Café Review: Krum Coffee, Uijeongbu

Located a few minutes away from line 1 Uijeongbu station is the Uijeongbu location of Krum Coffee, which also has a branch in Yangju. Krum Coffee is on the second floor of the building.

The café is one big open room with fairy lights and a mini Christmas tree in the center of one table. A light jazz music is playing, and on this occasion we could see someone in the back of the café roasting coffee.

When selecting a pastry, go for one of the jam cookies rather than the pound cake, which we found a little hard. And be adventurous and ask what coffee is on the siphon bar if you’ve never had siphon coffee! (But remember to stick around and watch it being brewed, as that’s part of the fun.)

Follow them on Instagram: @krum_coffee

Address: 의정부시 평화로 554 2층 크룸커피 랩

Kpop Music Monday #39: Jamie, “Pity Party”

Jamie’s “Pity Party” is perhaps a far cry from her debut stage in 2011 as part of a music competition show called Kpop Star. (You can watch her cover of “Irreplaceable” here. Spoilers: she won the competition.) We love to see a good comeback and an artist that has come into their own.

Though she was born in Korea and Korean is her mother tongue, she spent 8 years living in Thailand and attending an international school. She apparently prefers speaking in English, so it makes sense that her discography features English songs. A question I cannot answer: is it still Kpop if it’s a language other than Korean? Is it Kpop solely because it’s pop music sung by a Korean artist, and what then of Korean-hyphen artists, or even Chinese artists who sing in Korean?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Jamie is here to do whatever the hell she wants, and we respect her for it.

Café Review: Finger Coffee

There’s something different about this café… I just can’t put my finger on it…

Not only is it open 24 hours, but it is an automatic, unmanned café. You insert your card (even transportation cards work!), get the cup corresponding to your order (either a hot cup or a cup filled with ice), move it to the assigned area, and that’s it.

If you happen to feel a bit peckish, you can also check out the ice cream and snack display, which is also unmanned (and they have macarons!). Just insert your card to pay and open the door.

If you’d like to take a virtual tour, click here.

Would this kind of café work in your country?

Kpop Music Monday #38: Everglow, “Pirate”

Sometimes you hear a song and it just resonates with you. Suddenly you find yourself singing and dancing along to it over and over and over again and you can’t figure out exactly why this song has such a hold on you.

“… cuz I’m a pirate, yeah yeah…”

This will be one of my most-played songs of 2022. I’m a little mad that the line distribution is pretty bad, with one member getting most of the lines and a lot of screen time while another member is quiet for most of the song, but this song is still a bop.

Café Review: Blue Bottle Seongsu

Today’s café review is the first Blue Bottle café in Korea, located in the Seongsu neighborhood.

the iconic blue bottle signage against a rough exposed concrete wall

According to Blue Bottle’s website:

“The neighborhood of Seongsu—for which our very first Korean café is named—is changing. In what was once an industrial pocket of the South Korean capital, cafes and galleries are springing up to serve the up-and-coming area referred to by some as the Brooklyn of Seoul.

While Blue Bottle brings much of its Bay Area roots, there’s plenty of old-school Seongsu-dong to hold onto. We’ve used the neighborhood’s trademark red brick, for example, to showcase classic Blue Bottle merchandise, as well as items that can only be found in Korea. Our menu, however, offers the same delicious coffee that can be found in our cafes in the U.S. and Japan.

From the street level, guests will first encounter our roastery against the backdrop of high-rises and trains. Down below is our café, and though located on the basement level, the glass walls and open layout create a calm, sunlit spaciousness—perfect for getting coffee with friends or shopping while you wait for your espresso, single origin, or blend coffee.”

It was interesting seeing the roasting equipment and the espresso machines they probably train the Korean baristas on, but I’d disagree that the area is “sunlit.” It was pretty dark, actually, in the way that a fancy restaurant might be dimmed in order to achieve a romantic effect. The overall feel was pretty industrial, but I loved the red brick touch on the merchandise and how the merch was a separate area from the ordering line. Behind a wall in the seating area was an area of several couches where a few families were sitting.

I imagine that on the weekends, seating can be hard to find. As evidence, I present the blue footprints that start from the entrance at street level and wrap around the front lobby area and then down the stairs to the café. People line up for Blue Bottle, and this café is certainly not going to be any different.

