Honjok: The Art of Being Alone in Seoul

Authored by:
Jemma X.

Jemma X.

I learned about the concept of Honjok from my beloved Korean Studies Professor at Brown. According to the definition from Wikipedia, it is a recently-popularized term for people who willingly undertake activities alone as South Korea has witnessed an increase in the number of people eating, drinking, traveling, and doing other activities alone. And the Honjok lifestyle is considered as a significant shift away from South Korea's traditional group-oriented society.

Don't give me wrong--I do enjoy talking to new people and making new connections by any means, but at the same time, I do consider myself a big fan of the Honjok lifestyle. Reflecting upon my daily experience, I think the underlying reason is that the amount of social energy is limited, and staying alone can help me to focus on the surroundings and the stuff I do much more than being with someone, even if it's close friends.

I have quite a few friends who don't like spending time by themselves and sometimes they cannot even bear with having a meal alone. Therefore, I'd like to briefly share what I have done and where I have been exploring by myself in Seoul.

The area I visited the most frequently by myself was Gangnam--mainly Sinsa-dong and Apgujeong-dong. A lot of fashion brands and nice cafes are located in these two areas, so I never felt bored by just walking around and doing window-shopping (because I don't have money to buy everything I want from the clothing shops T T). Young and cool vibes in the air, these areas are one of the best places to do "people-watching" that you can get a general portrait of the younger generation who is relatively wealthy in Seoul by just observing their outfits and behaviors. I usually enjoy shopping alone and walking around alone because I am doing things at my own pace that I don't need to worry I am spending too much time trying out different clothes and deciding, or worry the people with me do not want to go to a certain shop.

I sometimes take the 4-6pm KLI class outside at cute cafes. I use a Chinese app called RED to find cafes I want to check out and bookmark them on Naver Map. It's important to check whether they have charger ports and whether the cafe is spacious enough so that people will not hate you for buying a drink and sitting there for more than 2 hours.

Another memorable clip of my Hanjok experience was after getting done three out of my five midterms done on that Wednesday, I went to the Hyundai Department Store by myself to check out the Casetify Pop-up Shop there. Although it was disappointing that the phone cases were not as worthy as I expected, I had a delicious Egg Slut sandwich for dinner. Later I bought a souffle pudding as dessert and walked to Yeouido Han River Park, which was the shooting spot for the blockbuster Korean sci-fi movie The Host. Appreciating the night view of the Han River, I felt a strong sense of inner peace after being pretty anxious about the midterms for a few days.

Eating alone is another big part of the Hanjok lifestyle. I have a Monday routine to go to Standby Kitchen--the sandwich and salad place close to SK House--for lunch. I always start the week like that. Eating alone helps me to focus on the taste of food rather than just eating and talking with friends. I also love watching TV shows while having meals especially when I stay in the dorm and order food delivery. Yet as a foodie who likes to try all kinds of good dishes, eating alone prevents me from ordering all the dishes I want but only one main dish and a side dish. But sometimes I just order whatever I want from the restaurant and overeat for pure happiness hahaha.

The trick to balancing a social life and spending time alone is to set a quota for the number of people to meet each week. For me, usually, 3-4 hangouts are enough for a week. Before I decide where to go by myself, I always look up some information about the area online first to make sure it is an area that is dominated by the "coupling-culture". I admit that in an area where everyone hangouts with their friends or partners, I do concern about whether I look lonely and I do feel a little panic if I behave too foreign and thus draw attention from other people. So I guess the future improvement for me is to get rid of such worries to live a better Honjok lifestyle.

The very downside for me to do everything alone is that there's no one to take pictures of me hahaha.

Being alone is definitely very different from feeling lonely. I have never felt lonely in this city, this country so far. While I have been meeting a lot of new friends, I am also enjoying my Honjok life in Korea to the fullest!

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