Invasion of the White Shirts (or: Stompin’ at the Savoy)

It began in the late afternoon. I was doing some homework (as I seem to be doing all the time, lately), but something was different at the “Coffee Break” (커피 브레이크). Instead of the regular student clientel—this place is right next to Sogang University—, most tables on the terrace were occupied by white-shirt-wearing businessmen.

On my way here, I had already seen a group of them, lingering in front of a hotel-restaurant, occasionally bowing to people passing by. A few young women wearing sashes and/or turquoise T-shirts, in some way catering to the crowd, were hurrying from here to there.

I had passed by quickly, without giving it much thought. While sipping my iced coffee, it became obvious: They were coming, and they came to stay. Busses of varying size would pull up on the curb, dropping out more people, which would also take the neighboring convenience store and eventually just stand on the pavement.

A political demonstration yet to come? A flash mob disguised as a harmless company outing? White shirts day? I did not know and I did not dare to ask. I finished my coffee and went home for dinner.

When I returned around 9 p.m., there were still there. Now the café’s interior likewise had filled up and some older women, dressed in classical robes, had joined the white shirts. A graduation ceremony about to begin? There was a sense of anticipation in the air, like when it is about to rain but the first drop just does not come out of the grey sky. I peeked over the rim of my laptop once in a while, but I could not get any idea of what was going on.

Then, I was just ordering my second drink, all of a sudden people started to move. At first only a few stood up, getting out their mobiles, and went towards the door. Within a few seconds it became a mass exodus and when I got my coffee, the room was half-empty.

I could hear screams, rushing, clapping from around the corner, but I could not see anything. It was like a small-scale Beatlemania or some similar outcry by a bunch of teenagers. Was some celebrity getting married or what was this all about? I talked to a waitress who did not know either, maybe some local election? Some important business meeting whose outcome would influence the lifes of thousands of white collar workers?

Anyway, two hours later the busses were gone. All that remained were some cigarette butts on the pavement, still relatively few considering the number of people and the amount of time spent, and the sore feeling of having missed my chance to ask someone actually involved in this public mass gathering.

I comforted myself with the thought that I would find out more in the news the next day, but I never did.

— 20 July 2010 (火)


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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