I’ve been nothing in Seoul if not lucky. Right about now it’s been one year since I first started writing in a professional (in the loosest possible sense of the word!) capacity, and things seem to keep falling at my feet. Sometimes it’s actually hard to keep my feet on the ground: remember, it’s Korea, being published doesn’t make you that good!
For about nine months I’ve been working as a kind of field reporter for the Seoul government, basically throwing around my ideas on what’s good about Seoul’s Sports and Entertainment scenes, and adding some tips to the government’s official website. I landed this job basically through good contacts: a friend of a friend recommended me and I managed to wrangle and interview at which I convinced a slightly aged woman that I know what’s what when it comes to nightlife in Seoul. Which, to be fair, I pretty much do, through working for the entertainment magazines I’m also hooked up with here.
Three months and a lot of website articles later, and the Seoul Government woman got in touch and asked if I would like to be involved in a project relating to the rewriting of the Lonely Planet Seoul, which will later progress into writing our own guide to the city discussing ‘what the Lonely Planet missed’. You can probably guess both the content and level of enthusiasm of my answer!
To cut a (already too) long story short, I was eventually sent to meet Martin Robinson – the current and future author of Lonely Planet Seoul – last night, in order to give him a tour of Hongdae, Seoul’s premier entertainment district. I guess that kind of makes me a live music and clubbing in Seoul expert, which is a little worrying…
Martin is an impressively down to earth man. He has been to Seoul around twenty times, though never lived here, and accepts that in his late 40’s he probably doesn’t have his ear to the ground when it comes to what’s hot in Seoul’s nightlife. Though he’s quite selective over what he thinks is ‘worth including’ he essentially let me guide him round what I consider to be the best venues, and noted down what he things is good/ bad about them.
We did the flavoured beer bars, the latest big name clubs, the underground Jazz venues, and anywhere else I could think of that was in the slightest bit popular or quirky. He generously referred to the whole thing as a ‘Lonely Planet/ Bling joint effort (referring to the magazine I’m working for now), though it soon became clear that Lonely Planet doesn’t really hold much weight in Seoul. Most Korean’s don’t even know what LP is, and I can only imagine Martin’s frustration when they’re more impressed with my Bling business card then his Lonely planet one. What can you do?
Though, obviously, a large number of the entrances this time will be the same as last time, I can pretty much take single-handed responsibility for the content of the Hongdae part of the next issue of Seoul Lonely Planet. I’m really hoping I’ll get a credit for it in the book, but I don’t have the nerve to straight up ask for one, so we shall see. Certainly wouldn’t do any harm on the resume.
One thing I found form working with Martin was that the whole guidebook process was depressingly arbitrary. It basically involved walking into venues when they weren’t even at their best (far too early in the evening), giving a throwaway description of the venue and ‘atmosphere’ (none at the time), and checking/ asking for the details, then moving onto the next place. If a place was closed that night, well then it’s not in the next issue. We pretty much ‘wrote’/ reviewed an entire section of the book (a major one at that) in an entire evening. Sure, Lonely Planet clearly know a reasonable amount about a city from the point of view of someone that’s never been their before – I rarely travel to a new country without one – but from the point of view of a resident it’s pretty uninspiring stuff. Hardly the ‘hidden gems’ we’re usually promised, though I hope I may have helped uncover a few.
Of course, it’s easy to criticise, he’s only working within his budget and time constraints to produce the best piece of work he can, but – as a LP consumer – I can’t help being disappointed. I’d want to do a so much more informed, thorough job given the chance.
That chance is some way off, but let’s hope it comes one day. If not, at least I had that taste of what it’s like at the top.
Back to the journalistic grindstone…