Around the end of November Nathalie hosted her last Thanksgiving dinner. Since that usually means a full house and it coincided with another friend’s birthday I decided to stay in Seoul again. While trying to figure out where to eat Friday night I saw that on Kakao map there was a BTS symbol and looked it up. Turns out I was down the street from the House of BTS pop up shop and figured I’d give it a try.
BTS or 방탄소년단 is a Korean pop band that’s been performing since 2013 and has reached international fame. They’re well known across the globe. At my old school my students would come running into my classroom as soon as they could because I’d let them pick things to watch on Youtube before class started. I saw whatever the newest BTS music video was along with many many dance practice videos. I didn’t always hear them particularly well over the screams and fan chants my students did while dancing along. Because my students were obsessed I didn’t feel comfortable jumping down the same rabbit hole, and instead just casually enjoyed their music when the kids requested it or someone played it, and watched their American talk show interviews so I could share them with my students if it was appropriate.
But a couple of my friends are Army. (The term for the fans.) I figured since I was in Seoul during the House of BTS pop-up and the holidays were coming up as well as some milestone birthdays and because I’m a curious blogger, I headed over after having dinner and doing some errands. The group chat for Nathalie’s Thanksgiving festivities had suddenly sparked into how dressed up everyone was going to be and I didn’t have anything dressy packed. Gangnam has a pretty nice selection of stores including an underground market so I planned to search till I found something. I ended up finding a sweater I liked pretty quickly. (Okay, I also went to a couple bookstores, yes I have a problem. But I only bought one book, and it was the one book I was looking for so I think it’s okay. It’s on the TBR bookcase.)
So essentially for a pop up open from 10am until 10pm I figured showing up around 8:30pm on a Friday night would be okay. I was wrong. Apparently they cut the line off between 6pm and 8pm depending on the day. So the whole thing was over, except for the few people still outside waiting in line at 8:30pm. So I hiked back down the hill and to my hotel, trying to figure out when a good time to try again would be. Turns out that was Sunday morning.
My original plan was to show up and queue at 9am. I figured if I was at least an hour early then I’d hopefully get in before noon. But my first night at the hotel I barely slept, and the second night I got back very late from Nathalie’s Thanksgiving party. I was the first one to leave the party but after a full day of birthday shenanigans on no sleep and then a very drunken Thanksgiving party where I was the only one sober meant it was time to go straight to bed. I didn’t want to have to get up early and wait in the cold on so little sleep so I set an alarm for 9:30.
I got up before my alarm, ate breakfast at the hotel and packed up all my stuff and left it at the front desk after check out. Then after taking one step outside and realizing it was pouring rain I immediately turned around and went back to the front desk to ask for my stuff again. Thankfully I had packed an umbrella, it was just at the bottom of my bag. Then I hiked back towards the pop up shop. On the way I noticed a long line spilling down the main road and felt a bit of panic. The pop up was halfway up the hill and if it was down the street already it was going to be an awful morning. Nope, turns out people were queued up for something else. But that didn’t mean I was let off easily. The line ended up being up the hill and around the corner. But it moved fairly fast because it wasn’t a line to get in per-say but actually a line to get a time to actually get into line. That line was about an hour and a half. It was like the Stranger Things Pop up where you only needed on person in line who’d type in their Korean phone number into a tablet and explain how many people were in their group and then go do something else until it was time to get back in line. It all worked through KakaoTalk. So if you plan to do any pop ups in Korea, having a Korean number (or a number that works in Korea) hooked up to KakaoTalk is a must.
I think it’s really a clever way to go about events with long lines. It keeps you from wasting your entire day in line. So after I got my number I was told to come back around 1. I went to a cafe nearby, got myself a peppermint tea and waited. Then went to lunch and towards the end of my meal my phone got a Kakao message saying to come back to the line. Thankfully I was only a block away so I hurried back up the hill to where I’d gotten my ticket and then got in the new line. In this line I had to show them my time/number receipt and keep it handy to show the staff at several different points before someone collected it at the entrance to the final line.
I was given a map of the pop up shop and a list of things they had for sale. I also got a very tiny pink pencil that said “House of BTS” and a pink snap bracelet that said the same. Then I waited in the rain with a bunch of other people until we were escorted down the hill to the main line in rows of two like school children. At which point we were in the real line. Despite the rain I tried to figure out the layout of the pop up and what I wanted to do.
There were 3 floors and a basement. We all started in the basement and when finished with the entire experience could exit via the first floor. The basement was only accessible for as long as we were in it. Once we left the basement we couldn’t return to it. It was also the merchandise display room. All the things they were selling for the day were on display with a giant wall of different music videos playing.
