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On the Move for Love

On the Move for Love: Migrant Entertainers and the U.S. Military in South Korea

Sealing Cheng
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    On the Move for Love
    Book Description:

    Since the Korean War,gijichon-U.S. military camp towns-have been fixtures in South Korea. The most popular entertainment venues ingijichonare clubs, attracting military clientele with duty-free alcohol, music, shows, and women entertainers. In the 1990s, South Korea's rapid economic advancement, combined with the stigma and low pay attached to this work, led to a shortage of Korean women willing to serve American soldiers. Club owners brought in cheap labor, predominantly from the Philippines and ex-Soviet states, to fill the vacancies left by Korean women. The increasing presence of foreign workers has precipitated new conversations about modernity, nationalism, ethnicity, and human rights in South Korea. International NGOs, feminists, and media reports have identified women migrant entertainers as "victims of sex trafficking," insisting that their plight is one of forced prostitution.

    Are women who travel to work in such clubs victims of trafficking, sex slaves, or simply migrant women? How do these women understand their own experiences? Is antitrafficking activism helpful in protecting them? InOn the Move for Love, Sealing Cheng attempts to answer these questions by following the lives of migrant Filipina entertainers working in variousgijichonclubs. Focusing on their aspirations for love and a better future, Cheng's ethnography illuminates the complex relationships these women form with their employers, customer-boyfriends, and families. She offers an insightful critique of antitrafficking discourses, pointing to the inadequacy of recognizing women only as victims and ignoring their agency and aspirations. Cheng analyzes the women's experience in South Korea in relation to their subsequent journeys to other countries, providing a diachronic look at the way migrant issues of work, sex, and love fit within the larger context of transnationalism, identity, and global hierarchies of inequality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0692-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[v])
  3. [Map]
    (pp. [vi]-[vi])
  4. Introduction: The Angel Club
    (pp. 1-12)

    One August morning in 1999 Winnie and six other Filipina entertainers ran away from the Angel Club in Dongducheon (known by GIs and Filipinas as “TDC”),¹ the largest U.S. military camp town (gijichon) in South Korea, with about thirty clubs and approximately two hundred foreign entertainers. They made a two-hour southward journey by train and subway into Seoul to seek refuge with a Filipino priest, Father Glenn. Their plan was to stay with the priest for a transition period. Five of them would return to Dongducheon to find jobs at other clubs, and the other two would find jobs in...

  5. Part I. Setting the Stage

    • Chapter 1 Sexing the Globe
      (pp. 15-42)

      To understand the experiences of Filipina entertainers serving a U.S. clientele around U.S. military bases in South Korea, one necessarily has to grapple with the global forces that brought these disparate groups together. Equally, if not more important, how are women’s sexuality and labor both premises for their deployment and sites of agency to negotiate within globalized hierarchies of race, class, and gender? In very broad terms,gijichonis what Denise Brennan, following Appadurai’s idea of “ethnoscapes,” calls an individual “sexscape.” Drawing on her study of sex tourism in a Dominican town, Brennan suggests that “sexscapes link the practices of...

  6. Part II. Laborers of Love

    • VIGNETTE I A Gijichon Tour in 2000
      (pp. 45-49)

      “TDC,” in the common parlance of GIs and Filipina entertainers, refers to Dongducheon (transliterated as Tongduch’on in the Yale-McCune romanization system), a city approximately forty kilometers south of the Demilitarized Zone. More specifically, it refers to a strip of land made up of two parallel streets in front of Camp Stanley and Camp Casey, the main installations of the Second Infantry Division of the United States Forces in Korea (USFK). What marks it as a military town is the occasional armored tank and military vehicle that drive by and the dominant presence of American soldiers in their combat boots and...

    • Chapter 2 ʺForeignʺ and ʺFallenʺ in South Korea
      (pp. 50-73)

      Gijichon—U.S. military camp towns in South Korea—are not “really” what Korea is about, I was told a fair number of times during my two years of field research. For example, my twenty-year-old Seoul National University friend told me that I, as a foreigner, should not be going there because he felt ashamed of them; my sixty-year-old landlord just frowned and turned her face away the few times I talked about my trips to Dongducheon; and a senior Korean anthropologist asked me to studychesa(ancestor worship) and shamanism instead if I “really wanted to learn about Korean culture.”...

    • Chapter 3 Women Who Hope
      (pp. 74-96)

      On the day of their departure I was standing with Winnie and the other Angel Club Filipinas near the gate at Gimpo International Airport.¹ Winnie, the woman who provoked the death threat by roaming with her fiancʹe Johnny in the clubs, gave me her fiancʹe’s phone number upon my request so that I could interview him. She said that Johnny was going to visit her in the Philippines, where they were going to get married before moving to the United States.

