I’ve never seen Hongdae not crawling with people, but this past Saturday was especially crowded. We’re smack in the middle of the rainy season here in Korea, and the storms have been incessant — fifteen days of rain at a stretch. Saturday opened with a torrential downpour but by afternoon the clouds had parted, the sun was shining, and I was on the lookout for pigeons with sprigs of olive in their beaks.
This brief reprieve from the rain was wonderful. My guess is that every man, woman, and child under the age of thirty-five living in Greater Seoul was celebrating the dry weather in Hongdae. The place was absolutely bananas.
The plan was to meet at Yeti — an Indian restaurant located just in front of Children’s Park, an open-air arts and crafts market. We’ve been to Yeti before and it is a cool place. Located on the basement level between Smoothie King and Ho Bar II, Yeti serves traditional Indian and Nepali food and this makes me very happy. I don’t eat Indian food so much as commit felony assault on it with my face. The restaurant’s decor — throw pillows, warm, low lights, wall tapestries and paintings — creates a relaxing ambience and you don’t feel like you’re taking your meal in a cramped, cheerless basement.
Outside the restaurant after dinner one of the Yeti staff had a kiosk set up where she was serving strong, affordable mixed drinks. Right there on the street. I think I’ve lived in Korea too long because this doesn’t strike me as the least bit odd. It’s still illegal to drink on the street in America, right? I can’t even remember.
After a two dollar cranberry vodka (I’d killed a tiger with my bare hands earlier that day, so I felt manly enough to enjoy a frou frou beverage) we walked across the street to Children’s Park where a silent disco was about to start. What’s a silent disco? In a way it’s like a club for the iPod generation. Imagine a club where everyone is wearing headphones. A pair of DJs are spinning tunes and everyone is hearing the same thing, so the dancing is more or less in sync. (There were a few people — myself included — who were definitely dancing to the beat of a different drummer.) From the inside out, it looks like a typical club; from the outside in, it looks like a group of people in some strange religious trance.
The coolest thing about the silent disco was just how positive the energy was. Chalk it up to being held outside, maybe? You had moms and dads, kids and old folks, Koreans and foreigners all dancing together and having a good time. Awesome. And for the uninitiated, this sort of “randaemonium” (a portmanteau of “random” and “pandemonium”, don’t ya know) is just a typical Saturday night in Seoul.
Our silent disco left us sweaty, thirsty, and tired out. We needed somewhere chill, laid back, and relaxing to recharge. Where better than a hookah bar. Redemption is a hookah bar/shrine to Bob Marley located on the outskirts of Hongdae. Ever had a friend who liked to smoke pot in his parent’s basement while jammin’ to Marley’s “Legend”? Redemption is the bar version of that. Although marijuana wasn’t on the menu — big, BIG time illegal in Korea — they did offer cannabia, “the first and only hemp beverage of mankind.” I tried a bottle. It tasted like a ten dollar bottle of Heineken. Which tastes just like a regular bottle of Heineken only seven dollars more disappointing.
The beer was a bust, but I did sip a little sangria (see the above mention of tiger slaying) and it was delicious. Let me add that the staff at Redemption were friendly, if a little too laid back. For most of the time we were there they sprawled amongst floor pillows and rugs puffing on a hookah. If you stood at the bar long enough one of them would shuffle over and mix you a drink. Nice folks, though.
I wish I could say we closed out Hongdae, but these old bones just don’t have that kind of energy left in them. Still, it was a blast of a Saturday night.