Saturday, September 10, 2011

play cafe YUP

      I'm in Hongdae during the Chuseok holiday break.  Hongdae is my favorite part of Seoul and Chuseok is my favorite holiday so I decided to combine them into a super awesome time.  So far so good.  I intend to stay here for the next three days.  I'll be blogging and planning productions; specifically for the introduction video for my vlog series.

      Today, I met my friend, Aaron, at a new play cafe called YUP.  I'm not sure about the difference between a regular cafe and a play cafe.  Maybe it has something to do with the impressive live sound system and drum set in the back of the second floor.  It is nice and worth visiting before doing more exciting things or for a simple, quiet afternoon.

      Walk straight from Hongdae station exit 1 passed the major intersection until the Hyundai dealership.  Make a right and you should be able to see the cafe straight ahead.  Click the address at the bottom of the post for an accurate map.

      The interior is very impressive.  I prefer simplicity and efficiency in design and YUP has both.  Some nice touches are the bare concrete walls with patches of exposed brick work, most likely from the original building, and the stained concrete floor.
      The first floor is small.  It can accommodate a few groups of guests.  The bar is located near the rear.  It is simple and not very impressive considering they just opened.
      The second floor is wide with massive windows. The track lighting is also well done but completely unnecessary during the day.  The seating arrangement is efficient with possibilities for creative expansion.  The seats are diverse to give it a thrift store feel but new and glossy so it really doesn't feel right.  Two small balconies are also available for smokers.
      The roof is very clever with fake grass and a decent view.  Again, seating is limited but can hold a lot should the need arise.
      The music is horrible.  The design and location scream for some light hip hop or simple dance beats but instead they play cheesy acoustic covers of 90's hits and shitty neo jazz.

      Usually this would come first but they won't serve food until the Chuseok holiday is over.  If the food is as good as my Americano then I'm not looking forward to it.  It costs 4,000 won and tasted like generic coffee available at any restaurant that doesn't specialize in coffee.  Almost like single serving freeze dried coffee but more expensive.  Almost like the horrible coffee a seafood restaurant would serve for dessert.

Students.  Plenty of outlets are everywhere for notebook computers and smart devices.  It would be nice for a couple as the first part of a date but the music is so bad I wouldn't recommend it.

Visit if you have a few hours to kill, or need to study or prepare for anything.  Bring a notebook or mp3 player and good headphones.  It is easy to zone out and accomplish a lot.

Second Floor - Next to stairs

Second floor - View of stairs and 'play' area

Second floor - Balcony

Stairs to roof


Second floor - Massive windows and thrift store style seats

Stairs to first floor

View from street

View from street

View from street

First floor - Limited seating

First floor - Bar

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The New Old Seoul Station

Yesterday, I visited the renovated Old Seoul Station. It is quite easy to get there. It is just outside Seoul Station exit 2 and a couple of minutes from exit 1. It is better to wait for friends near exit 1 because of the several cafes and convenient stores nearby.
I didn't expect much after hearing and reading several mediocre reviews. A Japanese architect, Tsukamoto Yasushi, designed the building. It is similar to Luzern Station in Switzerland with many traces of renaissance architecture. It was completed in 1925 and has survived Japanese occupation and a civil war.
It helps to know a cursory history of the building so that visitors aren't just looking at neatly arranged pieces of old metal and wood.
The ticket area is located to the back left. Tickets are free until the end of September at which point they will be 2,000 won. Art exhibits currently occupy most of the rooms. It was fun to walk around and imagine my mother and the people of her generation walking around the halls, waiting for their trains and enjoying very non-Asian architecture.
The walk through is over almost as quickly as it begins. The art isn't very exciting and the novelty soon wears off. "Share the moment, share the future" to the rescue. This is the photography exhibit on the right side of the main entrance. The photographs are amazing and tell tragic stories of reality in less fortunate parts of the world. Two photographs were especially gripping. One was of a woman wiping away tears. She was just sexually assaulted by six men while her infant child watched. The other was of a young Brazilian child hallucinating on drugs. He was covering his mouth and staring absently into the lens. They were both very hypnotizing and made the trip worth it. I also bought a book but these photographs weren't included so I was a little disappointed.
A lot of homeless people loiter around exit 1 and the old station. I read that they are being 'evicted' from the area. This makes sense because the old station just reopened as a cultural tourist attraction.
Visit while it is still free and definitely check out the photography exhibit as an appetizer to a day of bigger and more exciting things.
Here are a few websites with more information and history about the building.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Public Transportation

The Seoul Public Transportation system is efficient, clean and intuitive. It may seem a little daunting and unorganized to someone unfamiliar with its operation so here is a brief overview and a few unspoken rules that will help expedite the experience.

TMoney is the name of the card used in all modes of public transportation, some taxis and in some convenient stores. It uses Radio-frequency identification (RFID) which “is a technology that uses communication via radio waves to exchange data between a reader and an electronic tag attached to an object, for the purpose of identification and tracking.” Essentially, it records credits and debits based on departing and arriving stations. For example, if someone enters at Gangnam Station and exits at Jamsil Station, he or she will be charged 1,000W: 800W for the initial fee which includes a distance of five stations and 200W additionally.
The easiest way to add credit is at any convenient store with the TMoney logo. Simply hand the card with the desired amount in cash. Some buses are equipped with re-chargers. They operate in the same way as the subway re-chargers. Simply place the card on the sensor pad. Follow the onscreen instructions in Korean, English or Chinese. Select the amount and insert the corresponding cash. This can also be done during transfers without interrupting the tracking process.

