Angeles City: Same Same But Different Part 6
The expat scene in the Philippines is changing. The Philippines was an American colony from 1899 to 1935, and there were two large military bases, one at Clark and one at Subic, both of which closed in the 1990’s. The result was that many American ex-servicemen settled in the Philippines, and many continued to visit the entertainment areas around the former bases, and passed on the word to others. But that is changing. Since 2008, the number of Korean expats and visitors has outnumbered those from the United States. There is now a sizeable Korean business presence in Angeles City with their own residential community around the Friendship Highway in Barangay Anunas. They even have their own police, who work in tandem with the Philippine National Police.
The reason? The Philippines is a developing economy: a 6.2% growth rate is predicted for 2020 so it is a good place for investment. Also, if you have Kim Jong Un to the north developing an arsenal of weapons, you might prefer to invest, and perhaps even live, as far out of his way as you can get.
This has had a considerable effect on the entertainment area around Fields Avenue – something that is termed “the Korean takeover”. On my first visit, in 2006, I didn’t see many Koreans, though the biggest and newest bars were Korean-owned (The Dollhouse Group).
These days about 60% of the visitors to Fields are Korean. I have no data about this, it is just a personal impression from my recent visits (confirmed by chats with bargirls and waitresses, particularly Nica, my waitress friend at Old Club), but it seems that most of the bars at the east end of Fields are for Koreans, and most of the bars at the west end are for westerners, with the tipping point being Kokomo’s (which is about half way along Fields). Kokomo’s is a popular bar / restaurant / hotel with a long frontage on Fields, where customers can sit and watch the world go by.
I usually go there for a full American breakfast, and the last time I was there I counted 14 customers, of whom two were Korean. As for the gogo bars, one of the first bars on Fields is a Korean bar called Paro Paro Bar.
To my surprise, I was actually denied entry and told it was for Koreans only. I looked offended, and the doorman added, “and Filipinos”, and I remembered reading a news article about a bar that had denied Filipinos entry, which had been the subject of a complaint. A little further up was Baccara (very different from its namesake in Bangkok, though good in a different way) and Leopard. By the way, the strange, sculpted head over the bar is a hangover from the days when it was called Cambodia.
In the daytime, Baccara is open, and the girls are available, but they do not dance. They just sit around in their ordinary clothes. At night, they pack the stage (see Part 1). The only downside is that a fair few seemed to have tattoos (is that because the former Blue Nile bar is a now a tattoo salon, and just a few doors away?)
Leopard is another bar where they don’t seem to have heard about the girl-shortage, though as I reported in Part 2, it is a daytime only bar. This is what I wrote in my diary after my first visit:
“Amazing! 30 plus girls on a small stage. Few places to sit, so I had to sit on a stool near the stage. The highest standard of girls seen yet, many pretty and sexy. Girls very firmly managed. The Korean manager was pushing and pulling them into place, and telling them in no uncertain terms what to do. I felt doubly out of place because 1) I was the only westerner, and 2) I was, by a large margin, the oldest person in the bar, most of the Koreans having a much younger age profile.”
That was the first time since 2010 that I have seen a stage so packed that the girls were almost falling off. Most bars these days have too few girls. Indeed, it is not uncommon to pop one’s head through the curtain and see a stage with just three or four below average dancers.
Not all the Korean bars are as successful. Nica told me that when Red was taken over by a Korean, the mamasan and her girls migrated to After Dark, and for a while, that was the most happening bar on Fields. Unfortunately, it was taken over by a Korean last August, and renamed NB. When I went there last week, it seemed they had fled again, because there were few girls and fewer customers.
The Koreans as customers seem to have a different way of working. They descend on the bars early, and make quick decisions about who to barfine – sometimes not even pausing to order a drink. A good example was what I saw in Apple.
Whereas I had settled in for a drink, bought the mamasan a drink, asked her advice about a girl, called her off the stage and bought her a drink – then, as she was new and shy, asked her friend to join us, and bought her a drink too, a young Korean came through the door, surveyed the stage for all of 30 seconds, chose a girl, helped her down from the stage, gave her a hug, and a moment later she was off to get changed. He didn’t even buy a drink while he waited.
A little later I popped into Bad Boy and was astonished to see that the stage was completely empty (it was about 9:00 PM). “Where are all the girls?” I asked a waitress. “Gone,” she replied. “All barfined.” I didn’t ask, but I suspect it was our Korean friends at work again.
Another difference is that they usually operate in groups. I went into Brown Sugar a bit later and it seemed quite full, mainly with Koreans (though this is still a ‘western’ bar, specialising in classic rock ’n roll). Suddenly, they all got up and went, about 12 of them, leaving many beers unfinished (or hardly begun). Clearly, their group leader had decided to go, and the others followed, ready or not. Suddenly the bar seemed empty. By comparison, we westerners are often lonely hunters, or work in pairs.
Further to the east along Fields, the customers seem to be mainly westerners. It is perhaps significant that the bar closures I mentioned above are mainly in this area, and that those that were still open have fewer girls, among them several older, plumper ladies (the word ‘girls’ would be a misnomer for these ponderous persons).
Some of the old gogo bars are being replaced by KTV bars, which the Koreans seem to favour, like this one, right in the middle of Walking Street.
The Korean influx would be a good thing if we were as welcome in their bars as they are in ours, because they recruit the hottest girls and manage them well. Let me be clear about this – I was refused entry to only one Korean bar, but in others, I was made comfortable by the waitresses, who were as friendly as any Filipina waitresses anywhere. However, they told me that the girls in those bars prefer Koreans. They are younger, they pay more, and for a girl to be seen with a westerner might put off their future Korean customers. Also, as the only (or one of a small minority) of westerners (and oldies) I felt somewhat out of place. Next time I go I will make a point of chatting to a girl in one of these bars and get the inside story from her perspective.
We tend to think of the Philippines as the only westernised culture in the Far East. Filipinos are mainly Christians (Roman Catholics) and they were colonised, first by Spain, and then by America. English is an official language, along with Filipino (Tagalog), and they just love western (mainly American) culture: pop-music, movies, McDonald’s, Kim Kardashian, etc. However, they are still Asians, and also relate to K-Pop (Korean pop music), Korean soaps on TV, and Korean fashions. The Korean visitors to Angeles are, on the whole, much younger than western visitors, so who can blame a girl if she prefers a handsome young Korean to an (to quote the common cliché) old, fat and bald westerner? The other side of the coin is that, according to Nica (my waitress friend) westerners are much more likely to linger in the bar, buying drinks and having fun. Also, they are easier to talk to (not many girls speak Korean!) and there is always the chance that he will turn into a knight in shining armour (I have never heard of a Korean marrying a bargirl).
Those western guys sitting along the frontage of Kokomo’s are flying the flag in a way. If Kokomo’s is taken over by the Koreans, the rest of the western bars on Fields will fall like dominoes – what then? Probably they will migrate to Subic, as Alaska bar did. My guess is that, in a few years time, Angeles will be all-Korean, and Subic will be the last bastion of the old-style gogo bar in the Philippines.
Could this be a preview of what might happen in the odd bar area in Thailand? There are more Korean customers in some bars in Nana Plaza these days and there is a Korean-run gogo bar – Geisha. That said, Geisha has had ongoing problems and has been closed for a few days on a few occasions. But for sure, I think there are more Koreans in the bar areas in Thailand these days – and it seems likely there are more to come.
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