I walked the streets of Dongdaemun taking photographs of signage and street art and the Design Plaza when an older gentleman passed me on a bicycle. I smiled as I stepped aside to give him the breadth of the sidewalk, then resumed my focus on framing shots that I wanted to capture. As I continued on though, I heard the distinct sound of spokes slowly turning behind me. The bustling ambiance of the area could not cloak the feeling I had that something was amiss.
I purposely kept pausing to confirm that someone was following me and my gut instinct proved correct; the older man on the bike was shadowing my every step. I stopped and pretended to be immersed in my phone and he finally went by only to turn around a few yards ahead. As he cycled towards me, glaring, he spoke something in Korean. The tone in his voice was distinctly unwelcoming.
It was the only time during my travels through Korea in which I felt unease.
Watching TV in my hotel room late one night, I came across what appeared to be a reality dating show. I don't normally watch this type of programming but what the couple was doing caught my interest. I previously read about the offbeat coffee shops in Seoul, but while they seemed fun, I'm not really a coffee drinker. I am, however, a huge lover of canines. The dating show had a couple visit The Bau Haus and so I also decided to make an afternoon of it.
I arrived early hoping to avoid a crowd but I was too late. A line-up of giggling schoolgirls stood ahead of me excitedly talking about the dogs they were about to see. I assumed they came here often; they had their favourites. As living space in Seoul is quite small, this is a way for locals to share their love with a pet without owning one. The schoolgirls counted down the seconds for the doors to open (10, 9, 8 …) and when they did, ran inside claiming several tables. I staked a seat, climatized to the odour of 40 or so dogs, and before even looking at the menu, had a wee chihuahua climb onto my lap, curl up into a ball and fall asleep.
I was in love:
I eventually ordered a 7,000 WON (approximately $7.00 CDN) cookies-and-cream milkshake and took in the action. Guests are provided a listing of all the dogs at The Bau Haus, including their name and age. My newfound friend was Sa Tang, a one-year-old long-haired chihuahua. During my time in the coffee shop, I noticed that this breed seemed to be drawn to me. I had an endless parade of them climbing onto my lap and seeking a cuddle. When one of the resident corgis kept approaching, Sa Tang would awaken from slumber, growl and chase him away. "Ooh…he is very jealous." observed a tourist from England seated next to me.
I wondered how Monty would take this new development.
"Are you from America or Canada?"
"Canada." I replied. I find it interesting when people ask me this (before hearing me speak), as it is never a consideration that I could be from anywhere but North America. I am never mistaken for someone from England (my father's lineage) or France (my mother's) or perhaps Russia or Australia or Italy. My appearance is squarely North American, whatever that means.
"I have been to Vancouver and Calgary and Toronto." The stranger proceeded to take out his Samsung smartphone and show me pictures of his travels through the Great White North. He seemed to appreciate my homeland. Even its notorious weather. We discussed travel for a bit until the subject seemed to get stuck on the attributes of Malaysia. "You should visit Malaysia." he repeated to me. If he said it any more, I would have believed that he was attempting hypnotism.
"I've never really thought about it, but I'll consider it."
He shared more pictures on his smartphone that depicted various sights in Kuala Lumpur. The only one I recognized was the twin towers. I am, admittedly, unfamiliar with the country. As he scrolled through, he stopped at an image and asked me what it was.
"That's the CN Tower." I stated confidently.
"No it is not. It is the KL Tower. You must never confuse the CN Tower with the KL Tower. You need to visit Malaysia."
After being scolded, I couldn't tell if this guy was hitting on me or involved in a really weird guerrilla marketing experiment for beleaguered Mayalsian Airlines.
The Bau Haus is located near exit 3 of Hapjeong Subway Station in Seoul, Korea. For more information, click here.