Camera Cafe in Yangpyeong inspires visitors to live their dreams.
Those who have spent time in Korea and other Asian countries are undoubtedly familiar with cafes of all themes and varieties. Study cafés, animal cafés, dessert cafés, and the pink explosion that is the Hello Kitty Cafe, just to name a few, are all worth visiting and conveniently located within the city. Rarely though does a cafe provide more than just a quirky cup of coffee, flashy interior design, and some great selfies. However, for the more adventurous with some time on their hands, there is a cafe gaining traction not only for its incredible architecture, but also for the owner’s positive intentions to inspire their customers.
Dreamy Camera Cafe (꿈꾸는사진기) is tucked away in the hills of Yangpyeong, about two and a half hours east of Seoul. The owners, Park Sung-Hwan and Kwak Myung-Hee, are both retired army pilots, and opened the cafe in 2013 after years of discussing concepts and sketching designs for the building itself. Park’s love of photography and vintage camera collection influenced the theme, and Kwak and Park together had the vision to create a place where people can be inspired to follow their dreams and passions.
“In Korea, it’s likely that you’ll face a problem in realizing and shaping your own path,” said Park. “My wife and I wanted to build a place where anyone could share their stories and help out those who are struggling to discover and achieve their dreams.”
The cafe is designed to resemble an old Roloflex twin lens reflex camera, and is backed by lush green mountains and farmland. Next door to the cafe is a quaint little house where the owners live with their young daughter. The whole scene lives up to its dreamy name and seems to be plucked out of a fairy tale. Walking up the short stairs into the eye of the bottom camera lens shows a surprisingly familiar interior of a charming cafe, with light wood furniture and a cluttered homey decor. Walls and shelves are decorated with rows of vintage cameras of all sorts, as well as photographs taken by Park himself in frames. Behind the counter, Kwak greets her customers with a heartfelt smile as she takes orders, and encourages her customers to read through a small book with the cafe’s history and intentions. She wants everyone who comes in to have a unique and special experience.
“Roughly 10 percent understand our intention and openly share their stories. We would be thrilled if more people could see the cafe the way we see it – a space for dreamers,” said Kwak. “We occasionally worry that we’ve done something wrong whenever someone stays for 30 minutes or less just for a quick look at the cameras or a quick drink of coffee. It’s not meant to function like an average cafe.”
Though the owners are interested in providing great service and enjoyment as a cafe, they are more excited to see what their customers can give to them. The walls are collaged with polaroid photos of visitors and tourists, and everyone is asked kindly to fill out and decorate a “Bucket List” sheet. Every table is equipped with colored markers and pencils for visitors to creatively write what they want to do, see, accomplish, or anything else to do with their hopes and dreams for the future. Authors of the lists can write positive notes to themselves, draw pictures, share motivational words, or just write down things they want to do right now; the more personal and unique, the better. Once finished, the owners take two polaroid pictures of the list, one for the customer to take with them, and one to add to the cafe’s wall to give inspiration to others. The polaroid snapshots decorating the walls include languages from around the world, with wonderful designs and positive messages of travel, family, careers, and daring dreams. It’s hard not to feel warm and fuzzy just seeing the volume of contributions, even without understanding the many languages.
After filling out their bucket list, customers can enjoy what they ordered at the counter; a well brewed coffee and a snack from their small but carefully made menu. Their signature dish is a warm bowl of crispy ddeok, topped with dried cranberries, nuts, seeds, and a sticky honey glaze. After the long journey to arrive at the remote cafe, some coffee and a meal are needed, and they have not forgotten to provide classic cafe favorites for their customers.
The fast-paced lifestyle in Seoul and other major metropolitan cities can be exciting and invigorating, but can lead to exhaustion and a lack of time to indulge in our passions. Dreamy Camera Cafe is a place to reflect on what is important in life, and to press the pause button on the hustle of city life. The mountain air, rural views, and the larger-than-life camera create a perfect environment to step out of reality, even for a few hours, and let those wild dreams go to the head.
Story by: Hannah Green
Photos by: Hannah Green