The map we were given was also a catalog and depending on what you wanted you marked the correct item and number. I wandered around looking at things trying to figure out good gifts and taking pictures. Eventually I picked a display case and using my tiny pink pencil marked the things I planned to buy and headed to the counter. At the counter a staffer in pink went over my order with me and told me the things on my list they were sold out of. I didn’t want to re-configure my list so I just got the things on it that they did have.
I was given a buzzer, the kind they have at restaurants, and went upstairs.
The first floor was item pick up, stamps for the House of BTS bingo, and the cafe. I thought with all the people there that it might take awhile for my stuff to come out so I popped over to the cafe to place an order. I was determined to play Bingo and get all the stamps. I love stamp relays and assumed it was something similar. It included making purchases as half the options. They had a couple of BTS themed drinks and thankfully included on the menu what was in them.
I went for Fake Love, a blackberry apple juice with a slice of dried apple. I paid, got another buzzer and then my first buzzer went off. So I turned around and got in the line for item pick up. While in line for item pick up my other buzzer went off that my drink was ready. I waved to the cafe lady an apology and she warned the guy who set my drink out that I was in line. It took a couple versions of pantomiming to get that, but eventually I got my gifts and was free from the line, just in time for the buzzer to go off again. I hurried around to the pick up part of the cafe while the new barista was looking around the crowd to find the owner of my poor lonely Fake Love drink. It was a mess. I had misread the first buzzer and thought it said that once I picked up my shopping that I had to leave. So I had assumed I needed to rush around and do everything I wanted before picking up my shopping. I also assumed with all the people there who were also presumably doing a lot more shopping then me, that it’d take a while. But after talking with the staff I was reassured there was no rush. I just couldn’t go downstairs and do more shopping. So I picked up my drink, took pictures and enjoyed.
There weren’t any seats, so I stood at a table sipping my drink. It was refreshing after being in line for so long, it was well after 2pm, and I really enjoyed the apple slice that I fished out. With shopping procured and a drink had, I headed to the stamp spot.
There was a chance for different prizes based on the amount of bingo’s you got. In order to secure bingo’s I had to show my receipts and follow the BTS merchandise twitter, which I had done while waiting in line to get in. For each thing of merch you buy you got one stamp. Since my list had gotten shrunken by things being sold out I had a grand total of three things. Which got me three stamps. My drink got me another as did following the twitter account, and lastly being there got me my bingo. Sadly being there or “attendance” was the other biggest part of the bingo card and you could only get one per day. There was no way I’d be able to come back another day to get anything beyond one bingo. They also made it so you couldn’t share the bingo card by writing your full name as shown on your passport or ID (In my case A.R.C: Alien Registration Card) and your date of birth on the card. Because I would’ve gifted it to someone else more determined then myself. But I did win a postcard.
After collecting my postcard I went up to the second floor which was a spot for photos. They had cartoon chibi versions of the members of the band, with the bases signed for people to pose and take pictures with. There was also a bus stop with writing all over it that people were trying to get pictures with on their own but the crowding kept drawing the staff over to tell people they couldn’t do that. There was also some colorful streamers and a spot to take a picture that was suppose to go with their music video “Idol”. Actually most sections were meant to go with specific music videos, since they were playing each specific song on loop somewhere near each section. It was really interesting and definitely a fun space for taking pictures, just a bit too crowded to do it easily.
Then I got in line for the third floor. The line was very long, spilling down the stairs, and it moved very slowly up. For me, it was a huge waste of my time. The line slowly curled around one room with some merch and a full cardboard cut out of the band sitting down. The idea was it was for a cute photo with the band, but there was no way to easily leave or figure out what the line was for until you were next to go into the room. Meaning, I’m pretty sure, I was the fastest moving person for that room. I took a couple pictures while the girls in front of me took pictures, then I took one more picture, then left.
And that was it. That was the entirety of the House of BTS. As a more casual listener of BTS it wasn’t as exciting. Getting some Christmas/birthday shopping done is exciting, but the amount of time I waited to essentially go shopping was…questionable. The rest of it is an intagramable space but without the ability to allow you to enjoy it as an intagramable space. It was a bit too crowded. Though with BTS’s popularity that shouldn’t be surprising and I should probably be grateful I managed to get in and through as quickly as I did.
I am however a sucker for a good bingo/stamp relay, but because there weren’t actual missions or places or events for me to get stamps and the only way to get them was to come back which meant I was ultimately disappointed.
A pop up generally means something that is short lived and that closes after a couple weeks or a month. However I’m not sure if that’s the case with the BTS pop up since it also seems to function as a BTS merch store where the items and some of the designs rotate out. If you’re planning to be in Korea and are curious if it’s happening I suggest checking out the twitter they had me follow. It’s mostly in Korean but will link to the proper Facebook posts which tend to have English translations and more details. Apparently it was only suppose to be up for a short period of time and closed in January, but check that twitter to see if it’s still up, or has reopened. There are also ones suppose to be opening in other countries.