Koreatown Caution

2010.Mar.10 Wednesday · 23 comments

in Life, Popular Posts

I’ve hesitated a few days about writing this up, mostly because I don’t want family and friends to be worried about living here in BA, nor people who don’t really know the city to take this as a sign of insecurity here in town. In the end though, it’s not something that couldn’t have happened in any big city, anywhere. We wuz robbed, as they say. Oh, it’s at least partly our own fault. I was out with a friend and headed to barrio corea for lunch one afternoon last week. Turns out the 101 bus, apparently, and though not listed in the Guia T bus guide, has two different routes – one of which goes right into the barrio, the other of which goes around the other side of the Villa Ilia, one of the villas misereres – generally not good spots for a couple of gringo types… well, probably anyone not from the villas… to be.

We headed up the main avenue that skirted the villa, figuring on going around it and into Korea town, but the streets are a bit convoluted, and within a couple of blocks we realized that one of the twists had taken us right into the villa, where we were spotted by a gang of 20-something thugs (not realizing it at that moment). Our choices, turn around and go back and figure out how to go around it like we’d originally planned, or continue straight ahead on the main street through the villa, to Av. Castañares, the main street separating it from the Korean area.

It was closer to go ahead, and turning back didn’t guarantee we’d be in a better area, in fact probably would have left us more open to other “spottings”. We made it actually to within half a block of the avenue when the gang of five surrounded us without warning, three of them brandishing pistols (likely not loaded, very possibly not even real, but who wants to take a chance?). With two of the weapons pointed more or less at my head, I simply let them take whatever they wanted – which unfortunately meant they got cash, camera, phone, notebook, DNI (national identity document), keys, and reading glasses. I asked if I could have back the ID, keys and glasses, but they declined… rudely I thought, after all, I’d asked politely. And then they took off, though we could see them watching us from about a block away to see what we’d do. My friend got off lucky, other than one of the five holding a gun and waving it around a bit, they didn’t take anything of his – quite lucky, since he actually had far more of value on him than I did. And thankfully, neither of us hurt other than a couple of bruises on one arm where one of them grabbed me. Everything except the notebook is basically replaceable, and even that is research that I can reproduce.

So, a cautionary tale – not that anyone in their right mind ought to be walking through one of the villas unprotected, even in broad daylight with dozens of people out on the street (who all studiously ignored what was going on), but, just to be far more careful of surroundings in this city – some of this is starting to spill over into other areas. It was noticeable, even on arrival three blocks away in Barrio Corea, that there were no people out on the streets, a neighborhood that on past visits had plenty of folk out wandering about, shopping, etc. The cop who we stopped to report to what happened clearly assumed we were in the area for nefarious purposes, probably drugs, and despite assuring him we’d come for the local food, told us to go back home, stay out of the neighborhood, and not come back. He declined to even take a report, and suggested that we could either go to the local precinct if we wanted to, but he didn’t recommend it as “they’d do nothing”, or, go back and report it in our own neighborhood precinct, where, likely, they’d do nothing either, but at least might be willing to take a report. Even at the remís service where we grabbed a car service ride back to Recoleta, they asked us what the hell we were doing in the area and recommended against it. So, I’d say, for Korean food these days here in BA, stick with Bi Won in Recoleta.


{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

fede March 10, 2010 at 15:00

first long time reader first time writer
bad luck it really could happen to anyone
but flores is not a good place to be right now
the cop didnt want to take your complain cause it goes to the statistics on insecurity.
i really like your blog but dont agree on your pizza opinon. can you recomend good spicy food in the city?

dan March 10, 2010 at 15:49

Federico, perhaps that was his reason, perhaps he didn’t feel like doing any paperwork, perhaps something else, who knows?

Glad you’re liking the blog. What is it you don’t agree with on the pizza? That there’s both good and bad pizza here, and that while I understand that porteños like a style with lots of cheese and little sauce, it’s not my preference? That’s pretty much true of anywhere. Hey, I don’t particularly like New York style pizza either.

As to spicy food – there are plenty of Peruvian and Bolivian restaurants in town, at least one Korean outside of barrio corea, as note above, Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai (just remember at those to ask for it made spicy, if you don’t, you’ll likely get bland versions dumbed down for local palates). Plenty of all of those reviewed here – just look at the index by cuisine.

Frank Almeida March 10, 2010 at 18:00

Sorry to hear this happened to you Dan. Thankfully, you were not hurt.

Candice March 10, 2010 at 21:35

I am so relieved that you were unhurt and horrified that this happened.
I am glad that we still have so much exploring and discovering in town, that we won’t be venturing out in the direction of the villas for a long time (if ever)..

