South Korea: Cats and Green Tea
When you think about South Korea, what comes to mind? For most people it’s the notoriously pungent kimchi, or it could be the new wave of Kpop music that has hit the charts. Gangnam Style being the prime (and most annoying) example. For girls it could be Hello Kitty, which is Japanese in origin but has exploded all over South Korea. But for me it was cats. Cat cafes to be exact.
What’s a cat cafe?
Firstly it is NOT a restaurant where people eat cats. People do not eat cats in South Korea. Notice the bold NOT as I am hoping to break the bizarre stereotype that Asian people eat cats and dogs. I feel that the best way to describe a cat cafe would be to give you a literal tour of the wonders that lurk behind the fur-fuzzed doors of Asia’s feline trend.
Step 1: Find said cat cafe.
Seoul : Most university areas or shopping districts have cat cafes. They are usually on the second or third floor and can be distinguished but the huge cartoon cat on the windows. Often they have cat mascots which entails a university student (I presume) in a dirty Garfield costume standing in the street outside the cat cafe and trying to hug randoms walking past. They are really not trying to rob you but merely entice you to go upstairs and get your feline on.
Step 2: Going inside.
While entering usually needs no instructions, this is not the case with cat cafes. Firstly you’ll enter an incredibly small entryway filled with pink or grey slippers. There will be no one to help you here and all the signs will be in Korean but the general idea is to take off your shoes and put the slippers on. You place your shoes on the shelves and when you are done inside the cafe, your shoes will still be there. No one will steal or accidentally take them. My only conclusion to the change of shoes is that obviously cats don’t want you to wear your shoes and bring all the human dirt into the cafe.
Step 3: Paying and ordering a beverage.
Once you are inside, and wearing your slippers, you head over to the front counter and pay. It’s about 10,000 won ($9) for an unlimited time and one beverage. South Korean cafes generally have a similar menu but I recommend the dangerously delicious green tea latte. Made with frothy Korean milk, a few spoons of green tea powder, a couple of swizzles of sugar syrup ( granules are for grannies) and topped off with a bit of flat-foam shaped in a cat. It will have you meowing for more.
Step 4 : When do I get to see cats?
After ordering your drink you will be escorted to a table and then asked to hand sanitize your hands; cats don’t like it dirty. Then, to add to the strangeness of the situation, you will be asked to put your handbag into a plastic or fabric sack and place that sack under your chair. It seems that not only do cats hate shoes, but handbags pose a serious threat too. Finally once you’ve sat down, taken off your shoes, sanitized your hands and prepped your handbag, will you properly notice your surroundings.
Cat cafes are usually smallish in size and filled with little wooden tables and chairs. In every corner, and sometimes extended to the ceiling, are cat towers. Metres and metres of them. Little wooden boxes and different sized tubes are lying all over the floor. Cat accessories like mini mice, balls and feathers tied to sticks are sticking out of crevices and under tables. There are shelves on the windows and walls which provide a perfect bed for a cat. And as we know, cats love to sleep.
You can find numerous cats sleeping all over the cafe. The cats are somewhat friendly and at times will play but only if you seem desperate. They know that you’ve paid to be there but they don’t feel the need to deliver a more satisfying service. Just be grateful that they are awake. There are usually a few kittens in the mix that are begging for attention. If you can squeeze in between the hoards of school girls to get that perfect Instagram shot, then good for you. Otherwise I prefer to sneak a few pictures with the older more mature cat crowd. Some would argue that cat cafes are inhumane but from what I have seen the cats are well fed, have clean litter boxes and are regularly groomed. Furthermore visitors are not allowed to pick up or harm the cats in any way. You WILL be watched!
So if you fancy a bit of obscurity I would recommend visiting a cat cafe and soaking up the fur-fun festivities. Just remember to brush up on your catetiquette as your “hosts” will most likely appreciate it.