Retail Therapy, Lifelong Learning and a Fish and Chips Homage

Before a spot of lifelong learning I headed to Dongseoul and Technomart in search of a deal on new photo gear (see previous post). It proved an interesting experience; multiple camera stores populated floors 3-6 and advertised the usual Nikon, Canon, Olympus and of course Samsung.

After days of Internet research I’d settled on the Olympus PEN EPL-5 for a number of reasons; price, specification, portability and the range of available lenses. All reviews were positive at 4 and 5 stars and the standard kit was a steal. The system is micro 4/3 and mirror-less; for the average person that means small, light-weight and a 14-42 lenses operates like a 28-85 DSLR lens. Olympus also produce a 40-150 zoom, which for those with limited arithmetic skills means a 28-300mm range from a very compact system. Techno-lecture over and back to retail therapy.

Of the 100 or so stores at Technomart, eight had huge Olympus signs and a few point and shoots on the stands; none of them sold the camera. Each retailer in turn advised me that no stores in South Korea stock my chosen system and I should consider the other options. Of course this bullshit left me mildly unimpressed so for each in turn I pulled out my G-Market print-outs showing the said items at Yongsan iPark Mall. Yet again they insisted this was just a ploy to get me into the IPark stores. I advised each retailer that the lack of customers reflected their limited customer service skills and disingenuous behaviour!

I had time to stop off at Nandemun where there are a number of camera shops opposite Sungnyemun Gate. I was on my way to a conference nearby. Well what a difference, of the 12 or so retailers only two sold my system but everyone was polite and helpful and not one tried to fob me off with alternative purchases. I pulled out my Yongsan print-outs and the first store matched the lowest price whilst the second store was 100,000 Won cheaper. One problem they did not have my chosen black kit just the white version. The retailers mother and sisters went to work firing multiple phone calls  around Seoul. After delaying me with coffee and noodles they advised me if I could wait 15 minutes the silver items would arrive by courier and they would cover the transport costs. I agreed and the transaction was duly completed, another day of shite and sugar in SK!

After my conference had satisfied another chunk of lifelong learning I headed to my accommodation in Hongdae; the Fortune Hostel. After a long chat with the severely disillusioned fellow Englishman who was acting manager, I realised my own foibles about SK were shared by others. He had arrived in SKL full of optimism with an intention to settle here after years of travelling but his irritation meant after just 6 months he was heading home to blighty. Whilst my culture shock has subsided into realism, his was cemented in contempt. He describes Koreans as “delusional and disengenuous; as corrupt, badly mannered and holding a misplaced superiority complex that shuts them off from fully engaging with the outside world.” Whilst I understand his viewpoint it is somewhat exaggerated and does not mirror my own.

I settled in my draughty room and devoured the camera manual before taking a nap; the precursor of my search for top fish and chips. I’d done some digging “Baby Guineas” sister of the faux Irish pub in Itaewon and “Burger B“, a craft beer establishment seemed to hold the greatest attraction.  As it happens Baby G was next door so that’s where I headed. The food was excellent the atmosphere tres faux gaelic and uninspiring.  The only “irishness” it possessed was a green pain job.  No Irish music and only Guineas itself, its clientele mainly groups of Korean women who drank pints and got loud too quickly. As this point some of my former observations were confirmed. They buy meals to share, this means burgers or fish and chips not like nachos or finger food.  More often than not the food is left to go cold and whilst this may help a diet plan it seems such a waste.  Cold burger, cold F & C, they’re heathens!

I’d also discovered that Hongdae has a thriving craft beer community and so of course I had to sample this for myself. Generally speaking this boom began with Castle Praha, my first stop, which opened in 2003 and now has a number of branches in Seoul.

