10 Gram Café in January 2013:
Is there a place on Earth where as soon as you get there or step inside, you are at peace and feel your heart warmed? Where you can slip comfortably and gladly into the atmosphere, allowing the sights and smells and sounds to melt away all other thoughts and troubles from your mind?
I was very fortunate to have found such a place while I was living in Jeonju, South Korea, in 2009. I was an ESL teacher in a rural elementary school with the TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea) Government Program (which is another epic chronicle of stories) and living alone for the first time in my life. With a school colleague who shared my love and hobby of café-hopping, I discovered 10 Gram Café – the “10 grams” refers to the amount of coffee in a standard cup of brewed coffee.
I was enchanted by this café’s soft and homey ambience, lilting jazz music playing softly under the clinking of spoons and cups and people’s chatter, the vintage decorations and cutely mismatched furniture, the small video projector soundlessly playing “Tonari no Totoro”/”My Neighbor Totoro”, the anonymous writings on the walls. But perhaps most of all, the incredibly warm and gentle owner who made us feel so welcome, and who recognised me when I came back with a new friend months later. Funny thing is that I only talked to this new friend, who I met amongst a group of new people, after I heard him talking about this one café that played Studio Ghibli films. In a strange way, if not for the café I wouldn’t have known that friend, and in turn that café would never have meant to me what it means.. which would have made my life infinitely more lonely and uninspiring – not that I’d have known it. I never would have known.. just so many things, where do I begin? How a heart of loving service can truly brighten up a room, what “hospitality” and “service” means in the industry and in the most basic sense, that a space designed from your sincerest vision can become a refuge for many, the art of introspection and shared reflection, what it is to make yourself willingly vulnerable and to heal.
I clearly remember the first time the new friend and I agreed to meet there. We sat up in the make-shift ‘attic’ space in the wall that we later fondly called “the loft” and actually ended up talking for about 6 hours straight til after midnight, well past closing time. We only realised later that it was silent and we were the only ones there – the owner didn’t want to interrupt us and was happy to wait until we were done! After that we frequently came after work to talk and relax, my friend with their iced or hot americano and me with my sweet potato latte or iced green tea latte and blueberry bagel, sometimes strumming and singing with my guitar, making conversation and friends with the owner and his coworker. Later on the owner, who I called Kingsley, was generous enough to trade me work experience and just a mountain of valuable advice at his café for my English skills. This hidden gem which was purposely situated on a quiet and quite dark side street a short way away from the bustling main road near Chonbuk University was truly a safe haven, and I think I will hold dear that feeling all my life.
When I was back in South Korea late last year to early this year I was able to visit my old neighbourhood and some friends in Jeonju. I went back to 10 Gram with Kingsley who very sadly had to sell his first-born café because it wasn’t nearly big enough for a coffee roasting machine. He started up another café, Bean Tie Café, which I will also post about. It was a walk down memory lane – things were same-same but different as it tends to be. The whole side street which was very much empty and dark except for 10 Gram and another café had within a few years turned into a much livelier café road – there were over half a dozen lining both sides down the street.
10 Gram itself.. well, it wasn’t the same for sure. It was pleasant, but the whole atmosphere was different, and shop a little over-cluttered with decor.. it was like meeting with a friend you were inseparable with in youth to find that after many years and post-college they were now not really someone you knew or showed you much interest and trying to be part of the mainstream crowd. It was incredibly nostalgic though.. I wanted to check upstairs in the loft for something but there were customers already there.
The photos below are some I took during some visits in 2009. I apologise for the terrible quality – the camera I was using then wasn’t so great, and the photos are ones I downloaded from my Facebook albums and the gifs just further kill quality. I decided not to edit them, either.
And this is indeed the café that inspired the short story I uploaded previously.