Life and Seoul


Mark Zuckerberg loves kimbap?

So you may have heard the latest news about Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook. Apparently, hackers managed to infiltrate one of the flaws in Facebook’s security program and thereby access Zuckerberg’s own private photo collection. 13 images were subsequently posted on Imgur online in an album called ‘It’s time to fix those security flaws facebook’. Being nosy I took a look at them and was surprised to see this one:

That’s right people, it’s official, one of the world’s richest men loves to make kimbap in his spare time. It looks like he’s doing a pretty good job with it too. Nice even spacing with the rice, with the meat going down the centre. I bet that’s the premium grade meat though. Not the usual spam.


Hyehwa/Daehakno – University Road

My stomping ground in Seoul is an area just one stop north from Dongdaemun market on Line 4 of the subway. It’s name is Hyehwa. I chose this area to live based on a couple of things. It is in an area of Seoul that has history, and buildings aged over 50 years that have not yet been pulled down to make way for unsightly tower blocks courtesy of Hyundai. Furthermore, there are a number of universities with campuses based in the area, and a large number of actors at the start of the careers giving the area a youthful energetic atmosphere, filled with the hope and possibility of what may be.

That is right where I am at with my own acting career and we suit one another well. Another reason why I love Hyehwa is for it’s sense of creativity. I love wandering through back streets and coming across unusual sculptures and art installations. Hyehwa has a heart. Something which many other regions of the city seem to lack.

Hyehwa has been dubbed the Broadway of Korea, owing to the 80-90 theatres within one square mile around the main thoroughfare – University Road (대학로). As a result it can get particularly busy, especially over the weekend and on holidays. In addition, on Sundays, the Filipino Market brings another crowd to the area.

Currently The Seoul Open University is extending its current campus here and Hongik is building its own fresh campus which means there will be a steady growth in the region.

Historically, before Hongik University grew to its current stature, the Hongdae area was not the main night entertainment spot north of the river in Seoul. That mantle was previously held by Hyehwa. However as youthful tastes and proclivities changed with rapid globalisation, the hip jazz bar culture of Hyehwa was abandoned for the emerging night club, live music culture of the more modern Hongdae and Gangnam areas.

Hyehwa does not generally have the space to accommodate a large club, and to my knowledge, ‘The Bunker’ is the only club in the area. Personally I prefer the smaller bar, many of which are at basement level. Many have rows of vinyl on the wall behind the bar which you can select and listen to. I call these places vinyl bars and in Hyehwa there are at least 7 that I know of.

My favourite vinyl bar has never struggled to find anything I have requested, even obscure bands like Minus the Bear. There is nothing better than having a chat in a bar with friends, drinking beer, shooting some pool and listening to your own playlist.

In addition to theatres, there is a large CGV cinema with a giant Gandalf the White sculpture outside (one of the many random sculptures scattered liberally about the area).

A final thing that Hyehwa offers is a good range of cheap food. Some of the fancier areas such as Gangnam, Apgujeong, Hongdae and the glitzier Itaewon that is emerging offer global cuisine at inflated prices. Hyehwa has seemed to keep prices reasonable so you get a great quality to price ratio. The area between exits 3 and 4 away from the main road is filled with decent Korean BBQ joints and the odd little surprise like Brazilian and Italian. The opposite side of University road are the European themed areas, with the occasional Chinese and Japanese restaurants.

Failing that, around exit 4 are the pojang machas (big tents outdoors where you can eat and drink), and a great little fish place, which is incredibly cheap, a little way out of exit 1 (take your second right turn).

Outside exit 2 of the station is Marronier Park. If you walk uphill away from University Road from there about 100 metres you will find yourself close to the old city fortress wall and a number of curious and unique little shops and boutiques.

For those who are interested in the theatre, head to the theatre information booth just behind exit 4 of Hyehwa station. There are not a great deal of English language plays, but occasionally you can find them. Hyehwa is worth a look for anybody who know Korea well and would like to experience something a little different. Come during the day and you might even witness an impromptu street performance or flash mob which are pretty common here.