I love this blog, we use it all the time and I constantly recommend it ..

Take care, C

Donald Zealand March 11, 2010 at 10:56

What a rotten experience. So glad you were not physically harmed. Keep writing this blog, it keeps me in weekly touch with you and Buenos Aires.



Marc March 11, 2010 at 11:01

What a horrible situation that must have been but I’m glad you guys came out of it unhurt.

I’m not sure about statistical reasons and paperwork was probably part of the reason, but the police are increasingly asking themselves why they should go through the trouble. Living in a small city with crime rapidly growing it is easy to see how the police and judicial system works from petty theft to homicide. Like some have already said in the media, more rights are given to criminals, particularly human rights, than to victims of crime. I always joke that you would probably get in more trouble shooting an armed robber breaking into your home than them breaking in and shooting you.

There have been local cases where robbers broke into people’s homes, threatened them with knives or guns, and were released the same day or next because the judges declared that since no one was hurt or physically attacked, they were simple robberies–simple robbery basically means you go free. Other cases where robbers were caught on store cameras stuffing their purses or bags–clear shots of their faces–yet since police were not able to find the stolen goods after tracking them down, the judges threw out the cases for lack of evidence. Same thing with thieves actually getting caught red-handed by the police, you know, in the middle of a store at 3 a.m. with clothes or electronics in their hands, yet the judges and defense lawyers still found ways to set them free. Sometimes it’s with a promise not to do it again, even though they committed numerous crimes in the past.

With minors whew, that’s a whole other ballpark, there have been a few cases where some committed robberies and assaults, were caught, tossed in jail, and freed the same day only to commit another crime hours later and those steps were repeated 4-5 times within a week.

Although the police are not without fault, it is unfortunate that they receive most of the blame (cars overturned, being at the receiving end of thrown rocks and bottles) when people should be focusing more on the criminal justice system and the judges themselves. Until that gets overhauled and sympathetic judges are tossed out, nothing is going to change.

Mary March 11, 2010 at 14:20

Dan, you were lucky. A gringo friend of mine several years ago was hurt when I didn’t let him wander towards Bajo Flores (is that where you were?), big camera around his neck, obviously a gringo. I am now so happy I insisted. I don’t think our city is particularly unsafe, but wandering into or so near a villa miseria, gringo or local, qualifies as asking for it. I’m glad for you you weren’t hurt.

Ken Sternberg March 11, 2010 at 14:41

Wow, Dan. I’m very sorry to read about this terrible experience. I’m happy that you and your friend were not hurt. I hope that you can get new documents (as well as a new camera, computer, etc.) without too much difficulty.

dan March 11, 2010 at 17:48

Thanks all. Yes, coming out with little more than a couple of bruises was, at least physically, the ideal. Everything else is basically replaceable or reproduce-able.

Marc, the police, while perhaps not in this particular case, are definitely a problem here in BA. I don’t know about down in your neck of the woods in TDF, but here, too many of them are directly or indirectly involved in criminal activities. A local acquaintance owns a small sporting goods store, and one night was alerted by his alarm company that the alarm was going off and they were sending the police. On arrival, he found a couple of squad cars in front of the store and the officers loading them up with stuff from the store – one of them pulled a gun on him, pointed it at his head and told him if he filed a complaint he could count on being dead by the next day. A detective arrived and stood there literally taking his burglary report while ignoring the cops loading their cars – told him to just report all his inventory as lost to his insurance company. And this happens too often here, it’s not an isolated example. So it’s not just the judges and legal system. A good start would be paying the PFA officers a real living wage so they’re less tempted towards corruption.

At the same time, I’ve personally had fairly good experiences with any officer I’ve had to deal with here until this one – and even he wasn’t doing anything other than probably telling it like it is, he knew no one would care or do anything about it, so why waste the time?

David March 13, 2010 at 17:14

Nice to see you kept your head literary and figuratively.

You played it smart and I’m glad you’re fine.

Richard Reynolds March 14, 2010 at 09:39

I am a journalist and was talking to a senior police official a few months back. He proudly told me that they had raised the educational requirements for police officers. So I thought, oh, they need college of some sort.
Well, it turns out that until 9 years ago, all you needed was a grade SIX education to be a policeman. Now it is grade nine.
Explains a lot.

dan March 14, 2010 at 10:05

Richard – It’s possible, but then, college education is rarely a requirement to join a police force, anywhere. For the NYPD, all that’s required is a GED, you don’t even need a full high school diploma. I think the problem is very financially related – a basic street officer of the PFA here in BA starts at approximately 1600 pesos per month, which over time increases to a maximum of 2400 pesos a month if they stay at officer (“agente”) grade (and that, by the way, is with a recent, 2009, 10.6% increase). In other parts of the country that can be less. It does get supplemented by various overtime and special assignments, but those aren’t guaranteed (and overtime just to make ends meet is never a great incentive, in any profession, let alone what effect it may have on someone’s judgment if they’re tired). Try living in BsAs on 400 pesos a week, especially if one supports a family – while it doesn’t excuse unprofessional or corrupt behavior, it does shed some light into the temptation.

