Apr 242018
 

With the exception of the small portion of the afternoon we spent in Yeouido earlier in the week, we had been spending all of our time in “old Seoul,” which is north of the Han River, while “new Seoul” is south. I can tell you without any uncertainty that old Seoul was where I would gladly spend most of my time if/when I ever get to return, but I had to cross the Han in order to visit some kpop places of interest, the most important being SMTown.

But first, Henry had to look at a map…

I had just been saying that so far, this day was the best we’d had, what with starting our morning off with a hike up to Namsan Tower, and then eating lunch Myeongdong, and pretty much not having any direction snafus! But then…Gangnam.

But wait, let me back up. So, Gangnam is the ritzy neighborhood of Seoul. You might remember back in 2012 when there was a huge kpop hit that crossed over to American radio: Psy’s “Gangnam Style”? I knew a girl at the time who was so offended that this was being played on the radio because she thought he was saying “condom star.” OK…

So, that kind of put Gangnam on the map for the rest of the world. It literally means “South of the river” and is ridiculously upscale. I mean, as soon as we got off the train in Gangnam Station, the underground shopping went from sock vendors to motherfucking designer brands. It was like being in a completely different country. And then once we emerged from the subway station, even the people were different. The fashion was way more sleek, the men all dressed like they were straight out of k-dramas with their perfectly-fitted pants and pastel shirts and it was pretty hard not to stare in awe because everyone was so beautiful and physically curated.

Of course, Henry took us the wrong way right off the bat and we ended up standing in the middle of a sidewalk next to what appeared to be the main and extremely busy multi-laned street in Gangnam, looking like fucking losers for the millionth time of the trip, when an older man on a scooter rolled up to us on the sidewalk, and in broken English asked us where we were trying to go.

Henry looked at me like, “This is all you, YOU tell him!” so I sheepishly said we were looking for SMTown.

“Oh, idols? Idols!” he said, recognizing immediately what I was looking for because everyone in Korea knows kpop idols. This man was so freaking sweet and tried his very best to help us even with the very strong language barrier. He told us we could walk there, and pointed the way, but made a motion with his hand and sound that I think was implying “walk waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down that street.”

So we set off BACK THE WAY WE CAME because traditionally this is what Henry does to us, and before we made it off that block, the man in the scooter came back to us. He must have thought about it after we left and waved off his original directions. He pulled out a notebook and wrote down the names of subway stations in his best romanized attempt (honestly, romanization of the Korean language sucks. I wish I had the foresight to tell him to write it in hangeul) but we we were able to understand his new directions, and god bless that man because we got off at the subway stop he suggested and literally SMTown was RIGHT THERE when we emerged from the exit.

SMTown is this really cool multi-level building owned by SM Entertainment and full of interactive exhibits, a gift shop, a cafe, and displays of costumes worn and awards won by artists on the SM label. It’s also the collective name that the artists on SM go by.

My second favorite kpop group is on SM—-SHINee. There was no way we were going to leave Seoul without a visit to SMTown. I needed to see all of the SHINee displays!

Close-up of the mirrored facade.

I almost fell off the escalator while drooling over these large SHINee portraits on the wall. I’m notoriously terrible with escalators and generally need to devote every ounce of my attention to gripping the rail and keeping a solid stance on the step. I had one really scary escalator incident when I was around 4-years-old in Atlantic City and my SHOELACE GOT CAUGHT.

Don’t worry — my Pappap was there to rescue me.

I watch all of these different Korean music countdown programs whenever my favorite artists are performing so it was really fun to see some of these awards in real life, and for Red Velvet no less! (Chooch and Henry both really love Red Velvet, FYI.)

Super fun fact about Red Velvet: one of the members (Wendy) is actually from Minnesota. During these past Winter Olympics, one of Amanda Kessel’s (Team USA hockey and also sister to Pittsburgh Penguin’s Phil Kessel) college friends posted a picture of their college golf team group picture for Throwback Thursday and someone noticed that Wendy was also on the team! So random.

BUT TAEMIN, THO.

Chooch and I saw NCT127 at KCON last year and when they performed Cherry Bomb, we thought the bass was going to blow the roof right off the Prudential Center. It was fucking intense.

Also, there are various NCT groups (NCT127, NCT Dream, NCT U, and now NCT 2018) and I just can’t keep them all straight. I remember watching an episode of Weekly Idol were NCT127 was trying to explain all of  the different units, and Dony and Cony (the hosts) were just like, “No, just stop talking. It’s too much.”

Anyway, one of their members, Johnny, is from Chicago I think. I would say their most popular member is Taeyong but he’s my least favorite because he makes me feel uncomfortable. Don’t ask.

Henry was like, “Just take this fucking picture, fast.”

