It just occurred to me that I haven’t written anything about Hongdae at all—the very district in Seoul I spent the most time in.
I guess that happens when you make a place your home base—you tend to take it for granted. It isn’t until months later, when you’re doing something totally exciting, like engaging in blood-curdling Mortal Kombat with an article on Korean cultural partnership initiatives (read: what people commonly call “writer’s block”), that you realize how much you miss it.
How much you terribly miss it.
The same thing happened to me with Osaka and Shinjuku when I was in Japan, Causeway Bay when I was in Hong Kong, and that cozy tour bus in Taiwan (it was, technically, our hotel)—by making these places my home away from home, I ended up not exploring them as much as the destinations I specifically listed in my itinerary. (Okay, I don’t really miss the Taiwan tour bus.)
When I was in Hongdae with my sister, we were always in a hurry, rushing to and from the subway and our guesthouse, that we somehow ended up ignoring all the quirky boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants we passed along the way.
Oh we’d stop when we’d see something that really caught our attention (read: a SALE sign), but at the end of the day, Hongdae was just that place where we’d pause and park our tired bodies in at night, the district that housed the 7-eleven we bought all our boring necessities from… it was a gateway, an area we had to traverse to get to final destinations like Insadong and Myeongdong.
I think it wasn’t until our final 24 hours in Seoul that I really looked at the place—it was the night before Monday, and I was struck by how vibrant and colorful the district was. Which was weird because we went out almost every night in the area…
Okay, here’s an A-ha! moment, folks: I might have dipped into Korea’s dedicated drinking culture a little too enthusiastically the first few nights. Hence, the lapse(s) in memory.
What I miss the most about Hongdae is BRUNCH. The place is lined with the cutest coffee shops.
Because most of Seoul was still asleep at 10 a.m., my sister and I would always have an entire cafe to ourselves :D
I really love how they “style” their food in Korea. Simple yet charming:
On our way to Changdeokgung Palace one rainy morning, my sister and I ended up in this place near our guesthouse called Cafe Organic, and having drunk ourselves silly the night before (Is it just me or do people tend to drink more while traveling?), we discovered the best hangover cure:
While browsing through photos of Seoul, I saw that most of the ones I have of Hongdae are of food.
There are no photos of the many places we went to, but I suddenly remember them all now:
That three-storey restaurant my sister’s Korean classmate took us to that served the best seven-course meal;
That cafe where you can eat in the company of stuffed animals;
That other one where you can pet dogs/cats while eating;
That quiet local bar we went to with people from Grape Garden (cheapest beer in the area, according to S; best haemul pajeon, according to my belly);
That club M wanted to check out on a dead night (we ended up sharing a bottle of soju across 7-eleven instead);
That park where college kids hung out until the subway opened…
Now that I think about it, we were everywhere in Hongdae. We had unknowingly explored the district’s nooks and crannies without us making much conscious effort at it. In hindsight, it was the place wherein I felt the most alive, the place where I lived most in the present, and the place I truly felt free. Heck, I don’t even remember ever dressing up while walking the streets of Hongdae. I couldn’t be bothered. I was too busy drinking in what the place had to offer.
I was just THERE—and that, I think, is why, out of all the scenic places in Seoul, it is the young and busy Hongdae neighbourhood that I miss the most.