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Hongdae Brawls Get Attention from US State Dept.

The Chosun Ilbo reports on the mention of Hongdae and Shinchon in a section on safety and security on the Republic of Korea information page at the US State Department travel website:

U.S. citizens and their families, especially young adults, are advised to exercise prudence and caution when visiting the Hongdae and Sinchon areas of Seoul. These areas, where many night clubs are located, have occasionally been the sites of bar or street fights and harassment involving Westerners.

The Chosun Ilbo article details without commentary other information from the crime and traffic safety sections on the State Department’s Republic of Korea page.

  • cmm

    Have been going there for years. If they meant “don’t be an asshole” when they recommend excercising “prudence and caution,” then they are right, but I don’t think Hongdae needs to be singled out since the same approach (don’t be an asshole) is just as useful anywhere in Korea. Precious few “situations” occur there that can’t be avoided there by foreigners who take the initiative to make sure something minor doesn’t escalate further.

    I’d say the reason that there might be more scuffles with foreigners there compared to other places is that there are much larger numbers of younger, drunk foreigners and Koreans mixed together there than anywhere else. But I doubt the frequency of altercations there is not much different on a per person basis than other places where people of similar ages are mixed and getting equally drunk.

    Hongdae in particular is perhaps the place where foreigners are also received most friendlily by Koreans and bars/clubs. For example, in Suwon, I’ve been prevented from entering bars/clubs because of my non-Koreanness, despite being with only Korean friends. On the other hand in Hongdae, barbarians can enter some places for free that Koreans must pay to get into. Some places have drink specials for foreigners only.

    I also hear Hongdae is a good place to go to get laid too, and that the girls there are relatively cleaner and younger than the girls prowling in shItaewon.

  • seouldout

    I also hear Hongdae is a good place to go to get laid too, and that the girls there are relatively cleaner and younger…

    To correct the embassy’s wrong impression the Korean Tourism Authorities ought to launch a campaign.

    Sexy Shinchon – Swingin’

    Happy Hongdae – Happy Bukakke

  • http://www.metropolitician.com The Metropolitician

    I’d have to agree with that assessment.

    Especially if you’re a tourist and don’t know the codes of the area, types of people, etc.

    After being involved in several international programs, including the Fulbright ETA orientations over several years, whenever there is a large group of foreigners, it attracts attention. Even when a group is minding their own business, there have been several assaults on newbies fresh in-country. One was with a group I was actually in, with a group of new English Teaching Assistants who are far from the culturally insensitive, bar brawlin’ type that people falsely think “invites” these attacks. We were entering a “hof” and one of the last two kids in the door were hit over the head with a metal folding chair. He never saw his attacker and required stitches. Welcome to Korea.

    I’m not saying it’s common, or that you are more likely than not to be attacked, but that those handling large groups of young folks coming on say international programs know that almost all of these incidents happen in Shinchon/Hongdae, and they are instigated by Koreans with a desire to start fights. Almost all of the ones I know about were completely uninstigated by the foreigners, as in the case of one of my summer Korean Studies program students who was hit on the head from behind by two women and knocked to the ground (my student was also female).

    These cases aren’t everyday occurrences, but they’re not rare. And one of the best ways to judge isn’t “well, I’VE never had a problem” or even anecdotally amongst people who likely occupy a social circle as you, but by asking people who consistently manage large groups of foreigners in programs or some such year in and year out.

    It IS a pattern. Whether by virtue of being where young people go, or that there are a lot more Korean young people these days with a chip on their shoulders about foreigners, or whatever the reason — these are areas to keep your wits about you.

  • cmm

    @3 I’ve read your sad “Welcome to Korea” story about the kid who got blind-sided in the head by a chair many times and probably heard it on your podcast (though not sure of the latter). And it seems to have made a big impression on you. Since my and my social circle’s somewhat extensive experiences in the area “aren’t the best way to judge,” and “asking someone who consistently manages large groups of foreigners or some such year in and year out is,” then let me ask you Mike, in addition to your two anecdotes above, how many times have all of your underlings been attacked unprovoked in Sexy Shinchon and Happy Hongdae?