Taeyeon is my favorite member of Girl’s Generation.

More Taemin!

Chooch was annoyed because there were some girls there giggling at him, lol.

Seriously, Henry – why don’t we have full-blown murals of kpop stars in our house?!

He was so over it, hahaha. (OR WAS HE. He loves kpop, don’t let his terrorized gaze fool you. He sends me kpop news articles all the time!)

You guys, Taemin’s hands are slightly smaller than mine and I have pretty small hands! Chooch’s hands looked like ham hocks next to all of the idol hand molds.

Chooch got this picture from one of the photobooths after two girls hogged it forever:

Yes, it’s already framed and hung on the Wall of Chooch.

We almost missed the 4th floor because there was a weird stairwell but thank god we saw it because that’s not only where all of the gorgeous fan art lives (the collection blew my mind), but also the Jonghyun memorial was there as well. I posted about that separately, because it was important and special to me and, well, I just felt that it deserved its own post. So if you feel like it, you can read about that here.

After absorbing all of the SM-goodness, we went to the cafe where Chooch and I each got a plastic collectors bottle of our favorite groups (SHINee for me, and Red Velvet for him). Henry bitched about it because they’re pretty small and once we added our respective beverage selection, they were $9 a piece. God, Henry, just pay the guy!

Random view of Gangnam.

After we left SMTown, Henry took us on a cross-country trudge to the JYP building. Oh my good god, our feet felt crushed and I sincerely thought that I had fractured something just from literally pounding the pavement with shoes that were OK comfort-wise, but not the best for walking 25 miles a day. We just kept walking and walking and getting more and more slap-happy, to the point where Henry quit talking to us altogether, especially since everytime he said something we would repeat it back to him in an Eeyore voice.

We’re such angels!

Every time we would ask him where we were going, he would fly on the defensive about how “ALL THE DIRECTIONS I FIND TO THESE PLACES ARE SHITTY, OK!? I’M DOING THE BEST THAT I CAN!!”

Lol forever.

We did eventually make it to JYP, after feeling like Henry was leading us off the face of the earth. And we knew that we had made it because we rounded a corner and saw a bunch of girls sitting on a curb across the street from it.

Honestly, I just wanted to do a quick walk-by and snap some pics of the building, but Chooch got super comfortable on the curb with the other fangirls, hoping for a chance to see someone from Got7 leap from the front door and disappear into a tinted-windowed car.

Henry was not OK with this, but I bet the Dunkin Donuts across the street is super on board with it, considering their shop was packed full of sasaeng (crazy) fans staking out at their tables with coffee and donuts.

It was Jackson’s birthday so there was a birthday sign up for him. Sadly, he was in Hawaii at the time (I believe) so there was no chance of getting a glimpse of him.

I would have been happy seeing TWICE!! That’s who I was holding out for.

Chooch kept saying, “Just three more minutes.”

“Just six more minutes.”

“We’ll leave at 5:45.”

“Make that 5:50.”

We eventually left at 6:00, after staking out for a half hour. I’m too old for that! (OK, maybe if there was a chance of seeing G-Dragon or Taemin, that would be making a bed under a bush somewhere, but G-Dragon is in the military now and Taemin was actually in LA the week we were in Seoul, because fuck my luck.)

This next part is almost too painful to relive by blogging, but we promised Chooch that we would go to Kakao Friends in Gangnam and Henry took us some convoluted way back to a random subway station and then we got off at what he assured us was the “correct” stop but we still somehow ended up walking over an hour through the now-dark streets of Gangnam, which was getting more and more crowded because people love to freaking shop, and Chooch and I were getting more and more angry and our feet hurt and Henry was trying to win back our hearts by making jokes and we were like, “NOT ON THIS DAY, HANK.”

Long and incredibly miserable story short, we did eventually make it to Kakao Friends and Chooch was so happy, so I guess it was worth it.

We split a strawberry cake at the Ryan Cafe (Ryan is the main Kakao character) and wouldn’t let Henry have any, hahaha. But at least we were all laughing at this point. We kept the cardboard coffee sleeve for our scrapbook about Henry getting us lost. We haven’t started it yet though, because I’m not a scrapbooker by any stretch and when I went to the craft store to get a scrapbook, I felt so overwhelmed and stressed out and then I just got mad because none of those kits are my style. Everything was all jesus-y and corny. Doesn’t anyone make scrapbook shit for Godless people!?

And since we hadn’t eaten a legit dinner, we gorged on street food in a side-street near Kakao Friends, because twigum (fried food) is life.

I kept telling myself, even though Henry’s screwy directions had us walking figure eights all around Korea, at least we were IN KOREA. We were happy by the time we got back to the hotel, and that’s all that matters.

