Jun 132018
 

Hey, Chooch here! The last day of Korea went by with many tears and broken heart fragments left behind. The morning was the same as any morning in Korea, with my feet still sore from the pain and agony of the hills and miles we walked the night before. Although, we never know what we are going to do next during the day. I’m pretty sure this day was actually planned; we were going to Itaewon. We took the saddening subway, not because it was gross and disgusting in there, GOD NO! It was pretty much our last time hearing the beautiful subway jingle. I heard the *bloop* as my tear hit the floor. We made it to Itaewon, it was still early so nothing was open, except for the convenience stores that are open 24 hours; like every convenience store. We walked around and noticed that the streets were not cleaned yet after all of the clubbing and drunks the night before.

[Ed.Note: Chooch makes it sound like Itaewon was some unsavory area but it’s just a neighborhood that’s a popular hangout and go-to for bars and clubs. Seoul in general was pretty squeaky clean as far as litter goes which is a mystery considering how challenging it was to find garbage cans!]

As I wept inside my mind just thinking of leaving, I noticed the Line Friends flagship, the main one we were looking for the whole 10 days we were there. The reason we could not find it was because it just wasn’t listed on any website. The main thing that made this particular store so special was because this one sold BTS’ line of animals; BT21. Sadly, they were not for sale the day we went, otherwise we definitely would have got one or two. Other than that, I was promised something from this store because of the agony I went through during our journey through complex Gangnam, you know the city we almost died in because Henry got us lost and said, “Oh. There is no subway we can take to get there faster.” Although, we went back to our hotel through the subway down the street from where we went.

These are the BT21 animals that weren’t on sale. I found it hilarious how the horse/unicorn character is on his head. You know what? It probably isn’t a unicorn. If it was his horn would be snapped either completely or in half.

In the Line Friends store, there were many rooms, being used by the mascots for the company. The one I am in is Brown’s room. He was the most popular.. I should say the main mascot for Line. I should say what Line Friends is. DUH. Line Friends is owned by Line, a messaging company as like Kakao. Koreans use Line, or Kakao instead of the actual texting apps on their phones, I guess because it’s more aesthetic?

Staircase with the BT21 characters on the individual steps. My favorite character is the little cookie! He comes in a group and is just flat down cute.

Sally was my favorite character. No, Sally is not the rabbit on the ceiling of the yellow room, that is it’s own room. Sally is the chick you can see painting through the red, round window. I actually got a stuffed Sally. She is dressed up as a chicken, a grown up version of herself. I don’t love her as much as Peachy Boi “Apeach” from Kakao, though. Peachy Boi is definitely the best of all of Kakao and Line Friends, but Line Friends does have those BT21 character, so I’ll give em’ that.

Turkish ice cream in Itaewon 🍦

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This guy was really cool! I ordered Turkish ice cream an I guess to show that the ice cream is sticky and sturdy, the man was taunting me by flipping the cone upside down and around, trying to make me grab it, but quickly pulled it back. He then proceeds to tap my nose with THE ICE CREAM. I don’t think he realized, and I really don’t care, but, “DARN YOU, MAN!”

As a conclusion to this post, here are 5 things to know before you travel to Korea.

Number 5: You should know some Korean, if not all. Entering stores, Koreans may not always say hello. They might say Annyeonghaseyo, or 안녕하세요, which is Korean for “Hello!” You would also need to know some Hangul, the Korean alphabet, because you may have to read menus/signs.

Number 4: Be aware of the ajummas, or the old women. They may seem like they hate you, but really, they stare at and push everyone. Don’t feel special.

Number 3: Learn how the currency works. If you don’t understand, obviously, you will not know how to trade in the U.S Dollar for Korean Won. $1 is equal to about ₩1.

Number 2: Know that Northeastern Asia is very mountainous and steep. Many interesting cultural villages are located on a mountain or hill. A VERY STEEP HILL. On the other hand, the pleasant hand, the trek is worth it. The view is also very delightful, from the top and from the bottom.

Number 1: Finally, know how to read a map. It is NOT very hard, especially if you were in the service for a long period of time. You need to know how to read a map because you may want to go  somewhere on the subway and you might not know how to get there, so you need to read a map. If you don’t know how, you will probably get your family and yourself lost.

In conclusion, those are some things you need to know before traveling to South Korea.

Jun 032018
 

Henry rues the day I ever found the Joan Day vlogs on YouTube because a lot of what we did in Korea was influenced by her suggestive Seoul videos. Lots of pink cafes and trendy boutiques and, you know, Gentle Monster. I might never have known about GM if not for Joan Day vlogs! She also frequently vlogs from a place in Gangnam called Garosu-gil, which is full of high-end shops in the Sinsa neighborhood but the area is so pretty and fancy and also, the best Gentle Monster is there so I was like, “We are not leaving Korea before going to Garosu-gil” and Henry was silently cursing Joan and her constant promoting of all that is extra in Korea.

It’s also worth noting that the district of Gangnam is a hotbed of plastic surgery activity, and you will know you’re there before even leaving the subway stations which are lined with billboard and advertisements for plastic surgery centers. Henry wasn’t exactly thrilled about revisiting this area because even if he found a blank t-shirt to buy, it would cost 789% more than the ones he buys at home and he’d probably have to wade through a ball pit just to pull it off the rack.

(Seriously, there is a boutique in Seoul that has a mini ball pit-type installation going on in one of the rooms but I can’t think of the name of it now, and this is not to be confused with Urban Space, the bar that has a pool in the middle of it filled with white balls and unicorn innertubes.)

On the subway there, Chooch and I made friends with an old Korean man who insisted that Chooch sit down and then talked to us about having a friend who moved to Pittsburgh and it was one of those golden moments that made me love Korea even more. Our experience was that people were either very nice and helpful to us, or were just flat-out ambivalent. But we were never on the receiving end of any mean stares or rudeness which is also a concern when traveling to a foreign country and what so many people sadly experience here in my own dumb country. Get it together, America.

But first, Henry had to get us lost in Apgujeong (apparently the RICHEST neighborhood in Seoul so we felt like American hobos) while looking for K-Star Road. There was this awesome moment where Henry took all of his money out of his pocket and punched it into my hand and said, “GOOD LUCK FINDING YOUR WAY BACK TO THE HOTEL, ASSHOLES!!!” and stormed off down into the subway station. After a few seconds, Chooch said, “Um, I’m going to go and get him” because it didn’t take us long to realize that we were fucked to the nth degree if he didn’t come back, also who would we make fun of, lol.

So then he came back and we all had a grand chuckle and I was like, “Let’s just go to Gentle Monster!” and then Henry wasn’t laughing anymore.

Our time in Sinsa was smooth-sailing! We stopped at Latte King to get some beverages and allow Henry time to stare at maps on his phone while he had wifi and grow back some of the balls he lost after Chooch and I forced him to apologize for yelling at us. Family vacations, amirite? Korea was fucking perfect but it would have felt too artificial if there wasn’t some family-realness sprinkled up in there.

My drink was a hazelnut Jeju green tea latte. Chooch got some strawberry thing and Henry amazingly managed to order something without getting lost.

Directional dum-dum.

We were able to find the majestic Gentle Monster shortly after leaving

You guys. I know it’s weird to put a sunglasses store on a MUST SEE IN KOREA list, but each one of these locations was just so delightful—if you like bizarre art installations, that is. If you’re the type that just wants to walk into a plain store and grab what you need, then avoid Gentle Monster. Or most clothing shops. And also skincare stores.

Even Henry said he thought it was interesting! But then I asked him if he would recommend it to anyone and he frowned, so I guess not.

This is a mixture of pictures from my phone and Chooch’s phone. Chooch was super into it. THAT’S MY BOY.

Anyway, as soon as we walked into this particular flagship, we were greeted by the sounds of cawing crows.

I have no idea what these are supposed to be but I wish they were in my house.

Or in my front yard.

The nice thing about GM is that the staff doesn’t swoop in and pressure you. In fact, when I bought my pair in Busan, I had to get someone to help me. I liked that a lot because I tend to make rash decisions when a salesperson is following me around. Also, they don’t discourage you from take pictures and video.

Which is great because right as we were leaving, the girl at the door pointed to steps and said, “Please go in the basement for our closing.”  At first I thought she said “clothing” but after seeing that were no clothes down there, I realized it was must have been like their “send-off” room which was extremely stimulating:

There was another GM right across the street! It was the Gentle Monster: Parallel store, which showcased their limited edition/special designs most of which were way out of my price-range and also super over-the-top.

Now I kind of wish I had bought that pair on the right. :/

I love that their building facades are so minimal, though.

We didn’t eat here but I thought it was super cool and had 1980’s arcade vibes. AND I WANT THAT NEON PIZZA.

We couldn’t walk by Mr. Holmes Bakehouse without stopping in for a famous cruffin. The original shop is in San Francisco, but for whatever reason, they opened a location in Seoul too. I actually just heard that this one closed so I’m glad that we got to try it while we were there!

Black sesame croissant and cookies and cream cruffin (not what I would have chosen but sometimes I throw Chooch a bone and let him choose ugh). Totally worth it.

There were two floors with lots of seating. Look at how beautiful it is in there! There were several other people there but they left shortly after we got there and if you ask Henry, it’s because Chooch and I chased them away with our loud cackles. Whatever, Hank.

I like how Chooch is trying to have serious-Instagram face while his feet don’t even touch the ground.

We also went to Dr. Jart which is also super strange and cool. It’s a Korean skincare line and the entire bottom floor was lit only by dangling strands of lights which are sound-activated.

The top floor was a lounge area where a Dr. Jart employee in a lab coat whipped us up a sample of the Peptidin energy drink they were promoting. I really liked it but Henry and Chooch were like “No thanks.”

We couldn’t spend too much time in Garosu-gil though (much to Henry’s delight) because we had other things we had to cram in, like stopping in Itaewon and going back to Insadong for last minute gift procuring, plus our Last Night Pizza & Noraebang Extravaganza. Sniff sniff.

May 292018
 

This probably just looks like a weird-shaped building to the untrained eye, but even most kpop n00bs would know that this is the headquarters of YG Entertainment, the agency that has brought the world 2NE1, Psy, Blackpink, Ikon, Winner, and the ultimate kpop kings, BIGBANG. Even though you can’t go inside, visiting this kpop castle was at the top of my list because I just needed to look it all over, up and down, side to side, back to front, with my own two eyeballs.

