Beer in Situ: Seoul Double Feature

We spent a night in Seoul on our way out of town, and of course stopped by a couple craft beer places. We stayed in Insadong, which is a beautiful artsy neighbourhood that feels like Old Seoul.

IMG_6405

I even got to play around in a hanbok for the afternoon!

IMG_6462

It’s a wonderful part of town.

The two craft beer spots we went to were great, but the second one was greater in my opinion. Let’s get to it!

IMG_6443

Brew 3.14π

Address: 39 Donhwamun-ro 11na-gil, Ikseon-dong, Jongno-gu, 서울특별시

It’s hard to see the sign in the picture because this place is down a dark alleyway. Luckily, it’s also in Seoul. Therefore, there is no worry whatsoever that you will run into anything except a stray kitty or two down there.

Brew 3.14 is a pizza, chicken, and craft beer joint. Or joints? There are two small bars right next to each other, and the bartenders text back and forth to fill orders. We tried several of the beers and they were reasonably fresh and well-presented. I wished that they would pour a little bigger, but it’s typical.

We had a great time listening to the loud pop music videos on the TV and admiring the collection of money from all over the world on the wall. Overall, it’s good. We had just eaten a lot of 삼겹살 (pork belly barbecue), so we didn’t eat the pizza. It smelled good, though.

IMG_6445

IMG_6695기와탭룸 Kiwa Taproom

This is a great little spot. We took pictures in the hanbok down the small alleyway, which opens up into a traditional hanok house that’s beer converted into a taphouse. I loved the mixture of old and new, with the gorgeous architecture and the Korean-style seating with low tables.

IMG_6699

I had a Gorilla Nut Brown Ale and Russell had two fresh IPAs. They don’t currently brew their own beer to serve (as far as we could tell), but the owners and servers are clearly obsessed about being authentically craft-oriented. It was very refreshing to be in such a great, authentic spot when even San Miguel lager is being labelled as ‘craft’ in Seoul these days.

IMG_6700

Wholly great. I wish it could be my local. Glad I could have a Gorilla brew again before moving on from Korea.

IMG_6704

DMZ Day Part Five: F$%@# This Crowd

This is the last of many blogs from the most eventful day I’ve had in Korea, in nearly eight months since moving here. October 6, 2012…you were a beast.

People. As far as the eye can see.

We burst out of the station and onto the Hangang river park. Despite the fact that the fireworks do not begin for another four hours, there are easily 100,000 people on the riverside. Already. We carve out a small patch of grass and relax, the long hours since we awoke finally catching up with us. The sky is clear…cloudy. It’s a perfect fall day, without a hint of the threat to the North. Russell comments that the South is so safe…almost eerily so.

Experience the escape from Yeoinaru Station for yourself here!

As the evening wears on the crowd becomes a living, moving, roaring thing. I’m tempted to call it a dragon (which sounds like way too much a stereotype, even to my exhausted brain) but the truth is that the throng reminds me far more of a whirring anthill. We agree that we’ve never seen anything like it. It’s both terrifying and annoying at the same time. Mostly annoying. The lines for the toilets are literally the longest I’ve ever seen in my life. 500,000-700,000 people crammed into a space that normally sees only a couple thousand per day.

Even the cell phone networks are crashing due to the overload. When we finally get in touch with our friend we were supposed to meet, he sends an ominous message: “People are getting trampled down here.” He has yet to make it out of the subway. It’s getting dark when Russell is forced by a full bladder to dash into the crowd, leaving me at our ever-shrinking spot as it is encroached upon by ajummas.

I’ve never felt so alone in a crowd.

I’m not sure it was worth all this for the fireworks.

The sea of people moves around me, barely contained on the sidewalks. As any minute it looks as though they might burst the banks and a tsunami of face and bodies might carry me away. Ten minutes pass. Then twenty. Where is Russell? I don’t have a phone, I have no way to communicate, and if we lose each other then we will not be able to find each other again. I suddenly wish we had a plan to meet somewhere in an emergency.

Oddly, the lack of service on the cell networks reminds me of the jamming they put on the DMZ. The loneliness of those twenty minutes in the crowd, surrounded by more people than I’ve ever seen with my own eyes, is greater than the loneliness of our tour group in the isolation and silence of the border. I try to imagine what a North Korea would think if s/he were thrust into this maelstrom.

Russell is back. He steps on several people to reach me, and we hug out of sheer relief. He had to walk nearly two miles in order to pee into a bush.

“I have to go find Will,” he says. “I hope he hasn’t been trampled.”

I’m alone in the crowd again. I decide to take photos to occupy myself, to make some kind of documentation of this insane and uniquely 21st century phenomenon. Whenever I am in a crowd, I think of how few people existed in the world of ancient and not-so-ancient times. No wonder anxiety is on the rise in the contemporary world. When confronted with nearly a million people visible in the space of five subway stops, anyone would freak out.

The fireworks themselves are marred by the necessity to use the toilet. Like Russell, I walk nearly two miles to escape the crowds. I pee on the side of a hill, in the shadow of the National Assembly. It occurs to me that I probably could be arrested for this. I simply do not care. I’m not using a toilet a million other people have peed in, especially in a city where toilet paper is scarce at the best of times and piled high in toitletside trash cans at the worst. I take my hair down and practically run through the crowd to get back, hoping that my wild-foreigner-woman appearance makes people scared enough to stay out of my way.

When the fireworks show finally comes to an end, we pack up our things and decide to walk in the opposite direction of the crowds for a while. As we dodge more and more people, the endless nature of the crowd becomes apparent. We all stop talking, the joviality of a night out sucked away by the sheer numbers of people, people, PEOPLE. After wandering aimlessly for about an hour, I look to my right. I swear aloud.

