a group of four people descends this staircase? “ANYONGHASAYO!” The front host will say “Hello” in Korean and will bow formally. If you haven’t already called to make a reservation, which is typically the protocol, you’ll be prompted to state the size of your group. Then you’ll be led into a grandiose-looking room with three sides typically surrounded by plush leather seating. In the corner, facing the seating area, is a karaoke machine connected to a television. A large table occupies the space’s centre. Some places are nicer than others, and some older places, like the one below, look a little drab, but they still prosper. Males occasionally bring women with them, but this only happens about 5% of the time. Some might argue that the room salon industry is uninteresting, unimportant, or uncontroversial. Who has not heard of sexual exploitation in Asia? However, a significant portion of Korea’s sex trafficking industry is comprised of the room salon industry. There are high-level room salons and low-level room salons, sort of like some sort of tiers or caste system. The levels are determined by how attractive and intelligent the women who prostitution there are. The cost increases along with the level. In both Korea and the United States, these room salons are a major issue. It is simple to pass off room salons as noraebangs (karaoke rooms). As a result, it is much more difficult to identify or detain them as sites of trafficking.

It looks completely different once you enter—very fancy—than it does from the outside. Many of the rooms have completely black-tinted windows. You only see doors and corridors. After the host leads your group into a room, a madam will enter after you have taken your seats. She will look very elegant and beautiful, and she will typically be dressed in jewellery, designer clothing, and pricey shoes. She will have a conversation with you, learn about the kind of business you run, and take your order for alcohol. Now, the price of the alcohol in this place is absurdly high. Due to this, room salons are typically only frequented by wealthy businessmen. A bottle of whiskey that you could purchase at the grocery store or liquor store for under $100 would cost you between $1500 and about $2000 here. A side plate of sliced fruit, water bottles, and nuts would be included. The madam will then depart to pick up the room salon girls. There are typically 20 to 25 girls working one night. A group of four to five girls will enter at a time, and the madam will have them line up in front of you and your group. She will continue doing this until she has seen every available girl. Every girl will once more have a very elegant appearance. No unkempt hookers here. Then, each client will let the madam know which girl he liked by giving a description of her clothing or by saying that he liked the girl on the far right in the second group of girls. All of the girls that you and your group have selected will be brought in by the madam.

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