Sometimes, you decide to start researching something you know is unsavory. But you figure, what the hell. I’m an adult, well educated and widely traveled, experienced in the ways of the world. I know how people are. We gotta talk about weird and creepy shit, bring it to light, if we wanna kinda try and change it. Besides, you think, people like reading about scandalous stuff. How bad could these search results be?
And several hours later, you remember that you really have no idea.
People, I have traveled through dark and shadowy corners of the Korean internet – corners that were actually all too easy to find – to bring you this post on baekma tada, “to ride the white horse,” a dirty Korean phrase for sex with a white woman.
A quick note for white supremacists and other creeps who fetishize “racial purity”
Before I go further, I want to note something very important. Most Korean men who date or marry white women, like the extremely wonderful Korean man I’m married to, are not particular creeps. So I mean if you’re some kind of white supremacist “alt right” “white nationalist” type who stumbled on this blog looking for evidence that “they” are trying to take “our” women, just leave, because you are doing exactly the same creepy thing that makes the baekma idea gross in the first place. And I say this because I have encountered these creepy white men saying creepy racist shit like this, and I don’t want anyone to take me discussing this creepy phrase critically as an endorsement for any other disgusting racist ideas.
Riding the white horse: the fetishization of white women in Korea
I have also, particularly during my 8 years living in Korea, encountered some creepy Korean men – alas, this scourge touches every land! – and baekma is a gross idea that exists in Korean culture (or at least in male subcultures).
Paekma (rŭl) t’ada (백마를 타다, baekma tada in Revised Romanization) means to ride the white horse. Baekma literally means “white horse” – it comes from the traditional Chinese characters 白 (baek, white) and 馬 (ma, horse), and t’ada means “to ride” – the same word you’d use to talk about riding a bus or a bike. It’s also, as I said, a slang term for having sex with a white woman, in a notch-in-the-belt type way.
As my first exhibit, I present the Google Image results for 백마, done in June 2017 on a Chrome incognito tab:
Few horses, many barely-clothed white ladies. (My favorite is the one who is actually riding the white horse.)
This is not the sort of search result you’d want to find in your teenage son’s browser history. And honestly I think the decent Korean people I know (which includes most of them) also find this to be an uncouth phrase – even the wikinamu entry on the topic warns not to use it because it’s seriously racially discriminatory degrading speech, and because even foreigners who speak Korean just a little will understand what you mean. (“엄연한 인종차별의 소지가 있는 비하 발언이고 외국인이라도 한국어 조금만 할 줄 알면 다 알아들으니 쓰지 말자.”)
“White horse experiences”: Bragging about bagging a white girl
If you speak Korean and want to be even more disturbed by search results, try typing 백마 경험 – “white horse experience” – into a search engine. You’ll find guys recounting their experiences with white women, mostly in posts on message boards like Ilbe, the 4chan of South Korea. The titles are things like “On the last day of travel, wild sex with a white horse,” which recounts, as far as I can tell – I don’t know all the slang – how the poster met an American girl while traveling in the US and after chatting with her for a while, slept with her. I think this is pretty normal behavior, though in questionable taste to share on internet forums.
How to sleep with a white girl
More disturbing – because to me, it isn’t normal behavior – were the rest of the results, and where they led me.
One of the first results was instructions on how to have a “baekma experience” when visiting Australia – basically, to google “brothel” and the name of the city you’re visiting, genius. Sex work is legal to some degree across Australia, which is a policy I don’t necessarily disfavor – so while some may think this is icky, it’s not super shocking.
What really shocked me were the brothel reviews – of brothels in South Korea. Now I know prostitution is a big industry, though illegal – in Korea; a friend showed me the now-demolished red light street across from Yongsan Station my first day in the country on our way to buy a cell phone. But this was a whole other level.
On one site, which seems to be a giant sex industry directory, people offer their reviews of experiences at brothels – including ones specializing in baekma, which is why it showed up on my search results. These are shockingly detailed, and I have greatly increased my dirty Korean vocabulary after reading just a few.
