When westerners think about travel in Asia, images of tea houses, silk bathrobes, colorful pavilions and other “treasures of the orient” generally first come to mind. I remember taking a class in high school (so Fieldston) called “East Meets West” where we talked about orientalism and the way people from “the west” view Asia through a romanticized lens. I can’t lie, I, too, am guilty of these stereotypical thoughts and did envision much more tea and herbal medicine in my experience here than I’d like to admit. But there are myriad places in South Korea that are genuinely unique, but differ significantly from the typical “orientalist” views of Asian culture, many of which I could never have imagined. Here are two of my favorite examples.
PC Bang (PC Room)
Lots of people have asked me about what Korean kids do for fun. It’s hard to say, since my students spend the majority of their time either in class or at Hagwons (private after school academies for extra study), or following me home from school. But one place kids will go when they have a moment to spare, that strikes me as quite different from pre-teens and teens in the states, is to the PC Bang. It’s sort of a hybrid of your high school’s computer lab, an internet cafe, and a computer hacker’s hideout in his grandma’s basement. PC Bangs are quite convenient (and cheap) if you are in the .02% of the population without a smart phone and you need to send an email, but their true customers are the droves of kids who come to play computer games for hours on end. All PC Bangs come equipped with fully stocked snack bars that would rival even the most massive of suburban pantries, and many even have smoking sections for those badasses who smoke whilst gaming. There are probably thousands of PC Bangs all over Korea — I know of about 5 on the main street in Yeoju alone. Korea also has tons of DVD Bangs, where patrons can go with friends to watch a movie…but they’ve taken on a totally different purpose that I’ll leave to your imagination.
Yes, people in Korea eat dog meat. But no, this is not what I’m talking about. Imagine a Central Park dog run, with a diverse group of pups roaming around smelling each others tuchuses, owners socializing about the latest in puppy snacks and collar couture. Now pair that with a menu of coffee, beer, milkshakes, and some snacks — this is a dog cafe in Seoul! My first dog cafe experience at Bau House definitely sits near the top of my “unique Seoul things” list. Who doesn’t love getting attention from an adorable Golden Retreiver puppy or cuddling with a Pomeranian every once in a while? People bring their own dogs to have a drink and meet friends, but there are also pups that live at the cafe while their owners are away, and even some who live in the cafe. One downside: the entire cafe serves as the dogs’ bathroom, so the cafe definitely has it’s own unique scent as well. I couldn’t stop taking pictures – enjoy!