So after eating the 8734082705 dollar breakfast buffet at our hotel (not worth it!), we set off early Sunday morning (a/k/a Our Last Full Day in Korea) for the iconic YG homestead.

Surprisingly, this was the easiest thing we found during the whole entire trip, I think! It was meant to be!

YG Entertainment is considered to be one of the Big Three Kpop agencies (SM and JYP being the other two). I know that BTS is taking over America right now, but BIGBANG was wooing the rest of the world way before that and everything they touch turns to gold. G-Dragon is Korea’s National Treasure! Just standing there and looking up at this structure, with so much talent within its walls, felt so surreal! I have seen it so many times in pictures and in videos, and now here it was right in front of me! I COULD HAVE PROBABLY BEEN STANDING IN THE SAME SPOT THAT G-DRAGON MIGHT HAVE MAYBE STOOD ONCE AT SOME POINT, I CAN’T EVEN HANDLE IT!

Right across the street is a GS25 (a large and amazing convenience store chain that we stopped in everyday) and I pictured G-Dragon strolling in there on any random afternoon to grab some ramyun or banana uyuu and can you imagine WORKING THERE?! I would never take a day off! Let me stand behind my register all fucking and night and wait to catch a glimpse of Seungri or Mino or Jenny.

I’m not going to try and act like I wasn’t shook. I was pretty giddy.

I loved that there were so many messages of love and appreciation scrawled on the walls behind the convenience store. It was early enough on a Sunday morning that we were the only ones there but I can imagine the crowds this area must draw, especially before 4 out of 5 BIGBANG members enlisted in the military. If I was a kid in Seoul, I feel like I would be loafing (lol, that word will forever make me  think of my dad) in that area all the time after school.

“What did you think about going to YG?” I asked Henry just now.

“What do you mean?” he asked because he’s remedial and needs questions illustrated for him, translated into Caveman grunts, played out it in an interpretive dance.

“Like, did you think it was cool? Were you like ‘Oh cool, the YG building!’?” I coached.

“No, I thought it was just another building,” and then he mumbled other things that I couldn’t hear because he was walking away, and I think it’s funny that now that he knows he’s being interviewed, he’s trying to act like he doesn’t care about kpop because over the weekend I was like “WE DON’T HAVE ANYTHING IN COMMON!”and he quietly said, “Yes, we do. I like kpop” and I was like, “OH SHIT BOY I’LL NEVER LET YOU FORGET THAT YOU SAID THIS!”

But really, here are some signs that Henry is a Kpop dad:

“Jimin looks like he lost weight.”

“Is this SHINee’s comeback stage?”

“Pfft, probably” – after hearing the headline Did Hyuna Take Sexy Too Far.

“They got V’s name wrong! That said Jung Kook!”

YG will always be the most prestigious kpop agency in my eyes and I’m so excited that I got to see it. I WONDER WHO WAS IN THERE THAT DAY?!!?!? Blackpink has been preparing for a comeback, so maybe they were there?! OMG I would have died if I saw them. (Henry would have too — he loves him some Blackpink. He listens to them A LOT on his own time.)

I will leave you with two of my favorite non-BIGBANG YG videos, because it’s nice to give some other groups the spotlight sometimes.

I like to shout the 널 좋아해 parts real loud to the cats when I listen to this alone in the house. It means “I like you.” That’s your daily lesson from me to you.

One of my favorite kpop cardio workouts uses this song! Anyway, the first time we went to Hongdae, Ikon was there giving out free hugs apparently and I think I may have seen one of them but he was across the street and Chooch was like, “WE ARE GOING THIS WAY BECAUSE I’M IN CHARGE HERE” so I didn’t get to see what was going on. Thanks, Chooch.

LOL OK FINE TWIST MY ARM here is a BIGBANG video too. I just asked Chooch which BIGBANG he would share and he said, with little hesitation, “Fantastic Baby.” So here’s a three-song compilation from one of the award shows they performed on because it also includes Bang Bang Bang and that song is a, well, banger. Also I loved G-Dragon’s hair so much in this! HOW DOES HE MAKE A MULLET LOOK SO FUCKING HOT.

Kings. BIGBANG is the group that got me 100% obsessed with kpop and Korea in general, so YG will always be the best in my opinion. I can’t believe I got to stand before it, like it was a legit religious shrine and I just got off the church bus with a bunch of nuns.

 

May 262018
 

Fun fact: every time I type Hongdae, my phone tries to change it to “bondage.”

I had dinner with Barb the other night and she asked me what my favorite part of Korea was, and right away I said it was our evening on Hongdae and I tried so hard to summarize that area for her, in between all of the INTERRUPTIONS FROM OUR SUPER ATTENTIVE WAITRESS, oh my god I wanted to scream, “STFU CAN’T YOU SEE SOMEONE IS FINALLY LETTING ME TALK ABOUT MY FUCKING TRIP TO KOREA?!”

God!!

Anyway, this post is about all of the things I wanted to tell Barb about Hongdae but Miss Mary Lynn Rajskub-doppelganger and her “REFILL?!” sidekick made it nearly impossible.

After our afternoon in Samcheondong, we walked back to the hotel, changed, and then set off for the subway that would take us to Hongdae. I refused to leave Korea without experiencing Hongdae at night. It’s not like we could go to bars or whatever (THANKS CHOOCH) but Hongdae is famous for its infinite wealth of street performers, especially being in such a youthful area (it’s right next to Hongik University).

Here we are, waiting for the subway, preparing to be dicks.

Gotta get one last map-check in.

Since it was still early in the evening, we made a pit-stop to Mangwon because I was like, “I WILL DIE IF I DON’T GET TO GO TO ZAPANGI.” And it wasn’t dramatic at all. I have a whole post just for this quirky Instagram-famous cafe, so see your way over there if you’d like to read more about it. But if you’re like, “Nah, mate, I’m good” then I’ll just quickly tell you that “zapangi” means “vending machine” in Korean and you literally walk through a vending machine door to get inside. Also, it’s pronounced “ja-pahng-ee” because there is no “z” sound in Korean so why “they” made the romanization of the word spelled this way is beyond me. Good job, “They.”

Mangwon also has a market so we of course had to peruse it. Henry bought a bottle of makgeolli (traditional Korean rice wine — don’t get it confused with sake though; makgeolli is more milky) and was straight-up giddy about it. “It only cost 1,000 won!” he cried, which is about a dollar. We drank it in the hotel room that night like losers who vacation with their kid and can’t go to bars.

THANKS CHOOCH.

J/K. It would have been weird being there without my partner in giddiness.

By the time we waded our way through the market, it was getting dark so we knew it would be a good time to head to Hongdae.

First, we had to lose Henry. Here’s his face when he realized we weren’t behind him anymore, lol. He was in the middle of chastising us. We just laughed and walked away.

And then we made it to where all of the action was. There were street performers lined up everywhere, each one with their own throng of oglers. We walked down the street and passed singers, dancers, magicians, comedians…there was something for everyone and the vibe was so positive and energetic. How can I even encapsulate something like this into words on a blog post?! It was a dream for any kpop fan for sure because there was no shortage of street dancers emulating beloved kpop choreo. (My favorite was the group of boys who danced to about 8374 BTS songs as well as Block B’s “Her” which I liked prior to this but there was something about seeing these local boys dancing to it in the middle of a street in Hongdae on a Saturday night in March that has really made me pull that song close into my heart.

Here’s a small compilation of videos that Chooch sent me:

We just don’t have anything here in Pittsburgh like Hongdae which is actually kind of strange because we have several college campuses right near each other in Oakland. But, unless things have changed since the last time I was out and about in Oakland at night, the streets aren’t poppin’ off with street performers and I was constantly looking over my shoulder walking back to my car because I didn’t want to get mugged or raped or organ-harvested. (I had a lot of night classes when I went to Pitt and constantly felt like prey walking through campus at night.)

In Hongdae, the party atmosphere felt joyful and not sleazy and date-rapey. I’m usually crowd-phobic, but no one was aggressive, no one was pushing and shoving, and you know, no one pulled out a gun and started firing at random because this wasn’t America. The people there were mostly in their 20s, but there were also kids with their families as well, so I didn’t feel like a shitty parent dragging their kid to some after-hours club.

Speaking of Chooch, I’mma let him jump in here and tell you about Block Burger.

Hey it’s Chooch, I’m just going to talk about the food that we ate while in Hongdae. We ate at Block Burger, a place we saw the first time we were in Hongdae. Block Burger is a burger place that is based on Lego’s and they had Lego head mugs, and buns in the shape of a Lego brick. The buns all had different flavors: squid ink, sweet pumpkin, and red velvet.

We decided to get sweet pumpkin because it was the only normal sounding one. [ERIN EDIT: I ordered that one because I like pumpkin, and I knew Chooch and his milquetoast palate wouldn’t eat the other two options, so…..] On the bun, we had chicken; our vegetarianism went on vacation, too… The burger was very savory and better than expected. But then, as I thought it couldn’t get any better, an amazing song started playing on the speaker. That song is a song that my cat, Bambi loves. The song is called, “Bambi,” by Jidenna.

The thing is, this restaurant actually had us full for the whole rest of the night! Usually we eat, walk for five to ten minutes, then eat again. This time was different, we ate, then walked around for the whole rest of the day without eating any street food, or any kind of snack.

Daddy didn’t get anything because there wasn’t any XL Unsweetened Teas he could order. That’s fine, though. I didn’t want to hear his loud crunching and chewing, (Especially not with chicken.)

Even the napkin holders were Lego built; you know Henry still didn’t see them, even with the colorful bricks the holder was built with.

This was the juicy, savory chicken we ate on our sweet pumpkin bun. I honestly miss this burger so much; I wish I could go back just to eat this burger. God I love Korean chicken.

OK, Erin back at the keyboard. Not pictured, but there were several carnival games set up and one of them, a balloon game, had GOBLIN DOLLS!! Chooch said he would try to win me one and technically he lost but the guy running it kept throwing darts in between Chooch’s throws so Chooch succeeded in winning me a Goblin through a joint effort. I was so happy!!

Goblin is one of my favorite korean dramas and this doll was won in Hongdae by Chooch so it’s doubly special to me!