  • http://www.smokehard.com chiamattt

    A man was hit in the back of the head by a thrown beer bottle in Toronto. Enter Toronto at your own risk.

  • adeline

    maybe nothing has happened to you, but when I was living in Seoul there were gangs of young Koreans going around hongdae playing chicken with foreign pedestrians on their bikes. You have to understand that the state department gets hundreds of reports of problems, if most of those come from a certain area, that is pretty valid. I don’t think they’re being overly cautious.

  • keith

    People talk about Itaewon being a bit rough around the edges, Hongdae is far, far worse.Some of the students there are very anti foreigner, also a lot of the gyopo who tend to hang out there (the wannabe gangter types-with their trousers falling down hiphop style!) are a lot of trouble.

    I only go to Hongdae for the occasional gig. The clubs, restaurants and bars suck for the most part.

  • globalvillageidiot

    #3 – Whether by virtue of being where young people go, or that there are a lot more Korean young people these days with a chip on their shoulders about foreigners, or whatever the reason — these are areas to keep your wits about you.”

    Always good advice.

    #7 – “People talk about Itaewon being a bit rough around the edges, Hongdae is far, far worse.Some of the students there are very anti foreigner, also a lot of the gyopo who tend to hang out there (the wannabe gangter types-with their trousers falling down hiphop style!) are a lot of trouble.”

    I have to agree. I think Itaewon – my preferred destination for a few beers – has cleaned up a lot in the 12 years I’ve been here, while Hongdae, in particular, may have gotten a little dodgier. I lived in Hongdae from ’96 to ’02, and had nothing but great times there and in Shinchon.

    I almost never found myself in bad situations in Hongdae and Shinchon – at the end of the day, most of these things can be avoided – but I know a lot of people who did find themselves being threatened, getting into fights, or being arrested. In most cases, my friends were not the ones instigating the situations, but wound up suffering the consequences.

    Both Hongdae and Shinchon are saturated with drunk Korean students, and a smattering of other assorted morons, both Korean and foreign. Not surprisingly, especially in the case of a younger males, things can get out of control and violent. I don’t think the area is especially anti-foreign – the vast majority of fights I’ve seen there have been Korean versus Korean – but the young and alcohol-heavy character of both neighborhoods holds some potential for trouble.

    Anyway, I moved in 2002 and don’t regret it for a minute. (I prefer to remember the Hongdae neighborhood from when I was younger and single, before the bars went “techno” and they tore up the all food stalls and built that dull pedestrian street/loitering/littering area.)

  • http://ghosttreemedia.com hoju_saram

    Metro,

    These cases aren’t everyday occurrences, but they’re not rare.

    Yes they are. I’ve been in Korea 5 years and can count the number of times anyone I know has been assualted – with or without provoking it – on one hand.

    Korea is a relatively safe place. If you go out and behave with a modicum of common sense, as well as be polite, you’ll have no problem.

    BTW I read your post on staying safe over at your website. I was actually laughing out loud when I read it. It reminded me of the fox news article on how to avoid terrorists when travelling “overseas”. You wrote down some tips that were absolutely priceless.

    Ie, “If you’re with a k-woman, avoid places filled with the lower class.”

    That goes without saying for a Fulbright Scholar™ ;), but what if some of us k-lovers actually want to meet and mingle with real live salt-of-the-earth Koreans? Kind of puts us in a bind doesn’t it?

    It got better for me though:

    “Avoid small bars” riiiight.

    “Avoid speaking english in confined spaces” Especially cupboards!

    “Be careful of collateral damage to your companions.” We’re talking about Seoul right, not Baghdad?

    This one took the cake for me though:

    “Yell loudly in Korean.”

    What a load of crap. You might get a cheap thrill at being able to show off your banmal, but it’s not going to do you any good. If anything, it’s going to antagonize whoever you’ve probably already antagonized even more. Shut your gob up and walk away.

    Seriously, it may sound harsh, but leave the attitude at home and you’ll be a happy camper 99 times out of a hundred.