dan March 14, 2010 at 10:11

David, the interesting thing was that immediately on being surrounded, I could hear the voice of my sifu saying, more or less, “Remain calm, do what they say, if you don’t think they’re going to shoot you anyway, it isn’t worth your life for a little money and a few things that you’re carrying. You can replace those.” Being able to take out one or two of them before getting a bullet in the head is a very short-lived satisfaction.

Deby Novitz March 19, 2010 at 12:53

I cannot count the times I have been to the Barrio Coreano, at least 50 to many of the restaurants there. I would never go on the bus. You would have to be out of your mind. I take the subte to Carobobo and then a taxi.

On Carobobo there is now a Police Kiosco. You were robbed in a villa – a dangerous place to be. You were not robbed where the restaurants are. A big difference.

I would never exchange the great restaurants in this barrio for the bland food at Bi-Won.

dan March 19, 2010 at 13:08

Obviously there’s a difference between being in the villa and being in the barrio, but they’re only, these days, a block apart as the villa has steadily expanded – and along Castañares, the main avenue that has always divided the two areas, there were clearly folk who fall into the “undesirable element” category out and being watchful of people passing by.

While historically I’d agree with you Deby, there was clearly a different atmosphere on the street – as in, no people from the Korean community. I’m used to, on past visits, and especially on a beautiful afternoon, the shops being open, people walking the streets, dining in the restaurants, shopping, etc. There was almost no one out. And every shop, even those grocery stores that are normally wide open, had their doors shut and buzzing people in. The restaurants were empty. The kiosk is there, but there was no officer in it. The one officer who was in a patrol car, well, you saw his reaction in my writeup. The folks in the remis service thought we were nuts for being there on the block.

It’s a caution – there’s no question the food is better in many of the restaurants out there than at Bi-Won, but, if as seems to be the case, the danger from the villa is now spilling over into the barrio, it’s worth being aware that it’s a risk. As to the subway, had I remembered that the A line had extended to Carabobo (that’s only about a year now since they did that, and I haven’t used the subway out that way), we might have taken it. On the other hand, according to both the current Guia T and past experience, the 101 bus from my neighborhood has always run out Castañares and turned up Carabobo (and I’ve taken it many a time to go there), so you could actually get off the bus in the middle of Barrio Corea without ever approaching the villa, which made it very easy – what I didn’t know was that there are three different ramales, routes, of the 101, and only one of those, the Barrio Samore one, goes into Barrio Corea itself.

Ian March 24, 2010 at 22:35

I only went to Bajo Flores a handful of times for korean food and even then I always dressed down and never went beyond Saraza.

I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the other korean community in northwestern Flores. In the area between Av. Avellaneda and Av. Gaona, along Campana are more authentic korean restaurants and shops in a much safer area. The best korean restaurant in the city (according to a korean man I talked to), is in fact in this same area, on the corner of Campana and Felipe Vallese.

Buen provecho.

dan March 25, 2010 at 08:04

Is that the area that borders on/overlaps into Floresta? Someone else just mentioned that to me but didn’t have an exact location.

Ian March 27, 2010 at 19:35

Yes. Walk from Rivadavia straight up along Campana and the area will start to turn korean, especially once you pass Av Avellaneda.

Mark May 12, 2010 at 21:28


I work in that area (around Avellaneda) and yes, there are plenty of good eats. I will ask my relatives for some recommendations.

I am also married to a Korean and regularly eat around Carabobo. Always feel uneasy though, as there have been a number of violent attacks on the doorsteps of Korean restaurants.

There is an excellent korean-owned sushi and seafood restaurant just off Carabobo (& asamblea?). Very different to other downtown sushi spots I have visited. Also reasonably priced and most importantly there is nearly always a well-paid cop at or very near the door. If you do decide to pay a visit, I would suggest you remis in and remis straight out again.

Virginie March 20, 2012 at 14:04

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I live in Cabaliito and I love Korean food, I often drove by but I was never brave enought to stop ans eat there. Nowthat I’ve read your story, I think I’ll give a try at Estilo Koreano in Puerto Madero.

dan March 20, 2012 at 16:10

You might also try some of these – I haven’t gotten around to most of them yet, but bit by bit I’ll get to the ones that aren’t in that stretch along Carabobo….

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