(I have to be honest, I didn’t think he would actually give it to me!)

Chooch is so good at impromptu posing. Where does he get that from? Certainly not me. I look the same in every picture: grotesque and surprised.

One of the things I wanted to do before we left was have Chooch’s caricature done. I think caricatures are so fun and I wanted to add a Korean one to the collection. We saw tons of caricature artists in nearly every neighborhood we explored, but when we walked past this guy in Hongdae, I knew he was the one and not just because he kind of looked like my favorite guy on Running Man (Ha-Ha!)

(No seriously, his name is Ha-Ha!)

(Ha-ha!)

(No, that was really me laughing that time.)

Related image

Oh Ha-Ha, BE MY LAST LOVE.

Surprisingly, Chooch LOVES having his caricature done and he is so good at diligently sitting there being stared at by the artist and everyone walking past. Not me. I’m like “DON’T LOOK AT ME” which is kind of going against everything a caricature is but if the artist is good, they should be able to figure out what I look like behind the hair-curtain I’m hiding under.

You guys, this was only 10,000 won (roughly $10) and beyond worth it. We have it framed and hanging on our Chooch wall in the living room and it makes me so happy to see it everyday.

This place is a walk-up cocktail window that serves its mixed drinks in IV bags Chooch wanted one and I was like, “Look, Korea is super progressive in a lot of ways but selling booze to a 6th grader is not one of them, buddy.”

Like I said before, just because I threw down over 1,000 words doesn’t mean I’ve even come close to doing it justice. The music was loud and good, the crowd was lively and friendly, and it felt like sneaking into a party that you thought you weren’t cool enough for but then no one makes you feel like you don’t belong there and what a wonderful fucking feeling that is.

Hongdae, more like HongBAE.

Yeah, I went there.

May 222018
 

We needed lunch after our long morning of palace-prodding, and we needed it NOW. Luckily, the neighborhood of Samcheondong was a short walk from Gyeongbok Palace and like every other neighborhood in Seoul, its streets are lined with restaurants and cafes. And even with my blurry hunger-vision, I was able to find a place pretty quickly that had something we all wanted (well, at least what Chooch and I wanted; I never bothered to ask Henry HAHAHA).

Korea has a LOT of very trendy, Instagram-aesthetic eateries, and that was really fun when we were looking for cafes, but for the most part when it came to actual meals, we wanted authentic, ahjumma-run kitchens. And Samcheongdong Kimbap was perfect for that.

The menu outside was all in Korean (and some Chinese) so Henry was like, “Erin, please help. I need your help. I know everyone on the Internet thinks I am a Super Capable Man and that you are worthless in every capacity, but I can’t read this menu and you can so please help. Help.”

FUCK YES. Right away I was like, “They have kimchi jjigae*, we’re eating here.” Because I was craving kimchi jjigae all morning!

*(Kimchi stew. It comes in a small bubbling cauldron of Korean majesty and splendor.)

And Chooch really wanted ramyun, so this place was golden.

There was a self-ordering pad on all the tables and I was excited to put my basic hangeul skills to use. I was starting to fill it out by checking off Chooch’s ramyun, and marking down an order of cheese kimbap, when the waitress came over in a hurry and took the pad from me. Not in a rude or shitty way, though! Please don’t misunderstand – she was really friendly. But I think she thought I was struggling and she wanted to help by taking our orders herself. I appreciated that but I was also kind of deflated because I was having fun filling it out on my own!

I can’t remember what Henry ordered. Donkkaseu, maybe? But I got my cheesey kimbap and kimchi jjigae and guess what, no one stared at me and mocked me while I ate it like they did here IN AMERICA several days later. Fucking rednecks.

In a lot of the Korean restaurants, there are free water stations set up so don’t sit there and wait for the waitress to fetch that shit for you. You just go up, grab a metal cup, and fill it up yourself from a water cooler.

We made Henry do this for us, of course. Lol forever.

Also, all the sides (banchan) come with the meal and if one of them runs out, don’t be afraid to ask for more! Sometimes the waitress will already be coming over to refill it for you. Korean restaurants are the best.

Chooch, god love him, was trying to be adventurous with spicy dishes. This kid prefers everything to be bland and plain here at home, so he really took us by surprise by climbing out of his comfort zone and reaching for the gochujang.

A YouTuber probably told him to do it.

Sigh.

But yeah, look at his ramyun-stung lips! For as painful as his face makes it seem, he is still talking about how much he misses that ramyun. Nearly two months later.

Yes, it’s been nearly two months since we’ve been back (and exactly two months since we left Pittsburgh!) and I am still recapping this. SUE ME.

🍜

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After stuffing ourselves with Korean homecookin’, we set off for Bukchon Hanok Village, which required us to embark on yet another urban hike. Seoul is like the SanFran of Asia! If you want to read more about Bukchon Hanok Village and eyeball some photos, see your way to this post.

I didn’t take these views for granted, not even for a second. I wanted to just sear the images into my mind in case I never get to go back.

After tooling around the labyrinthine Bukchon streets, we came back down to Samcheondong because of all things there is a Gentle Monster location there and I was on a mission to explore as many as possible.

However, on our way there, we took a wrong turn as usual and wound up on a side street. There were some vintage stores there, one of which was a quirky vintage toy store. Chooch and I left after taking a quick walk aroundandf eventually realized that Henry wasn’t following us.

“Maybe he’s pooping,” I shrugged, because that’s my explanation always whenever Henry can’t be found. So we went back inside and found him in a small back room.

Pooping.

J/K. He was in this small back room, pointing to something on a high shelf, and once Chooch saw what it was, he lost his shit so then it was Chooch in a small back room.

Pooping.

The poop-inducing object was a vintage set of Bambi figures, still in the box. Yes, Bambi, the dumb Disney cartoon that Chooch is oddly obsessed with.

It was only 30,000 won (a little less than $30) so…happy early bithday, sonny boy.

Whoever thought Chooch would find so much Bambi shit in Korea.

Oh, and in case you were wondering if you should load up on street food before visiting Samcheondong, don’t bother because their streets are just as fooded as the best of them! Chooch got tteokkochi which is the same kind of spicy rice cake in tteokbokki, but fried and skewered. Chooch going for the spice again!

I got a green tea hotteok and wanted to cry, not only because the searing, molten filling oozed out and burnt my hand, but because it was such a delicious variation of those delicious little dough pockets and I was so happy that I didn’t have to give Henry a bite because he’s weird and doesn’t like green tea.

You could easily go to Korea and do nothing but eat. Eschew all the sight-seeing and shopping and surgery (hey, people take medical vacations to Seoul!) and just camp out in the markets and I guarantee you will still have the best vacation ever. I’m not a foodie so much, but goddamn Korea, you’re doing it right.

And then finally it was time to enter Gentle Monster and spin around like Julie Andrews on a hilltop. This particular location is known as Bathhouse because, well, it’s literally inside an old Korean bathhouse.

Chooch, crying over those damn sunglasses again. Also, look at his dumb Bambi play set. What a baby.

I told him I liked the blue ones better and then he got all hopeful because he thought that meant I was going to buy him the blue pair instead and I was like, “HAHAH DREAM ON, PRETEEN.” He made some mouthy comment about how my pappap probably would have bought me $250 sunglasses and I laughed and said, “Yeah I got a pair of Versace sunglasses in Italy one year on vacation. I think they cost more than $250 though” and he was so disgusted.

So was Henry!

LOLOL I love rubbing my rich kid childhood in their faces.

(But I mean really though, look how far that got me in life.)

No, this is still Gentle Monster. Can’t you see the sunglasses in the background? Haha.

I was obsessed with how they left some of the old foundation intact. What a genius use of space!

This crank-thing was on the first floor, and when we went upstairs, we saw that it was moving this thing up and down….

Whatever “this thing” is.

This the view from GM’s balcony. I love this picture SO MUCH. I put it on our department’s wiki page and in one of our meetings someone dryly said, “Wow, nice…roofs” and I was like, “YEAH THEY ARE NICE ROOFS. BECAUSE THEY FREAKING KOREAN HANOK ROOFS. GOD!!!!” Ugh, really!!!!

One of my work friends is Korean and HE likes this picture so that’s all that matters. He gets it. He was born with aesthetic.

Chooch, drowning his Gentle Monster tears into his ttkeokochi. He was faking the sad-face for the sake of this photo but he really did want those damn sunglasses, lol.

The sign to the right up there says “mok-yok-tang” which means “baths” in Korean. It’s really cool that they kept the original bathhouse sign DON’T YOU THINK. Also, look how freaking small “Gentle Monster” is. The only way I was able to find it so quickly was because I’ve seen so many YouTube videos (#loser) of it that I knew exactly what to look for, so when I saw thet Bath sign, I yelled a little and scared Henry.

Korea had him on edge.

It was just too extra and his basic blood couldn’t handle it.

If I lived in Seoul, I could see myself spending a lot of time in Samcheondong. It was quaint, maybe less overtly exciting than Myeongdong and Hongdae, but certainly no less charming.

I just want you to know that I started to cry while writing this. Korea, you stole my stupid heart.

May 202018
 

I’m skipping ahead a little because I want to keep these pictures in their own post, but after leaving Gyeongbok Palace, we ate lunch and then, GOD FORBID, embarked on another urban hike up into the hills of Samcheongdong where Bukchon Hanok Village is located. “Hanok” is the type of traditional Korean houses that have been around for centuries, and nobles once inhabited these villages. People still live there to this day, as evidenced by the many signs that remind tourists to  keep their jerkiness to a low roar so as not to disturb the residents.

And of course we got some beautiful peeks at the surrounding mountains.

If this looks familiar to you, it’s because it’s a pretty well-known area of Seoul and on pretty much every tourist list you’ll see for South Korea as a whole. It’s literally a maze of alleys with some restaurants and boutiques tucked away so you really have to keep your eyes peeled for the gems.

I just found out that Henry didn’t think Bukchon was “that great” and that maybe he’s “missing something.” YEAH, IT’S CALLED CULTURE AND EYESIGHT. I mean, we were quite literally surrounded by quintessential Korean imagery but OK Hank. I guess he didn’t think it was a good enough place to sit back with a can of Faygo, who knows.

Bukchon is located between Changdeok and Gyeongbok Palaces so you’ll see a lot of Hanbok-clad tourists milling about the streets here too.

