Meagan Mastriani’s blog—MEAGAN.IN—is simple yet informative, filled with her own gorgeous photography and unique insights into some of Korea’s hidden treasures. Having been in the land of kimchi for 18 months now, Meagan and her blog have transitioned out of the culture shock and the “newness” phase and into a true source for those seeking out the obscure and creative in Seoul and greater Korea. She is also a self-proclaimed “cozy-café connoisseur,” and not only seeks out new independent coffee shops for her own enjoyment, but is working on The Seoul Cafe Catalog, an attempt to document all of Seoul’s indie cafes. She will post photographs of the cafes on the upcoming blog and hopefully publish a book when completed! Meagan is the Content Editor of Seoulist and writes a column for Honest Cooking. Read on for Meagan’s tips on life in Seoul, blogging, and cozy cafes.
Like a lot of expats, I came to Korea as an English teacher. I had always wanted to live abroad, and visiting Korea over a winter break in college sealed the deal for me. I fell in love with the country and couldn’t wait to return. I actually managed to graduate a year early so I could get started sooner! I’ve been here 18 months, and I’m now finishing the last few weeks of my teaching contract and moving on to new endeavors. It has been such a learning experience, both as my first full-time job and my longest stint away from home.
Why did you create a blog?
MEAGAN.IN is my second blog, about living in Korea, and it started out as a way to for me to preserve my memories, all the little things I might have otherwise forgotten, like place names and anecdotes, though my vision for it has changed over time. At first, I spoke about my students and new friends and culture shock. A lot of my entries were about wacky things like Engrish and plastic surgery ads. But after several months, I kind of got used to those things and started discovering a deeper side of Seoul. I think my site reflects that transition and how I’ve settled into a pretty normal life here. I don’t write about all the tiny day-to-day details now. It’s become more like a regular blog since I focus mostly on my photographs and interesting places I’ve visited around the city.
How has blogging about Korea changed the way you experience it?
The biggest way my blog has impacted my experience in Korea is that it has connected me to a lot of special people I may not have otherwise met. I’ve made new friends and found great creative opportunities because of my blog. When a friend from home saw my cafe posts, she mentioned I should write for Honest Cooking. I e-mailed the editor a link to my blog, and he gave me a regular column! Then an editor at Seoulist read that column and asked me to write for them. I really connected to the Seoulist community, and I’ve since taken on a larger role as their Content Editor. And the opportunities just continue to multiply—my blog has had a real snowball effect in my life. I feel very lucky.
What blogs and websites do you read to keep up with events in Korea?
It’s cheesy to say, but I’m actually a big fan of Seoulist. I especially love reading the Weekender. I also really enjoy WOWSAN and the Art & Seoul blog (their Tumblr is pretty great, too). Although she no longer lives in Korea, Katie Merchant’s blog, thank you, ok, has some great Seoul stuff in the archives (including a fantastic city guide that was published on Design*Sponge).
Describe your passion for Seoul’s coffee shop culture. Do you know any background history or fun facts perhaps?
It’s funny – I didn’t start drinking coffee until I moved to Seoul, so it’s still this very new and exciting thing for me. It only takes one shot of espresso to make me jittery, which I love. I’m a total spaz since I started drinking it. And I feel like Seoul has a somewhat similar relationship with coffee—like, it hasn’t always been a staple in Korean culture, but Seoul has adopted it in a major way. We (Seoul and me) both have this hyper-enthusiastic, new-found infatuation with the stuff. I mean, I don’t remember seeing three cafes on every block in Atlanta the way I do here. And I think it’s because Seoul is still in that unbridled new love phase like I am. We’re the perfect match.
That’s a big source of inspiration for my upcoming project, The Seoul Cafe Catalog. I’ll be attempting to visit and photograph all of (or at least a great number of) Seoul’s independent cafes. I’ll be posting the images online as I go and hopefully publishing them in a book when I’ve finished.
What is your biggest piece of advice to aspiring bloggers?
Just keep posting. Don’t worry what the blog “is” or what it should be. Just write what you love writing, and it will take shape organically. Also, don’t look back too much. I always have the urge to delete my oldest entries, but it’s good to keep those, too. Don’t get rid of anything — just make newer, fresher, better stuff.
Seoul favorites: 1) Neighborhood, 2) bar, 3) coffee shop.
1) Hongdae, no question! There is always something new to discover there, whether it’s an underground stationery store, some great street art, or a cozy cafe, of course. And people-watching in the park is the best. I feel very inspired in Hongdae.
2) Actually, I don’t know the name of my favorite bar! It’s an unmarked place in the basement of an apartment building between Hongdae and Sinchon stations. An older woman with crazy hair owns it. Near that bar is another place I really like, called 비행슬. The decor is a hodgepodge of Mexican paraphernalia like statues of La Virgen de Guadalupe and lucha libre masks. I especially love going there in the summer and sitting near the windows overlooking ginkgo trees. If you explore that area, you might find the first bar!
3) I’m partial to Cafe Hibi, also in Hongdae. I was first drawn in because they have a big tapir on their sign. Then, I kept going back because the staff sometimes gives you “service” treats. I also enjoy seeing the rotating art exhibits they have there.
Something you think we should know about Korea that you don’t think most people know!
Foreigners get a discount at Lotte World!
Images courtesy of Meagan Mastriani from MEAGAN.IN
Interview by Julia Bass