Next post: TRAIN TO BUSAN!

Apr 222018
 

After spending the morning on Namsan, we came back down to Myeongdong for lunch. We tended to avoid most chain restaurants or anything that veered too far away from traditional Korean fare while there, but I wanted nothing more than to eat at YG Republique, a 3-restaurants-in-one establishment owned by YG Entertainment (my favorite kpop agency!). You may have already read the post where we had drinks at 3Birds Cafe in Yeouido, which is part of YG Republique, but on this day I was interested in the KPub.

The staff here in the Myeongdong location was MUCH MORE CHILL than the barista we encountered in Yeouido, that’s for sure. Plus, we got there just before the lunchtime rush and had the place almost nearly to ourselves the whole time, which meant I could take pictures of all the YG memorabilia without looking like an eager tourist.

I had the omurice (literally just an omelette stuffed with rice and smothered in whatever delicious savory sauce that is up there) and it was reallllly nice.

K-Pub was on the second floor so we got to sit by the open windows and people-watch. I had the weirdest people of all to watch sitting right next to me.

Ugh, so much YG beauty!!

We had a really nice experience at K-Pub, and our waitress was super pretty and nice too. Henry made her laugh and then he spent the rest of the day thinking he was so cool after that.

Before heading on to Gangnam, we stayed in Myeongdong for a bit, because there is so much going on there!

Chooch was molested by a foot and then became obsessed with the idea of a foot massage since we were walking so much every day and our feet felt broken. I was like, “Ew, I’m not going to make anyone here touch your gross Barney Rubble feet!” The things Chooch latched on to in Korea, though…so random and hilarious.

I don’t know what the going rate for feet massages is here in America, but $18 for 40 minutes seems like a good deal, right? Shrug.

Henry and I shared a famous strawberry red bean mochi. I have watched so many people eat these on YouTube because this is my sad life, people. I live vicariously through super nerve-grating YouTubers. (Actually, some of them seem like pretty cool people contrary to what Henry thinks.) I didn’t get to take a picture of it because we fucking inhaled that bitch, but the strawberry was huge and incredibly fresh (we were in Korea during strawberry season and every cafe had their seasonal strawberry confections on the menu), coated with a hearty layer of delightful pat (red bean), and then wrapped in a beautiful robe of chewy and sweet mochi. It was one of the best things I ate in Korea. J/K everything was the best.

(People keep asking me what my favorite food was that I ate and I honestly start to panic when I try to answer that! There wasn’t a single thing I tried that I didn’t like. Korean food is so on point, especially their street food. Henry would never have to cook again if we lived there because I’d just be like, “I’mma run outside and grab some pajeon, do you want anything j/k get it yourself.”)

Several days after we came home from Korea, I wistfully said, “You know what else I really miss? Almost getting killed everyday by—-”

“—delivery scooters,” Chooch finished for me, knowingly. Those scooter drivers are RUTHLESS and RECKLESS! It was pretty impressive to watch them plow through the bust streets and sidewalks. Even McDonald’s has scooter delivery service! Korea has it all, truly.

Couldn’t get on the train without Chooch stalking all the underground sock vendors for Bambi socks. He would yell things like, “SERIOUSLY, THEY HAVE CHIP AND DALE AND NOT BAMBI?!”

Ugh, him and this Bambi obsession. It’s so odd. I have no idea where he gets this from.

On the real though, Korea made me feel things about socks that I never felt here in America and I became obsessed with buying them. In fact, one of the few regrets I’ve had since coming back (coming back being the main regret), is that I should have bought more!

OK, wow, this was a nice quick one! I’ll be back with the last part of my WEDNESDAY MARCH 28 recap and then we can finally move on to BUSAN!

In honor of eating at a YG establishment, here’s a super old BIGBANG video, le sigh:

Apr 192018
 

I have no idea what that title is supposed to mean but it made sense in my stir-fried brain for approximately 4 seconds. But even still, here is another blog post about, what else, KOREA. As if you’re not totally over it by now (see also: 8 posts ago).

We got up nice and early on Wednesday, March 28th to set off for Myeongdong station in order to begin our hike up to Namsan Park / N. Seoul Tower, but first: HOTEL ELEVATOR SELFIE. Henry had grown to abhor Elevator Time because Chooch and I were in this constant vacuum state of giddiness and we were known to lose it and start cracking up in front of other hotel guests several times. I know what you’re thinking and I agree: “WOW THAT SOUNDS SO ADORABLE HENRY IS LUCKY TO BE IN YOUR COMPANY.”