  • Sonagi

    The State Department advice seems reasonable. It uses the word “occasional” to quantify the number of incidents and recommends using “prudence and caution.” It does not suggest these places altogether.

  • http://www.metropolitician.com The Metropolitician

    To address the question of how often my “underlings” (I assume you mean overseas students I’m teaching or kids in other programs I come into contact with on international programs) have been assaulted —

    A lot. I’d need several hands to count the incidents on, because, as I said, I’m talking about large numbers of students coming summer after summer — not “me and my friends.” So to the person who can “count on one hand” the number of times you or your people have been attacked — good for you.

    The point certain of you who seem to think I am saying Korea is a “dangerous” place in general are missing is that I am simply saying certain areas are more dangerous than others, especially in certain situations. And since I have heard of probably a couple dozen incidents — major and minor — reported by people in the international programs I work in, I say it’s worth being cautious in those areas.

    There is also this impression that I get attacked every time I go outside — I’m not. Or that I have some “attitude” — had I a nasty attitude, I’d could have been in countless fights. So far, the count’s zero, mostly because I am calm, level-headed, and friendly. There’s no attitude problem. And I’ve seen some incredibly nice people be attacked out of the blue for no reason at all. So, blaming the victim isn’t what I’d do to brush this problem under the rug.

    And the illogic with which this problem is always addressed by certain of you, i.e. “I’ve been here X years and nothing happened to me” completely misses the point. Suicide is a problem amongst teens here, or automobile accident death rates are the highest in any OECD country — but they’re not “problems” because no one YOU know has committed suicide, or you’ve never been in a major car accident, right? Same stupid logic.

    And as for the guy who was attacked with the metal folding chair — yep! It left a big impression on me because it left a pretty fucking big impression on this poor kid’s skull. And he wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t showing “attitude”, and in fact, never even saw his attackers. He was rushed to the hospital gushing blood out of the back of his head, and for what?

    Maybe he should have “left his attitude at home,” then?

    The reason I mention him and will continue to is because it’s a part of a pattern. Neither I, nor the international programs I was a part of, had to worry about being assaulted very much in the early 1990′s. I never remember having to think about it. After I returned to Korea, I very much HAD to think about it — because it was in my face. And it had come up as an issue amongst staff I was working with, completely separate from me or my experiences.

    I’m not saying this is Baghdad, Hoju Saram. But there are those of you who cling to this idea that “Korea is safe” and any of this information or advice is utter hogwash; I’m glad you’re not running or part of any international programs in charge of early 20-somethings, then. You totally have your heads in the sand.

    Why certain of you have or haven’t been harrassed or attacked is completely irrelevant from the fact that some people are, and solely because of the fact of them being foreign. And using that as “evidence” that the pattern someone is simply reporting from a far greater sample size is in fact not true is pretty dumb, to put a point on it.

    “Because it didn’t happen to me, must be something wrong with those guys.” Personally, I’m going to wear my seatbelts, despite the fact that I’ve never been in a major car accident. Because I’m smart enough to realize that no one is saying it’s going to happen every day, often, or even ever — but if it does, I’d rather have it on than not.

    I’m not talking about likelihoods of specific individuals, because to do so is umm, plain stupid. It’s about safety and prevention. And it’s based on a pattern of increasing numbers of violent attacks on friends, colleagues, and the students I teach or am otherwise in contact with. If you believe I’m making all this shit up, well, we’ve got nothing to talk about then, do we?

  • cmm

    OK, we get it, you are right, we are wrong, we are illogical, and we are dumb, because you say so, and proved it with really “good” analogies. Hoju Saram and I will wear our dunce caps today. And I’ll wear a safety helmet this weekend when I go to Hongdae. Thanks for sharing your privileged and special knowledge to us and opening our eyes to the danger that we’ve been unknowingly subjecting ourselves to for years. I’ll stay out of Toronto too.

  • http://www.artistfirst.com/rileymartin.htm hardyandtiny

    Go to your local dive.