I loved it because it literally felt like we were ensconced in history. Chooch thought it was “nice. The ice cream I got there was good. Strawberry something.”

Cool story, bro. Can’t wait to read your travel memoirs.

(Maybe I’m a little salty, but when I was his age, I had A LOT TO SAY about vacations.)

Chooch is smiling here because he was finally fed.

I had to wait patiently for a delivery van to slowly make its way down before I was clear to take this picture.

This street is super iconic and I’ve seen pictures where it’s just straight flooded with people fighting to get their selfies at the top. It wasn’t exactly dead on this Saturday in late March, but the crowds were pleasant and tolerable. That door off to the right held a small museum inside but we weren’t allowed to take photos.

I miss all of Seoul’s steep alleys. :(

In one of them, we stumbled upon Granhand which is a Korean fragrance company. I was really excited because I’ve seen this tiny shop on Joan Kim’s vlogs before and wanted to check it out. Chooch immediately got ejected from the premises because he was eating an ice cream cone, but then was conveniently allowed back in once the salesman realized I was primed and ready to make a purchase. My mom loves candles but I always hesitate to get her one because she literally has like dozens of them in a cabinet, so I was excited to get her a bottle of fragrance spray instead so now she can make her house smell beautiful like Korea (not the sewage-smelling parts of Korea, though). The face the salesman made at the end of the transaction when he told me to have a nice day looked strikingly similar to the face that Craig Owens has been known to make while particularly possessed by adrenaline on stage, so then I was obsessed with him for awhile.

But yeah, if you’re in the market for a candle alternatives, check out Granhand. And if you’re looking for the scent of an inner man, in particular, you’ll want to go with their Lumberjack scent. Sadly, they did not ask Henry for his input while concocting this blend in the lab.

Lumberjack inspo.

Anyway, even though Henry wouldn’t include Bukchon on his Must-Sees of Seoul list, I would certainly go back and recommend it to everyone! I mean shit Henry, Psy even filmed one of his MVs there, so you better get with it.

May 192018
 

For our second palace viewing of the day, we made the short walk to Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is the largest of the five grand palaces of Seoul. It was built in the 14th century during the Joseon Dynasty, but most of it was destroyed in the 20th century by Japan. There has been an on-going restoration project since 1989 and about 40% of the buildings have been reconstructed.

When I see places like  this in real life, it’s overwhelming to grasp just how much time has passed around these foundations and it makes me appreciate the efforts to keep it alive. Can you imagine if, say for instance, Italy was just like, “Fuck it” and let the Colosseum completely crumble?

It’s hard even for someone as unnecessarily verbose* as myself to put into words.

*(Just on here. I barely talk in real life at all anymore. Henry probably has other opinions on this though.)

I wanted to check out Gwanghwamun Plaza first though because the famous statue of King Sejong is there, and he is the creator of Hangeul. You guys know how obsessed I am with Hangeul, right? Oh my god, it’s such a beautiful alphabet system. On the way there, we got to see the changing of the guards on the side of Gwangbokdung!

King Sejong in all his glory!

In reality, King Sejong didn’t come up with Hangeul himself, but he was the one who decided that Korea needed their own language, their own alphabet, so he had his people do the rest. Basically, the only directive he gave them was, “Make it simple” and they did. Sure, Korean GRAMMAR is killer. For example, last night I sent Janna an example of the sentence I was able to craft on my own during one of my Korean lessons:

“What does it say?” she asked.

“‘Please give me a potato or sweet potato.’ I’ve finally reached Korean Baby level,” I said.

I’m much better at reading it but as soon as I have to write it myself, my mind has suddenly been erased. But yeah, my point is that learning how to at least pronounce Hangeul has unlocked some language barriers so thank you King Sejong for realizing that languages using 74083470912384b23498 symbols is kind of ridiculous.

At the base of this monument is the entrance to the Hanguel Museum, which I thought was just going to be a little one-room display of Hanguel and its history, but shit no — this museum was expansive! It took up a good bit of the underground layer of that plaza! There were several other exhibits in it too, and we spent at least an hour in there.

Chooch thought it was nice.

Literally, that’s all he just said right now when I asked him. But he did seem to have a lot of fun in there because it was very interactive, and he got to make a tracing of a ship in some kids activity room. Chooch LOVES ACTIVITIES. When we go to Pat Catan’s (craft store) on the weekend, he always heads right over to the kids craft table and makes whatever monstrosity is on the menu for that day.

There was some event going on in the plaza called “Do Dream.” I have no idea what was happening but everyone was happy and cheerful so I was too!

As always, this post is going to be a hodgepodge of photos from my phone and from my “real” camera. Sometimes, you just gotta use your phone, you know?

I found out after the fact the Seoul office of the law firm I work for was right by the plaza — can you imagine looking out your office window and seeing not only beautiful mountains but this handsome palace gate? All I see when I look out the window on my floor is stinky Pittsburgh streets, sometimes protests, derelicts, other crappy buildings. I mean, it’s Pittsburgh.

Chooch wore the right colors.

Henry is the WORST at taking pictures of us. It was so windy and dust was blowing in our faces. We look like we’re smiling here but what’s really happening is that we’re hissing, “TAKE THE FUCKING PICTURE” through our gritted teeth. Also, as expected, this palace was definitely starting to get crowded since it was a weekend, which is why I wanted to come here first but hey, Henry knows everything!

If you rent a Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) from one of the many hanbok rental shops nearby, you can enter all of the palaces for free. I didn’t do this (being accused of cultural appropriation scares me) but I really enjoyed looking at all of the other people flouncing by in all of their silken glory. I think I heard that wearing hanbok makes everyone 80% prettier.

(Maybe don’t quote me on that.)

(I just tried to picture Henry in hanbok and now my stomach hurts from laughing so that backfired.)

“This palace is nearly as old as me.”

I love the juxtaposition of old and new that you see everywhere in Seoul.

This is currently my desktop background on my work computer. I love this image so much!

We spent a lot of time strolling the grounds, taking it all in. These palaces are so quintessentially Korea, totally iconic landmarks, that I wanted to make sure we absorbed as much as we had time for. I would have liked to have toured all five of the palaces, but sight-seeing is exhausting and Chooch and I require regular feedings — we were already running late on one of those feedings and it was starting to show big-time. This is quite frankly the catalyst of 90% of our family brawls. That’s good I guess, though right? Because it means at least we like each other all of the other times when we’re not hungry.

Although, I’m hungry a lot. 

So.

Chooch had gone from, “THIS IS SO COOL I LOVE KOREA” to “IF YOU’VE SEEN ONE PALACE, YOU’VE SEEN ‘EM ALL, STOP TAKING MY PICTURE AND FUCKING FEED ME FOR CHRIST’S SAKE THIS IS CHILD ABUSE” faster than Henry could get the orphanage number locked and loaded on his phone.

THE FACE OF HUNGRY DISGUST.

“I was hungry in every single picture you took of me,” Chooch just said defensively when I accused him of looking like an ungrateful rich kid who is like, “Wow, Korea. Big whoop. I’d rather be playing tennis with Muffy.” Fine. I’ll believe it.

I was like, “We’ll eat after I take one more picture of these flowers…” while Chooch was standing off to the side willing himself to travel back in time to the morning when he was eating a Shiro & Maro breakfast pastry.

How fucking dreamy is this? Can you imagine being part of the royal family back then and being like, “BRB just gonna have my ginseng tea out by the pagoda while you guys talk about war stuff.”

Anyway, this area was under construction so this was as close we could get, so it’s a good thing I have an active imagination.

From the back of the palace, you can see the Blue House, which is the residence of the South Korean president. (Shout out to President Moon Jae In and his strong efforts at achieving peace between the Koreas!) Chooch posted his own picture of the Blue House on his Instagram with the caption, “Hey Trump, the Blue House is better than the White House because you’re not there!” TOUCHE, YOUNG ADULT!

So by this point, we were knee-deep in the lunch hour and ready to start eating Henry’s face, so that was our cue to say farewell to beautiful Gyeongbokgung and set off for Bukchon Hanok Village, where our first priority was FOOD.

May 162018
 

We woke up early on a Saturday morning and set off for some palace-touring. As I mentioned previously, our hotel was in a great location and we were able to walk to several of the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul! Probably would have been a faster/easier walk if we weren’t following Henry’s lead, but….as Henry said, “WE GOT THERE, DIDN’T WE?!”

Wow, tough guy.

I wanted to start with Gyeongbokdung Palace first but Henry was all, “my way or the highway” or some other Dad-ism, so we went to Changdeokgung Palace first. I know, it’s hard to keep the names straight! But the one that starts with a G is like, the most popular one I guess.

In hindsight though, our crazy walks are something I look back on now and laugh about. I miss it! We saw a lot of crazy shit this way and it reaffirmed that we definitely were better suited sans itinerary. As much as I loved the European adventures I went on as a kid with my family, it was so much better not to be tied down to a group agenda and panicking everyday because you’re close to missing bus call. For this trip, we had a list of things we wanted to do and we played it by ear. Sometimes we didn’t know what we were doing until after we woke up that morning! It was slightly stressful for me at times because I’m an undercover control freak, but I quickly learned to just go with it and maybe that’s why we managed to make it through our Korea pilgrimage with minimal fighting.

Donhwamun Gate, the largest of all palace gates. Get on Donhwamun’s level, other gates. 

According to Wiki, this Palace literally translates to “Prospering Virtue Palace.” It was the second palace to be established after Gyeongbokgung, which is the one I wanted to see first but that’s OK Henry, fuck up the chronological order!

The original palace was built between 1405-1412 but burnt down during the Japanese invasion in 1592 and again in 1623 but each time it was rebuilt, and the reconstruction remained true to its original form. It’s incredibly humbling and sobering to be walking around grounds filled with so much history and tragedy.

Chooch might have a future as a Walmart greeter, you guys.

We got there early enough that it wasn’t flooded with tourists yet. Look at the mountain peeking out back there! I believe that’s part of Mt. Bugaksan. One of the things I didn’t know about Korea until I started marinating in a KOREA 101 bath is that Korea is like, 70% mountains! And almost everywhere you go in Seoul, you can see them. It’s one of the things I loved so much about this city, that no matter how urban and cosmopolitan it feels in one direction, if you pivot another way, you’ve got a mountain looming over you, or a Palace’s ancient presence behind you. Seoul has everything. Seoul IS everything.