Once we got off at Myeongdong station, we had pretty clear directions (for once) on how to get to the start of the trail. When I say we “hiked,” I hope you guys know that this was 99.9% an urban hike and we didn’t have, like, REI survival packs on our backs or even basic hiking boots on foot or anything like that. It was mostly just very wide steps or steep concrete paths that we were walking on, but shit you guys, there was still a certain degree of effort involved. The tower literally crowns the top of Namsan Mountain, which is also considered the guardian mountain of Seoul. (I just learned this now; thanks, Google.)

The other option is to take the cable cars to the top, but I had read that walking is so much better because 1) nature and 2) exercise and 3) you can feel less slothy later on when you’re downing your third serving of ttkeokbokki and twigum. Every single person we encountered on this trek was over the age of 60 and in fantastic shape. BECAUSE THEY HIKE FREAKING MOUNTAINS ALL THE TIME. Native Koreans cracked the code of eternal youth, you guys. It was inspiring to watch them, especially when we reached one of the level checkpoints that had an area with exercise equipment and every single one was occupied by an ahjummas and ahjussi and they were GETTIN’ IT. I posted about that in more detail here.

I bet this spot looks so dreamy in the summer!

We paused occasionally to take in the view, where I would start to feel mild panic because I’m afraid of heights. I kept feeling like Chooch was going to tumble off the mountain even though there were railings everywhere but I still kept screaming, “GET AWAY FROM THERE. STAND NEXT TO ME. HOLD DADDY’S HAND. BE CAREFULLLLLLLL!!! WHY DID WE STOP USING A STROLLER??”

I’m either NOT A PARENT or SMOTHERINGLY MATERNAL out of nowhere. You never know.

You damn well know Henry had to stop and look at this map.

This isn’t actually fog. The yellow dust levels were really high most of the time we were there, in case you were wondering why you often see photos of people in Korea wearing medical masks. It’s actually not a fashion statement! (Well, it is for some people, probably, and there are certainly really cool mask options out there if you feel the basic white ones are too plain; in fact, all of the kpop shops sell masks with different kpop group logos on them, so if you want to protect your lungs while supporting EXO, you’ve got options.)

There are apps that you can use that will let you know what the air quality is for that day, and there was one day while we were there when we actually received an emergency warning text that was all in Hangul and of course our knee-jerk reaction was “NORTH KOREA” but then Chooch looked it up while we were digging a bomb shelter on the side of the road and said, “Oh, it’s just about the yellow dust, guys.”

It’s bad in Korea, but REALLY BAD in China.

It felt like the tower kept getting farther away, the higher we climbed.

Most of our ascent up Namsan was done on very nice brick paths like the one above. I loved that everytime we turned and looked back behind us, we got a different perspective of Seoul. That city is such a motherlovin’ babe and I could stare at it all the livelong day, for serious.

If you squint, maybe you can see my HEART DOWN THERE BECAUSE I LEFT IT IN SEOUL, WAHHH.

A rare picture of Henry and me. Chooch also have a version where he zoomed in on Henry’s face and cropped it and we kept laughing at that during the rest of the trip and Henry was like, “IT’S NOT FUNNY” and then Chooch did it again to another picture but on that one he added green snot dripping out of Henry’s nose and we were peeing ourselves over it and Henry really hated that one the best. Why was everything so funny!?

MAYBE IT WAS THE YELLOW DUST.

Anyway, this day was monumental because it was the first day of the trip that Henry wore a shirt with a pattern on it.

“How many more of these mountain-things do we have to climb?” I told him none, but hahaha just wait until Busan!

We finally made it to the top after maybe an hour, a little less even, and Henry bought our tickets for the tower. We got there at a great time (I think it was still sometime before 11am) because we went up in the elevator alone and barely anyone was in the observation area. It’s weird, but I felt like I had been there before since there was an episode of, wait for it, Running Man which took place there.

Oh yeah! Before we took the elevator up, there was a photo zone which Henry tried to bypass but I was like “YOLO, Henry” so we allowed the Namsan girl to take our photos and even obliged when she told us to make finger-hearts which Henry probably taught himself how to do while watching Twice videos in the bathroom at work, and Henry claims his jutting middle finger “wasn’t on purpose” which is what I’m going to say after I sprinkle his stew with hemlock tonight.

Meanwhile, Chooch was like, “Don’t tell me what to do.”

I was excited because the gift shop had post cards with stamps that you could buy and mail straight from the tower!!

Writing about Henry in our postcards, probably, lol.

We could have stayed up there all morning, but about 30 minutes after we got into the tower, the crowds started to file in. We made it to the cafe before it got packed though and it was really fun to sit by the window and write our postcards. Sending postcards is a dying form of communication, and I get so happy when our friends Chronica and Alyson Hell send us postcards from their travels! DONT EVER STOP.

