In stressed South Korea, people pay to watch clouds and trees

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SEOUL, South Korea – Tucked away on a side street near an urban park called Seoul Forest, is a teahouse that barely seats 10. Here you cannot speak. Your phone must be in silent mode. No shoes allowed.

The rules have a purpose. Relax. Fair space.

As South Koreans enter the phase of life with the coronavirus of the pandemic, some are re-entering social life by visiting public spaces where they can be alone and do very little. Nothing is new in South Korea as people desperately seek refuge from the pressures of living as functional adults in a global pandemic in a highly stressed and fast-paced society with rising house prices and falling prices. often grueling working hours.

In a Space Out competition this year, contestants sought to achieve the lowest possible heart rate while sitting in a “healing forest” on the southern island of Jeju. The competition has grown internationally since its launch in 2014, including in Hong Kong and the Netherlands.

And the concept is seeping into a handful of public spaces in South Korea. This month, theaters across the country premiered a film simulating a 40-minute airplane flight over and through the clouds. Tickets for “Flight,” a project backed by Megabox, a major movie company, cost just under $ 6. A slogan reads: “Take a brief rest through the fluffy clouds.” “

It is the sequel to a film released this spring, “Fire Mung”: 31 minutes of footage of a burning campfire.

Such spaces and experiences aren’t quite a common occurrence, but researchers say they tap into the growing sense of feeling trapped and lonely in the second year of pandemic life.

Yoon Duk-hwan, consumer trends researcher and co-author of the annual book “Trend Monitor,” said he expects relaxation escape to become a trend as the public grapples with the trend. endemic phase of the pandemic.

“It’s hard to deal with the feeling of being both trapped and alone,” Yoon said. “They want the space where they are alone to be elsewhere than at home. … Until the pandemic situation improves significantly, we expect this trend to continue. “

The spacing is known in Korean as “hitting mung,” a slang use of the word “mung” to describe a state of being totally excluded. (In this case, “mung” describes a state of emptiness.) With the climate change this fall, the terms “forest mung” and “foliage mung” are now popular, meaning space out while looking at the trees or foliage. There is the “fire mung,” or spacing watching logs burn, and the “water mung,” meditating near bodies of water.

Cafes like Green Lab, the store near Seoul Forest, have been the subject of local media reports and have benefited from a steady flow of visitors throughout the pandemic by providing spaces to heal and ” get bitten ”. Over tea, customers can read, write poetry, meditate or simply gaze at the trees.

Green Lab opened just before the pandemic with a concept called “ritual,” an emerging trend that encourages daily self-care practice. Until the last few months, customers weren’t used to the idea of ​​visiting a store just to run their own business. But these days, the three time slots offered each day are quickly snapping up, with little room for walk-in customers, said Bae Hyun, an employee.

“It’s so hard to find spaces in Korean society where it’s okay to do nothing,” Bae said. “People seem to be more interested in it, although I think it will take a little longer for it to become very popular. As people’s daily lives change during the pandemic; they became familiar with the concept.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Jung Jae-hwan, 38, took a group of colleagues to the store. Head of skincare brand Hyggee, Jung said he’s looking for ways to find peace as he struggles in a fiercely competitive business world. He tried Pilates and yoga, but wanted to find a place that wouldn’t require him to do anything – and ended up at the Green Lab.

“I wanted to be able to hit the stop button and take a moment for myself, but I feel like I have to constantly do something,” he said.

“In this space, the rule is that I don’t have to do anything,” he said. “It made room in my brain. I even read a book, enjoyed the smell of diffusers, watched flowers, wrote poetry. I started to have new ideas, one by one, and I felt so refreshed.

One of her colleagues, Ahn Areum, said she had heard of the Space Out competition but was unaware that such stores existed. She was eager to check it out and said she had been looking for ways to cope with her pandemic anxieties and daily stress.

“I’ve been so tired, and I don’t even have time to space out. After work, I come home, have to do the housework, and then I barely have 30 minutes to an hour before I need to sleep. I spend this time on my phone. So with a space like this I can actually focus on a break, ”said Ahn, 32.

Similar spaces have opened in other parts of the country.

At a Jeju cafe named Goyose, the upstairs area is designated by reservation for people to spend time alone. The cafe provides stationery for you to write letters to yourself over coffee and dessert. According to local media, a cafe in the southern coastal city of Busan offers a “fire mud” area where people watch a screen showing a video projection of a campfire.

On Ganghwa Island, off the west coast of South Korea, a cafe called Mung Hit also offers relaxation areas with no activity. In one section is a single chair facing a mirror for anyone who wants to sit and watch. There are corners for meditating, reading, sitting by a pond or the garden, or enjoying the mountain views. Pets and children are not allowed.

The cafe opened in April 2019 with the aim of providing a “self-healing space,” and it drew many visitors once the pandemic hit, said Ji Ok-jung, the director.

“’Hit the mung’ is a concept of emptying your heart and brain so that you can fill them with new ideas and thoughts. We opened because we wanted to create a space for people to do just that, ”Ji said.

“It’s a place where people can heal themselves. It’s something that only you can do for yourself, not something that someone else can do for you, and we wanted to make it easier for anyone who is exhausted by the demands of modern life ”, she declared.

Ta Jung Kim, 32, found the cafe online and recently visited it to get away from the city. There were other visitors, but she found enough nooks and crannies to be alone with minimal contact with others and to clear her head.

“As I sat there, secluded and relaxed, enjoying the view and drinking coffee, I couldn’t help but space myself out,” she said. “I felt so comforted and felt like my heart was opening. The busy thoughts in my head disappeared and I came back with a more positive attitude.

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