Injeongjeon Hall

This is the throne hall, where all The Big Events took place back in the day, like coronations and poisonings probably.

This is the inside of Injeongjeon Hall. I bet lots of scary people have mingled under those chandeliers.

And now please enjoy some gratuitous spring flower shots:

The spring buds were like celebs, man. There were some cherry blossoms that you couldn’t get anywhere near because of the throng of older people with their tripods and huge lenses.

It was so deserted in this area that I was afraid we weren’t supposed to be there. Those trees though.

I was so glad that Chooch got to experience all this history! He was really into it.

This was before ancient Korean spirits possessed Chooch and me and gave us the ability to lacerate Henry’s feelings with our hunger-driven words.

Because, we would never normally be mean to Henry.

Lol.

I had to go for my annual wellness test this morning at work, and when the lab tech was getting ready to take my blood pressure, he said, “Just think about things that make you happy.” And immediately, in my mind, I was walking the peaceful grounds of Changdeokgung again.

May 132018
 

Henry just made some disparaging remark about how we’ve been home for over a month and I’m still recapping this trip and I was like, “WELL MAYBE IF YOU WOULD HELP ME…” Sike, I don’t want him helping. His posts will be like, “We went on a train and then ate at a market and went to another market and then ate again and walked a lot. And I think I might have accidentally swore at someone when I was trying to say thank you in Korean.”

But, that would probably be preferable to anyone sick of the Seoul onslaught!

Too bad though because this is my post so there will be a lot more words but maybe I’ll try to keep it under 1,000 for once. 

*********************

Back in Seoul!

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We arrived back in Seoul from Busan on a Friday night around 7:30. Here are some photos from that evening!

Before we did anything, we went back to our hotel to drop off our bags before they became permanently affixed to Chooch’s and my backs. We realized that we had never checked out the rooftop garden yet so we did that real quick before heading out. Here’s what the view looked like:

I didn’t notice until now, but you can see the reflection our the hotel’s sign (Atrium) on those windows to the left. I AM SUCH A GOOD PHOTOGRAPHER.

I miss this view. I miss you, Jongno-gu. I’d highly recommend staying there to anyone who is thinking of traveling to Seoul because it’s centrally located, within walking distance from numerous palaces, the DDP, Gwangjang Market, and two really accessible subway stations. The Jongno stations also have a huge shopping mall in them. You could get lost in there, honestly, especially if you’re there with Henry. You can by everything from bread to shoes down there, guys. Get on Korea’s (subterranium) level.

Also, it’s an actual shelter because it’s so deep underground.

Our first stop was Gwangjang Market for a piece-meal dinner (something from this stall, something from that stall, something later from a sidewalk stall…).

The food stall cooks must be so accustomed to being recorded and photographed because so many travel and food shows have gone through and then the YouTube vlogging generation swept in and shoved even more cameras in their faces. I know it seems hypocritical as I’m typing this beneath pictures I took in Gwangjang Market! But I just don’t think I could ever be a vlogger. I’d feel like such an asshole walking around with a camera and talking to myself.

Our next Friday night stop was the DDP (we were obsessed with that place) because they were having a Bamdokkaebi Night Market, which was overflowing with food trucks and craft vendors. The vibes were so upbeat and carefree here! Even though it was crowded, everyone was so laidback and chill – it didn’t feel overwhelming or suffocating. There was even a marching band! So festive.

The DDP is crazy amazing to spectate during the day, but it is a must-see at night. I would definitely put it on the recommednation list if any of my imaginary friends were taking a fantasy trip to Seoul.

All the LED roses are stunning at night, obviously! Plus here’s Chooch with his signature “Korea daze” expression. We over-walked that kid, lol.

The one part of the night market that sticks out in my memory is the dog that Chooch was desperately trying to pet on the way out. Some older man had his dog off-leash and that dog was super social and lapping up all the attention he was getting, but he kept getting distracted by other people every time he would start to run to Chooch. Two younger guys were walking by and noticed Chooch’s plight, so they helped lure the dog over to him, and when Chooch was finally successfully in petting the dog, the guys & several other spectators cheered – it was such a heartwarming moment and definitely something that I will always remember.

This cool Last Supper-spoof was in the textile area of Gwangjang Market. I love that the disciples are actually designers!

We continued to stroll around, spectating all the drunken sidewalk revelry, stopping for third dinner at the above food stall, and just trying to take in as much as possible while we were still there. This was when the clock really started to tick for me, and I was hyper-aware that we only had two full days left. It was frustrating because I wanted to start grabbing at everything and clutching it close to my chest, you know? Like, let me double-fist all of these experiences that are still out there before I run out of time because who knows if I will ever get the opportunity to go back. Just, utter panic and behind-the-scenes sadness no matter how hard I tried to live in the moment, because the end was always looming around the corner. LE SIGH.

The next Korea post will be about Changdeokgung Palace! Get stoked for some traditional Korean snaps!

May 122018
 

Chooch: Did you write about how I found a dead crab?

Me: No, I didn’t know you found a dead crab.

Chooch, incredulous at my oversight: Yes! And then I buried it!!

God, maybe if he would share these tales on my blog like I’ve asked him to, I would know! And so would you!

After strolling along the Songdo cliffs for an hour or so, we made it to Ansan Park where one of the cable car loading stations was located. Guys, if you are ever in Busan, I highly recommend walking one way and taking the cable cars the other way—if you don’t like hills, then maybe take the cable cars up, though! That last bit was pretty laborious. We got the best of both worlds doing it this way and it was such an enjoyable way to spend a Friday morning! In fact, I don’t even think we argued at all?!

Before we boarded the cable car, Henry had to dispute the price with the ticket lady who overcharged us. I didn’t go with him because I was afraid he’d embarrass me. Aside from that little snafu, everything went smoothly! I read reviews online that said this place was not foreigner-friendly and I have no idea what they meant because this was Tourist Central.

Henry: “NAPTIME.”

Chooch was mad because he was trying to make an Instavid and Henry was junking it up with his booming voice so Chooch had to post it without sound, lol.

Spooky boi adventures. #busan #ocean

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I’m generally terrified of cable cars but goddammit this was so worth it!

That fucking Peachy Boi. Did I mention that since we were leaving that day, we checked out of the hotel before setting off for Songdo, so once again Chooch and I had our entire Korean lives strapped to our backs while Henry carried nothing. Anyway, Chooch was hand-carrying Peachy Boi because there wasn’t enough room in either of backpacks and he made me hold him for a second when we climbing the hill to Ansan Park. I dramatically opened my hand and let Peach Boi fall to the ground and Chooch started screaming like I just kicked a Corgi and Henry was like WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING BACK THERE?!!?!?

You had to be there.

You can see the walkway over there on the left. I miss it!

Obligatory “Out Here in Busan” selfie.

FAMILY PHOTO, LOL.

We wanted to explore more of the area near Busan Tower after this, so we had to take another bus back. I was nervous that I didn’t have enough funds left on my T-Money card, and I kept panicking about it. Henry was like, “DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT” and for some reason, this became another Henryism that Chooch and I latched on to and we were doubled-over in an alley near Songdo Beach, crying in laughter, while Henry stormed off without us.

But guess what guys great news! I had enough funds to get on the bus.

The following portion of this blog post will be photos from our afternoon in Yongdusan Park and the surrounding areas.

You could never go hungry in Korea, guys. We are notorious for arguing over restaurants when on vacation because Chooch and I are so picky and I’m one of those people who will say things like, “It has a bad vibe” or “I didn’t like how the hostess looked at me” or “I don’t feel right in here” so then we leave and Henry is like FML and then we roam around like zombies forever looking for somewhere that meets our specific qualifications and I’m not going to lie, there have been times when we eat from a vending machine and then go to bed angry.

But in Korea, there are freaking food stalls and carts EVERYWHERE!

We ate at one of those aforementioned food stalls because I heard that Busan’s ttkeokbokki is different from Seoul’s, and it really is! The sauce is a deeper color (and supposedly spicier but like I mentioned before, I think I burnt my mouth to the point of no return because I rarely taste spice anymore unless it’s like something deadly) and the ttkeok itself is longer. I loved it! And I appreciated that the old lady who served it to me made the universal “very spicy, hot hot” motion, but I slurped those motherfuckers down like the world was going to end in 2 minutes.

Chooch had a plate of twigum (fried foods) and he was so happy because one of the options was a hardboiled egg, and this was how I learned that my son loves hardboiled eggs which I guess I would know if I spent more time in the kitchen?

That lady was so sweet!

I don’t know what Henry got. Chicken maybe?

Chooch got strawberry rolled ice cream after but I was holding out for more ssiat hotteok.

We didn’t go up into the tower but it was still fun to explore the area around it.

I posted some pictures from this area while we were on the train back to Seoul that evening.

That “sorry I never told you all I wanted to say” heart lock, though… :(

We did some last minute shopping after this (I went into The Saem with the intent of buying one Choco Pie handcream, and then, $100 later….

It just happened that way.

They have really cute guys who stand outside of the beauty shops, holding signs, and yelling adorable things to lure you in, OK?! And the salesgirl who followed me around wasn’t just suggesting things for me, she was literally telling me what I was going to buy and I was so weak, so so so weak. JUST MAKE ME PRETTY! I’LL DO ANYTHING!

(Jeannie did say that I looked 10 years younger when I came back though, so thanks Korea!)

In line for some ssiat hotteok!

I didn’t buy these and I have regrets.

Chooch bought a knock-off Supreme shirt while we were here because apparently I was supposed to supervise his packing before we left Pittsburgh and I did not do this so he was running out of clean clothes to wear, lol.

By then it was around 4pm and we had to head back to Busan Station and catch our KTX back to Seoul.

We hung out at Pascucci Cafe so Chooch could charge his dumb phone because god forbid he couldn’t watch YouTube videos for the entire 2 and half hour train ride!

It was a whirlwind 24 hours in Busan and I really hope to make it back someday and give it a proper tour!

May 082018
 

Friends, bear with me. This post will be short on words but heavy on photos.

Because: Songdo Beach.

When researching things to do in Busan, all the super-touristy hands withdrew from their fanny packs to point toward Haeundae Beach, which is apparently Busan’s summer hot spot, the party beach if you will. But, it wasn’t summer, and I was interested in doing nature-y things because sometimes I get like that, so we opted for Songdo Beach.