The National Assembly, literally the opposite of the island, lies to our right. We’ve done a full circle and not escaped the crowd at all. Cars are driving down the sidewalks, blatantly flouting any kind of traffic laws in front of the building that is supposed to make them. A family in a 4×4 is going up the sidewalk the wrong way on a one-way street and somehow doesn’t get pulled over. A businessman storms into his illegally-parked car in front of the financial center and nearly runs over our feet in his rush to move his car fifty feet. He nearly levels two people on the way, and for the first time in Korea I yell at a stranger, flipping him off and not caring what people think. He’s a danger.

Sadang Station.

We turn toward the subway and to the police officers waiting and holding back the crowds in groups of six on the escalators. When they finally let us through, we follow the crowd, throwing elbows as necessary. It’s an ugly scene. All the courtesy upon which Korean culture is supposedly based goes straight out the window, and with each stop more people force their way onto the train and jab me in the sides and back. It’s not even the last train of the night, so there is really no reason for it. I feel like a panic attack might be coming on, squashed between two couples who seem to have no idea that there is a six-foot-tall woman trying to eke out some space next to them.

My panic dissolves into anger at the next stop. A couple with a tiny baby in a snuggly is on the train, trying to protect their child from the crowd. People surge onto the train, shoving hands and feet over and under the crowd. Someone could easily fall and be crushed underfoot, or the baby could be smashed by the encroaching adults. I lose decorum.

“Baby!” I say, pointing. “Baby! BABY!” It’s in English, but that’s a word that everyone should know from its adoption into Konglish.

“Eodi?(Where?)” says someone, not bothering to use formal speech with me. I don’t care. I answer in Korean, also omitting the “yo” that marks polite speech. “Yo-gi. Yo-gi!(Here. Here!)” They don’t seem to care, continuing to push. It’s madness, and at that moment I kind of hate humans.

This is why it’s not OK to push on the subway, people! Kids are there, and they could be trampled.

Perhaps mercifully, the anger replaces my panic for the rest of the journey back to Gojan Station. It staves off a full-blown panic attack and allows me to get back to the quiet and relatively empty streets of Ansan. We wander through the dark, just as cold as when we began this monster of a day at 4:30AM. I glance at my phone, and see that it is just after midnight. Twenty hours of travel, busses, subways, crowds, war zones, and setting foot in North Korea has left us bedraggled and famished.

Cheap kimchi jjigae at the 24-hour restaurant, the stumble home, and collapse into bed. October 6th, you were a beast.

DMZ Day Part Four: Footprints On The Tables

This is the fourth of many blogs from the most eventful day I’ve had in Korea, in nearly eight months since moving here. October 6, 2012…you were a beast.

Shutters click. Voices mumble in soft tones. There are footprints on the tables, clearly not cleaned off in a while.

Someone is asking where the footprints came from.

“When the North Koreans have their own tours,” Ahmed explains, “They encourage their tourists to put their feet on the tables and remove their shoes, in order to disrespect the peace process.”

In fact, the footprints are clearly visible, along with slightly smudged hand prints. It’s strange to think that the closest I might actually get to touching someone on the North Korean side might be to share the cold germs left on the table by their hands.

Ahmed announces that we have but two minutes left in the little room. I make an attempt at doing a “Where The Hell Is Matt?” dance in front of one of the ROK soldiers.

Where the Hell is Coleen?

It’s a lot harder than it looks to be so calm and goofy on the border of a major conflict, but then that’s somewhat the point of Matt’s videos…bringing humans together to experience this amazing world we have together, even though we have so many conflicts. Just dance, forget yourself, move on.

I want the soldier, standing so still that he looks fake, to know that I recognize him as human. He’s not just a piece of furniture standing in this room. Just like the one on the other side of the door, he’s breathing, thinking, and digesting. Probably thinking about what’s for lunch and not about what major international implications his job carries with it.

“Thank you,” I say to him on my way out.

Last look at the border.

Toward the North Korean Side, the area that their Rapid Strike Force occupies. Ahmed said that they haven’t seen much movement over there, and that the army on the South side jokes that they are the “Slow Strike Force.”

The rest of our time at the DMZ is mostly uneventful. We cram through a tunnel clearly made for people half our size at the Third Infiltration Tunnel, which turns out to be more of a hike than we had thought. It’s ridiculously cramped down there, and jammed with Chinese tourists of whom I am extremely envious for their much more suitable height.

Landmines. Landmines everywhere. Those trees conceal one of the most densely-mined areas in the world.

The Bridge of No Return

The unification building.

When we reach the Unification building at Dorasan, the guards suddenly begin yelling at us to get inside. Angry-sounding Korean crackles over the radio.

Walking quickly away, thinking we might be about to be part of an international incident.

“Go inside, go inside now!” says one of the young men in uniform, running toward us. I break right and immediately go for the nearest door, thinking that there might be some military reason for the urgency in his voice. I think there must be an international incident underway, maybe some of that shelling that they are always threatening on Seoul or a skirmish at the JSA. Little do we know that about a kilometer away, a North Korean soldier has just shot two colleagues and defected across the border.

The yelling isn’t about the defection, just below us on the highway. It turns out that he just wanted to make certain that we watched their informational video inside, and perhaps could use some work on his tone in English.

No photos past here.

We eat lunch, wander around the Dorasan train station, and then clamor onto the bus to head back to Seoul. After the JSA, the rest of the DMZ seems easy and somewhat boring. It’s definitely worth the extra money; I’d have been disappointed if I’d only gone into the tunnel.

End of the line.

205 km to Pyongyang.

 

The transition back to life in the city is quiet, and again we miraculously hit no traffic. The plan is to throw ourselves into the most opposite experience possible to the quiet, order, and loneliness of the DMZ…a massive fireworks display in downtown Seoul.