View of Seoul from Naksan Park
Before I start my daily recaps, I wanted to take some time to sleep forever write about some general things I observed during our too-brief stay in Korea.
- Kpop is everywhere, naturally! Especially in places like Hongdae and Myeongdong, you can’t walk down the street without getting aurally assaulted in the best ways by competing Kpop songs being blasted out of every single shop so if you hate Kpop, you are SCREWED in Korea! We obviously loved it. Chooch said, “it’s so weird hearing all the songs we love every time we walk down the street!” because obviously here in America, we only hear Kpop in our house and car. For as wildly popular as BTS is around the world now, we actually didnt hear as much of their music here as we thought we would. It was mostly BIGBANG and Wanna One. BIGBANG is definitely the Kings of Korea and that makes me so happy. There are posters of G-Dragon everywhere. Long live King Kwon Jiyong!
- There was also some western pop being played here and there. We heard Shawn Mendes the most, I’d say. I was OK with that.
- Seriously clean public bathrooms but you have to pay attention to the signs because some bathrooms require you to throw your toilet paper in the garbage can. The sewage system is pretty bad in Korea I guess. You’d have to ask Henry about those bland types of things though. Maybe I can get him to guest post about how many times he had to reluctantly tell the front desk that our hotel toilet was clogged again (thanks, Chooch!).
- Food delivery drivers use scooters and basically abide by their own rogue traffic laws. They go through red lights, ride on the sidewalks, weave in and out of traffic. “You know what I miss?” I just said to Chooch. “Almost getting killed by—” “the scooters,” he finished for me, knowingly nodding.
- The stares are no exaggeration – middle-aged women (ahjummas) stared at us on the subway with wanton abandon, but I did notice that they stared at all younger people too regardless of race, etc. Even though we were prepared for this thanks to all the vlogs I obsessively watch, it was still awkward for about half a day but then we quickly learned to ignore it. The older women are also super pushy, and linebacker-esque with said pushiness. One woman practically picked Chooch up and punted him out of her way and it was pretty hilarious. He treated walking down sidewalks like a game of Dodge the Ahjumma so it worked out, really.
- There is this really ugly beige-slash-goldenrod color that is really popular with younger people; we rarely saw anyone under the age of 35 wearing anything other than that color, black, white or gray. People in their 20s and 30s don’t seem to really venture outside of the current fashion trends which makes for a lot of uniformity on the streets. And they freaking dress to a T, too! When we were at Everland, the couples were dressed flawlessly and most of the girls were wearing skirts and dressed, even. We even saw a bunch of people in school uniforms and some of them looked like real life F4. You would never ever ever see this at Kennywood! Kennywood haute couture is fannypacks, beer tees, and bad tattoos.
- Garbage cans are really hard to find!
- Old guys are super friendly and open to conversation. They always engaged Chooch!
- Couple culture is huge – there were couples being super cute and adorable everywhere and every other girl seemed to be walking down the street holding a small bouquet of flowers. There are actual flower vending machines for God’s sake! Do you think Henry bought me a single one? NO! In the dramas I watch, couples are always buying matching shoes, or wearing couple rings, and it was nuts to see that this isn’t exaggerated for TV at all; especially in Everland we saw tons of couples who were matching. Couples are always taking blatant selfies. It’s really adorable and also slightly nauseating because hello jealousy.
- People really do play kai bai bo (rock paper scissors) in public! We saw a couple playing it while walking up steps in Naksan, and we saw a group of boys playing it in Busan to decide who was going to pay for waffles at one of the street food stalls. It was so cute!
- Koreans say “jjinja?!” in conversation constantly and I got so happy every time I heard it! (It means “really”.) I also heard lots of “oppa!!”s in super-cute voices pretty much all day at Everland considering that amusement park was Couple Central. Chooch and I felt like voyeuristic third wheels to everyone in line on nearly every ride and had to keep ducking so we wouldn’t get caught in the background of all the hundreds of selcas (selfies) being taken around us constantly.
- Most food is cheap as fuuuuuck. Almost every meal we had was under $25. We can’t even have lunch here at crappy Eat n Park for less than $30! And most of the street food was between $1-$3. It was insanity.