When? – 24 hour area. Plenty of bars, restaurants and coffee shops are open round the clock.

Where? – Line 4 of the subway, one stop north of Dongdaemun, or 4 stops from Myeongdong. Many bus routes pass through Hyehwa.

Click here for a map.

Why? – Theatre, sight seeing, good eating and drinking, youthful atmosphere.

Claw Cranes in Korea

Claw cranes are popular worldwide, but it seems like prizes in the Korean version have the edge over anywhere else. If you play the game right, then a 10megapixel camera could be yours! Another curiosity of Korea is that these games can be found everywhere. On every major street there are probably a couple of these things, even in smaller towns.

Back in England, it’s almost impossible to find claw cranes, most likely because they would not last very long before somebody came along with a rock and tried to smash it open and take all the prizes.

My buddy tried to go for the camera, so he put in $5 (5000 Korean won), which gave him 30 attempts.

I’m not sure how ownership of these machines works; whether there is a company that comes around to collect the money and keep them stocked, or whether they are owned by small local businesses, but a benefit of Korea’s lack of petty crime is that these things are ubiquitous and nobody need worry about senseless vandalism by idiots.

Whoever is in control however probably also has the shameful job of attaching weights to the prizes, such as huge chunks of rubber. This makes it difficult to really hook the prize, and although my buddy is pretty adept at playing these machines, the weights were proving too much for the claw crane’s claws, and the camera kept dropping out.

So, down to just 5 attempts left, we gave up the camera and went for something more achievable: a key-chain.

Note the two pieces of rubber which had been inserted inside the box of the key-chain even. Now the BMW key-chain rip off holds my buddy’s keys together, but his ignominious defeat over the camera was down simply to some hefty chunks of rubber.

Korea also has many of the machines which poke prizes off a shelf through a small gap (for want of a better explanation). If you thought that sounded phallic, the name ‘Love Push’ (see photo above) doesn’t help alleviate that thought. These are slightly easier in theory, but just as impossible to win.

Neolttwigi and Jultagi – Chuseok performances

Chuseok is just a week away. There is a particular custom performed at this time of year where two people stand on a see-saw type thing then jump up and down. Neolttwigi/nol-ttwigi (널뛰기) as it is known actually has a defined purpose.

Explanation: Neolttwigi is a giant see-saw that you stand, rather than sit on. By jumping up and down on it, you can, providing that both people (most usually women) are roughly equal in weight, get some serious air. The custom is only really likely to be seen in Korea during the Chuseok festival, usually around September or October (changes due to the Lunar Calendar). The historical point of it was that womenfolk, who were not allowed outside the town walls during the day, were able to get fleeting glimpses of what was going on in the outside world.

If that does not sound challenging enough as a way to see outside you home, then the acrobatic performance of Jultagi (tightrope walking), takes things to another level. Performed around the same time, Jultagi (줄타기) involved musical accompaniment (and sometimes a clown) whilst the performer uses a variety of techniques to walk along the rope. Some of these may include lying down, kneeling then jumping up into a cross-legged stance, and walking backwards.

Huge bowling pins

Wherever you wander in Korea, it doesn’t take long to realise that space here is used very efficiently. Any busy high street can be overwhelming at night time as the bright neon signs jostle for position, revealing how every level of a building will play host to a restaurant, store, bar(or hof as they are also known).

Occasionally, in the midst of all the glitz and neon 1980s sci-fi movie glare, you may see a huge bowling pin sticking out the side of the building. Unlike in the West, there are few out-and-out bowling alleys in Korea. However tucked on one or two floors in between a pharmacy on the floor above and a seafood restaurant on the one below perhaps, you can hit the bowling lanes for a few thousand won (usually around W5000) an hour including gear hire. Sometimes the bowling alleys are located in the basement.

If you have to wait, there are usually pool and billiard tables in a waiting room. The best time to go is during the day time when most people are at work.

Podcasters in Korea

Check out The Condition podcast, which is recorded in Seoul and is a great guide to, not only Korean life, but also the human race in all it’s glory and acrimony.

iTunes link here.

Website link here.