(I’d definitely like to go back in the summer sometime and check out Haeundae then.)

We set off early on Friday morning, taking the subway, walking forever because this was our Korean Ritual, and then hopping on a bus to the resort-y area of Songdo. We didn’t take any buses while in Seoul, but the ones in Busan were fairly easy and convenient so I briefly considered trying to take a bus somewhere when I got back to Pittsburgh but then abandoned that idea pretty quickly because ew, Pittsburgh buses.

Anyway, we managed to get to the beach without too much mishap, praise the lord! Our train back to Seoul departed at 4:50pm so we had to try and cram in as much as possible which gave us little room for Henry’s favorite pasttimes of Getting Lost and Looking at the Map Wrong and Storming Off in Anger.

But first! Here’s a quick Instavid of Busan, featuring one of the art installation from the day before at Gamcheon, Chooch imitating Henry With Map, a man selling eggs, and the beautiful view of Songdo Beach!

Busan clips.

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It was only about 60 degrees on this Friday so we didn’t frolic for too long, but it sure was nice to feel the sand under our feet. KOREAN SAND, AT THAT!

(If you ask Chooch, he’ll tell you that it was SO HOT in Korea, and I have no idea why he thinks this because every day was mild and perfect.)

One of the big attractions at Songdo Beach are the cable cars which go over the ocean. I’m a bit unclear as to which sea this was because there are like three that surround the peninsula. The East Sea maybe? (Otherwise known as the Sea of Japan outside of Korea.)

But to get to the cable cars, we decided to walk to Amnam Park via the cliffside paths that the nice ahjumma in the tourist center pointed out to us, and just take the cable cars one-way back down to the beach. Because what good is going to a beach if you’re not going to explore it?!

We stopped at Tom n Toms first to get snacks. The barista was on the phone when we got there, totally a personal call too and I wanted desperately to be more fluent in Korean at that moment because it sounded like a LOVERS QUARREL. Anyway, I was glad that he didn’t get off the phone when he saw us because it gave us time to actual look at the menu without feeling rushed, which is usually how this goes.

When the barista got off the phone, he was super pleasant which I wasn’t expecting, and I’m sure he gets this all the time, but he bore a strong resemblance to Namjoon from BTS. I was giddy over this and Henry and Chooch were just like, “Not really.”

I got a corn latte! I love Korea and their vegetable lattes! It was so freaking sweet, like drinking refreshingly frothy, freshly-churned cream corn. Sounds so disgusting but shit-goddamn it worked.

Chooch got something that he thought was a chocolate drink but it was coffee. He tried to drink it but the coffee was too much so I ended up drinking his drink too along the way to the cable cars and then felt like my whole body was turning into a sugar cube.

Meanwhile, Henry was so mad because the whole reason we stopped there was to get snacks for the walk but Chooch and I only got drinks and then ended up eating all of Henry’s cookies. LOL – that’s Henry’s role in this family dynamic, though.

Looking back, I wish I had spent more time admiring the barista because he was really cute. Ugh.

I was nice to see blue skies! The yellow dust was so high in Seoul that most days just looked overcast.

Fun fact: 바다 (ba-da) means sea in Korean and it was one of the first words I learned. The 바다 here in Busan was super blue and spectacular – I couldn’t take my eyes off it!

The walk along the cliffs was just breathtaking. Songdo means “Pine Island” was named for all the pine trees along the cliffs and they loomed over us to the right. It was like being in the mountains and on the beach at the same time.

Some areas of the walkway had steps that lead down to the shore below and this is how I learned that Chooch is apparently quite knowledgeable about tide pools.

And then I quickly learned right after that it’s because some YouTube asshole he likes is into exploring tide pools. Sigh. At least he gleans something useful here and there from the loudmouths he follows on YouTube.

I screamed every time we went down to the rocks because I had visions of getting swept away. The water was kind of rough down there!

 

But then I eventually realized that there was beach glass to be found, so then I was into it! I love beach glass, especially when it’s probably made from soju bottles, haha. I collected a nice little handful and I want to find a glass orb pendant-type thing to put it all in.

Chooch was looking for gross things.

Ugh, I could have stayed there all day…or at least until the tide swallowed me alive.

Henry was in his glory because he got to be a know-it-all about nature things. He probably knew a lot about those boats out there but I wasn’t listening.

This is what the path looked like that we took to the cable cars. I would say it was about an hour long walk, what with all the stopping we did to explore. The weather just right–in the low 60s–so it was a really great leisurely walk and not very many people were out. The people we did pass though were super nice and everyone exchanged happy 안녕하세요’s.

Ugh, this bridge was so scary, though!

My camera got splashed here and I didn’t realize it so the rest of the pictures I took that day have a big spot on them. You know, that Erin flair.

We eventually made it to the end of the path, but that just meant we had one final, steep hike up a hill and then we finally made it to the cable car station which we’ll get to in the next post but for now, let’s end with a video of these perfect pebbles!

It sounds like tiny 💥

A post shared by Erin Appledale (@ohhonestlyerin) on

May 052018
 

After coming back from Gamcheon Culture Village, we checked into our hotel for the night, Le Ide:A, whatever that means. We liked it better than our hotel in Seoul!

This is what the room looked like after a minute of us infiltrating it. Chooch was thrilled because there was a computer in our room and he immediately started screaming about FORTNITE and I can’t tell you how quickly I start shutting down as soon as I hear that word start wisping past his dumb lips. The computer was in Korean though so when we were leaving for an evening out on the town (lol), Chooch asked the girl at the front desk how to get it in English and she practically chortled and said, “Oh no, Korean only” and it was Chooch’s first Alamo Basement moment in life, I think. It was awesome to experience as a bystander!

ISN’T THE HALLWAY COOL?!

 

We headed out to Gwangbok-dong, Busan’s culture & fashion street, which is also considered to be Busan’s answer to Seoul’s Myeongdong area. It was a beautiful street bu there was only one thing I had my eyes open for: Gentle Monster. If you follow me on Instagram, or have the misfortune of having to talk to me on a daily basis, you have probably heard or seen me mention Gentle Monster a hundred times by now. It’s a Korean sunglasses brand and I am completely head-over-heels obsessed with it because its concepts are 100% my style. There are stores all over Korea (as well as China and the US even has two) and I wanted to try to go to as many as possible because it was something I was super excited about. I think of each store as sort of a contemporary art museum that just happens to be selling glasses on the side. Henry was “……….” about this because he has seen so many vlogs on YouTube since I am always excitedly stalking Korean YouTube-celebs. Have you met Henry? He’s preeeeetttttty fucking blue-collared and would rather just try and win a pair of fluorescent-framed plastic sunglasses out of a claw machine from 1990. But he knew that this was something I was serious about so he quietly went along for the ride and didn’t even give me the Dad Look when I picked out the pair that I wanted. That’s true love, guys.

So right away, we walked in and saw this thing pumping out red stuff. What does it have to do with sunglasses, you ask? I don’t know. Call Gentle Monster and ask them. I’M NOT A REPRESENTATIVE!

Ooh, I wonder if I could be their representative though? MAYBE THEY WILL OPEN A PITTSBURGH FLAGSHIP.

Lol. The Gentle Monster Yinzer concept.

Gentle Monster is famous for their ridiculous sunglasses (see above, modeled by a ridiculous boy) but they do have “normal” designs too that can be worn on actual city streets outside of a sci-fi Con.

At first I thought that maybe they were in the middle of changing the concept because there were like, wires and other construction-like sundry strewn about but then I realized that no, this probably WAS the new concept. Gentle Monster, you’re so weird. Let’s get married. 

I ended up getting this pair after going back and forth for nearly an hour and I think Henry was seriously reconsidering his choices in life that landed him in a Gentle Monster in Busan, Korea.

Regrets.

“Just please choose a pair so we can leave.”

Yay!

Meanwhile Chooch had imprinted on some round yellow pair that were kind of Lennon-esque but bigger, and we were like, “No, a 12-year-old boy does not need a $260 pair of sunglasses I don’t give a shit how aesthetic they are” because he just going on and on about how aesthetically pleasing they were (thanks, Instagram culture) and for some reason, he actually got REALLY MAD about this and was a fairly huge dick for the next hour, to the point where I was like, “I did this. I created this (non-gentle) monster.” Because boy, this was totally how I was when I was a kid – materialistic and a spoiled brat. (I’m still a spoiled brat and just materialistic in different ways, according to Henry.) Anyway, it turned out Chooch was just hungry, lol. I mean, he did want those sunglasses for whatever reason, but his hunger level was definitely ramping up the way his displeasure was being served to us.

After walking around with his miserable ass for awhile, we found a restaurant specializing in Busan bibambap and tofu dishes so we went inside before Chooch started murdering people with his words.

Starting with us.

Mmm, banchan. Busan bibambap was definitely different than any other bibambap I’ve had before. First of all, there was no gochujang! And every table had a basket of eggs on it so we got to crack our own eggs onto our bibambap and I was stupidly happy about this. After we ate, Chooch was back to being the pleasant version of himself, so we went and had bingsu for dessert!

In Korea, many of the shops and restaurants have sliding glass doors which you open by pressing on a box or strip in the middle of the door, but it only stays open for so long. So when we went to get bingsu, Chooch and I were able to slide through together but when Henry tried, the door shut on him. We started losing our shit over this because every single thing that happened to Henry in Korea was hysterical to us, but the ahjumma who was working behind the counter cried out and ran over to help Henry. That made us laugh even harder, someone actually caring about him! Oh holy shit, it was so funny. I GUESS YOU HAD TO BE THERE!

Anyway, I got the original patbingsu and it was served to me in all of its traditional Korean glory. Thank you, Korea, for inventing bingsu. 

That’s not a scoop of chocolate ice cream on top of my bingsu, that is a shiny globe of sweet fucking red bean (pat) and it melted into absolute perfection on the palate. Henry and I ordered it to share but I could have easily downed without any help. Chooch got the “cereal” version which was very similar to mine but without the pat. And the nice lady even gave us a cute bowl of tiny chocolate chip cookies for service!

We were stuffed and happy after this, and my favorite part was as we were leaving. Chooch and I had already left, but Henry was still at the counter paying. As he turned to leave, the ahjumma excitedly told him to wait and ran over to open the door for him! HAHAHA, HENRY YOU SUCK! She thought he was too incompetent to open the door!

