After my rather nightmarish start in Seoul, I arrived in the Hongdae neighbourhood of the city. Emerging from exit 3 at the Hongik University metro stop, I was struck by just how busy the tree-lined street was, with cafes, bars and restaurants running both sides of a sort of central park area down the middle separating two small roads. I suspect this was once a tram track as there appears to be some rails still embedded in parts of the path. What surprised me more, however, was the rather well-dressed people having picnics complete with blankets, booze and cool boxes plus a smattering of goodies bought from the surrounding eateries. Remarkably, this was at 10 o’clock at night!
This university neck-of-the-woods seems to exude effortless cool and I think I spot Seoul’s ‘hipster’ crowd everywhere. They are natty in their dress sense, clean lines, no bold brands or patterns. The men wear rolled-up chinos with button-down shirts under round-neck sweaters, tailors jackets or long woollen coats and paired with daps or smart trainers. A lot of the people I see sport thick-rimmed glasses and of course carry an obligatory Samsung device. Thankfully, there is no facial hair in sight – a boon to us facially follically challenged folk (sorry beardy Shoreditch) – and I think, with my usual wardrobe, this is a crowd I could easily slip into, were it not for my living out of the restraints of a backpack at present.
The next morning, I venture further afield after a not-so-quick quick stop at a local bakery for a green plum tea and a fresh cranberry and raisin bun. This time I leave at exit 7 and the atmosphere initially seems different, with some run-down buildings and litters. Two minutes’ walk later and I’m back in the cool Hongdae vibes with ubiquitous coffee shops, and independent boutiques, shops and stores nestled into every quirky corner.
There aren’t many pavements around these parts on the intriguing and somewhat beguiling backstreets but pedestrians are king here as any cars, with their hazard lights flashing, move at snail’s pace giving way to window-shopping wanderers.
Looking around, each building is different making a rather hodgepodge but pleasing aesthetic. Stings of spaghetti-like telephone and electricity wires dress every street like high-tech bunting, while neon signs and purposeful street art complete the multicoloured picture.
As I step into one independent clothes shop for men, I’m greeted by the shop assistant (possibly the owner too) welcoming me to the store and reassuring me that I am welcome to try things on. There is no hard sell and he is equally cheery as I leave without making a purchase. Each place I pop my head into or stop for a bite or quick cuppa is the same and it feels like I’ve been here years.