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Warning about Seoul nightspots causes bit of a stir

People pack the streets of the Itaewon entertainment district near Yongsan Garrison.

SEOUL — Itaewon and Sinchon certainly might be home to risky behavior, but it doesn’t appear that the two Seoul entertainment areas, long popular with U.S. servicemembers, are any worse than usual, despite a U.S. Embassy warning about American citizens being assaulted, robbed and drugged there recently.

The warning in the most recent American Citizens Services’ newsletter was quickly dismissed by Korean business and tourist groups.

An official with the Korea Foodservice Industry Association — which includes a number of Sinchon bars and restaurants — said the embassy “is getting too carried away.”

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“We don’t need to overreact to what the embassy is saying,” he said, while acknowledging Americans are sometimes victimized in Seoul’s entertainment districts.

Yi Hun-hui, head of the Korea Foreigner Tourist Facility Association, said Americans are more to blame than South Koreans for illicit activities that contribute to the “wild life” in Itaewon and Sinchon.

Itaewon is home to dozens of bars and restaurants immediately adjacent to Yongsan Garrison. Sinchon — also known as Shinchon — is another entertainment district where several Korean universities also are located.

The monthly newsletter includes the section “Caution in Entertainment Districts,” which says Itaewon and Shinchon are “considered a higher-risk area for crime.”

“Please use caution in all entertainment and nightlife districts throughout Korea,” it continues. “Recently a small number of incidents involving U.S. citizens in these areas have included physical and sexual assaults, theft of purses, wallets and drugs allegedly slipped into drinks.”

Asked to elaborate on the incidents that led to the warning, embassy spokesman Aaron Tarver said in an email: “As best I can tell, this is not in response to anything new.

“We have this information in our country-specific information page on travel.state.gov,” he said. “We use our newsletter, which reiterates that information on the website, as a reminder of general safety concerns.”

Indeed, the words of warning on the South Korea section of the U.S. State Department website are quite similar and, in one instance, exactly the same as those in the newsletter.

The site also references dangers in the Myeongdong and Hongdae entertainment districts of Seoul, and warns: “Bar and street fights, as well as occasional harassment of Westerners, have also been reported in nightlife districts in Seoul.”

Yi said Sinchon is becoming more and more popular with soldiers and other Americans — and illicit activities are on the rise — because “South Korean women who are throwing themselves blindly into Americans’ hands … are hanging around on the street. Such a culture is rampant there.”

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