Join Michael and friend Unju as they visit Korea's first Hooters restaurant, which opened this January in Seoul. We check the place out, have a couple of beers, and interview American Hooters trainer Sara, along with Korean waitress Cindy. Get the inside story on the goings on there, straight from the people who know it best. (Click here to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.)
Running Time: 41:57
File Size: 28.8 MB
File Info: 96 kbps (mono) at 44.1 kHz, MPEG-2, layer 3 (MP3)
I decided to meet a private challenge of seeing what kind of shots I could get if I took my camera and my photo-critical butt down to the restaurant myself, since my post dissing some of the newspaper shots of the Korean press, all while putting down a first podcast with my 대학후배 friend Unju. She has quite a radio-friendly voice, doesn't she? I think I partially accomplished my goal, although the white balance on my camera was going crazy. We're not working with film anymore, Dorothy.
Here's a shot of Sara that I liked. She looks quite the busy bee, although I wish she had come out sharper. But I love the moment.
Sara in action, doing a mini-dance in tandem with the other girls.
Making the atmosphere much more fun the you'd get in a TGIF. Hmm – I thought about which is weirder or more "humiliating" – being required to dress up like Olivia Newton-John in "Physical" or wear a bunny hat, neon socks, 47 "pieces of flair," and a nearly equally-short skirt? I feel more comfortable, to my surprise, in the Hooters.
This was my first time to a Hooters, and I was somewhat skeptical about its prospects in a Korea full of women doing all kinds of serving and services attached to food, drink, and song. But I still reserved some room for the opposite opinion, because of the highly gendered way the "family restaurant" plays out in Korea, i.e. it's a place where women go.
As a clean alternative to that, it kind of makes sense that this might be just about the only American-style, real sports bar kind of place that might just be sustained by a diverse customer base sick of forced and burdensome "good" service, and the somewhat surly reception one gets from similar sports bars already in Korea.
The American trainer staff was definitely full of infective smiles, which they succeeded in passing on to the Korean staff to a large extent. I could still feel a difference between them, but then again, it was a big difference from the generally robotic service one gets in almost any service relationship in Korea.
Perhaps I am just looking at this through rose-colored lens filters, but the atmosphere was awfully homey.
The food was ok, and I did get my real hot dog that I wanted, but it almost seemed like the fare was mostly an excuse to call it a restaurant and have some beers – American-style anju, as it were.
Of course, I didn't order their main attraction – chicken wings – so I need to go back again to...ahem...evaluate them. See, this is all about work. Gotta be thorough, you know.
I wish I had gotten a good shot of the order in motion with the right pose, as well as the facial expression. I took several shots, and in the one perfect one that had all three elements just right, the server had closed her eyes. Doh! The shot above was the best of the batch. Dangit!
As we were wrapping up our bill, I caught snippets of conversation and it was apparent that it was the blonde trainer's last night, a fact that seemed to sort of sneak up on the crew as she prepared to make her exit.
I saw that the staff had become quite close over the 3 weeks they had trained together, as quite a few tears were shed on both sides.
Koreans aren't really big on hugging, but I sure saw a lot of sincere red-facing and hearty embracing. But I don't get verklempt; I'm a photographer, dammit.
OK – maybe a little. Strangely enough, I had quite a strong feeling of going to "a place where nobody has to ask your name." Sounds corny, but I felt much more like I had gone to the comfortable neighborhood bar that I don't get here in Korea, with its emphasis on glitz and self-conscious ostentatiousness when it comes to places of food and drink that a 35 year-old man would want to go with his buds.
Perhaps that's why I avoid Kangnam like the plague, at least when it comes to socializing. Korean American expats seem to love it, as do people who prefer the LA-style nightlife of shiny black cars, girl with coats that cost more than a month of my rent, or cocktails that cost $12 made by a bartender as smoking hot as she is a really bad bartender.
Hey – I come from the American Midwest, where people people drive big cars, eat large portions, and have relatively simple tastes without pretension. I hated LA during the one time I went there, and I could barely adjust to San Francisco.
Somehow, I found the trip to Hooters simply...refreshing, to my surprise. It's not only an oasis of self-conscious American kitsch in ostentatious below-the-river Seoul, it was the closest thing I've had to middle American-style, unapogetically gauche pleasures in a long time.
In America, Hooters always seemed a bit too much for the fratty, party-hardy, boys-who-will-be-boys crowd; but in Korea, it was, at least for me, something different, because of its different context. Back home, Hooters was nothing special, nothing I'd make a detour for; but here, it felt like a little piece of true Americana that was really different from the "American-style" restaurants here that have become so Koreanized.
It gave new meaning to their t-shirt slogan "delightfully tacky yet unrefined." Well put. I – and Seoul – could use some more of that.