This is the postcard Chooch wrote to our friends Jessi and Bill. <3 (Yes, he signs off as Douchecup, but only to Bill & Jessi. My favorite “douchecup” moment was at his 5th birthday party when he was running around calling Bill a douchecup and one of the preschool kids’ moms was like, “Wow, sounds like he really wants a juice cup!” YES, THAT’S IT EXACTLY.

OMG as I’m writing this, the mail room lady that I thought was a high school kid here for an internship thing when she first started (it’s a long story so the tl;dr version is that my eyesight is pathetic) just delivered the post card I sent from Seoul Tower to my co-workers! Glenn just read it and tried not to smile but then he smiled and immediately tried to disparage the situation by criticizing me for writing too much but that is just how I do postcards, OK?

Here’s a fun fact about the tower, thanks to the postcard that just arrived at work: It was designed to offer a full 360 degree view of Seoul and it was also Korea’s first radio tower delivering radio and TV signals since 1969!

This is the mail box I dropped the post cards into at my own risk.

View from 236m up, whatever that means.

View while peeing, taken after I peed—I wasn’t peeing on the floor.

There was this one activity where you could stand in front of a screen and connect to Busan Tower! However, at the moment Chooch and I did it, there was no one in Busan Tower waiting to connect, so that was sad. (We visited Busan Tower while there, but didn’t actually go up inside that one. More on that in a few posts!)

After hanging out in the cafe for a while, we left the tower and milled about the area at its base, which is filled with various shops (yes, you can buy your skin care even at Namsan Tower!) and a million places to attach a love lock if you feel so inclined to purchase one from the gift. We made Chooch use his own money to buy one because Henry was running low on cash and needed to find a bank. I can’t believe Chooch actually did it; he’s such a fucking tightwad with his own money.

“I bought a stupid marker, too,” he snottily spat when he returned from the gift shop.

This where I sat and painted my nails with $2 bottles of nail polish (hot pink and fluorescent orange) that I bought that morning at Daiso because my current nail polish was looking haggard. This is also where Chooch realized that he lost his subway card, so that was cool and not really a big deal because there was only like enough fare for one trip left on it I think and it only costs around $4 to get a new card to load, but we still made him feel like the most irresponsible child on the face of the earth because we’ve earned that right as parents.

LOL back off, CPS whistleblowers. We only harped on him for like 5 minutes and then moved on with our day.

The area around the tower is really beautiful, with lots of overlooks and colorful love locks to snoop on.

It was really nice to slow our pace a bit and just enjoy the mindblowing view. I know it’s a super touristy thing to do and Henry was kind of like, “merp merp” about it but then we made it to the top and he was like, “Fine. This is fine.” But probably had it been crowded, he’d have had a different, more sad tuba-y tune.

Chronica got Chooch this shirt for Christmas.

And then we began our walk back down the mountain to Myeongdong, where we had lunch before going to Gangnam! STAY TUNED LOLOLOL.

Apr 172018
 

If you watch any Seoul travel videos on YouTube, or if you’re into kpop even a little, you know all about Hongdae. It’s like THE hotspot for cool college kids, artists, fashion trendsetters, and underground culture. This is where you want to go if you’re into clubbing (I’m not, but there are some YG-owned hip hop clubs in Hongdae that are supposed to be legendary), quirky street fashion, cafes from the weirdly themed to the high-brow hipster, and watching 5 different street performances at once. I was so excited to explore it, but also nervous because I wasn’t sure if I was cool enough to hang there; luckily the vibe was super laid back and just touristy enough that even Henry was like, “No, this is fine. I like it.”

You guys, I’m crying again, lol. This whole trip made me feel like Heidi after leaving Grandfather’s mountaintop cabin and all her goatherd friends for the BIG CITY. Except for the homesick part. I didn’t miss home ONE SINGLE BIT.

Um…sorry. I get dramatic sometimes. Anyway, Hongdae is named after the nearby Hongik University which I currently have listed as #1 choice on Chooch’s list of colleges. He doesn’t know this yet, but he’ll find out once the acceptance letter comes in the mail or by hologram, however things are being delivered in 2024.

Hongdae also is home to one of the restaurants owned by Haha and Jong Kook of Running Man!

“I don’t watch Running Man, but sure – take your damn picture” – Chooch.

Another notable thing about Hongdae is that the YG Entertainment building is there, and some people apparently call the whole area YG Town because of all of the YG-owned businesses around. And on that same note, my friend Veronica sent me a message on Instagram because apparently Ikon, a YG kpop group, was walking around Hongdae AT THAT SAME TIME giving out HUGS, whaaat. I got her message right after we were waiting to cross the street and saw people taking pictures of this guy in black:

I don’t know much about Ikon so I wasn’t sure who this was, but MAYBE?! He was definitely someone.

