Saturday. March 16, 2013.
Location: Seoul, Republic of Korea
Mission: Find cheap DJ gear
I’m a little late on this post, perhaps because I’m getting lazy already But this information is quite important, so the message must get out. Compared to the States, DJ equipment is really expensive in Korea. You would think that since so many electronics are produced in Asia that the prices would be better. Nope! Tariffs and demand seem to influence prices more than the costs of shipping. Thanks for the economics lesson, Korea! It’s because of this that I set out to find the least expensive gear in this little pocket of the world.
I woke up Saturday rather pleasantly. I got to wish my friend a happy birthday and I got to talk to my whole family. It was great to catch up with everyone, especially all at once for the time difference really makes phone call inconvenient. But the relaxing afternoon set my day off happily and I went on my way. Fueled by only a cream cheese-filled pretzel and a half a liter of Pepsi, I hopped on the bus and headed north.
Confident in my ability to traverse the complex Seoul underground this time around, I started my 19-station trip at Ori Station- and about to do a simple freaking subway line transfer at Jeongja. But once again, I was humbled when I misinterpreted an arrow. It’s the simple things that get me, really. I can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under three minutes drunk, but one basic arrow cost me another $2.70 in subway fare. Just wait Jeongja Station…I will beat you someday. Just you wait.
My target was near old Seoul, north of the Han River. I was able to find the appropriate exit from the station and walk in the appropriate direction. Note: the maps at theses exits are NOT usually oriented as one would expect. You need to look for which way is north on the map before even trying to crossing-referencing the map with your little smartphone mappy app. Hmmm, mappy app. I’ma trademark that. Mappy app. I just love saying it. Ok, I’m back…
As I exited up the steps, I was thrusted into a real, freaking city. People everywhere, cars everywhere, buildings n stuff… everywhere! I truly felt like I was in Seoul at that moment. As I walked westward, I realized that I’m not really that much taller than everyone and I could easily see dozens of people who were closer to the sky. As I continued, I came across an older part of town that held Korea’s No. 2 National Treasure. It’s a tower that was build by King Sejo, the son of King Sejong. Like THE King Sejong. You see, this guy enacted and oversaw the creation of the written language of Korea. It’s a mark of pride for all Koreans across the peninsula. I really encourage you to read how their written language, called “Hangul”, was invented and then published in 1446. Anyway, I saw the Wongaksa Pagoda, constructed in 1467- older than any European settlement in North America. That’s just crazy to me.
So I did my touristy thing and moved on from the historical epicness of the pagoda. Amidst the dynamic energy of the city folk, however, my joyful experience was injected with a rather sobering scene. A man without any leg below his knees was crawling on rollers on the busy sidewalk, trying to get somewhere at all. Now, seeing combat is one thing; most people know that war is hell. But the pathetic display of a man like that nearly walked on by those who are more than well-off didn’t settle well with me. It sucked that I didn’t know what in the world I could do- but I contemplated it a great deal. Up the block, there was an old woman sitting in the middle of the sidewalk- skin darkened from the sunny decades of homelessness. I still regret that I could have done something, yet I didn’t.
Although that scene is a rare occurrence here, I came to a conclusion. Any first-world country that can spend billions on their military while possessing a relatively high standard of living should take care of their extremely impoverished. There is no excuse not to. Though my citizenship doesn’t really allow me to criticize Korea’s society, I can duly point out that if my own country allows our millionaires to be taxes at a lesser percentage than a lower-class family on welfare, then we can and should take care of those with stricken with poverty, suffering from the disease of addiction, and afflicted with mental handicaps.
Social commentary complete. Onward-ho. I learned about this little flea market called the Nakwon Music Market, or the Nakwon Music Arcade, or the Nakwon Music Mall (Instruments Arcade). Well, at least all the names have “Nakwon” in them. I ended up making a huge circle in the wrong direction, but once I returned to the pagoda, I saw my signs for the music instruments at Nakwon. I will find some DJ gear at last! I entered the building which hovers over a main road. There were scores and scores (:P) of musical instrument shops on each floor. Pianos, guitars, woodwinds, recording gear, live sound, drums… but no DJ stuff. DDDAAAAMMMMMIIITTTT. A couple of shops had a DJ software controller or two, but nobody had any more than a couple items I could work with. Well that sucks.
It was just about to get dark around 6:30, and I hadn’t eaten yet. I figure I might as well head to the nearest subway terminal and find sustenance along the way. I past through a beautiful area of Seoul which had lots of Central American embassies and tons of restaurants and shops. It seemed as affluent as Gangnam, but just a little bit prettier and more digestible to foreigners. I found a franchise my newest flavor of the week, Kimbap Heaven [translated], and ordered some bibimbap and mandu. Finally with a decent meal in me, I hopped on a train towards Hapjeong- where I was to seek another club on my list, Mansion.
