Saturday, June 19, 2010


Hooray for globalization(?)/urbanization/Seoul café culture*/caffeine

Myeongdong has become the latest battleground for both domestic and international coffee franchises. This neighborhood also boasted, until recently, the largest coffee shop in Asia, a five-story Starbucks that offered lattes with tea and rice cakes. It departed a few years ago due to the steep rents in the world's ninth most expensive commercial district. (The building is now home to popular Italian brand Caffe Pascucci, while Starbucks has opened at least five** franchises, by my count, within a stone's throw from the original location.)

*Related post soon to come.

**During a recent night out, a (fellow foreigner) friend called to ask for directions, and I went outside to try to find him. When I asked him where he was, he said, "Baskin Robbins." I replied, "Wait, I'm outside a Baskin Robbins, too," but he was nowhere in sight. We eventually found each other by relying on cardinal directions rather than international brand names.

I think that, as Americans/other Westerners, it's quite natural to assume that a gleaming Starbucks or Krispy Kreme sign might be a neighborhood landmark (and a welcome dose of English amid the neon sea of hangeul!), but the globalization of Korea combined with the incredible population density of Seoul (six times denser than New York City) means that trying to navigate this city based on popular chains is akin to searching for a Mr. Kim in a Hongdae club.