Dear Inquisitive Stranger,
At the beginning of this letter writing adventure around Seoul’s food joints, I might as well go big.
Technically not an eatery, the library at the Starfield COEX does offer many refreshment options in the mall so let’s not get bogged down by technicalities.
Since it’s summer opening, this library has drawn many visitors who, like you and I, are drawn here by the promise of the bookshelves colossus. Looking up from the bottom of a waterfall of books, I understand how Alice felt when she tumbled down the well-like hole. Rabbit has decorated the warren walls with endless albums about lifestyle, art, architecture and fiction. Magnificent!
Set in a shopping mall, the library moonlights as a tourist attraction; both a temple to consumerism and cathedral of books. Soft piano melody under the vaulted ceiling makes it a pleasant, airy study space to read about life’s mysteries and mull over how the librarians scale the vast shelves. No doubt with the same dogged determination as Natasha Bedingfield’s industrious ‘unwritten’ diary (before Hollywood trapped Bedingfield in a lift to flirt with a smug hunk for the music video remake). The little book, on a perilous campaign to climb boundless shelves, reflects the same dicey ascent of any librarian searching the top shelf for ‘A Moveable Feast’.
Meanwhile, although not in the act of feasting on food, I am feasting upon the sight of 50,000 books while trying not to spill from my cup as my eyes gaze skyward. The drinks policy is BYO so I snaffled a thirst quencher from FIKA Cafe and Bakery, the Swedish coffee experience. I was lured in by the Mary Blair-esque murals and cheerful Dala horse that welcomes guests at the door.
In Sweden, fika is the no-nonsense business of a coffee break. As with all serious undertakings, there is a code of conduct to comply with – tea or coffee should be served simply, not snuffed out by a whipped cream and sprinkles hat. Save the fussing and frills for the pastry accompaniment. This may explain why the food menu looks more dramatic than their standard drinks fare. I order the raciest drink on the menu, spicy hot chocolate.
While waiting for my hot chocolate to be bedazzled with seasoning, I reflect on the folksy wall art. Simple and joyful, the aesthetic hints at a secretly chipper Scandinavian outlook. Afterall, Swedes frequently nail the top spot on the ‘quality of life’ hit parade and peacefully backstroke to the bottom of the global stress index. Could this explain why Swedish business’, according to a 2016 report by the grandly titled Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, are one of the most productive in the world?
So what is the Swedish secret to their success? Could it be the mandatory fikas during the work day? While you and I are wrangling with a paper jam in the printer, Swedes are quaffing tea and nibbling on a bun.
A fika a day, keeps the stress away.
The key to this ritual is the social act of sharing your break with a friend, colleague or family member. It is a time to connect, share ideas and collaborate. If only the Vikings had paused to shoot the breeze with a buddy over a cuppa and gingersnap, they may have innovated more productive ways for domination and ceased their marauding.
The simple act of sharing is an authentic one. So many things can be distributed – knowledge, food, space, gifts, secrets, ideas, digital files, gossip, acts of charity, photographs on social media. The list goes on….
As a child, book sharing was part of our family tradition. Bedtime meant getting tucked in with a Mr Men book and Saturday morning was cue for the whole family to climb on my parent’s bed to hear Dad share stories from his favourite childhood book about tigers in India. Sharing books is a custom I continue into adulthood. I read passages I like to loved ones on train journeys and have taken turns reading chapters of Harry Potter out loud with my best friend.
Like Sweden’s kurbits folk art, sharing adds colour to your life. It is a simple joy that connects you to others so I encourage you, my dear Stranger, to do the same. Share a breakfast croissant with a colleague or those mullet-haired teenage photos with school friends. Share your favourite childhood story with your young cousin or give it as a gift at a baby shower. Share a fika and connect with your counterparts.
Be generous when sharing the things you love with the people you love. Be a giver, not a taker; a sharer, not a plunderer and you will receive many more party invites than those looting vikings. They could have been far more popular if they had just taken time out to reflect on their pillaging and consider an alternative during a fika.
Peace, love and cha cha cha.
COEX Starfield library – books galore
513 Yeongdong-daero, Samseong 1 (il)-dong, Gangnam-gu, 06164
Samsung Station, line 2, exit 6
Monday – Sunday 10:00 – 22:00
FIKA Cafe and Bakery – Swedish for ‘chillax with a coffee’, on the first floor of the COEX mall
Monday – Friday 08:00 – 22:00, Saturday – Sunday 09:00 – 22:00
Hey! This letter was left on a bookshelf in the COEX Starfield Library for a stranger to stumble across when looking for a book.
Whether you are that person or maybe somebody who found this blog instead, I’d love to hear your thoughts for the day. Have you any viking experience or first -hand sharing stories you would like to share? Do get in touch!
With mischief and love,