[ITAEWON WANDERINGS]Raw and cosmopolitan

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[ITAEWON WANDERINGS]Raw and cosmopolitan

This new column on Itaewon is dedicated to two things that confound and delight us: freedom and the unknown.

Freedom, because Itaewon is a place where everybody belongs. For years, it was where local libertines and misfits gravitated, people like independent-minded women, gays and headbangers. Now Itaewon is one of the most cosmopolitan places on earth -- and that's cosmopolitan in its rawest, realest form, not the high-brow, style-obsessed kind.

The unknown, because you never know where you'll end up once you begin painting this town. It's full of questions, oddities and mysteries.

But let's take time out to deal with a few questions. First, where is Itaewon, and why does it deserve a weekly column? That's easy -- Itaewon is a foreigner-friendly area in central Seoul, speckled with embassies and splattered with nightlife, and adjacent to a big U.S. Army base. It deserves a column because my boss said so.

You see, I was asked to brainstorm for new ideas for Page 2, and this was one of my ideas. I thought it was a fine idea. But I didn't expect anybody else to.

Next, why am I qualified to write about Itaewon? I'd like to tell you ?but my lawyers have advised me to refrain from answering that question.

Enough background. Back to our main subjects, freedom and the unknown. Let me boldly pronounce a postulate: Itaewon scares the daylights out of people.

I know this because people always ask me where I live, and when they hear "Itaewon," they recoil in horror. Actually, I don't live in Itaewon anymore, so that has helped to cut down on the recoiling. But it has helped to confirm my theory. Now, when I answer "Near Ewha Womans University," everybody smiles approvingly.

Recently, I decided to pin down a couple of upstanding gentlemen -- my co-workers Mr. Baek and Mr. Kim, who are both in their 40s -- and ask them what they really thought about Itaewon.

Mr. Baek, from Daejeon, said he thought Itaewon was "wonderful." I was taken aback, but continued the line of questioning. Would he let his daughters go to nightclubs there? "Yes," he said. Then I got graphic: "They'd be dancing with foreign men, Russians, Nigerians and American soldiers." Blush, stammer, head shake. I knew that would break him down.

The other upstanding co-worker, Mr. Kim, has lived in Seoul all his life, but has never been to Itaewon. What did he think about it? "Exciting. For music, dancing, drinking." Would he let his sons go there for nightlife? "No," he said. "I don't know about it, so I wouldn't let them."

Freedom and the unknown. That's where this column will be venturing, week in and week out. We'll go up the notorious hills, down the seedy alleys and through the bustling marketplaces. We'll sip cocktails in the swanker establishments and do "one-shots" in the dives. We'll sample the street food. Fearlessly, we'll get as chummy as we can with freedom and the unknown, maybe invite them for an afternoon frappucino.But first we'll need to solve one of Itaewon's biggest mysteries: Where's the Starbucks?

Itaewon Wanderings appears every Tuesday.


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