Much to my friends’ amazement, I did not order a coffee, instead opting for a strawberry fizz, which was quite lovely. The barista spoke to me in broken English until asking me to write my name on the screen in front of her, and when I wrote it in Hangul, she was visibly shocked and told me that she didn’t know I spoke Korean. (Spoilers: I don’t, but I could understand what she was saying and where she told me to wait until my name was called.) The fizz reminded me of when I worked at the Mint Plaza Blue Bottle location and I’d pour myself a Cascara Fizz in my Blue Bottle glass mug for the ride back to Oakland.

Unfortunately, my friend’s orange blossom latte tasted like the barista dumped their grandma’s perfume into it, which is not how I remember the drink tasting the last time I went to Blue Bottle. I suggested that she ask for them to just make her a regular latte, but since we had already had coffee that day, she wanted to let it be.

Out of all the Blue Bottle cafes I’ve visited in Korea thus far, this only gets a special mention for being the first to be opened in Korea. Go if you want a gander at the roasting and training area, but I still prefer grabbing a drink at the Gwanghwamun location and sitting alongside the Cheonggye stream.

Address: 7 Achasan-ro Seongdong-gu (Ttukseom station — exit #1)

Kpop Music Monday #37: G(I-DLE), Tomboy

Truth be told, I don’t know much about (G)I-DLE. Like how to properly say their group’s name. I recognize the rapper, who has featured in other songs and is apparently a very good songwriter and producer, producing some of the group’s tracks herself, and know that there was another member who quit the group after a scandal broke that she bullied some of her classmates. Other than that, though, I don’t really follow this group. Or “stan” them, as we would say in the Kpop community.

The bullying scandal is nothing new in the world of Korean celebrities. Many a celebrity have been accused of bullying in their middle and high school days, and it often ends with either a teary-eyed apology letter or stone-faced denial. There’s also something to be said about the cyber-bullying that tends to occur once the scandal breaks, not of the victim in question but of the alleged bully themselves, sometimes leading to a person’s departure from a group or being dropped from a sponsorship. (What is to be said, however, I’m not sure. Obviously bullying is bad but sometimes the vitriol that comes after the scandal seems worse than the alleged bullying. Let’s hold people accountable for their actions, but also acknowledge that people can grow and learn.)

Bullying is a big deal in Korea and I admit I don’t know much about it, teaching at a hagwon rather than a public school. I’ve dealt with some minor bullying, such as a boy calling his classmate an idiot for getting vocabulary test answers wrong, but nothing of the nature that is being called to attention by people who grew up with celebrities. This is a good article that briefly discusses the topic.

But back to the video!

The English in this video is not that great (“sometimes we swear without cigarettes”?), but holy moly, did they just drop an English curse word in the chorus?! Yes they did! You can even hear it in the uncensored version. Not only did they switch it up with a concept change, but they went all out and didn’t just change their hair colors and call it a day. (Here’s another song for you.)

I can dig it.

Café Review: Enough You

Take a ten-minute walk behind Yangu Station (Line 1) and you’ll stumble across a pretty little café called Enough You.

The café has amazing croiffles with a variety of toppings and the interior is quiet and calm. There are tropical trees, round mirrors, soft lights, a billowing white sheet hanging down from the ceiling over wrap-around windows, and even semi-external seating where you can pretend you’re enjoying the nice spring weather even though you still need your winter coat…

There’s literally nothing else to do in the area, but if you find yourself on Line 1, be sure to make a pit-stop!

Follow them on Instagram: @enough_you

Address: 경기도 양주시 부흥로 1422번길 220

KakaoFriends Store: Gangnam

The first thing I did when I moved to Korea, after setting aside my suitcases, was download KakaoTalk. There are two different chats for all the teachers at school–one for general information, and one for pictures of the kindergarten students that later get sent home to parents. I have a handful of one-on-one chats and some group chats where I can look forward to Meme day every Wednesday.

To say that KakaoTalk is a messaging app used by Koreans of every age is an understatement. I use KakaoBus to time leaving my house in the morning, and should I be running late, KakaoT(axi) will get me to where I need to go. There’s also KakaoMetro and KakaoMap, even KakaoPay and KakaoBank. Moving a conversation off of a dating app to KakaoTalk is seen as A Thing here. Kakao is more than just a simple internet company–it’s a brand. And along with that comes brand imaging, and Kakao does not disappoint.

Introducing: KakaoFriends, which started out as KakaoTalk emoticons and took on a life all their own.

a large figurine of Ryan, an orange lion without a mane, holding a to-go coffee cup in one paw and resting his other arm on a small table where there is a sign about requiring masks to be worn and a bottle of hand sanitizer

My favorite Kakao character is Jordy, a “dinosaur that has been kept secret since its existence.” Ryan, a mane-less lion and Apeach, a… peach, are two of the more popular characters, but I’d like to also highlight Muzi, who is actually a piece of pickled daikon radish in a… rabbit costume. Listen, just go with it. They’re cute.

