Those patios that accompanied all our favorite bars and restaurants back home. The places where a before dinner drink could turn into midnight under a starlit sky with your favorite friends.
In Korea, there is literally no space for such outdoor dining experiences, though more and more Korean-sized decks are being added to coffee shops like the Seattle Espresso in Kumho-dong, my personal favorite. (If you ever find yourself there, order one of their amazing fresh lemon teas.)
But after a year, we started taking more notice of the red plastic chairs sitting outside convenience stores–you know, you’re 7-Elevens, Ministops, Family Marts and mom-and-pop corner stores.
These red spartan chairs, usually the cradle of Korean men in black suits sipping and soaking in soju, started calling our name.
Before long, we were making date nights with friends at the table on the corner. You know the one. The Ministop in our neighborhood where the nice clerk will always bring out glasses for your beer and wine and provides about three snacks an hour free on the house.
In spring and summer and even on a few rainy nights huddled beneath the narrow overhanging of the small storefront, we sat and sipped and soaked in our neighborhood Korea. Kids whizzed by on bicycles, hunched students walked home late at night after class, taekwondo vans dropped their students off at home, Korean men smoked, diners cooked their kimchi, and delivery drivers zoomed past on their scooters.
What at first seemed like a far cry from our old nights on expanded patios and deep wine menus turned into the perfect evening out. It was then I learned to never judge Korea by its red plastic chairs but instead to sit down in one and just soak it in.