For once, my Google map point brought me exactly to my destination. Win! OK, so I found a highly-rated club that doesn’t open for another two hours. What shall I do…? You guessed it- I walked around. Now this is where my night gets interesting. It appears I have entered a rich hipster district minus the hipsters. “Well this is nice,” I thought. In this little part of town, I found more funny shit to photograph then ever before. Here is what I saw.
I still had a lot of time until Mansion opened, so I kept walking up this cool little strip I found. Now this strip was getting crazy and it was packed. To give you an idea of how packed, it was like Friday afternoon at the Canfield Fair packed. There were more people out and about that night than there are people in my hometown. Now that’s where I wanted to be!
Several performing artists and bands with their mini-PAs delighting small crowds just feet apart from each other. Strangely, you could hear hear each one quite distinctly if you were in the right spot.
Approaching my own personal zero-hour, I began to loosely retrace my steps back towards Mansion. Along the way, however, I was intercepted by another club I had read about in my research (sounds rather scientific, doesn’t it?). It was Club Vera, and they were in for some awesome electro headliner action, said the banner by the door. Not really wanting to pay the $20 cover, I headed back to find Mansion. There, I met a well-spoken guy who went by “DC”. He gave me the lowdown what was in store for the night there, and he clued me into something I had not realized… I was in Hongdae, the place Wikipedia calls “a region in Seoul, South Korea near the Hongik University, after which it is named. It is known for its urban arts and indie music culture, clubs and entertainment.” Well hot damn.
Since Mansion wasn’t going to open yet for another 10 minutes and I was getting impatient, I decided to check out Vera anyway. Knowing that I would get a free drink, I paid my entrance fee by credit card and I entered the freaking matrix. With one of the most beautiful LED walls I’d ever seen, Vera rose to the top of my list of favorite Seoul clubs. Drinks were literally half the cost of those at Eden and there was a better selection of beers. I got my free drink and parked myself at the front of the club where I took these beautiful shots…
Being somewhat short on time (I wanted to catch the train home), I left shortly there after so I could see Mansion. On my way out, I was greeted by a friendly woman who spoke great English. As it turns out, Victoria was one of the promoters there. She asked my why I was leaving so soon. I assured her that it was only because of my plans, but she truly cared about my experience there. She invited me back with her personal endorsement. I will definitely be back, Victoria, for you and your club are awesome. Now that’s promotions done right, <cough><cough>American clubs<cough>.
Back to Mansion and this time, I went in. I only spent a short amount of time there since I had to leave pretty soon, but that time was goooood. More amazing visuals and sounds, but in a bigger room. This place had better ventilation, too. And there were several girls dressed in some sort of bunny theme. How cute. I don’t really have that much more to say about Mansion since I was there only a short time, but it is staffed by some great people as well. “DC” invited me back after giving me the lo-down on the Hongdae’s electronic clubscape. I’m just meetin’ n greetin’ all round!
I ran to the subway station and caught the last train to Gangnam, where I was to transfer to the Shinbundang Line. Sixteen stops later (yes, that 16 stops), I arrived at Gangnam Station. On my way to the lower levels, I noticed a severe lack of people, which I felt was kind of creepy after a day of being surrounded by swarms of Koreans. I went down my last escalator and a man coming up the other said “No, no. We’re done.” Now I was 20 miles from home without knowing how the heck I was going to get home.
My survival instincts kicked in. I took shelter in a dumpster behind a paint store, tweaking on spray paint as a means of defense against hobos and urban feral spider monkeys who were after my socks. Kidding. Well, partially. I positioned myself at the corner where the buses went south and I started reading. After about 20 minutes of wondering whether this plan would actually work, I say a bus that said “Suwon”. That city’s kinda close to my home so, I’ll take it. When I asked the bus driver if he was going to Suwon, he pointed to the one in front of him. I caught up to it and hopped aboard, hoping I did the right thing.
I sat down next to this Korean guy and started planning my next move. As I fumbled with my Google Maps without any connection, I noticed my neighbor noticing what I was doing. We started conversation which led to him being my guide to the home. We talked about better apps to use and he showed me how to use them. Kijung was a college student studying to be an architect. When we arrived in Suwon, he offered to find me an international ATM where I can get the cash I need to take a taxi home. What a nice guy! (Don’t worry folks, I had it all under control.) He told me that when he spent time traveling in Europe, some locals had helped him out immensely. Paid forward
Kijung found me a taxi and I finally got home around 1:30, pretty damn early for a Saturday night. So there, another adventure. Hopefully, I will make these shorter and write them better. But you’ll just have to put up with my writing style for now. Stay tuned for next week, I’ll tell you all about this party I went to under a bridge.