Saturday, November 22, 2014

Land of the Morning Calm - Night

Of course, exploring Seoul could not just mean visiting historic sites.  And fortunately, work didn't extend late into the night.  And in these big active Asian cities, nightfall does not mean the day is over, either.  Au contraire, it's just the beginning of the discovery of another exciting side of a place!

The future

It's just by chance I came to this place.  I was talking with a colleague about places to see, and he showed me a photo of Zaha Hadid's Dongdaemun Design Plaza (or DDP, 동대문 디자인플라자). All I needed was one look at the photo to know I had to go there.  Absolutely.

So, at the first chance I had, I headed for an immersion in the futuristic atmosphere of the DDP.  The building holds an gigantic space for exhibitions and the like, but even if you're not in the mood for attending any, you can simply walk around and look at the building and the city from countless super cool angles!  Please note:  No, not all of  Seoul is ultramodern and shiny and techy, of course.  But this whole area does give you the feeling of being at the very edge of modernity.  Really, it's impressive.  And, in my humble opinion, beautiful.

The beautiful

And talking about beautiful, and especially in this part of town full of fashion, you couldn't but notice all the ads for beauty creams and beauty treatments aimed at - who else? - men!?  I sure hope Jean Paul Gaultier is selling his male make-up products here, because I can't imagine where else it would be as mainstream as in Seoul!  Personal beauty is a big deal most everywhere I've lived, for sure, but the degree to which hair dye, make-up and all of that has become part of the male image in Seoul is quite impressive.  And that pic in the middle?  Just three super groomed Korean guys doing a very stylized dance promoting some gym.  Had they been promoting some dance academy, or some beauty institute, you wouldn't have had the slightest doubt.

I wish I could have stayed more in Seoul.  I wonder if foreign men living in Seoul allow themselves this much freedom?  After all, if you're competing for attention, and you're surrounded by super fashionable Korean men, you must up your game, eh? 

Lights, ads, lights, ads!

Another fun part of town?  In fact, a part of town that reminded me a lot about Japan!  Narrow winding streets, businesses cramped up high, countless bright ads extending up...  Welcome to Myeongdong (명동)!  One of Seoul's main shopping districts, with access closed to traffic most of the day and night, I had just too much fun wandering around at night with some colleagues, window shopping, tasting stuff (food - that's another post altogether!), people-watching... I know, you're supposed to come here to buy stuff, but you could easily just come for a walk and it'd be worth it.    (I think I just heard a couple of my more shopping-addicted friends faint and hit the floor after reading that last statement)

Beer + Saké + K-Pop!  

By now I guess you could be thinking "Like, yeah, all you did was see pretty buildings and go window shopping? that was all your night activity?  sure?"  The obvious answer is - of course not!  I don't know what long-term residents think about Seoul's nightlife, but for my very brief visit, I have to say I had tons of fun! 

There's basically two districts you can hit.  One has a hipper, younger, cooler crowd (it's close to a university).  That's Hongdae (홍대).  And that was my first real night out.  And it was a long one! We started with food and some amazing unfiltered milky rice wine called makgeolli (막걸리) that is served in bowls and poured with huge spoons (loved it!) and soju (another Korean alcoholic beverage) with ginger (more awesome!).  Then, we stumbled upon the strangest of combinations - an izakaya pub!  An izakaya is a Japanese style place for drinks and food.  A pub... that needs no explanation.  The best of both worlds?  An izakaya pub in Seoul! Right?  So Korean food and soju and makgeolli was followed by some very airy Japanese snacks and junmai saké.  By now the group was getting unsurprisingly loud, I'll admit.     

The cherry on the (Korean) cake?  Though most of the group bailed, there were three of us left who really wanted to go dance.  We were about to enter a hip-hop place when one of us (not me, I swear) mentioned he'd never ever heard K-Pop.  And what was just across the street? the I ♥ K-Pop nightclub!  It was just too tempting, and we went in (or down, as it was underground).  

Korean beer, Korean pop music (K-Pop), a 100% Korean crowd (except us), and a very explicit sign about what you could and couldn't do in the club's toilet.  The perfect ending for the night!

Homo Hill? 

All of that would have been more than plenty.  But I was planning on not sleeping at all my last night in Seoul so I would fall asleep on the flight back to North America and adjust more easily to the huge time difference.  So I had to plan one last night out with my colleagues, right?  But instead of heading out to Hongdae again, I suggested we go to Itaewon (이태원).  I mean, like at Hongdae, there was a crazy huge concentration of bars, nightclubs and restaurants but, on top of that, it had a street known as "homo hill", where most of the gay/LGBTQ hangouts were.  The nickname? Not very PC, that's for sure.  But I had to go take a look...

Now, before hitting "homo hill" we did go to a few other places.  But, if you ask me, they were fine, but not what you'd call fun.  Maybe we didn't choose well.  I don't know.  Although at one of them someone did compliment my beard, which doesn't happen very often since I left Toronto.  So that was aplus, LOL.  But anyhow, once we hit "homo hill", the serious fun began.  Well, at first, it was more intriguing than fun, as there were quite a few smaller bars or clubs with names like this:

There must have been at least ten with signs that read "Lady Boy Bar", or "Trans Bar".  We didn't go into any of those, so I can't comment on what exactly they meant.  But there was this one we did go into.  Or, more accurately, that we were dragged into! "Always Homme"!  I mean, the staff were so enthusiastic and they pretty much plucked us off the street with particular gusto.  Now, though the bar had no special show or anything, the host/owner was super funny and he made quite a few rounds to our table, and that was entertainment enough!  Especially since he spoke very little English, and none of us spoke any Korean!  Plus, the bar had this very... peculiar decoration.  All in all, a pretty good place for a very relaxed time just before...  

...just before we headed next door, to Trance, for a drag queen show!  I think that was at around 2am or so.  Yep, these people party into late at night!  As for the drag queen show, my mates (who I'm not sure how many live drag queen shows they'd seen in their life) and me were having a blast!  They did American songs, traditional Korean songs, and K-Pop.  A very complete show, eh?  

There, I think that's enough about nights in Seoul.  And by now you probably think all I think of is partying (instead of thinking - where does he get all that energy? extra-long work-days, 15 hour-jet-lag, and he still goes out???).   Next post I think it'll be... food? Nom nom!

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