Aren’t we all.

Hongdae wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded when we were there on a Tuesday afternoon, but we did go back on a Saturday night and it was packed, but the crowds didn’t have that pushy, suffocating feel to it. It was way more of a party atmosphere and I had The Heart Eyes for it. More on that in a separate post though, because today we’re going to focus on some of the unique, totally extra shopping options.

One Piece was one of many novelty cafes that Chooch wanted to go to but I was like WE CAN’T DO EVERYTHING OK PICK ONE but now I’m like, “WHY COULDN’T WE DO EVERYTHING, WAHHHH.”

Speaking of Chooch, I asked him his review of Hongdae and apparently he will forever associate it with nearly breaking his ankle, cry much?

OK, right, this post is supposed to be all short and sweet, and just focused on shops of Hongdae. SORRY. You know me and all my words. We’ll get this post officially started with Chuu, which I couldn’t wait to see Henry inside of because it’s SO PINK AND GIRLY.

It didn’t faze Chooch one single bit, but Henry grumbled through the whole place. I told him to sit in the hallway with the other forlorn man hating his life, but he opted to stay inside because OBVIOUSLY HE LIKED IT. Come on, Henry, it’s 2018 – buck those gender norms! Embrace the pink! Wear some lace panties! YOU CAN BUY THEM IN CHUU’S BASEMENT!

The Chuu Strawberry Milk collection kills me dead.

Directly across from Chuu was the Stylenanda flagship store, which I thought I would like more than I did, but the clothes were less eye-catching to me.

Chooch really loved this chair, although this was about 45 minutes after he “broke” his ankle so he probably would have made that face sitting in a hard church pew, too. Chooch’s main goal everywhere we went that day was finding somewhere to pop a squat, and I want to take a moment to say that I never heard of the expression “pop a squat” until MTV had that reality game show called The 70s House back in the early oo’s and the host of the show said that in the first episode and I was like, “IS SHE TELLING THEM TO PEE” and Henry was like, “NO, THAT IS WHAT WE SAID WHEN WE WANTED SOMEONE TO SIT DOWN IN  THE 70S” and I still think that sounds like you’re telling someone to go out back and piss in a ditch.

Maybe that’s just me.

Wait, is this a travel blog about Seoul or camping in West Virginia? I keep forgetting.

This is Henry’s “EITHER HURRY UP AND BUY SOMETHING OR LET’S LEAVE” face. He was looking up pictures of fourth of July hamburger-loaded grills and oil rigs to trick his weener into coming back out from hiding. Mmm, juicy masculinity.

I feel like we had a huge fight somewhere in between leaving Stylenanda and after discovering the Hongdae location of Gentle Monster was closed while the concept was changing because Henry thought he knew exactly where Ader Error was and led us down 87 incorrect streets to the point where I called a moratorium on the Ader Error JUST AS WE RAN RIGHT INTO IT.

You guys. Even if you don’t give a shit about clothes, if you are ever in Seoul, please don’t pass up Ader Error. It is an experience. First, we had to walk through a room that had nothing but mattresses in it, and then we had to enter the actual store by walking THROUGH one of the mattresses and Henry was like, “What kind of store did you say this was again?”

And I told him it was a clothes store, but then after a few more seconds, he mumbled, “But…where are the clothes?

Oh they keep those stashed away upstairs, while the first floor is an indulgent art installation where all of the fitting rooms are re-imagined bathrooms. I didn’t take pictures of anything down there because the guy working seemed like he was against this and quickly told us that the clothes were upstairs.

But the guy upstairs was much friendlier and was worried that we were going to miss one of the curious displays of branding and made sure to usher us through a doorway that seemed more like if I took an axe and attempted to make my own door after watching 2 minutes of This Old House.

I have to say that I wasn’t loving the clothes all  that much (until after we came home and they released a new kitsune line which includes this sweater FML:

I mean, it costs like $800 though.

Chooch really liked this ugly sweater that looked shrunken but the price certainly didn’t reflect the lack of material, let me tell you. He was mad for a second that we wouldnt buy it for him but I think he only wanted to buy something to watch them drop it down this weird iridescent tube to the downstairs check-out. Meanwhile, though, the guy who was on patrol upstairs latched onto us but not in a I’M HERE TO SELL YOU THINGS type of way. He seemed genuinely interested in where we were from and how we heard of Ader Error.

(“uh, YouTube vlogs,” I mumbled in embarrassment while Henry sighed.)

He encouraged us to take it all in because it really is just as much as of a contemporary art installation as it is a clothing store, and then he excitedly led us down another set of steps into a small basement soap shop.

Yes, soap.

It’s called Day After Day and whoever would have thought a bar of soap could be so hipster?

