I bowed my head politely as the Korean mobster we were waiting for entered the rendezvoused café. How was it that we got ourselves in this situation, academics meeting gangsters? In a true lesson of cultural competence, the researchers at Yonsei University informed us that the majority of nightclubs in Seoul are owned and operated by Korean gangsters. Fantastic.
Fortunately, we had an in. One of the researchers actually plays golf with one of their leaders, ominously called “Boss.” He is the head of his family and I couldn’t help but think of The Godfather movies. We were dealing with the Korean mafia.
On Tuesday we arranged a meeting with him – he is a tall, encroaching man with dark piercing eyes. He wore a suit and had a charismatic, yet shaded, air about him. It was strikingly obvious that this man did not mess around.
The three Yonsei researchers that accompanied us explained the study to him while John and I quietly looked on, meekly sipping coffee. Once they were finished he paused and slightly tilted his head – we all waited for his decision in anticipation.
Finally, he agreed.
I sighed and realized that my body had been tense during the entire exchange. I quickly glanced over at John and saw him deep in thought. Success! One down, nine more to go!
The next day John, myself and one of the Korean researchers took the subway to his nightclub. Stone horses more than 15 feet tall adorned the main room, which featured a sizable dance floor and multiple booths. One of Boss’ underlings ushered us into a back room where we met with five employees. One of them refused to participate in the study once we told him that we needed hair samples but the others jovially accepted. They were all quite nice, actually. Very accommodating, very receptive to our cause. We snipped their hair, placed three nicotine monitors throughout the club, thanked them and were off.
Once outside we all let out a nervous laugh. We had finished the first step – will the remaining establishments be this involved? Time will have to tell…