Korea has crazy moments.
Last night I went out to Hongdae, one of the country’s most popular areas, and took in some of the chaos.
Hongdae is maze of gritty streets lined with bars, dance clubs, clothes shops, and restaurants, butting up right against Hongik University in Seoul. It’s Seoul’s artistic hub, with street artists, small craftspeople, and musicians jockeying to set up in gaps between red brick buildings. Everywhere you look graffiti murals plaster the walls and people stroll the back streets with cameras hanging from their necks. At night the lanes fill up with Koreans eager to get on the sauce. Everywhere you look someone has a bottle of soju or a can of beer, or is staggering out of one dance club and climbing into another.
One of my favorite spots in Hongdae is Hongdae park, a tiny triangle of space cut out of stacks of neighboring buildings. On any given night, young Koreans line the park’s benches eating dokboki, drinking, and talking. As June turns into July in Korea the nightlife becomes that much more intense. The cool crisp peaceful nights shift suddenly here, and with the arrival of the heat more and more people line the park. Later at night motorcycles crawl through the gates, their massive headlights slicing through the park’s dim corners, and thundering engines pulsing in time with electronic music.
Hongdae’s true character comes alive when you visit at night and decide not to drink. The carnival around you becomes that much more vibrant, and the insanity of Korean nightlife much more entertaining. This weekend was the first real week of intense partying in Hongdae. When we trudged up the hill to the park a torrent of people were already flooding the streets and the shop-lights were aglow under Seoul’s charcoal sky.
Hongdae has no shortage of entertainment. The park was packed with people. Not just one but three different parties were happening in a space smaller than a typical school gymnasium. As we slipped in between crowds of tipsy Koreans we came to a group dancing silently to inaudible music.
Hongdae is not only a hub for some of Seoul’s best nightlife, it’s also littered with fantastic restaurants. If you want to know which Korean foods you have to try, make sure to pick up my free 25 Essential Korean Foods eBook right below this post.
Even after two years in Korea I am amazed about the amount of alcohol Koreans drink. It’s staggering. Many of the Korean girls I have met claimed to be able to drink 5 or 6 bottles of soju, 750ml bottles holding 17% hard alcohol. In Korea, it seems, the extraordinarily long hours that Koreans work seem to be fully compensated for by consuming vast amounts of alcohol. Of course, when alcohol is consumed at this rate, scenes like the one above become common.
Of course, there are enough idiots to go around, and not all of them are Korean. When 2 o’clock came around I decided to make my way home along the long stretch of sidewalk between Hongdae and Sinchon. Under the streetlights I noticed a figure moving, and then cars stopping in front of it. Looking over I saw a tall lanky white guy standing in the middle of the road, pointing at a black car in the oncoming-lane, as if commanding it to stop. It did. Then three more cars piled in behind it. The man was swaying back and forth under the the weight alcohol, before stepping aside and walking down the side of the road along the cars. As the cars left, a scooter approached. The foreigner looked up, then crossed his arms and got into a ready position. As the scooter passed, the man lunged out to try to block it, momentarily losing his balance. The scooter slipped past and the guy turned his attention to an oncoming orange taxi. He stepped into the middle of the road, and pointed at the taxi, which came to stop shortly in front of the drunk foreigner. The foreigner began walking towards the passenger side door only to find that the driver had locked it and rolled up the window. The driver, however, had forgotten to roll up the read door window and all 6 lanky feet of the foreigner’s alcohol infested body slipped through it, head first, and slid into the rear seat, legs flapping in the area behind him. Unfortunately for the rest of us foreigners a number of Koreans had managed to catch the whole episode on video.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well. Discover the most popular foods among Koreans an foreigners alike by downloading my free 25 Essential Korean Foods eBook available just below this write up.