- Conversely, cafes are $$$$ – their “regular” size is smaller than an American small and more expensive. However, every coffee drink I got was really good so I didn’t mind paying that much. Henry is like, “Speak for yourself!”
Chooch in front of the entrance to Jongmyo Shrine
- Koreans take their desserts very seriously. I think there is a misconception that Asian countries don’t “do dessert” because it’s not really offered on restaurant menus. That’s because they have separate dessert places and cafes on every fucking block, how is obesity not a thing in Korea*?! We had so many amazing sugar rushes during our time there. I’d like to go back and just do a cafe tour and drink all the sugary coffee and then face-plant into pretty cakes, all day, everyday.
- *Probably because they balance all the FOOD with intense self-care. There are gyms everywhere and dedicated areas with exercise equipment in all of the parks and mountain trails, which surprisingly were always being used by the ahjumma and ahjussi. Older people are fit as fuck in Korea and those were the ones we saw the most on every freaking hike we took. The day we went to Namsan Tower, Chooch and I paused to watch this one shirtless guy hanging upside down on a bar and doing intense sit-ups. After he finished and back to standing on solid ground, we were shocked to see that he was probably in his 60s! He caught us watching him and gave us a big smile and wave — we were in awe and then totally giddy that he acknowledged us! There was another guy doing stretches and lunges; Chooch gasped, “LOOK AT HIS BUTTOCKS! OMG, THOSE GLUTES!” and I was like, “OK health textbook!” Honestly though, it was inspiring and I hope that I’m that physically capable when I’m in my 60s and beyond.
Namsan walking trail to N. Seoul Tower
- I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep all of the different areas straight in my head, but every part of Seoul we visited had such a different and distinct feel to it so it was easy to not confuse things.
- Gentle Monster lived up to the hype.
- I heard once that South Korea is the biggest drinking country in the world, even topping Russia. This has to be true because every night, the streets are filled with drunk people. This sounds awful and dangerous, but it was the complete opposite! There was no belligerence that we saw, just friends happily linking arms, older men singing, people laughing — it was a very joyful atmosphere and when people say, “Forget NYC, Seoul is the real city that never sleeps” – believe in that. Even on weeknights, that city is poppin’ off. There are night markets all over the place, the malls stay open until the wee hours of the morning, and when we were just getting our day started in the morning we were passing people who were just leaving the bars and clubs. It’s insanity!
- People don’t jaywalk in Korea. Pittsburghers wouldn’t be able to handle that shit!
- Subway maps and things of that nature were usually in English as well, but not always true for store signs and such (see picture below). Chooch wanted to do noraebong (karaoke room) on the last night and if I hadn’t known how to spell that in Hangeul, we might still be in Myeongdong looking for one. Knowing how to at least read Hangeul is HUGELY beneficial, and it only takes about 45-60 minutes to learn so I’m glad I did that last year. It also really helped with reading menus because the smaller, hole-in-the-wall restaurants tended to rely more on using pictures rather than English, and that doesn’t always help, especially when you’re on the hunt for kimchi jjigae which also looks like 75 other stew variations!
Jongno Jewelry District, early morning.
While we were prepared for the cultural differences as much as possible (using honorifics, using both hands when giving something to someone or at least placing the left hand under the right elbow when handing over money, etc) there was one thing that I never could have been fully prepared for and that is just how much I loved being in this country. I guess I was just worried that I would get there and wouldn’t be what I thought, maybe it would too hectic and fast-paced for me to handle, maybe people would treat us badly, but none of those things happened (the amount of random kindness we experienced was really unexpected, to be honest). The emotional attachment and connection I felt while there was strong AF. I have cried so many times since being home because I want to go back desperately. We crammed as much as possible into the short time we were there but there was so much we didn’t get to and I am so motivated to get back there as soon as possible.
Chooch is also way more sentimental about it than I thought he would be. Meanwhile, Henry is just like “………….” lol.
People are always like, “Blah blah vacation was good but I’m glad to be home.” I’m not glad at all. :(
A million more posts to follow once I get some semblance of organization to my photos and thoughts. SIGH.
I Seoul U sign in Yeouido Hangang Park