Or, you know, she was just really nice and didn’t want him to get nearly-vivisected by the door again.

Now that Chooch was fed and sugared, he was so lively! He did a total 180, attitude-wise, and was so animated and hilarious. Still obsessing over foot massages, he kept bowing to every foot massage sign he saw and I was almost peeing my pants. Henry was just like, “It’s not that funny” but everything was funny to me and Chooch in Korea! 

We swung by the Lotte department store on the way to the subway station (you can access it underground from the subway station, even!) and Chooch got to have his Line Friends fix.

I was staunch in my desire to see the ocean at night, and Henry kept arguing with me because it was already after 9 and the closest beach was like 20 subway stops away, and blah blah blah, but finally he was like OK WE WILL GO so we took the subway all the way to the end, to Gwangalli Beach, which was cool but you know, it was a March night, pretty chilly and super windy. Not much was going on there. We started walking out onto the beach and then when I noticed the huge mountains jutting out from the left, I got super panicked because I’m weird about nature-things (DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT ALASKA, IT IS THE HOME TO A BEVY OF NATURAL NIGHTMARES!) so we turned around and got back on the subway, which Henry was happy about because it was getting pretty late and the subway was going to stop running soon. 

“I bet this place is rockin’ in the summer,” Henry said about the entire area, and Chooch and I latched onto this SO HARD and mimicked him saying it for the rest of the trip. If we’re being honest, Chooch actually just referenced it again today.

AGAIN, MAYBE YOU HAD TO BE THERE. LEAVE ME ALONE. 

The subway ride back was long and excruciating because we were all falling asleep and someone had to stay awake to make sure we didn’t miss our stop. Guess who that someone was?

Sigh.

This was the view from our hotel, lol. The KTX tracks and a colorful bridge!

We went to bed, exhausted and delirious from laughing so much. Maybe it was something in the air (yellow dust?) but it felt like Korea as a whole was just one giant drug being pumped straight to my brain. I think back on it, now that we’ve been home for a month (SAD FACE), and I just get so giddy at the memories! And that is better than any souvenir I brought home, because you can’t put a price on memories as golden as these.

May 022018
 

I’m going to do this thing where I pretend like I’m a legit blogger instead of someone who writes on their dinky WordPress site using an app on their phone while laying in bed half asleep, and actually give you some FACTS about Gamcheon Culture Village. And by FACTS I mean various tidbits that I have collected from the Internet so that you don’t have to go Googlin’.

  • This area only had around 20 houses pre-Korean War, but then once the war started, Busan became an area of refuge to many Koreans, and the hills of Gamcheon acquired about 4,000 of those refugees. Shanties were erected out of scraps and rock, and Gamcheon became synonymous with poverty and slums.
  • Sometime in the mid-50s, Gamcheon was infiltrated by the Taegukdo religion, the leader of which helped them build up their shanties into better houses. But even as recently as the 90s*, this area was still considered to be the poorest part of Busan.
    • SHUT UP, THE 90s WILL ALWAYS BE LIKE 5 YEARS AGO TO ME.
  • Anyway, in 2009 some Korean tourism organization started panting over it like a mountainous slab of samgyeopsal and came up with the “Dreaming of Machu Picchu” project. Artists and residents teamed up and turned this town into the magical maze of art installations and culture that is now known for today.

GUYS DID I DO GOOD?!

All I knew about Gamcheon prior to visiting is that it’s a must-see in Busan and full of things I like: cafes, pretty views, and quirkiness. But I wondered how Chooch would like this place, since it seemed more geared toward touristy shopping and, you know, walking. When I was a kid, my family would go to Wildwood, NJ for vacation every summer which I loved because hello BEACH AND BOARDWALK. But there was always one day when we would take a daytrip to Cape May because my grandma loved it there and I absolutely hated it because it was so slow-paced and all we did was go in one boutique after the next and I didn’t care about that shit when I knew that there were RIDES WAITING FOR ME back in Wildwood.

Morey’s Piers for lyfe, yo.

But as it turns out, Gamcheon is pretty much a dreamland for people like Chooch who like to have something to work toward, a goal to achieve.

Because what I didn’t know about Gamcheon is that there is a sort of scavenger hunt you can partake in by stopping in the tourist center and getting a map. Hidden around the village are “stamping zones” where you go in with your map and have that certain spot stamped. I became immediately obsessed with this idea too and even backtracked to the entrance of the village because the first stamping location was in a small museum there and we had passed it up!

“We’ve been here for an hour and haven’t made it more than 100 yards yet,” Henry mumbled, because we totally pissed around when we first arrived, getting ice cream, waiting for Henry to find a bank, taking pictures at one of the photo points, waiting for Henry to find a map, buying dried flower tea from some old lady selling them next to her house, chasing a cat down an alley, waiting for Henry to stop yelling at us, buying postcards, and stopping at the Gamnae Cafe:

RUNNING MAN HAS BEEN THERE!!

I got a sweet potato latte and cherished every last drop of it while we kicked back and wrote out some postcards which sadly wouldn’t be mailed until we got back to Pittsburgh because we forgot to look for post offices in Busan and then the post offices in Seoul are closed on Saturdays! So, I was that totally That Person, sending international post cards from a post office five blocks away from my house in dumb Pittsburgh. Lame.

I know, I posted like ten rooftop shots in my last post about Gamcheon, but I was just so enamored by the colors!

 

In case anyone was wondering what Janna’s favorite picture of our vacation is, it’s this one. SHE TOLD ME SO ON INSTAGRAM AND ALSO IN REAL LIFE.

This is a really good example of what a lot of the alleys are like in Gamcheon. It was a breeding ground for sprained ankles. Surprisingly enough, Chooch only fell once, and it was UP a set of steps, thank god. I get jello-legs just thinking about him walking on steps, if we’re being honest.

One of my favorite things about Gamcheon is that you would find yourself wandering off the main road, into an alley full of residences* and then suddenly here’s a random room housing a confusing art installation. Mattress Factory vibes, for real, and you all know how much I love the Mattress Factory! This place was like walking through an artist’s dreamscape and I felt like a little kid again, all excited about what was going to appear next.

*(We were literally walking right open doors of peoples’ houses — there were signs posted everywhere reminding visitors that people do actually reside here and to be respectful and quiet; Chooch and I managed to keep our giddy braying to a minimum.)

Chooch loves posing for pictures on his own terms and this town provided him with so many opportunities! You think this post has a ton of pictures? You should see how many I didn’t post.

Before you raise hell about rude Americans being vandals, writing messages of peace on the wall of this little room was encouraged and markers were even provided! It was one of the hidden gallery-type spaces that we stumbled upon thanks to the map. (Finally, Henry got a map that worked.)

This room scared the shit out of me because those hands are motion-sensored and started clacking away when we walked in!

Imagine coming home drunk, though.

This is a picture of me with art in the back. In case you didn’t know.

Chooch’s review: “I really liked it there! I feel like it was my favorite place in Busan. My favorite part was following the map because it took us to really cool places like when we went through alleys and saw all of the cats and the scary motion-sensor typing thing. And ‘Henry’ couldn’t effing take it seriously and kept saying ‘shut up people live here’ and I was like ‘eff off mate.'”

We strongly considered visiting. Henry (and his lack of map-reading skills) was tearing us apart! But for the most part, our afternoon in Gamcheon was a good one…

…because Chooch was in control of the map. Henry didn’t know what to do with himself!

We made friends with two cute girls from Shanghai here after they asked me to take their picture. Henry thought it was SO FUNNY that everyday, someone was asking me to take their picture. I was once told I was stand-offish but clearly I’m not anymore. :/

Chooch was in his glory.

고양이! 
We followed this cat around for awhile and it was just the cutest thing ever and I want 
a Korean cat!!

I was obsessed with getting to this particular art installation because I had seen videos of it and Chooch was getting so annoyed with me because I kept trying to grab the map from him to see how close we were/if we missed it/if it even really existed. Finally we found it and he was like, “here’s your precious house thing” and I was convinced that it wasn’t it because it wasn’t moving and here that’s because IT WAS BROKEN.

Oh, I was so sad. But yeah, there’s a crank and if you turn it, the roofs will lift up and down.

This was inside a small market where we got the second to last stamp.

 

Cheetos chicken endorsed by Wanna One!

We made it all the way to end of the longest path in about 2 hours, I would say, and it was totally worth it. The weather was perfect that day and the town wasn’t oversaturated with tourists. Most of the time, it felt like we had the whole town to ourselves once we ventured away from the entrance. I suspect most of the people there that day eschewed the scavenger hunt portion of the Gamcheon experience. Their loss! This was such a highlight of the whole trip for me!

Anyway, once we made it to the bottom / end of the maze, we tortured ourselves by WALKING BACK UP TO THE ENTRANCE because we needed to catch that shuttle bus thing to take us back down the other side where the subway station was. It wasn’t so bad though because we just followed the main street back up to the top.

When Henry went inside the tourist center to inquire about the bus, Chooch slyly slid his completed, fully-stamped map on the counter and cleared his throat until the person working there noticed and gave him his reward of two free postcards.

Then we got street food!

I FINALLY GOT SSIAT HOTTEOK! So, “Ssi” means “seed” in Korean, and these Busan-specialty hotteok are prepared much like traditional Korean hotteok but THEN THEY ARE SLICED OPEN AND FILLED WITH A GENEROUS SCOOP OF SEEDS (pine, pumpkin and sunflower seeds). I had to wait quite a while for one because the ahjumma ahead of me had ordered like 10 of them. I really liked this lady a lot because some tourists tried to cut in front of me while I was waiting for my turn to order and she quickly scolded them. Then a group of school boys around Chooch’s age came walking by, as school was just letting out, and they very cheerfully and respectfully greeted her because she must be a popular fixture around Gamcheon, and I got so much joy out of listening to their interaction. She seemed like such a great lady!

And then finally, my ssiat hotteok was handed to me, piping hot in a paper cup, and I thought my eyes were going to roll back into my head. IT WAS SO GOOD. I wish I could hand them out to everyone reading this right now who has never experienced the tongue-burning glory that is hotteok. You can typically find them in the freezer section of your local Asian market but brother there is nothing better than being served one sizzling hot off a griddle-thing in Korea.