If you know me, or if you have read this blog over the years, you know that I lovelovelove a local Pittsburgh art museum called The Mattress Factory which is always chockful of super contemporary, modern avant garde art. Ader Error (and also Gentle Monster, but  I will get to that later, I promise) reminded me of that and I loved it just like I knew I would. I mean, a soap-stuffed commode — sure, why not! #art

This room made me feel like a futuristic Alice in Wonderland.

I just realized you can see our friend in the mirror! He was so great! Henry liked him a lot too which is why I think he didn’t flinch or bitch while paying $40 for a giftset of soap, lol.

This was in a narrow dead-end hallway of Ader Error, because sure.

Man, I fell HARD for Ader Error. I fell hard for Hongdae in general.

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

Not Hongdae-related, but we had our hearts set on bingsu after we ate at Aori Ramen, and we were struggling to find a place in Hongdae — there was one place that we saw that apparently it changed into a different restaurant a year ago but the sign was never taken down. In an effort to keep us from shambling around like zombies, I made the executive decision that we would go back to Insadong because there was FOR SURE a bingsu place there, actually it’s a franchise called Sulbing.

So that was how we capped off an extraordinary day in Hongdae, sharing bingsu in Insadong. I felt like I was dreaming because REAL bingu was something that I wasn’t leaving Seoul without trying. There is a Korean bakery in Pittsburgh that has it on the menu but I knew when I tried it that it wasn’t right, that real bingu in Korea had to be better.

And shit goddamn motherfucker, was it ever!

I was going to do with classic patbingsu (red bean) but I always gravitate toward matcha. Also, Henry doesn’t care for green tea so I knew he would eat more of Chooch’s than mine AND I WAS RIGHT. IT WAS SO GOOD.

Bingsu is a popular Korean shaved ice dessert but don’t get it twisted, it’s not like a snow cone – this ice is sooooo soft and pillowy and then there is some type of velvety cream poured over it and a scoop of ice cream and little chappsaldduk (korean mochi) surrounding it like a royal crown and just please have some if you ever have an opportunity. It’s like a sundae but one that’s made for legit angels to eat while swinging their dangling legs off a fluffy cloud bed. It’s delicate, you guys. Eat it gently.

Apr 162018
 

At the rate I’m going, I’ll be back in Korea before I finish recapping this trip, so let’s break down Everland using my everfavorite everbullets. It’s everefficient.

  • We noticed that nearly none of the Everland characters were Korean…? This is good to know for when I move there and need to find a job. What?
  • There wasn’t as much “weirdness” to the park food-wise as I guess I thought there would be, but there was a stand slinging peanut-buttered roasted squid. I wanted so badly for Henry to get some but he hold on tightly to his hard no all day long.

  • This tree played a big part in an episode of Running Man, too. LE SIGH.
  • The ride attendants were amazingly energetic and in it to win it. I expected to go on rides and have kpop blasted at us (would not have complained) but on this one particular ride that was kiiiiiinda similar to the Music Express, at least in the same family tree, there were three people running it and they freaking SANG AND DANCED for us the entire time. It was so surreal and probably my favorite part of the entire day, you guys. I felt so pumped! CHAMPIONSHIP RODEO ALL FUCKING DAY LONG, OPPPPPA!!!!

  • Hands down the best ride at Everland is the T-Express. We got in line as soon as it opened and by we I mean Chooch and me because again, Henry was all, “I DON’T WANT TO RIDE WITH A STRANGER” because he’s so fucking weird but guess what, he wouldn’t have had to! There were tons of single riders! Henry is so dumb. Anyway, if you’re a coaster enthusiast, you can read up on T-Express here  and possibly develop a healthy crush like I did. I enjoy wooden coasters so much more than the fancy-pants high-tech steel ones, I just need to lay that out there. I just love the nostalgic feeling to it, and I think it’s a greater accomplishment when a coaster can be the most fucking thrilling without sending you upside down or having your feet dangling through the whole ride. This was just pure wooden adrenaline, man, and it was fast as fuuuuuck. Also, there’s no creaking slowly up that starter hill, either – this thing yanks you up with no dawdling and it was so exciting! Chooch and I rode this only three times throughout the day (and we got that one nighttime ride in there too!) and now I regret not riding it more. So I’m going to be super cheesy here for a second but it was a really cool feeling to be the only two foreigners on a roller coaster and realizing that there is only one language for AMUSEMENT PARK FUN TIME and we were all speaking that together in the form of throat-scraping screams! How bonding! Maybe all the world leaders should spend a day together at Universal Studios, giggling on spinny rides and shrieking on roller coasters and eating the fuck out of some fried food.
    • Here’s a video of two of my favorite Korean TV personalities, Ha-Ha and Yoo Jae-Suk, on the T-Express for their other show Infinite Challenge:

  • This was the biggest pirate ship ride I’ve ever seen and no, I didn’t go on it because even the puny one at Kennywood makes me vomit-prone these days.

