For years, Jeong Nam-poong has found entertainment at daytime discotheques called “colatecs” that cater to older people, often losing track of time while dancing the jitterbug under fairy lights and mirror balls.
He cannot do that anymore.
With colatecs mostly shut down after novel coronavirus infections linked to nightclubs raised fears of a second wave of contagion in South Korea, the 89-year old now sleeps for six hours during the day and plays online janggi, a Korean version of chess, to kill time.
“I miss dancing,” said the retired tool store owner, who has lived alone since his wife died 19 years ago. “It’s so depressing not having anyone to talk to all day. I don’t just dance there, I find people to talk to, drink tea and play janggi.”
Eager to bust a move and chat, Jeong and four of his colatec friends on Tuesday met at a Seoul park for the first time since late February.
The team — a retired lieutenant colonel, a former hotelier, a jitterbug instructor and a housewife — coupled up and boogied to jitterbug music on YouTube, all wearing masks even as sweat dripped down their faces.
In a country where older people are the most depressed and impoverished among rich nations, colatecs — a portmanteau of “cola” and “discotheque” — offered comfort to hundreds of thousands of seniors such as Jeong.
The entrance fee is just 1,000 won (US$0.81), and a kimchi or a soybean paste soup with a bowl of rice costs only 5,000 won at many, Jeong and his friends said.
The number of senior South Koreans is ballooning faster than in any other developed country, but businesses catering to older people have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
South Korea, which once had the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases behind China, controlled the coronavirus’ spread without having to take severe measures such as imposing a national lockdown or forcing businesses to close. It now has about 11,000 cases.
However, a spike in infections linked to Seoul’s Itaewon nightlife district early this month led to shutdowns of discos and bars nationwide, after weeks of nearly no new domestic coronavirus cases.
Yoon Ji-won, the former hotelier, said that South Korea’s young club-goers took away her “playground.”
“Why should we suffer? We wore masks and put on sanitary gels before dancing. All of us were very careful not to get into any sort of trouble, because we knew it could really kill us, you know, when you’re my age,” the 61-year-old said.
Another jitterbug veteran who identified himself only as “Qingdao Wind” said that he has moved from colatecs to hiking and camping, because his dance friends are now spending time in Geomdansan, a mountain near Misari, east of Seoul.
“I also like camping, but there’s nothing like gliding through the dance floor with a partner and some music,” he said.
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