How much do you know about society? Anarchism, animal rights, art, environmentalism, feminism, libertarianism, permaculture, sexual minorities, and vegetarianism. You might have heard about these things, but do you know exactly what they are? If you want to know more about these cultural aspects, here is the perfect cafe for you: Infoshop cafe Byulkkol (Byulkkol). “Infoshop” is a combination of the words ‘information’ and ‘shop.’ It is a cafe that provides information through independent publications, niche exhibitions, and performances which are all related to subcultures that are often difficult to access. On Tuesday afternoon, The Argus visited the nonprofit cafe Byulkkol, operated by an art organization called Arts PAN for People with Disabilities to find out what information we could get.
On Feb. 27, walking along the road for ten minutes from Wolgok Station, The Argus reporter could see a small cafe named Byulkkol. There were windows on the two walls. Only the picture of a hand with a book and the Infoshop cafe Byulkkol letter signboards announced that it is a cafe.
The reporter opened the door and went in. There were four tables clustered in the middle, with empty walls, aside from one wall that was full of books. For drinks, Byulkkol sells five kinds of coffee and tea, as well as snacks like brownies and vegan cookies. The reporter ordered the royal milk tea, which was tasty.
On the right side of the counter, there was a restroom with the sign “ALL GENDER RESTROOM.” It was designed to help people with disabilities have easy access through the use of a low door sill.
Waiting for about five minutes, the manager brought a saucer, a teaspoon, and a tea with a tiny kettle-shaped tub to the reporter. He added that the tiny can contains organic sugar, so people can put in as much as they want. It seemed that the way he did this showed how delicate this cafe may be.
Most books at this cafe are not usually seen in grand bookstores or libraries. They are independent publications, tabloids, and zines.
One book that looks like someone hand-made it caught the reporter’s eyes. It was an eight-page book made by cutting and folding A4 size paper, an item similar to that which people might have made in childhood. This book was called “What We Should Know About Chickens,” and it contained the lives of the chickens humans eat. The book is about chickens that are trapped in chicken coats the size of an iPad, that grow up via a growth promoter, grow much faster than the growth rate in nature, and are slaughtered when they are large enough.
In addition to the books related to these animals, books on feminism, the environment, sexual minorities, and social movements were also evident. There were publications available in various languages besides the Korean language.
Byulkkol was quiet. The reporter talked with another guest reading a book in a cafe. Han Hye-in, a Seoul Institute of the Arts student who is taking time off from school, has been interested in minority culture, but he said that there was no place to get information on it. She came upon this cafe, in front of her house, by chance and said she was attracted to it.
The most impressive book she read here was “Pastor’s Gay Son.” This is a book about the real story of five gay men whose fathers are pastors. She had previously looked at the title and wondered how their lives were condensed into a single expression. So, when she found this book, she finished the book in no time at all. She expected that the book would talk about their adversity, but the book contained information about the lives of delightful people. She said it was fun because she felt like she was eavesdropping on someone’s conversation. Because of the book, she also saw a movie called “Miracle On Jongno Street (2010)” starring the main characters of the book. She stated, “My life became richer after knowing this cafe.”
Feb. 27 was special day for this cafe. A music concert was held to celebrate the release of the second album “rOund rOund grOund” of the artist MC.mama. As guests came in, the managers of Byulkkol got busier. They put the tables together, set up more chairs and a projector. They also made food which is an essential part of any party. The guests at the concert could eat food freely. There were vegetables, pumpkin cake, salad and two kinds of pasta. All the food was vegan-friendly.
Around 6 p.m., people sat in their seats. There were about 15 guests, including reporters, couples, moms, and sons.
MC.mama, aka Choi Sun-young, started playing her music and telling her story. She is a mother of one child and an artist who writes songs about childbirth and her upbringing. She had a bit of postpartum depression after giving birth to her baby, so she made music so as not to lose herself. She put her son on a bed at dawn and wrote the lyrics in her bathroom. She said that this album could come into the world because her husband and her child supported her and that they made it together.
She also published a manuscript called “Stories removed from ‘Challenge of a Mother Artist’” last year. “Significant others who support me understood my desperate yearning to be part of the community and not to isolate myself in the dark. This whole experience also made me wonder if I care about others around me, she said.”
A while after the concert ended, the guests started talking to each other freely, receiving MC.mama’s autographs or eating vegan foods.
The reporter talked with You Sun, another Byulkkol manager. She said she heard about the cafe Byulkkol as she lectured in the humanities at Nodeul Popular School for Disabled People, a night school for disabled people. The cafe is open for everyone and is run by five managers, including social minorities such as the disabled. People with animals or wheelchairs can also enjoy the cafe Byulkkol.
The materials displayed in the cafe are selected by the managers. Those are usually related to the social movements of minorities such as LGBT, disabled people, and feminists.
Byulkkol closed at nine p.m. When the reporter was about to go home, the manager packed the leftovers for the reporter and other guests. The reporter decided to stop by Byulkkol again and went out of the cafe hoping for a revisit to this magical place.
No matter who you are, the cafe Byulkkol welcomes you. The things that are most uncomfortable for one’s benefit are always comfortable for the normal. It is a cafe that respects the most uncomfortable or uncommon kind of lives. You can learn about various types of lives in Byulkkol. By the time you get tired of the daily life, why not stop by Byulkkol to read books that you have not normally seen and get refreshed?
By Han Byeong-ji
Reporter of National Section