The house beers include a ruddy, sweet Granat lager, gently bitter pilsner and a dark, malty dunkel. Depending on the branch, other beers on tap include a fragrant imported Czech Jezek pilsner and a light, chamomile-infused weizen.  Extra street cred comes from the Czech Embassy, which holds events at the Czech cultural center on the third floor of the Hongdae flagship.  Brewmaster Kim Heesang began studying in 2007 under the tutelage of his Czech predecessor, Zdenek Fousek.

Hongdae’s Castle Praha (main location), Castle Praha Building, 395-19 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 395-19 캐슬프라하 빌딩); +82 (2) 334 2121
Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-3 a.m.; Sunday and holidays 11:30 a.m.-midnight 

Next was The Queens Head a newcomer to the bohemian Hongdae neighbourhood since its May 2010 opening. Brewmaster Jang Chun-shik has been churning out craft beer since 2004 in Suwon, about 30 kilometers south of Seoul. The Queens Head serves up the standard three German-style brews, but the cream of the crop is the weizen, a sweet, smooth beer with a bright, golden hue.

The Queens is located at 407-16 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 407-16); +82 (70) 8954-6324

My third stop was actually Burger B though obviously for the beer not the food. Styled like a  Hoxton Bistro the place and the staff are very welcoming.  There is a resident Bedlington Terrier who also is a major attraction. The p[lace was packed so I sat at the bar (there’s room for 8 people) sampling the Indian IPA and the Dark beer, both were excellent.  The bar serves up a sample menu of 6 beers for 15K which I intended to let FOBY sample when he arrived on Saturday. Alongside me sat a Korean/Geman girl and a Korean/American guy who nibbled on beef nachos whilst necking a consistent supply of IPA.

Burger B Hongdae (홍대본점), 363-28 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
서울특별시 마포구 서교동 363-28
(070) 8870-9220

Returning to Fortune for the first night it was apparent the location was not suitable for anyone wanting a good nights sleep or to mix with considerate neighbours.  On waking the draughty window ensured I had a stiff neck and shoulders.

I set out to grab some snaps of Hongdae, early morning and to get to grip with my new equipment.  I had excellent first impressions, fast focussing (even in poor light), easy handling and relatively discreet for street photography. I had to meet FOBY at Seoul station so late morning I headed South East.

The station area was overcrowded and noisy; the God Lovers were out to save their souls, well it is Christmas.  I hate the yearly begging ritual they engage in; why not help a neighbour or the poor souls who inhabit the station environs, for Gods sake there are enough of them! Some craftsmen were setting up a crooked stage for a concert with no regard for health and safety in respect of themselves or the poor sods who who use the slanty stage. On the last day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a plaster cast in A & E. After meeting FOBY we headed back to Hongdae in 7 mins aboard the Airport Express, this is a Seoul best kept secret as it was virtually empty, the cost teh same as the normal metro. We devoured some Gusto Taco’s before strolling up and across Hongdae towards the South and more attractive side of the area.

At Hapjeong station a new development (Mecenatpolis) includes a shopping mall and high class apartments. Today their was a mass “Jive” performance in the central atrium area. The shopping is far from exclusive and offers the usual chains Uniglo, Muji and food outlets such as Caffe Pascucci.

The evening saw us take dinner at Burger B. We tried the Mega Burger and the Fish & Chips which were both excellent washed down with the “Beer Sampler”, top drawer as well. We then took a beer at Praha before heading back to Susie Q’s next door to Burger B. Susie Q is both a track by Creedence Clearwater Revival and a bar in Hongdae, Seoul. The bar is exclusively vinyl and the disk spinner open to requests from patrons.  there’s no craft beer but the Korean bottled dark beer is excellent. Thanks to the RED PEN OF DOOM blog for this review of susie Q. Stopping off at Baby G for a final beer concluded an excellent evening, I love the fact that the waiters are called “Baby Sitters”, so patronising, so Korean!

Sunday morning we headed to Yongsan for camera batteries and nowt much else before heading home after a spicy sausage stew lunch (Budae Jjigae).

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