There are a few KakaoFriends stores, but my friend and I went to the flagship store in Gangnam. (Unfortunately, we were there too early to visit the café on the third floor.)

the exterior of the KakaoFriends store, featuring a large glass windows that have a picture of Esther Bunny (non-Kakao character) in a collaboration with APeach

Who’s your favorite character?

yours truly next to a Jordy figurine behind the booth of a cute fake radio station

Café Review: Blue Bottle Gwanghwamun

This was the first Blue Bottle in Korea that I visited, and one that I’ve visited a few times since then.

A person sits behind a vase full of flowers, reading a book. The Blue Bottle signage is on the wall behind them.

According to the Blue Bottle website:

In the center of one of Seoul’s three business districts, our Gwanghwamun cafe sits at the bottom of a 20-story office building at 11 Cheonggyecheon-ro alongside the Cheonggye Stream. Restored in 2003, the banks of the stream now serve as a public gathering space and cultural arts venue. We designed the cafe for local workers seeking a reprieve and tourists looking for a coffee near Cheonggye Plaza and Stream. 

To continue the feeling of flow from the outdoor urban plaza, we designed the cafe with the idea of openness, with multiple windows reaching from the floor nearly to the ceiling facing the square. To keep the guests’ focus on the coffee and coffee professionals, we set the bar in the center of the space, wrapping it around the two structural columns. Inside the cafe, we offer plenty of seating and perching options at red oak tables and bars, but on nice days, we imagine many guests will take their coffee for a walk along the Cheonggye Stream.

I would highly recommend going to this Blue Bottle café, getting your drink to-go, and sitting outside along the banks of the Cheonggye stream.

view of part of the Cheonggye stream featuring a waterfall
a view of the stream as it cuts down through Seoul

Address: 11 Cheonggyecheon-ro Jongno-gu

Book Review: “The Handsome Monk and Other Stories,” Tsering Dondrup

This review is thanks to J, who mailed me a copy of this book.

The Handsome Monk and Other Stories is a collection by Tibetan author Tsering Döndrup who is, according to the introduction, “ethnically Mongolian, culturally and linguistically Tibetan.” He stands as a writer writing in a time where writing “that reflects the experiences of modern Tibetans must now reflect a life colored and conditioned by the experience of existing in contemporary China.” Whether he is seen as Tibetan or Mongolian, he is “above all concerned with the hardships faced by ordinary Tibetans in a world that is both rapidly changing and yet somehow immutable.”

Some of the topics he discusses through fiction include “the corruption of both religion and officialdom, the degradation of traditional nomad life and its attendant social issues, the linguistic invasion of the Chinese language, and the threat to Tibet’s environment from industrial modernity.” I quote a lot from the translator Christopher Peacock here, as his introduction was excellently researched and written.

Those who know me know how devoted I am to the Tibetan cause (of which there are, in fact, many “causes” and entrances into), but what you may not know is that I gave away a majority of my books on Tibet before I left to teach English in Korea. I do not know how many books I donated to the DC-based organization Machik, but there were at least four printer-paper boxes full, of autobiographies and biographies, short story collections and fiction. I kept a handful of important books, but let most of it go, hoping that it would be useful to someone else.

I asked for a review copy of The Handsome Monk because I loved Old Demons, New Deities: Twenty-One Short Stories from Tibet. The short story format is close to my heart, and I believe that in such bite-sized pieces of fiction, truth prevails.

“The Disturbance in D-Camp” reads like an old wise tale from Tibet, and is an excellent beginning to the collection. “Ralo” is a must-read for anyone who wants to read Tibetan writing. “A Show to Delight the Masses” features long, poetic verses that are surely that much better in the original Tibetan. In these and other stories, monks find themselves living with prostitutes, people lose everything playing mahjong, and traditionally nomadic people find themselves forcibly removed from their lands and put up in shabby make-shift shelters while their lands are ravaged for “expensive black rock.” (The latter being my favorite story from the collection, entitled “Black Fox Valley”.)

These things–prostitutes, gambling, alcoholism, environmental destruction, and AIDS–are not things that jump to the forefront when discussing Tibet, but as Tsering Döndrup shows us, they are all too familiar in today’s Tibet.