This guy, for example, reviews his first time with a baekma. He went to a place called Baekma Mafia in Gangdong-gu, Seoul, on June 5, 2017 – his sŏnbae in the office had recommended it. He got the one hour course and was half expectant, half nervous. The girl’s name was Kate, and they spoke in English for a bit and then took a shower. They lay on the bed, and her lips were so soft. He now understands why everyone is so wild about baekma; her movements were like dancing. Unfortunately, he came too quickly.
Another encounter took place on April 21, 2017, at a place in Gangnam called Baekma Nara (“White Girl Country”). He kinda recently had his first experience at an “o.p.” (apparently a category of sex business – also a new word for me), and it was good, so he wanted to try a baekma. Two of his more senior colleagues were curious, so they went together after work. When he went into the room, he saw a “baekma ŏnni” (a white woman a little older than him) with yellow hair, blue eyes, wearing a thong. A foreign song was playing. They smoked and touched a bit while talking in beginner English, and then they took showers. Then she danced toward him. It was like a dream. …the rest is too dirty for me to feel comfortable writing.
…and those are just summaries of two that appeared on the very first page of search results for baekma kyŏnghŏm.
The portal site also has ads with photos and prices: As an example I clicked on randomly, at Baekma Club near exit 1 of Seolleung Station (phone number: 010-2947-2073; hours 2 p.m. to 5 a.m.), 30 minutes for 130,000 won (about $120), 60 minutes for 180,000 won, 90 minutes (“two-shot”) for 300,000 won, and two 30-minute sessions (“two-shot”) for 250,000 won.
What is this, Foursquare?
A few final thoughts on baekma
I started writing this post because of an awkward encounter I had at a wedding recently and a discussion in a Facebook group that happened around the same time. I was thinking simply about the damage perceived racial hierarchies do to people of all races, and the ickiness of the objectification of women both in general and when based on race.
I already thought this term was sexist and otherwise offensive to both good taste and human decency. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to experience new things or have an exciting fling with a foreigner while traveling, but it’s at least questionable to talk about it as “riding the white horse” or through other animal-related, dehumanizing phrases, in any language.
Unfortunately, I learned a lot more, perhaps too much, and I only feel ickier about humanity as a whole.
I learned that the sex industry in Korea – which I already knew was a part of office life – is even more pervasive than I guess I fully realized. Maybe you didn’t notice, but both the reviews there involved coworkers! The site has an “office” theme! This is just one small example of the kind of sexism that’s built into work life in Korea, and while I knew about it, I guess it was hard for me to fully believe it. Is this what all my male Korean friends are doing after work, before going home to their wives or meeting their girlfriends? It horrifies me to think so, but maybe. How do my female friends feel about this, at work in Korean offices? If this is how you bond with coworkers, what kind of environment does that build for anyone who isn’t into this behavior?
And this isn’t a judgment against the sex trade in general – broadly speaking, I think a well-regulated legal sex industry is better for women than making this kind of thing illegal, because it at least makes it possible for people who need or want to visit sex workers to do so ethically. After all, it’s totally illegal in Korea, a country where many like to pretend the young women are pure as snow (they are no purer than anywhere else), a place that requires pornography to be pixelized. But here it is, a quick search result away, all laid out like it’s Yelp or something, with women waiting for you who, for all you know, have been trafficked from abroad or forced into sex slavery by loan sharks.
So yeah, anyway. That’s baekma for you, and this baekma‘s off to take a shower.
A message to my father-in-law
Now I have to briefly address my father-in-law, who sometimes reads this blog (but who I hope hasn’t read this because, awkward). First of all, I am sorry if you have read this far because maybe it’s embarrassing to read when your daughter-in-law writes about something like this!
More importantly, you may wonder how my Korean ability is sufficient to read these dirty posts and pages and yet I can’t get my words in order to carry on a smooth conversation with you. I’m even sorrier about this, and it is a great mystery to me as well ㅠㅠ
A note on romanization: My romanization is all mixed up here between McCune-Reischauer and Revised Romanization here. It really bothers me but it’s just gonna stay that way. I think baek is much more of a b word than a p word, but I hate the eu/ou for 으 and 어.
all written content copyright SMK.