  • 3gyupsal

    What’s wrong with just exercizing the same amount of caution that anyone would in a big city? Last I checked, Seoul had a lot of people in it. A place so crowded requires one to be a bit more aware than normal. You have to watch out for things like: People walking along at a normal pace and then stopping for no reason in front of door ways and subway entrances. Unwanted conversations with students about what your name is and where you are from. Motorcycles on sidewalks. Cars using the sidewalks to avoid redlights. Delivery trucks parking on sidewalks. One should be aware of such things, as well as be aware of a possibility for some kind of violence. Doing so would only be out of respect. Respect for the city. Respect for the fact that Koreans are people too, people who commit crimes, get drunk, and exihibit xenophobia just as well as any westerner can.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “But there are those of you who cling to this idea that “Korea is safe” and any of this information or advice is utter hogwash”.

    If you look at the official statistics, it’s about as safe as Canada (that is, if the Korean government’s statistics are to be trusted)…So, although it is relatively safe, I agree with you that some people, especially Americans, come here with an exaggerated sense of security. Murders do occur here.

  • http://hojupjimong.wordpress.com/ JiMong

    When I read the title of this article on Chosun Ilbo site, I instantly thought that its just another waste of article space on the major newspaper site and very typical Cho-joong-dong style crap and skipped it. You should also skipped it and should be keep your eyes open for those tabloid craps like years old fan-face women stuff.

    Have you ever been to HongDae or Shinchon, Sonagi? I don’t even want to go there if I visit Seoul again, may be Shinchon for 돼지갈비+소주 but HongDae? No thanks.

    HongDae was the place to go to enjoy and deep in to the house music, techno, trans or for some good restaurants, may be still it is. I really loved both area, gave me great combination that 1-cha in Shinchon to get high with Soju then 2-Cha in HongDae for endless cha cha cha. But not anymore, No more fun, it is the bar & club district for young ones not a place for you and I. Yes, it’s the f**king bar and club district where the drunken restless and mindless young ones hang around. They are dangerous ones to the locals and as well as to the foreigners.

    I don’t know how safe the bar & club district in your hometown, city or the US to the locals not to the visible foreigners. Can you tell me how safe it is? All I want to say is “it’s same to every entertainment distinct in every f**king big city”. Don’t waist your time on these kind of Chosun Ilbo crap. Damn, now I just wasted my time too

  • CactusMcHarris

    #16,

    You’re right, any major entertainment area is rife with grifters, shills, confidence men and women, fakers and fakirs, you know, the dross of the human race. But it’s also a place to have a lot of fun, as you also noted.

    Still, I would like to hold the inaugural Apollo Ohno Fan Club (Seoul Chapter) meeting in Hongdae – that would ensure a memorable experience for all.

    Let me think, that would only be topped by Sean Avery’s Sloppy Seconds Night in Shinchon.

  • http://hojupjimong.wordpress.com/ JiMong

    #17

    ” Still, I would like to hold the inaugural Apollo Ohno Fan Club (Seoul Chapter) meeting in Hongdae – that would ensure a memorable experience for all.”

    And ensure to wear “Takeshima is part of Nihon” T-shirt or hang the Banner for it to maximize your memorable experience!

  • SomeguyinKorea

    “All I want to say is “it’s same to every entertainment distinct in every f**king big city”.”

    It’s just like St Catherine’s in Montreal…minus the strippers and the junkies…LOL.

  • Darth Babaganoosh

    Cactus, I already held such a meeting. You’re a few years too late. I even made up a t-shirt:

    (Front):
    [ Kim Dong-sung with Taegukki on the ice ] “오노?”

    (Back):
    [ Ohno, hands in the air in victory ] “오예!”

  • Sonagi

    Have you ever been to HongDae or Shinchon, Sonagi?

    I lived in the area for several years. I was in my thirties and had outgrown the clubbing scene, so if I was in Hongdae or Shinchon at night, I was usually just passing through on the way home. I was harassed once by a drunk young man who tried to corner me in an alley while inquiring if I was American. I exercised more caution on the subway than on the street because subway cars are an enclosed space with no escape. I was once trapped in a subway car with a very angry, migook-hating ajosshi egged on by several passengers. Standing by the door waiting for the train to pull into the next station while being harassed by the ajosshi and his new-found friends was probably the longest three minutes of my life in Seoul. However unpleasant my occasional encounters with angry or drunk men in Seoul, I always felt much safer there than I would in any major North American city.

