Feb. 27 2015

South Korea’s Dreamy Camera Café

We had landed in South Korea an hour ago.  Rob was in Asia for the first time, and I was in South Korea for the first time.  I couldn’t believe we’d hustled enough time and money together to make it back over the Pacific only a year and seven months after I returned from Japan.

We were decompressing on the train heading from the airport into Seoul’s city centre, happy on the ground after the 14 hour flight.  I was staring out the window trying to convince my body like it knew what local time was, in trying to deny the jetlag I had felt the last time I came to Asia, and Rob was checking his Facebook feed.

“You’d like this,” he passed me his phone.

There was a Buzzfeed article from that day about a cafe shaped like a vintage camera. In South Korea, ‘just outside Seoul.’ It’s name was the Dreamy Camera Café.

Me: “We have to go,” I said.
Rob: “Mel, we have no idea where it is. It could be towns over.”
Mel: “Nope. We’re going.”

We had left our plans loose to spend a couple of days in Seoul at the start and end of our trip – the main feature was to travel south to Suncheon and visit our friends, then head to Jeju Island.  So the next day I dragged my indulgent boyfriend all over the countryside  to look for this place.

Maybe it was the photographer in me, maybe it was just the challenge of a good quest, maybe I just couldn’t believe that someone had built a two-storey building to look like an adorable cartoon camera, but it’s adorableness made me determined to see it with my own eyes.

We used Google maps and quickly determined our route based on the ‘postal code’ (?) of the place, and the address on its Facebook page. ‘Café Dreamy’ is the translation of its Korean name, by the way.

We rode to the end of the line of one of Seoul’s subway lines, traveling from the city’s centre far out into the suburbs and beyond. Then, we disembarked and took another local line, then we used Google maps and travelled on foot until we reached an empty parking lot.

No café.

Not even the outline of a former café, or café-esque dwelling.

Just an empty lot, filled with crushed gravel, near a stream.

In the middle of a quaint little town.

Rob graciously sacrificed foreign data on his phone to make sure our address was correct (we had copied the address correctly, but it turns out the address from the website had the wrong postal code), and find the phone number of the café.

Was it even open today? I wondered at this point; it said on the Facebook page that it was, but if the address was wrong who knows what else might be incorrect.

We ran into a 7/11, got some snacks.

Love onigiri! (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Mmm, snacks! And called a taxi.

Through some miracle of human communication, we got one of the café owners on our phone with the taxi driver, and got them to give him directions.  We weren’t out-of-place entirely, but from where we were, it took about a thirty minute taxi ride (on empty, country roads, so no traffic to slow us down) further into the countryside. This is quite, quite rural, we’re talking packed dirt roads and agricultural land as far as the eye can see.

Then, on the horizon, it sprung up suddenly:  a giant, cartoonish camera, right beside an adorable little house.

The proprietor was so kind and came out to greet us.  Her name is Kwak Myung-Hee and she is a retired army pilot.  The taxi driver offered to stay, but instead Kwak offered that she would call him back for us after we finished.  So kind!

She was there with her daughter and a friend. She showed us upstairs and gave us adorable menus.

Their specialty is churros. Yup.

She asked us how we had heard about the place.

“Buzzfeed,” we said.
“Ahhhhhhh,” and a nod was her response.

We ordered churros and lattés and enjoyed looking around this amazing place. Jetlag and our countryside adventures had exhausted us, but we were so satisfied that we had finally found this place on a whim, especially after things had seemed so hopeless at the empty lot.

I love strange places. It took us a whole day to find the place, get there and get back, but it was worth it for us. Also, the place was beautiful and would make a perfect little home for me.  I could just go back and live inside, happily ever after.  It was filled with charming camera paraphernalia the couple had collected over the years (one display case had a bunch of Leica gear easily worth $6,000+) as well as a gallery, and had Polaroids of all the travellers and customers who had come through all over the walls (my favourite).  It’s also impressive to note that this place was entirely designed and built by the couple who owns it. Amazing.

You want to get there? Good luck to you. Here’s where it lies on Google Maps.

Yeah, just a bit outside Seoul. Not for the faint of heart, or those looking to make a quick jaunt over.

For the brave who decide to venture out, hot churros and fun conversation await you.

You can also check out their Facebook page here.