When Korean women go for a girls' night out, money is not an issue. At the trendy nightclubs in the bustling city of Seoul, girls-only groups enjoy a free table with beers for each of them and an elaborate platter of assorted fruits.
But once inside, they hardly talk, drink or dance together – let alone see each other – thanks to a courtship ritual of Korean nightlife called "booking."
Waiters grab the girls one by one – almost forcibly, though women are expected to make a vain gesture of resistance – and literally shove them into one of dozens of rooms where groups of men wait for potential "dates" for the night.
On a Wednesday night, 29-year-old Mina Lee and her three girlfriends headed into the city's hip southern district to Spot, one of the Seoul's hottest nightclubs.
"There's not much to do in Korea for leisure. Coming here can be so stress-relieving," she said glancing around the room of seven guys she'd landed in.
Sporting her skinny jeans, burgundy enamel stilettos and a Diane Von Furstenberg designer silk blouse, Lee fired off text messages to her friends, who were most likely being "booked" in other rooms, on her Samsung mobile phone with a Louis Vuitton phone strap.
"We let each other know which room has cute guys and which room has losers," she explained.
Just then, the waiter escorted another girl, already seemingly drunk, into the room and seated across the table. One of the boys offered her a shot of Chivas Regal whiskey – the group's second bottle of the night, meaning the tab had already climbed upwards of $1,000.
After one glance at him, the girl sprung back up and bluntly uttered, "My friends are waiting." It was a flat "no." The whole process took less than a minute.
Hardly another 10 minutes passed by as more girls were escorted in by pushy "booking" waiters. When two young girls entered, flinging their long, straight hair over Romanesque white cotton blouses and sexy spandex mini skirts, the boys cheer them on.
One member jumped to a seat next to the taller girl and kissed her hand. She took him up on his offer to share a "love shot" – a mix of whiskey and beer gulped with arms wrapped around each other. Finally, mutual interest: a match.
But what if the guys are uninterested in a woman who's entered their room?
"We ignore her until she gets the message," explained 29-year-old Young-Gook Hong, a university student who hits the nightclubs three times a week. He says his "success rate" – meaning casual sex – is at least one, but sometimes all three evenings.
"If they like you, they'll punch in their phone numbers," Hong said, showing off his mobile phone. "I have several hundred numbers here, and sometimes when I try to save a new number, it's already there!"
Such scenes of modern Korea and its unique booking culture are an ironic mixture of Confucian tradition, chauvinism, feminism and progressive liberalism.
In Korean culture, where up to 90 percent of marriages were arranged until just 40 years ago, the process of a man going up to a woman asking for a date was not a natural part of courtship, according to Eungi Kim, a sociology professor at Korea University.