Fun fact: every time I type Hongdae, my phone tries to change it to “bondage.”
I had dinner with Barb the other night and she asked me what my favorite part of Korea was, and right away I said it was our evening on Hongdae and I tried so hard to summarize that area for her, in between all of the INTERRUPTIONS FROM OUR SUPER ATTENTIVE WAITRESS, oh my god I wanted to scream, “STFU CAN’T YOU SEE SOMEONE IS FINALLY LETTING ME TALK ABOUT MY FUCKING TRIP TO KOREA?!”
Anyway, this post is about all of the things I wanted to tell Barb about Hongdae but Miss Mary Lynn Rajskub-doppelganger and her “REFILL?!” sidekick made it nearly impossible.
After our afternoon in Samcheondong, we walked back to the hotel, changed, and then set off for the subway that would take us to Hongdae. I refused to leave Korea without experiencing Hongdae at night. It’s not like we could go to bars or whatever (THANKS CHOOCH) but Hongdae is famous for its infinite wealth of street performers, especially being in such a youthful area (it’s right next to Hongik University).
Here we are, waiting for the subway, preparing to be dicks.
Gotta get one last map-check in.
Since it was still early in the evening, we made a pit-stop to Mangwon because I was like, “I WILL DIE IF I DON’T GET TO GO TO ZAPANGI.” And it wasn’t dramatic at all. I have a whole post just for this quirky Instagram-famous cafe, so see your way over there if you’d like to read more about it. But if you’re like, “Nah, mate, I’m good” then I’ll just quickly tell you that “zapangi” means “vending machine” in Korean and you literally walk through a vending machine door to get inside. Also, it’s pronounced “ja-pahng-ee” because there is no “z” sound in Korean so why “they” made the romanization of the word spelled this way is beyond me. Good job, “They.”
Mangwon also has a market so we of course had to peruse it. Henry bought a bottle of makgeolli (traditional Korean rice wine — don’t get it confused with sake though; makgeolli is more milky) and was straight-up giddy about it. “It only cost 1,000 won!” he cried, which is about a dollar. We drank it in the hotel room that night like losers who vacation with their kid and can’t go to bars.
J/K. It would have been weird being there without my partner in giddiness.
By the time we waded our way through the market, it was getting dark so we knew it would be a good time to head to Hongdae.
First, we had to lose Henry. Here’s his face when he realized we weren’t behind him anymore, lol. He was in the middle of chastising us. We just laughed and walked away.
And then we made it to where all of the action was. There were street performers lined up everywhere, each one with their own throng of oglers. We walked down the street and passed singers, dancers, magicians, comedians…there was something for everyone and the vibe was so positive and energetic. How can I even encapsulate something like this into words on a blog post?! It was a dream for any kpop fan for sure because there was no shortage of street dancers emulating beloved kpop choreo. (My favorite was the group of boys who danced to about 8374 BTS songs as well as Block B’s “Her” which I liked prior to this but there was something about seeing these local boys dancing to it in the middle of a street in Hongdae on a Saturday night in March that has really made me pull that song close into my heart.
Here’s a small compilation of videos that Chooch sent me:
We just don’t have anything here in Pittsburgh like Hongdae which is actually kind of strange because we have several college campuses right near each other in Oakland. But, unless things have changed since the last time I was out and about in Oakland at night, the streets aren’t poppin’ off with street performers and I was constantly looking over my shoulder walking back to my car because I didn’t want to get mugged or raped or organ-harvested. (I had a lot of night classes when I went to Pitt and constantly felt like prey walking through campus at night.)
In Hongdae, the party atmosphere felt joyful and not sleazy and date-rapey. I’m usually crowd-phobic, but no one was aggressive, no one was pushing and shoving, and you know, no one pulled out a gun and started firing at random because this wasn’t America. The people there were mostly in their 20s, but there were also kids with their families as well, so I didn’t feel like a shitty parent dragging their kid to some after-hours club.
Speaking of Chooch, I’mma let him jump in here and tell you about Block Burger.
Hey it’s Chooch, I’m just going to talk about the food that we ate while in Hongdae. We ate at Block Burger, a place we saw the first time we were in Hongdae. Block Burger is a burger place that is based on Lego’s and they had Lego head mugs, and buns in the shape of a Lego brick. The buns all had different flavors: squid ink, sweet pumpkin, and red velvet.
We decided to get sweet pumpkin because it was the only normal sounding one. [ERIN EDIT: I ordered that one because I like pumpkin, and I knew Chooch and his milquetoast palate wouldn’t eat the other two options, so…..] On the bun, we had chicken; our vegetarianism went on vacation, too… The burger was very savory and better than expected. But then, as I thought it couldn’t get any better, an amazing song started playing on the speaker. That song is a song that my cat, Bambi loves. The song is called, “Bambi,” by Jidenna.
The thing is, this restaurant actually had us full for the whole rest of the night! Usually we eat, walk for five to ten minutes, then eat again. This time was different, we ate, then walked around for the whole rest of the day without eating any street food, or any kind of snack.
Daddy didn’t get anything because there wasn’t any XL Unsweetened Teas he could order. That’s fine, though. I didn’t want to hear his loud crunching and chewing, (Especially not with chicken.)
Even the napkin holders were Lego built; you know Henry still didn’t see them, even with the colorful bricks the holder was built with.
This was the juicy, savory chicken we ate on our sweet pumpkin bun. I honestly miss this burger so much; I wish I could go back just to eat this burger. God I love Korean chicken.
OK, Erin back at the keyboard. Not pictured, but there were several carnival games set up and one of them, a balloon game, had GOBLIN DOLLS!! Chooch said he would try to win me one and technically he lost but the guy running it kept throwing darts in between Chooch’s throws so Chooch succeeded in winning me a Goblin through a joint effort. I was so happy!!
Goblin is one of my favorite korean dramas and this doll was won in Hongdae by Chooch so it’s doubly special to me!
(I have to be honest, I didn’t think he would actually give it to me!)
Chooch is so good at impromptu posing. Where does he get that from? Certainly not me. I look the same in every picture: grotesque and surprised.
One of the things I wanted to do before we left was have Chooch’s caricature done. I think caricatures are so fun and I wanted to add a Korean one to the collection. We saw tons of caricature artists in nearly every neighborhood we explored, but when we walked past this guy in Hongdae, I knew he was the one and not just because he kind of looked like my favorite guy on Running Man (Ha-Ha!)
(No seriously, his name is Ha-Ha!)
(No, that was really me laughing that time.)
Oh Ha-Ha, BE MY LAST LOVE.
Surprisingly, Chooch LOVES having his caricature done and he is so good at diligently sitting there being stared at by the artist and everyone walking past. Not me. I’m like “DON’T LOOK AT ME” which is kind of going against everything a caricature is but if the artist is good, they should be able to figure out what I look like behind the hair-curtain I’m hiding under.
You guys, this was only 10,000 won (roughly $10) and beyond worth it. We have it framed and hanging on our Chooch wall in the living room and it makes me so happy to see it everyday.
This place is a walk-up cocktail window that serves its mixed drinks in IV bags Chooch wanted one and I was like, “Look, Korea is super progressive in a lot of ways but selling booze to a 6th grader is not one of them, buddy.”
Like I said before, just because I threw down over 1,000 words doesn’t mean I’ve even come close to doing it justice. The music was loud and good, the crowd was lively and friendly, and it felt like sneaking into a party that you thought you weren’t cool enough for but then no one makes you feel like you don’t belong there and what a wonderful fucking feeling that is.
Hongdae, more like HongBAE.
Yeah, I went there.