Subway stations in Seoul are usually underground and clearly marked with the name in Korean and English and the line and exit number. There are extensive shopping areas in most major subway stops accessible to the general public. To access the platform, simply place the card on the sensor to the right side of the turnstile and wait for the fee and remaining balance to display. This usually happens instantaneously. A green arrow will designate which turnstile is available.
There are two types of platform layouts: inside or outside. If the platforms are on the outside, then the major and final destinations will be displayed near the turnstile. If the platform is on the inside then the destinations will be displayed on the platform at the base of the stairs. Most stops have subway maps and a layout of the current stop. Maps are also available at the ticket window.

Every subway car will have four doors. The first and fourth are at the ends. To enter, stand at either end of any door. The center is designated for exiting passengers. Most commuters are not afraid to shove. When all passengers have exited then enter and locate a seat.

Expect to stand during peak hours. Seats at either end of the car are designated for elderly or injured people and pregnant women. It is expected to give up these seats but not so for the others. If someone chooses to give his or her seat, simply stand up and walk away. Injured or pregnant commuters will often take these seats with no delay but the elderly like to initially refuse. This can be deceiving for foreigners which is why it’s easier to walk away.
Commuters do not usually speak loudly. They will often cover their mouths when talking on their cellphones. It will be very common to see commuters reading or watching their portable devices. Occasionally, a solicitor will wander through the car.

Most cars will notify the upcoming stop in Korean and English, the right or left exit and whether or not it is a transfer stop. Some cars will display this information as well. To exit, stand in the center of the doorway and DO NOT HESITATE when the doors open. If there is any sort of confusion or hesitation, exit to the side and allow traffic to flow. Again, commuters are not afraid to shove.
To exit the platform, look for the green arrow, place the card on the sensor then proceed to the desired exit.

Here is a useful link to further expedite traveling via the subway.
Choose the departing and arriving station from the menu or the map. The time and fare will be calculated. Additionally, the quick transfer car will be displayed if there are any transfers. For example, when traveling from Itaewon (Line 6) to Sinchon (Line 3) the commuter should stand in car 3 door 2.


Buses are everywhere. Fortunately, TMoney transfers also work with buses. Buses are a lot more particular than subways. Here is a brief overview and a lot of tips.

There is no accumulative fee based on distance. It is a flat rate. For example, I will pay 1,800W if I take an express bus from Suwon to Seoul. Then I transfer to a bus charging 900W. I will not have to pay since I am within the thirty minutes. I can also transfer to the subway which is 900W. I will not have to pay any additional fees as long as they do not exceed 1,800W which was my initial rate. So technically, I can ride all over Seoul all day for less than 2,000W. *Will test later.

To enter, use the front door and place your TMoney card on the sensor. You may also use cash which is not an option with the subway. Simply insert the money. Then remove any change. Buses will not accept any bill over 5,000W. The two upcoming stops are announced.

To exit, press the red button until it is lit, use the rear door and place your TMoney card on the sensor. If you fail to do so, you will be charged additionally on your next entry. Transfers are free and only allowed within thirty minutes of exiting (unless it’s the same bus returning from the end of its route).

But, buses are tricky. First, it’s safe to assume that bus drivers hate everyone. It’s a very general and harsh statement but very true. Second, obviously flag down the bus even from the street if necessary. If you want to sit then rush the door because you will not know how many others passengers there are until the bus pulls up. Korean commuters will not hesitate to bump and shove other Korean and foreign commuters so you should not hesitate as well. Third, Koreans hate sitting next to foreigners. This isn’t really a tip, just a helpful fact to know. Fourth, don’t stand up to let someone in while sitting near the aisle. Simply, turn your legs to the side. I was always paranoid that someone would steal my seat if I stood up but that has never happened. I think it for the sake of convenience. Koreans start leaning in their upper body to signify that they want to enter. Standing up would just force them to back up possibly crashing into someone else. Fifth, avoid asking the driver for anything. He or she will usually answers questions about the route. Once, I went somewhere for the first time and asked the driver if it was on the route. He confirmed and I waited. A young woman apparently overheard because she notified me after I passed it. I thanked her and looked at the bus driver while I exited. He was grinning. Other times, they have notified me and I appreciated their kindness. Sixth, stand up and move to the exit before your stop. The bus driver will briefly stop then continue driving. If no one enters the bus then he will leave. The driver is not obligated to let you out if you press the button again and ask him to stop. They will often do so but usually they proceed to the next stop. If you have performed all the exiting procedures correctly and the bus driver doesn’t stop then simply yell, “Ajasi! (for men) or “Agasi! (for women)” as soon as he passes and they will usually pull over. Finally, hold the rails or seat backs while moving through the bus. Bus drivers have pumped the brakes on several occasions with no obstructions ahead while I have been up. I often see drivers consistently do this to other commuters and sneak looks in the mirror. Additionally, they drive insanely so be safe.

Here are a few websites and smart phone apps with routes, real time bus locations and arrivals.
*Insert later

It may seem daunting and very frustrating to use public transportation but it is cheap and efficient. Just remember the rules and everything should be alright.