Chalet Suisse

One of the things I like about Korea is its seemingly endless capacity to surprise me. This was certainly true on Saturday night, when after a good (but by no means overwhelming) plate of Vietnamese rice noodles with seafood, a friend opted to spend the remainder of her farewell evening in the intimate and eccentric surroundings of Chalet Suisse a "Swiss Folk Music Cafe" in the Pusan National University district.

Skippered by the affable Mr Lee, and his grinning Setter/Spaniel “Clarinet,” Chalet Suisse transports its occaisonal patrons (numbering no more than about 10 at one time) from the scooters and blaring neon of the Busan street to the intimate confines of a swiss log cabin high in the Alps.

Upon entering the small space, the uniqueness of Chalet Suisse becomes clear. On one side of the room, a huge mural depicts a majestic Alpine scene of blue skies, rolling slopes and jagged peaks, while the remainder of the wall space is given over various items of Swiss culture and provenance; Male and female traditional folk costumes hang in dry cleaning bags on one wall, a cast iron leaf weaved with various wooden dolls and puppets straddles the door, while photos of a younger Mr Lee (presumably in Switzerland) hang proudly in the gaps.

Added to this is an orchestra of musical instruments. Covered shapes betraying the larger string instruments loaf in the corners, while a brigade of beautifully crafted and exotically shaped ukeles, banjos and the like hang pragmatically from a roof beam. As the evening progressed, Mr Lee produced and played a number of these instruments, accompanying yodelling songs with a Guitar, a Banjo and an Accordian, and at one point eliciting that I was from Ireland, playing “Danny Boy” on the Clarinet.

Chalet Suisse is undoubtedly a labour of love and appears to be more a place where Mr Lee can indulge his passion with friends than a business (after we ordered drinks he had to run out to the shop to buy them!) Going there renewed in me the sense that there is something special and uplifting in the human spirit’s capacity to find and cultivate a passion, even from the most remote and diverse of backgrounds, and I cannot but admire Mr Lee’s commitment and sincerity.

I aim on dropping by again when I’m next in PNU. Europe may be thousands of miles away, but at least Switzerland is only a couple of stops on the subway.