  • globalvillageidiot

    #15 – “If you look at the official statistics, it’s about as safe as Canada (that is, if the Korean government’s statistics are to be trusted)…”

    I agree. The last time I checked, I think the Korean murder rate was 2/100 000 people while Canada’s was 1.9. (And that doesn’t take into consideration what I suspect are a lot of uninvestigated deaths here – i.e. fatalities simply attributed to natural causes, or worse, homicidal electric fans.)

    Having said that, I think there’s probably a better chance of having somebody try to pick a fight with you in a bar in Canada than in Korea. I haven’t run into all that many Koreans who strike me as chronic bar brawlers, but I can think of a dozen or so bars – just off the top of my head – in my hometown where one is pretty much guaranteed to find guys actively looking to beat the crap out of someone. I’ve spent a lot of time in Korean drinking establishments, and I’ve seen very little of that.

  • CactusMcHarris

    #18,

    How about modifying it to say that ‘Dokdo is part of Japan’.

    Wouldn’t that get me bitch-slapped a few moments sooner? I’d be going from 이양님 to 이양놈 in a heartbeat.

    #20,

    Thank you for the gut-buster. Oh yeah!

    #22,

    But would you agree that, in Canada, there are many more pugnacious drunks (or people looking to beat up someone) than in the ROK?

    I think it’s part of that temperament that isn’t available to a lot of us North Americans.

  • CactusMcHarris

    #18,

    How about modifying it to say that ‘Dokdo is part of Japan’?

    Wouldn’t that get me bitch-slapped a few moments sooner? I’d be going from 이양님 to 이양놈 in a heartbeat.

    #20,

    Thank you for the gut-buster. Oh yeah!

    #22,

    There are many more pugnacious drunks (or people looking to beat up someone) in Canada than in the ROK.

    I think it’s part of that temperament that isn’t available to a lot of us North Americans.

  • CactusMcHarris

    And I apologize for the double posting – dang the lack of an edit function after the ‘post comment’ button is pressed.

  • thekorean

    I for one am really sick of Hongdae/Shinchon area. 대학로 is calmer and more sophisticated. Be civilized and watch some plays there.

  • http://hojupjimong.wordpress.com/ JiMong

    #23 Cactus,

    For sure, it would get you faster result. Hey, why not try to print t-shirt in bold Korean with neon color so it could be spotted easily inside the bar and on the HongDae Street.

    #21 Sonagi,

    Sorry to hear that your had unpleasant experiences. But again, the young man was drunk as well as the adjussi in a subway car, I am not defending their arrogant acts but what would cause them to against you or the American in general, not to the foreigner though.

    Why USFK off-limits HongDae area? Why the US State Department travel website put a warning note on HongDae?

    Cause, and effect, Mon Cherie!

    Why HongDae bars and clubs now have “No GI allowed” signs?

    Cause, and effect, Mon Cherie!

    Back in my active days in HongDae, there was no “Club Day” and nor “No GI” sings. I didn’t hear much about foreigner related incident. Why? Itaewon was the place to go for the GIs and foreigners, also HongDae was not much known to the foreigners as well as to the locals.

    But still there were drunken young ones harassing women, locals or foreigners. There were fights between drunken parties. For sure there would be incidents where a couple of moto bikers or drunken young ones screaming “P-a-k you” out loud at passing by Americans or foreigners.

  • http://hojupjimong.wordpress.com/ JiMong

    # 26 thekorean

    Yes, but you should be also aware that 고삐리 or 고딩 rule 대학로 area (including 혜화동로터리). And every 10m you need to encounter with “삐끼”.

    Isn’t it funny that the name “대학로” attracts more 고삐리 to the area than any other entertainment districts in Seoul?