      S: What are you going to do back home?

      Winnie: I want to go to Cyprus.

      S(surprised): Cyprus?...

  7. Part III. Transnational Women from Below

    • VIGNETTE II A Day in Gijichon, December 1999
      (pp. 99-101)

      I met Ira and Lou from the Mermaid Club at the Olympic Restaurant in TDC at 1:00 p.m. There really was not much choice besides the Olympic—Ira and Lou liked fried chicken and spaghetti, and few restaurants near TDC served these dishes. Many other Filipinas and GIs were regulars at the Olympic. We usually met around noon. I generally started my journey from Seoul at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., about the time they got up.

      Neither of them had a date that day. They usually tried to meet up with their customers/boyfriends in the daytime. If one of them...

    • Chapter 4 The Club Regime and Club-Girl Power
      (pp. 102-130)

      When the seven Filipinas returned to TDC with the Lees the evening after the seven-hour negotiation, they did not get to just pick up their bags and meet up with their boyfriends as they had hoped. Annabel, in a phone conversation with me after she had returned to the Philippines, said that the Lees, in order to help get Mrs. Lee out of jail, locked the doors and made them testify on videotape that there had been no forced prostitution.

      Onni [Ms. Lee] made us speak on videotape. First, she asked us, “How are you?” She then said they wanted...

    • Chapter 5 Love ʺbetween My Heart and My Headʺ
      (pp. 131-160)

      I had to laugh at the symphony of “Honey, I love you,” the phrase that the Angel Club Filipinas uttered into their mobile phones, which echoed in the otherwise empty first-floor coffee shop. It was the day I convinced them of the need to retrieve their passports from the Seoul police station so that they could leave Korea as soon as possible for their safety, as club owners were upset with them for getting the president of their association put in detention. After the two-hour train and subway ride from Dongducheon to Seoul, we were told to return in an...

  8. Part IV. Home Is Where One Is Not

    • VIGNETTE III Disparate Paths: The Migrant Woman and the NGO
      (pp. 163-165)

      On May 9, 2000, at around 11:20 p.m., I waited with the crowd held back by railings in front of Centennial Airport in Manila. Ira and Bella were supposed to arrive soon. I kept trying to identify their families, but the sea of people made it impossible—a flight was arriving from Hong Kong slightly before that from Seoul. Fifteen minutes past midnight Ira and Bella, both dressed in black sleeveless vests and blue jeans, came through customs with their big black bags like those commonly used by U.S. servicemen. Ira was holding a big stuffed toy that was to...

    • Chapter 6 At Home in Exile
      (pp. 166-191)

      In late 1998 Annabel was making five thousand pesos a month working at Chow King (a fast-food chain) and selling accessories on the side in Manila. As the contract with Chow King was finishing, a friend introduced her to a Filipino recruiter. Annabel wanted to work as an entertainer in Japan. Going overseas was a chance for her to make money, to “have more,” and to gain respect from her family.

      Problems with her entertainer visa for Japan kept delaying her departure. Meanwhile, Annabel heard from her friend that some Filipinas made more money in South Korea than in Japan....

    • Chapter 7 ʺGiving Value to the Voicesʺ
      (pp. 192-218)

      After the negotiations with the Lees, the seven Angel Club Filipinas and I were standing in a circle in the middle of the busy street in central Seoul waiting for Mr. Lee to return with photocopies of the agreement that they had all just signed. They were talking animatedly in English and Tagalog, attracting quite a few glances from passersby. They thanked me and seemed happy with the amount of compensation. The women decided that they wanted to go straight back to the club area in TDC that evening with the club owners rather than return to the shelter where...

    • Chapter 8 Hop, Leap, and Swerve—or Hope in Motion
      (pp. 219-228)

      I started this ethnography with the story of the Angel Club Filipinas, all of whom left South Korea that summer of 1999. I would like to end it with the stories of Filipinas who arrived earlier that summer—all first-time migrants—and with whom I have kept in touch since then. Lou, Candy, Bella, and Jessie all worked together with Ira for at least one year, in 1999–2000, at the Mermaid Club in TDC. For all but one of them, this first trip overseas launched their transnational careers.

      Lou—our heroine who told her club owner that she was...

  9. Appendices
    (pp. 229-242)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 243-264)
  11. References
    (pp. 265-282)
  12. Index
    (pp. 283-288)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 289-291)