I probably ate more hotteok than anything else while we were there, now that I think about it.

Afterward, we caught the small bus at the entrance and survived a harrowing, careening recreation of a scene from Speed down the mountain. The bus was full so we had to stand and Chooch almost wound up in the laps of numerous ahjumma and at first I was annoyed by the driver’s recklessness until I caught a glimpse of him in the mirror and HE WAS SO FUCKING YOUNG AND CUTE.

And then we took the subway back to Busan Station, where we took the short walk to our hotel for the night. The next post will finally be about Gentle Monster!

Apr 282018
 

Sometimes I just want to dump a bunch of photos on here and be done with it and BY GEORGE that’s just what I’m going to do today. The following is a collection of photos that we took with the actual camera (as opposed to my phone which is mainly what I used on this trip because CONVENIENCE) at Gamcheon Culture Village on Thursday, March 29th in Busan, Korea.

Gamcheon is considered to be Korea’s Machu Picchu and Korea’s Santorini. It’s also known as the “Lego Village” because of the brightly-colored block-shaped houses. It went from being one of the poorest areas of Busan to a thriving cultural village brimming with boutiques, cafes, and quirky art installations tucked away in the twisting maze of alleys.

Unbeknownst to us, there was something akin to a scavenger hunt that we found out about in the visitor’s center, so we easily spent the whole freaking day here. I’ll get into that more in the next post, where we will do a more in depth exploration of the village! But for now, please enjoy the beautiful colors of this village, and add this place to your bucket list because it was definitely a sight to behold!

The start of our Gamcheon experience, unless you count the long trek up the mountain.

There were so many photo op areas!

Korea loves their poop-themed food. (Also, because I know he’s going to bitch that I put this picture here, Henry’s not actually pregnant in this picture; his shirt was too big and was blowing in the breeze.)

Randyland vibes (but better, because this is Korea. Sorry, Randy).

Yes, I paid 500 won for this picture even though no one was around to know the difference! #respectforkorea

I had a picture similar to this one as my desktop background at work last year and when I got to look out over all these rooftops in person a year later, it felt so surreal. Fight to make your dreams come true, guys.

Oh, thanks for taking this picture, Henry, so that I can show everyone the BACKPACKS YOU MADE US LUG AROUND. Also, that’s Song Joong Ki in that Hite beer ad on the store window. I get so happy every time I saw his face!

Chooch was in novelty photo-posing heaven.

One of the many break-your-neck alleys. Surprisingly, we only had one close-call with Chooch that day!

Ugh, take me back.

In the next post, I’ll share pictures from my phone and tell you about our stamp-collecting mission and finally eating the one food that I was most anticipating in Busan! I sent some postcards from this town, so if you one of the recipients of those ones, just pretend like you don’t already know about all of this for the sake of my blog stats, haha.

Apr 262018
 

As much as I wanted to spend every waking moment in Seoul, I also wanted to explore other parts of Korea, too. I was torn between Jeju Island and Busan, but then Henry wisely pointed out that traveling to Busan would be easier, probably, for a bunch of dummies like us. And he promised that we could go to Jeju another time and when he was sleeping, I drained him of a small amount of his blood and snipped some of his beard hairs for my YOU PROMISED, MOTHERFUCKER potion.

That being said, Busan won out and I wasn’t mad about it. I got to make the obligatory TRAIN TO BUSAN joke on Instagram which no one got, but that’s OK!

Image result for train to busan gif

I have to laugh a little because before we left for this trip, several of my friends were like, “Send us your itinerary!” and honestly, aside from our flights and hotel, nothing else was set in stone. Not even this overnighter to Busan! In fact, we didn’t even get our KTX tickets until the day before. We were on our way to Myeongdong, I believe, and got off at Seoul Station first in order to buy the tickets. Seoul Station is not only just a subway station, but also a large bus transfer terminal and major railway station where you can take the KTX to other cities in South Korea. It’s also SUPER EASY to get tickets (there are a ton of self-service ticketing things but we opted to just go right into the KTX office and have someone do it for us because #dumbAmericans).

In hindsight, I can’t believe how flawless this whole process was.

Thursday morning, we threw some clothes into our backpacks and set off for Seoul Station. We bought some snacks at GS25 (one of the amazing convenience stores in Korea and I miss it so much, take me back!) and then went down to our designated platform and waited for the train to arrive, at which point we boarded the train and showed our tickets to literally no one. I was a nervous wreck about this, but I guess that’s just how it is in South Korea! I was watching some broad’s vlog the other day, and she was on a train in China that’s similar to the KTX, but was joking that she had to go through all this security and show her ticket numerous times, unlike in Korea, where you just walk right on and no one bothers checking.

My banana milk (uyoo) and vacation journal which I nearly filled up by the time the trip was over! And you guys, banana milk was one of my favorite things to drink there. I thought, man, there’s no way this will live up to the hype. Especially since, while I love bananas, banana-flavored things aren’t usually my thing. I hate how synthetic it tastes! But these little jugs of banana milk blew my mind. They were sweet, not too sickeningly so, and felt like liquid silk on my tongue. Ugh, so good, and I drank them very slowly to make it last. They’re so popular that there are special straws available in all of the convenience stores, just for them!

The train ride itself was a relatively uneventful 2 and a half hours. Chooch watched YouTube videos the whole time and kept snickering to himself, which was annoying because his big head was blocking the window and I was like, “Thanks for crying over the window seat when you’re not even looking out the window, asshole!” From the glimpses I got, it was lots of countryside, low houses, and mountains.

Meanwhile, Henry befriended an older Korean businessman (I mean, older than me; he was probably the same age as Henry, lol) named Jeno who was actually born in Busan but currently lives in Seattle. He told Henry that he owns a company in Seattle and also has an office in, I believe, Daegu which is where he was taking the KTX that day. They talked for a really long time and I was so mad because of course HENRY would make a friend in Korea. I was furiously scribbling in my vacation journal the pieces of the conversation I could hear and then Henry texted me something about “don’t listen to my conversations” ugh.

I was hoping Henry would have the good sense to ask his new friend for a job (in the Daegu branch, obviously) but no, of course not.

(Although, if he insists on staying in the beverage industry, I think he should aim for a job at Binggrae and sling some banana uyoo on the daily.)

We reached Busan Station around 10:30am and Chooch was excited to mock Henry’s map-reading. Also, Chooch’s backpack is so stuffed to the gills because he insisted on bringing that damn Peachy Boy with him, which took up almost his entire backpack so Henry stuffed most of the clothes into MY backpack, which means that Chooch and I both had overstuffed backpacks.

How stuffed was Henry’s backpack, you ask? N/A. HENRY DIDN’T BRING ONE AND RELIED ON CHOOCH AND ME TO CARRY EVERYTHING!

On the train, Jeno told Henry that Busan is a friendlier city than Seoul, and right off the bat, and elder Subway worker came over to help Henry and another older man use the T-Money card refilling machine. And then he gave us explicitly instructions on how to get Gamcheon Culture Village, which was where we figured we’d start the day since we couldn’t check into the hotel until 4.

Busan’s subway stations are smaller than Seoul’s but still packed with flair! The trains are older and definitely warmer, that’s for sure. We had been spoiled by the sleek and sparkly trains in Seoul! Busan’s had its own personality though and I was happy that we could still get around pretty easily – and our T-Money card was valid in Busan so we didn’t have to buy a new one!

Anyway, we managed to take the subway to the station nearest to Gamcheon Culture Village, at which point we had to embark on our, what, 7th urban hike of the trip in order to reach the entrance of the village, and if you Google “Gamcheon Culture Village,” one of the first things you will see is “STEEP STREETS” and “COASTAL MOUNTAIN.” And what made it even more fun to trudge up that perpendicular pavement was being strapped with backpacks. Honestly, at one point I was climbing that hill bent over at a 90-degree angle and my backpack started to feel like A SADDLE.

Years from now, I imagine all of us gathered around for a Christmas picnic in the cemetery, someone bringing up “that one time we went to Korea” and Chooch is going to flip the fuck out at the memory of walking 35,000 steps uphill for the whole time.

And then Chooch and Henry fought over the map because this was one of the main themes of our Korean Odyssey. Chooch must be earning Boy Scout badges through YouTube or something because I never knew he was so good with directions and using compasses on phones to find North and you know, like basic survival skills that I never learned even after spending my entire elementary career in Girl Scouts.

The fights they had over maps and directions were hilarious, you guys. I laughed myself to pee-drops so many times, all the while thinking, “I CAN’T BELIEVE WE’RE LOST IN KOREA AND THIS IS SO FUNNY TO ME!”

To be fair to Henry though, we didn’t get lost at all going to the Gamcheon Culture Village; however, we did find out after the fact that there was a shuttle bus we could have taken. But hey — what’s 45 minutes out of the day?

There are worse places to be walking, that’s for sure.

The weather was perf that day. Low 60s and sunny. Our first cherry blossom sightings happened on this day, too!

This alley went straight-the-fuck-up.

Same.

Chooch and I had to take a break because being Henry’s pack-mules is hard work. Henry just kept moseying on up the street because all he was carrying was a two pound camera bag. Honestly, some parts of the sidewalk were so steep that I was afraid our backpacks were going to make us fall backward and I didn’t want to fall! I’m scared of falling! Have you ever seen me on a playground? I get stuck on things and I start crying about being afraid to jump down because I don’t want to fall and then Chooch has to be like, “You’re literally two feet from the ground, if that. You can do this.”

Anyway, Henry eventually noticed that we were missing. He turned around and saw us sitting on a bench and made the WHAT THE HELL Dad-hands-to-the-sky and then stormed back down the road to fetch us.

“IT’S SO HEAVY!” I cried, trying to shift the weight of my backpack to no avail. So Henry, ever-so-valiant, grabbed the backpack off my shoulders and thrust the camera bag at me.

WOW! WHAT A FUCKING PRINCE! Nearly an hour into this hike!

Chooch and I were cracking up so bad. Maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was the train to Busan, maybe it was just us being us, but we were so slap-happy.

We made it to the crest of the mountain at the same time a bus was dropping off a handful of tourists.

“THERE WAS A BUS?!” Chooch screeched. And so our Gamcheon Culture Village experience began! (Stay tuned for a million pictures of it, btw. Sorry, but that town is so pretty!)