The Casinos of Busan called me like sirens promising their rocks were dull and ready to be docked. I was sitting in the Paradise Casino with two stacks of chips. I gave the croupier forty thousand won, or forty American dollars, and was given two towers of chips. I later learned that each chip was worth two dollars and fifty cents.
I bet black. I had spotted the casino from the crowded stone steps that lead down to the beach. Haeundae Beach slopes down into the Pacific Ocean into a small inlet with houses climbing like rows of multicolored chairs up the lush, green hills. The hotels tower over the half moon and umbrellas huddle together in an orange mass that parts into small streets leading to the sea. I told Carlos and Shea, two coworkers and friends that work with me at the Hokwon, that we would spend five minutes at the beach and then find the casino.
“You’re too much,” Shea laughed as she followed Carlos to the Pacific. Five minutes later I was circling beneath the bridge-walkway that connected the hotel foundations of the two lobbies and bars of the Paradise trying to figure out how to get to the casino perched on top of the squat structures like a medieval tower. After harassing several valets, clerks and receptionists I walked past an open bar with green liqueurs and Waterford crystal glasses and found the casino.
Shea watched in amazement as seven times in a row the white ball clattered into a black bucket and my pile grew larger. To enter the casino you need a passport or an Alien Registration Card—a card that tells people you are working in the country and have a visa. Koreans are not allowed to gamble in the casinos they are only to work in them. The casinos are an eclectic mixture of Asians stacking money and smoking thin cigarettes while they flip through books they pull out of their hip bags. A man cursed in several languages at the Baccarat table behind us. I couldn’t help but think if we were in Atlantic City after he called the croupier a, “Motherfucking asshole,” for the fifth time he would’ve been beaten and thrown out the front door and banned from playing. But in the Paradise Casino a few people politely cleared their throats and the ball kept clacking like a train over the buckets.
I slowly began to lose my money, and then I lost all of it. Carlos made a small bet, and Shea watched in amazement as I made small towers of chips and then watched them demolished.
I lost sixty dollars in total. This did not discourage me, but made me emboldened for the next day. We found a bar called, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” with a picture of the Lombard building in contrast in front of the Schuylkill River. Inside there was a bartender named, Pooh, who told us he gave attractive lonely girls free drinks of Bacardi 151 rum. After we told the waitress in Korean she was beautiful, he offered to teach the word for ugly in Hangul which promoted the waitress to giggle and attack him with a rolled up bar rag.
After spending the next morning wallowing in my bed and trying not to think, we walked down to a promenade with shops lining a limestone street. They sold American brands like Nike, Addidas, Levi’s. Levi’s had a bikini store with no jeans in it, which I thought was odd. We ate lunch in a restaurant that looked like the inside of a doll house. It was painted pink with white pew benches and floral throw pillows on all of the benches. The seafood in Busan is the best in all of South Korea. We ate it everywhere, but the spaghetti mare and pescattore were especially fresh when served in a restaurant with the décor of Barbie’s Playhouse.
That night Carlos and I took a stroll down Texas Street at a little past midnight. Neon signs fought to grab hold of your eyes-- orange and green and blue letters snaking around to form America names like Hollywood, New York and Los Angeles. The streets glimmered and for a moment I was confused when some women in a blouse tied together over her sagging breasts grabbed me by the crouch and pulled me into a sliding door shed that was claiming to be a bar.
“You want the sex,” she shot at me. The skin around her eyes sagged down like a hound’s and she had the beaten face of an old whore. She felt the need to continuously to grab Carlos’s crotch and mine as if we had forgotten why we were there.
“I’m out of here,” I said. I pushed pass her friend who was pointing at a bottle of whiskey and offering a deal: forty dollars for a drink and a fuck. I didn’t take the deal.
We stumbled back to our hotel, which was called The Busan Tourist Hotel. After two days we got back on a train, and went back to Daejeon. I considered changing my name and staying, but there was no job, and then all of my stuff might have been sold by the company.