In the last post, I talked about Lee Nan-young, singer of “Tears of Mokpo”, a melancholic dirge still being performed by contemporary Korean artists today. This song and others she performed are still in the hearts and minds of the older generations of Korea. Men and women who were born during the Japanese Occupation came of age during the Korea War, were adults through the military dictatorships of the 60’s,70’s, and 80’s. In middle age, these citizens experienced the IMF crisis of 1997. Music has an undeniable quality of helping people through difficult times. The elderly of Korea assemble to remanence with their own at alcohol-free discos like colatecs (a mash-up of the words “cola” and “discotheque”) for some light-hearted good times and reconnection to those who have been through the same difficulties. Towards the end of our day exploring Mokpo day trip with my buddy, we discovered this former colatec.
In the 1990’s, Korean teens had fewer options for entertainment and social interaction. Colatecs sprouted up as an option for teens to connect with their peers and enjoy the latest K-pop hits. Booze was banned, offering cola and other non-alcohol drinks as refreshment options. At some point in the mid to late 90’s noraebangs (karaoke rooms) and PC bangs (internet cafes) popped up offering more privacy and other options for entertainment. Kids are naturally more predisposed to keep up with trends and have rapidly changing tastes. Colatecs rebranded themselves with an older clientele in mind.
While its common for people do work into their late 60’s, numerous companies set mandatory retirement age between 55 to 60 years of age. That’s pretty early time to retire. It’s common for employees to retire at 65 in America. Imagine having to retire at 55, still feeling healthy and useful. It’s got to be a shock to suddenly have massive amounts of time off. Employers are hesitant to hire older candidates, especially when new graduates are willing to start at a lower base wage. Some late middle-aged gentleman might be willing to take on an all-around horrible job like apartment security guard. Those forced into retirement have a big void to fill.
Colatecs provide a connection for the elderly community. It brings people out of a solitary lifestyle and helps form friendships. As a 38-year old man, I find it hard to build new friendships, now visualize trying to find new friends at middle age or beyond! My buddy and I wandered into a vital, hopping colatec in Gwangju not too long before we discovered this disused one in Mokpo. The septuagenarian crowd was dressed to the nines in sparkling suits and dresses that complemented their cheerful smiles. The crowd singing and dancing to”Tears of Mokpo ” revitalize and gives affirmation that they are not alone.
Upon personal reflection, I realize somber music doesn’t make people depressed. Outsiders view metal, punk, or one of the many subgenres as “depressing” music, but in reality, it’s far from it. It’s life-affirming! Music can be a buoy keeping people afloat in trying times. Depression and anxiety are tempered when the listener finds a song or band that they can identify with. Now, is music the way to treat depression effectively? No, but finding a community is a big step on the path to well-being. I experienced it as a young punk rocker, I saw it in the Gwangju colatec as well.
I’d like to tack on a few more pictures that I took on my adventures in Mokpo. Many times, when I start writing, I don’t know exactly what I’m writing. I match the pictures to the story I am trying to tell. Here is a hodgepodge of images from that day in Mokpo. I hope you enjoy!