  • http://www.artistfirst.com/rileymartin.htm hardyandtiny

    Always get a kick out of looking at the USFK off-limits document.
    http://www.usfk.mil/usfk/Uploads/330/1Dec08OffLimits.pdf

  • Sonagi

    But again, the young man was drunk as well as the adjussi in a subway car, I am not defending their arrogant acts but what would cause them to against you or the American in general, not to the foreigner though.

    I’m not sure what you mean, Jimong. I wasn’t wearing a sweater adorned with Stars and Stripes in either situation, so my nationality was not on display. There are reasons why a particular nationality/ethnicity, in this case Korean, may target another nationality/ethnicity, American, but those reasons never justify the harassment or violence. Vincent Chin’s murderers were drunk and angry, too, Jimong.

  • hamel

    A Korean university student who worked part time in one of the “Ho Bars” (no really, that’s the name) told me his theory, that incidents in Hongdae between GI’s and Koreans increased ever since and because line 6 was opened. Line 6 provides a straight shot between Yongsan Army Base (from either Noksapyeong or Itaewon stations) and Hongdae (through Sangsu station).

    Surprised nobody mentioned that before. Sounds like a reasonable argument to me.

  • Samwat

    Ok so i haven’t been to Korea yet, but i keep reading negative things such as the violence on foreigners and attacks on foreign women which obviously would make me worry. I understand that these things dont happen to everyone, and Korea is probably a very safe place, especially compared to Puerto Rico where im from, still what really worries me is that at my home if some drunk dude came up to me or one of my friends, you could fight back without expecting to be accused of something,having people gang up on you or form mobs(yeah i read about that too) or in my case since im a girl, getting raped inside my apartment and then being blamed for it. Although id probably be more worried about being shot in a drive by or mugged in Puerto Rico, its a very easy thing to avoid, it doesnt happen for random reasons, and if a fight does occur you do stand a chance to defend yourself. My point in all of this being that since it is a foreign country, even if its the safest place on earth , the cultural differences are HUGE!!! and thats to a disadvantage for people who know nothing about the place, especially when it comes to going to clubs, bars etc. I know plenty about the culture, i understand some of the language(learning more each day), even some about how the people act and like to be treated and whatnot, still its best to be careful always.Take some of the things said here into consideration and apply them however one sees fit. Not necessarily be paranoid or completely dismiss them, just take what u need and keep learning,not arguing about who knows more lol

  • littledragons

    I have lived in three different Asian countries, Japan, Korean and Singapore. I have spent the last 14 years of my life in Asia. I have worked in Japan and Korea, as both an engineer (for an American company) and as an English teacher (for locally owned companies). I worked in Singapore as an Engineer for an American company. I’ve also visited numerous Asian countries on vacation: Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Malaysia…, but I am not referring to the tourist stuff in this post.

    Although I was never attacked in Korea, I am a western male, and I felt an overall, general hostility towards me. It made for less than a happy life in Korea. I don’t care why Koreans are the way they are or why they do the things they do. I’ll let you psychoanalyze and make the excuses.

    All I know is that there is not the overall hostility in Japan and Singapore over the long term that exists in Korea. In Japan and Singapore, I meet and have met ignorant buttholes at the same rate that exist in any other country. I am not saying that Japan is the best country in the world, but from my perspective for quality of life, it’s better than Korea. I had an overall positive experience living long term in Singapore, as well.

    It’s just more competitive here in Japan, so it takes more time to get set up in your job (about three months to get that first paycheck) if your come straight from Korea. East is east, and west is west, but more westerners want to live and work in Japan. Overall, I would have to say westerns are happier here over the long term. The average length of stay for teachers is longer here in Japan than Korea, and if you’re an engineer, you may find yourself trying to extend your expatriate stay through your company for more than financial reasons.

    But don’t come to Japan. There is already too much competition here, and if you are fresh out of university with no money, Korea might be the place to get set up with a job quickly. Watch out for the ever changing exchange rate, though.

    Japan is my base for the long term for travel in Asia and to enjoy eastern culture with emphasis on Japanese culture and language. Maybe one day Korean will get its act together, but not in my lifetime and probably not in yours, too.