The Motherland: A night in Hongdae 


There’s nothing more cliché than writing about having writer’s block; yet, I have it and I decided to write about it. 

While the fact that I’m halfway through my semester abroad and I’ve run out of ideas could be a sign I’m not taking advantage of my time in Korea, it’s important to note that having fun doesn’t always equate to doing the most. If anything, the moments I do give in to going out have usually ended with a keen sense of regret. Take clubbing in Hongdae, for instance. 

Hongdae is about a 15-minute bus ride from Yonsei, a neighborhood most known for its exuberant nightlife and the very reason why locals and foreigners tend to flock toward the area. The legal drinking age in Korea is 19, which also explains why college students often make up a large portion of that demographic. 

It was a Saturday night and a group of five of us (including myself) stopped by a convenience store for a quick meal. I got instant miyeok-guk while the others bought noodles. They also bought two bottles of soju to pregame. 

As we later stood in line to enter Club DOZE, I learned two things: firstly, grape-flavored soju tastes absolutely amazing, and secondly, I underestimated how alive Korea becomes at night. For a country whose COVID-19 guidelines have been very strict, you wouldn’t think there’d be so many people lingering at the same time. Everyone swarmed the sidewalks and alleyways, either coming out of other venues for a quick smoke break or to mingle with the crowd. Cars beeped their way through the congested street, music boomed out of a nearby bar and neon signs glowed against the line of buildings. Ironically, the most enjoyable part of the night was when I stood there to take it all in. 

Nevertheless, that’s as much as I’ll romanticize it. We spent the next three hours inside an overcrowded basement filled with red lights and cigarette smoke, a scent which I found out would permeate my clothes for the next week. The bass was so strong it vibrated my larynx to the point where my gag reflex was triggered every 10 minutes, and I only ended up knowing a grand total of four songs. 

Rest assured, the worst part wasn’t the clubbing itself. Although I was relieved it was over, there were one or two moments where I actually thought I was having fun, but those lasted a good minute or so. Instead, the worst part came in trying to make it back home. 

It was raining — hard. After we exited DOZE, we proceeded to loiter in a crowded alleyway outside a line of closed shops. Only some of us brought umbrellas (most of them being quite small) so huddling two people to an umbrella was our solution. A lot was happening at once. People were filling the area. We were in the process of keeping track of the members in our group. I was in the process of keeping track of an intoxicated friend who wouldn’t stop saying “hello” and “thank you” in Korean to random strangers. It was raining. 

In total, it took us about two-and-a-half hours of standing in the rain before getting back to the dorms. We briefly found shelter under a brick arch entrance outside a closed cafe, where we continued to refresh the taxi app in the hope that one would be available. Of course, it never happened because like us, every other clubgoer and bar hopper was on a mission to escape the weather. And as I stood there shivering, seeing the street lights reflected on puddles on the ground and occupied taxis rushing past our miserable faces, I came to the conclusion that this was, in fact, the last time I would ever go out again. 

We were eventually rescued by a pair of roommates who invited us to their Airbnb, so we could at least wait for a taxi under warm shelter. Granted, it was a 20 minute walk from where we were. Umbrellas were deemed useless after I realized I was still getting wet despite standing under one, and I took the initiative to fulfill my main character fantasies by walking the majority of the way getting drenched. Only 10 minutes after we arrived, we were able to secure a taxi and got home safely by 2 a.m.  

It’s been a month since that endeavor, and there could be no greater indicator that Korean nightlife is, at the very least, not suited for me. As a callback to my earlier point, “fun” tends to have a subjective definition. And while I’ve come to prefer sitting in aesthetic cafes, taking a bite out of an overpriced slice of cake and sipping on an iced beverage, I’m not going to criticize those I went with for enjoying themselves at the club for days in a row — I honestly just want to know where they get the energy to do it. 

All in all, I’m grateful for the experience, which without I would not have been able to figure out — albeit wretchedly — to never do any of it again. And more importantly, I’ve learned that terrible experiences are the perfect remedy for writer’s block. 

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