Tuesday 25 October 2011


When I came to Itaewon with Stuart I couldn't wait to get to a Mexican restaurant for some food. We'd been in China for 6 months, with varying quality of western food on offer. But what I hadn't had was Mexican. I love Mexican food, and you couldn't really find anything like that in Suzhou, or even Shanghai or Beijing... When I moved here to live I got a greater impression of Itaewon, and here's what I've realised...

Namsam Tower at night
I hate Itaewon. I hate it because it's not like being in Korea. It's a trip into a dirty, seedy part of Seoul.
The streets aren't as clean as everywhere else in the city. There's a whole street known locally as Hooker Hill. The shops spill their goods out onto the pavement - sequinned sparkly (tacky) dresses, football, baseball, basketball shirts of any country but Korea (we tried and failed to buy a Seoul FC shirt here once). Men pester passers by on the street to buy tailor-made suits, of large sizes of everything, or knock-off sunglasses. At night some of the rowdier military personnel from the nearby US army base cut an intimidating figure on the streets or in the bars with slight young Korean girls. Military police patrol the bars checking for signs of trouble or any guys in uniform up to no good. Prices are a lot higher than anywhere else in the city and mostly, I dislike that I have to take 3 different trains to get there.

 Having said that however...

I love Itaewon. I love it because it's not like being in Korea. Walking down the street I see faces of different colours, all races and nationalities. I'm no longer an unusual white face and therefore attract no unwelcome, uncomfortable stares. The staff who serve you, do so in English, they're polite and friendly. I am not pushed and shoved about wherever I go. In fact the streets are a lot quieter than anywhere else in Seoul (except perhaps Yeoiudo). The concept of queueing isn't alien here. It's ok to be gay in Itaewon and, sexual preference aside, a night out in Homo hill is a proper giggle. I can eat my way around the world; Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, British, American, Canadian, Greek, Italian, Turkish, aforementioned Mexican, the lady with the sexy roast potatoes (I do actually love her!), and the amazing Moroccan sandwich man... I'm sure there are many more besides.

I can sit in a pub, watch football and sip on a cider (a proper alcoholic cider, not lemonade). I can sit on a roof terrace bar munching on humous, I can wander around the biggest English language bookshop in Korea, I can sit on the swings and dig my toes into the sand at Bungalow bar and satisfy my cheese cravings at the foreign supermarket.

Fish and chips, Yum!

In short, I can scratch together a little piece of home, to satisfy the homesickness that living abroad can inflict...

Oh Itaewon, I wouldn't have you any other way!
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  1. Blimey Ruthie - do you ever stop eating? Eat your heart out Nigella!

  2. Charming coming from my own mother! I didn't say I had eaten in ALL of those restaurants...