A Shanghailander in Seoul V: Beating the Rainy Day Blues

I'm sitting in a cafe across the street from where I currently reside, the DMC Ville.  The cafe is a chain called Twosome Place and they make a decent latte and have a nice brunch set (I usually go for the eggs benedict).  It's a good alternative workspace to my apartment, which is where I usually work, building the eight lectures I have to give each week.  You can see these lectures in Pre-Modern and Modern World History (the dividing line is around 1500) by checking out my new "courses" page.  I've been using Prezi, an online presentation builder, for the lectures, and I'm liking it a lot.  Here's my Modern World History course.  These kids are on their summer break mostly from institutions in America and they're mainly here to visit their parents and relatives and hang out with their friends, but they enroll in the summer program to take care of distribution requirements for their schools.  Since the Modern World History course fulfills their requirements, about 80 students have signed up for it.  On any given day (except for quizzes on Monday) I only see around half that number in class.  

My Pre-Modern World History class only has around 10 students.  Usually they look like this:

Actually this photo was taken during our five-minute break in the middle of class, but given that the timing of the course (late afternoon) coincides with their naptime, it's hard to keep them all alert and lively.  I do try, and since this class is much smaller I have them do a lot of in-class group activities.  Last week we covered the Mongol Empire, the Black Death, Islamic Dynasties, and the Renaissance.  I showed them a fun documentary made for PBS about Cosimo de Medici and the artist Filippo Brunelleschi who built the dome for the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore.  Of course a few of them nodded off during that too, but most of them seemed to be paying attention.

This past week attendance was particularly low owing to the rainstorm that lashed the city.  If you've been following the news, you'll know that Seoul was hit hard by torrential rains that caused flooding and shut down buses and subways around the city.  Some of the buildings in Yonsei were flooded too.  New Millennium Hall, where our summer program is administered, was knee deep in water at the basement level, where many classrooms and offices are located.  One poor guy even had to deal with the roof of his office caving in and sending a freshet of water all over his books and papers.  Or so I heard.  Apparently some drain uphill from the building hadn't been properly cleaned out, which is why the water wasn't channeled into the drainage system of the university.  This is all hearsay though, so don't quote me on it.

Despite the rain I find Seoul to be a very well-managed city with an excellent transport system.  I was surprised by how much the city was affected by the downpour, which would be typical weather for a Shanghai summer.  I remember how ten or twelve years ago it was common for these drenching downpours to flood Shanghai, leaving some streets and neighborhoods so flooded that I was walking around thigh deep in water.  Since they did a systematic overhaul of the city's drainage system I haven't seen such flooding occur, but I have plenty of photos of those flooded streets in the old French Concession from 1999-2000.

While I've been too busy with class prep work to do much sight-seeing, I have managed over the past two weeks to see some of the city's nightlife cultures.  Last week I went with a few colleagues over to Itaewon where we toured some of the bars and clubs in that district.  Itaewon is close to the US military base in Yongsan so it is full of GIs who have a bad reputation for drunken debauchery, but they seemed pretty well behaved to me on that night at least.

On Saturday night I took a stroll through the area outside of Hongik University known as Hongdae.  This is a labyrinth of streets and alleys containing hundreds if not thousands of bars, restaurants, and clubs.  I went there to see if I could find a rock music club or two and see how the Korean rock music scene compares to Beijing or Shanghai.  After walking around for about two hours feeling totally lost and disoriented, along with huge crowds of young Koreans and occasional groups of foreigners (many GIs were there too), I stopped into a blues bar and asked them if they knew where the live music clubs were.  Through directions the bar owner gave me I headed back uphill, until I stumbled upon a basement music club.  The crowd was minimal and the band was fronted by a girl who reminded me a little of Kang Mao (the lead singer of SUBS who appears in our rock doc), though without nearly as much angst.  She also played a mean electric guitar.  The band was more metal in its orientation than the hardcore punk rockers SUBS.  Lots of big guitar solos.  After their gig I asked them their band name and they told me it was Brickslipper (though it took a few repetitions for me to comprehend the name).  

Here's a youtube video of the band Brickslipper.

Turns out that next to that club was the one I'd been looking for in the first place, called Club FF.  This is also a basement club but in contrast to the first one it was filled with at least a couple hundred people wedged in tightly into a small, sweaty, hot and smelly hall.  A band was in full swing onstage, called Skawars.  They were all dressed in colorful sports outfits, sweating like mules, had a horn section and two singers who were very entertaining.  It was a lot of fun.  The band covered some old classics like YMCA and "Don't Worry be Happy" and played a number of Korean pop songs that everyone seemed to know the lyrics to.  The crowd was mostly young and Korean though there were a sizeable number of foreigners there too, including one guy who must have been over seven foot tall.  After Skawars finished their set another band came on, also with a noise metal sound and they seemed to be playing their own songs.  I didn't stay long though, as I'd had enough of that sweatbox.

Here's a youtube video I found of the band Skawars (hope I'm getting the name right).

Another area I've spent some time in now is Shincheon.  I've been out twice now with colleagues to their favorite eating and drinking holes.  Last night I hung out with one Yonsei colleague at a small underground bar that had a great ambience to it and an excellent collection of music to boot.  We tried out their own homebrewed liquor, which apparently has all sorts of interesting ingredients including pine needles.  Here are a couple of photos of the bar and the two women proprietors.  They also have a very cute little dog that hangs out on the bar and likes to be petted.