Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Korean Invasion: Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

Based on the number of tourists from South Korea that the Philippines gets yearly, it is estimated that around $1 billion (or P44 billion) is being pumped annually into the Philippine economy. That means that if there are around 500K-700K tourists yearly, then the average Korean tourist spends around P70,000 per trip. That's just the average tourist; what more for the immigrant Koreana who stays longer for education or business.

That's why targeting these moneyed demographic is so lucrative for these gay bars. Before it used to be the Japanese and Taiwanese, but recent years saw an influx of young or middle-aged Korean tourists, even to the point of seeing bus loads of Korean women going to some of these bars. The challenge for these gay bars is how to market to these tourists, to ensure the constant influx of revenue.

In gay bars where a lot of these Koreans go to, you'd see the gay bar's obvious tactics of attracting that specific market, just by looking at their selection of men. In their line-up, you'd see this particular type of boy (see previous post on types of macho dancers and hostos). These are the few macho dancers with the unique K-Pop boy band-inspired haircut, that's long, layered, with bangs or fringes, and often with light brown highlights or in entirely blonde with their natural dark roots showing. These guys intentionally alter their entire look to mimic the young popular men of their customer's homeland (see styles below).

Take your pick from Super Junior  

And somehow, the Koreanization makeover actually works. The ones that Korean women always get are the same-looking guys who have not only adopted the distinct hairstyle but also East Asian-sounding names like Koji or Ryu. Interestingly though, these same guys who look so attractive to the Korean women oddly don't get picked by the typical Pinoy gay bar customer or matrona market. That's why some dancers are labeled by their workmates as "Pang Koreana lang yan (Only for the Koreans)."

I remember talking about hair cut with Japoy*, a macho dancer I met in Home Base* and who somewhat looks like Eun Hyuk in the photo above (top right most). Being a half-Chinese, he was very popular among these Korean customers, as feedback was he really looked like someone these women would meet in their home cities. He shared with me how he once got tired of his glorious blonde hair, and had it cut short and re-colored to its natural dark shade. The effect: his sales went down, especially among Korean customers. Without his blonde layered locks, he wouldn't stand out to catch the attention of his target market.

Not only do these men alter the way they look, they also dance to K-Pop just to attract this specific customer group. If the typical Pinoy-looking macho dancer would gyrate to an English R&B track or an OPM Ballad, these Koreanized guys would dance to a fast-paced K-Pop dance song or a romantic song from a K-Pop balladeer (I will dedicate another blog post entirely on top K-Pop songs heard in a gay bar). And it's even sometimes obvious when the entertainment manager starts to cue a series of Korean songs a few minutes after a group of Korean gay bar virgins arrive in the bar. Halata kung sino tina-target so that these women would be enticed to choose among the "Only For Koreans" guys to table with.

What happens when these Koreans table a Filipino macho dancer? They are either very quiet or very noisy. The silent ones I understand. The one-word discussions between the Korean and the dancer stem from language barrier obviously. So unless the tabled dancer would understand the broken English of these women (eg. "You just talk and talk there okay" or "I give beer why not kiss you me"), some men actually learn to speak Korean (not just "Annyeong Haseyo") to the delight of these customers, to help them converse easily.

But the noisy ones? Urg.

In some websites, I've read that some Korean tourists are observed as "difficult to deal with. They are demanding and rude." While I haven't had first-hand experience on dealing with these supposed "spoiled" and "aggressive" Koreans, I've heard a lot of stories of their attitude in gay bars already. Like how they seem to do anything they want to do in the bar. Some just go up on stage as if drunk ledge-dancing in a disco or dance club, while a macho dancer is in the middle of his performance. A lot I hear just cheer wildly when their favorite man is onstage.

What do the gay bar managers do? Sometimes, encourage them more to have the most fun they could have. "Kailangan lang patawanin yang mga yan (You just need to make them laugh)," a gay bar worker informed me. Another said, "bola-bolahin mo lang yan, matutuwa na sila (Just flatter them, they'd enjoy it)."

The most extreme cases I've heard, and even seen at one point, were regular Korean guests who would actually get so jealous and make sugod (charge, advance, like in an army) to other customers tabling their guy. Like there was this Koreana matrona I wrote about before who got so jealous and angry that she got up and "attacked" the other Korean women who previously tabled her guy. A few weeks back, I also saw a young Korean woman who was obviously drunk and from her booth, she went inside the enclosed booth of a Pinoy gay guy with another macho dancer. Apparently, the guy was also a regular guest of that drunk Koreana's chosen macho dancer. She wanted to confront the other customer, but the bar's staff blocked her, and tried to lead her away. She refused to leave the customer's booth, and sat on the couch like a spoiled brat. Guess who was the only one who could force her out of the gay man's area. Her macho dancer, the guy in the middle of it all.

I guess with the money they are bringing in, they'd want to get even more special treatment. As the gay bar obliges with some special requests they have, such as coming as late as 5AM and requesting for an all-cast show up, even when the dancers are already departing from the bar. With their attitude, do these Koreans even care how much money they spend? No, according to Japoy and the gay bar managers I've chatted with. While their receipts can average about P3K to P6K per person, the tips they give can get really high. Especially the regular ones, who sometimes even get tricked into tipping every single waiter in the bar. And that is the main reason why this demographic, with their demands and eccentricities, are so lucrative for Manila's gay bars and their macho men.

So not only do Korean tourists in general bring in the money to the Philippine economy. They also bring in money to Manila's gay bars too.

To some of the macho dancers, I even give advice, that if they want to really earn in their industry, they'd just change their hairstyle to look more Korean. Because if an average Korean spends around P70K per visit in Manila, and would just decide to go to one gay bar at 5AM, then the Koreanized macho dancer has more chances of getting picked to be tabled and getting some share of the P70K spend. The question then is how that single macho dancer, or the whole gay bar industry of Manila, or even the entire Philippine tourism, can ensure that their Korean guests, their Korean customers, or their #1 Korean tourists, would keep coming back for more.

GB Goer
twitter: @gbgoer

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