Not As Innocent As They Seem – On Korean Culture and Nightlife

In Korea, it’s possible to start your night out at 2am because these bars and clubs never close. After travelling for the last year, I’ve learned that this isn’t uncommon. Most bars around the world stay open well beyond the 2am curfew that I’m used to in California. Even bars in New York stay open longer. Maybe us Californians just can’t hang. (Or maybe we just pre-drink far too much to stay coherent past 2am).

When it’s after 2am, just go to sleep. Because the decisions you make after 2am… are the wrong decisions

-Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother (Nothing Good Happens After 2am)

This weekend was definitely a FIRST waking up at midnight (after going home to take a “nap” after the Ulsan Whale Festival) and deciding it was a good idea to get ready to go out. Being the girl that I am, I still required much primping and preparing before a night out so the boyfriend and I didn’t actually actually get to the bar until 2am (okay, I admit, I also had to go to the convenience store to buy Soju & cider. & then I had to drink half of it too). We met a friend at the popular foreigner bar, Sticky Fingers, and after a cocktail, headed out to what would be, my FIRST Korean club experience ever.

So I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t expecting much. Sure, I thought Koreans could drink (as evident from my night out with my school), but for the most part, they’re pretty conservative. I get stares when I [on the rare occasion] wear a dress or tank top that reveals my shoulders, I’ve gotten lectured on the bus just for talking, and my female coworkers blushed when I asked them if there was a spa/salon that does waxing around here. PDA is highly frowned upon, people here don’t move out of their houses until they’re married and premarital sex is out of the question. Even Psy’s new music video “Gentleman” got banned on TV because he kicked a traffic cone over (of all things in that video to get upset about…)

Korea doesn’t mess around.

At least that’s what they want you to think at first. Around the city, there are tons of “Love Motels” that you can pay for by the hour. Yes, it’s what you think & yes, they are actually called Love Motels. For the younger crowd, there are DVD Bangs (“Bang” means room) where you can privately “watch movies” AKA canoodle with your boyfriend/girlfriend on the giant couch provided (which resembles more of a bed). Even though porn is banned in South Korea, the revenue in this country is the highest in the world. Basically, there is a different, less innocent side to Korea than what they try to convey.


One of many Love Motels downtown

So after getting rejected from the first club we tried to go into (another FIRST this weekend. The bouncers literally said “Koreans only“), we made our way to Second Hotel at 3am. There must be zero fire hazard/safety laws in this country because this place was completely packed. People everywhere dancing on the bar or on tables and chairs to ear pounding music. Seizure-inducing strobe lights bounced off the smoke-filled air. Cigarette butts littered the ground. And for once, it seemed, I was surrounded by Koreans having fun – able to let loose and not care about what other [older] people around them think.


So as much as this country might like to stress their traditional and conservative values, there is definitely a less innocent side of Korea. Aside from the awkward encounter with racism, it was a refreshing change. They weren’t concerned about following the rules. The girls weren’t whispering and giggling behind cupped hands. It was far too loud for anyone to speak or even try to listen, so there were no language barriers. Good to know that in a place where I often feel like I have nothing in common with those around me, we can sometimes be on the same page. 🙂

In Korea, plenty of good can happen after 2am.

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  1. Kyle Craft · · Reply

    I love your insights, Kay! Such an interesting perspective! Keep it up! Hope you are having an amazing time!


    1. Thanks Kyle! Miss you tons and hope you’re doing well 🙂


  2. Meanwhile the Warriors are getting CRUSHED right now.

    You make it sound like the clubs there are way more active than the ones in PB? Who goes harder?


    1. Hahha WHOA no spoilers!! I got League Pass so I’ve been watching most of the games a few hours after they’re played. And yes, way more active than PB! I still love PB more though 🙂


  3. Ryan Catap · · Reply

    i was in korea for 2 years while in the army…and this post is SOoooOo true!


  4. I keep hearing this about Korea. My friend Matt spent three years there and basically said, ‘If you don’t drink, don’t bother going. They have a bigger drinking culture than you! (meaning the British)’


  5. As a rather big fan of cider (for some reason I can’t drink Beer/ Lager if I want to enjoy it…) how difficult was it to find in South Korea?

    I’m going to be moving out there sometime in the next few months, for teaching English, but had written off being able to drink anything but soju while I was there; I haven’t heard anyone mention cider being available, so my ears perked up (metaphorically) when you mentioned it.


    1. Well cider is really common in Korea but it’s probably not what you’re thinking. It’s kind of a cross between sprite and ginger ale (no alcohol unfortunately), the most popular brand being Chilsung (Lotte brand). So the drink of choice here is still Soju, just often mixed with cider.


      1. Ah! Thanks for clearing that up! I’m sure it will be the first of many mix-ups I have with Korean culture :p


  6. I just stumbled upon your blog.^^ (fellow ESL teacher in Korea – virtual fist bump!) And I so agree with this post. I’ve noticed that the more conservative a culture seems on the outside, e.g. Korea and especially Japan, the more kinds of kinky stuff they’ve got going on behind closed doors. So it’s not that the culture as a whole is conservative, it’s that it’s polarised a lot more so than in cultures that are seen as more liberal. At least, that’s what I’ve noticed since moving to this part of the world.


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