It was curiosity, the desire to be surrounded (and worshipped) by purring, mewing felines and a flyer promising 1000 won off any beverage, that lead me to Myeongdong Cat Cafe.
Originating in the late 1990s in Taiwan, cat cafes began as a way for animal lovers living in tiny inner-city apartments that didn’t allow pets to spend some time with a furry friend. Cat cafes soon spread to neighbouring Japan and South Korea and today can be can be found all over the world.
I’d always wanted to visit one, but I’d never had the time nor the opportunity.
Then, one afternoon, as I was wandering the district of Myeongdong in Seoul, a man in a cat costume handed me a flyer and gestured to a nearby doorway.
This was my moment.
Ascending the staircase to the cafe my mind was filled with questions like:
“Is this ethical?”
“Will the animals be happy, healthy and wearing bandanas like they were on the flyer?”
“What does a cafe full of cats smell like anyway?”
“Is it safe to be eating or drinking anything here?”
And, most importantly:
“How long will it take for all the cats to pick up on my chilled-out, totally-into-cats vibe and be all over me like white on rice?”
After paying a modest entrance fee, ordering my discounted beverage and checking my coat and bag, I was in. I gave the cats a moment to register my presence and then…nothing.
Perhaps it was the time of day, perhaps they’d had their fill of people, or perhaps it was that they were…y’know, cats, but they paid no attention to me, or anyone else for that matter.
No purring, no mewing, no head bumps. They couldn’t care less.
Most were asleep on high platforms or in little wooden houses decorated with the Hello Kitty bow.
The two or three animals that were wandering the space weren’t interested either, with one prefering to stare at itself in the mirror than pay any attention to the needy human beings in the room.
Having been thoroughly shunned by these furry, cool-kids in cute bandanas (yes, most were wearing them) I took a seat at one of the cafe tables, finished my drink and took in my surroundings.
The place was cleaner and smelt better than my hotel room.
The animals were obviously cared for with silky, healthy coats and bright eyes. There were plenty of places for them to get away from people as well as private areas for them to eat and go to the bathroom.
Employees with masks, gloves and spray bottles constantly wiped-down surfaces and cleared away stray hairs and there were multiple signs urging customers not to man-handle the animals.
And while I left that day not having been adored or even acknowledged by a single cat, I could at least console myself with the knowledge that they were all happy, healthy and well-cared for…
and that there was a puppy cafe one street away.