    

  • Line Friends is everywhere in Korea so of course there would be one in Everland too. They also had legit clothing stores too, like boutique shit and not, I don’t know, Beer Tees or something equally as tacky as you’d probably find in America.

  • Henry only rode the carousel, one of the 4D rides, and the safari rides. He’s such a grandpa. In fact, toward the end of the day we were all three going to ride the T-Express but GUESS WHO LOST THEIR TICKET oh this dumb broad typing in a blog right now. I can’t even believe I lost my stupid ticket. So Henry saw this as his way out and happily said, “OH WELL. HERE, JUST USE MY TICKET” and then took that opportunity to sit on a bench and stare at all the chaebols (HEIRS). He was obsessed with this one group of young people who were wearing trench coats and acting like they were cooler than everyone else and I didn’t see them but I can already verify that they were cooler than us. Fact.
    • I feel like Henry and I probably argued a lot too but I likely blocked it out in order to preserve the Perfect Memory. I just asked him if there’s anything he wants to say about Everland and he said no. Hold on, Chooch is coming downstairs to take out the garbage so I’ll ask him.
      • “fun time dancing boys” – Chooch’s garage-bagged review.

  • I mentioned this in my k-observation post but I was in love with all of the couples at the park that day. Granted, Chooch and I felt like third and fourth wheels in line for most of the rides, but it was still super adorable. I don’t want to give off the impression that these people were like, making out and dry-humping in front of us—it was way more sweet and innocent than that! A lot of the couples were matching outfits, tons of selfies were taken and just really cute affectations were going on, like nose-taps and things like that. Then we would get off the ride and I’d run over to Henry and remember that we’re in one of those good old hateful American relationships. J/K we’re not always hateful but I actually hate PDA, if we’re being honest here.

  • Chooch and Henry had an argument at one point over military time. Chooch kept arguing that you would say “One thousand three hundred o’clock” for example, and kept pushing back every time Henry corrected him, until finally Henry yelled, “I THINK I WOULD KNOW, I WAS IN THE GODDAMN SERVICE.” Whoa, it’s always newsworthy when Henry plays the SERVICE card! I would have tweeted it at that exact moment but I didn’t have wifi.

  • So you know how the Chinese food we eat in America is like, not what actual food is like in China? Well, in Korea, there is this noodle dish that people love called jjajangmyeon (짜장면) a/k/a black bean noodles, which is considered a “Chinese dish” but is actually a Koreanized form of a similar Chinese noodle dish. I thought that was pretty interesting, but more importantly is that I think these noodles are freaking amazing so when we saw that one of the park restaurants offered that as a main dish, we were in. (Actually, I think Henry got something else but I couldn’t remember because I was too busy bathing in thick black bean sauce. Not sure what Chooch’s face means in that picture, but he fucking inhaled his noodles too. Also, unlimited daikon radish! Alsox2 – this was way cheaper than probably any amusement park meal we’ve ever had in our lives. Except Henry because he was born in the 60s and probably ate sardines out of a can for 15 cents at amusement parks back then. Right? Hardboiled eggs straight out of a hobos sock?

  • There are two different safari rides you can go on at Everland and both were incredibly entertaining even though we didn’t know what was being said by the guides, lol. But each guide we had was so incredibly enthusiastic that it didn’t really feel like we were missing out. Chooch said he liked the guide on the second safari ride better; no shit, because she was a cute girl! When the second safari ride (Lost Valley) came to an end, all the Lost Safari people gathered around and sang a farewell song to us and even low-key chased us as we exited. It was so exciting! In the gift shop right after, Chooch was told by yet another Korean guy that he was handsome, this time it was a young Lost Safari attendant. “Big eyes!” he said to Chooch, and I responded, “Yeah, big mouth too.”

  • I THINK THIS ELEPHANT WAS ON RUNNING MAN?!

  • Guys, I for sure can walk around with a caterpillar torso on my head all day.

  • The Spooky Fun House wasn’t too spooky but it was definitely fun, because hello IT WAS MY FIRST “DARK RIDE” IN KOREA! Ironically, after we came home, there was a letter from DAFE (Darkride and Funhouse Enthusiasts) asking us if we wanted to renew our membership ALMOST LIKE THEY KNEW WE WERE RECENTLY DOING DARKRIDE THINGS IN ANOTHER COUNTRY!
    • Not my first foreign country darkride rodeo though — my aunt Sharon and I went to some  super rickety and shady pop-up carnival thing one time in Paris. It was one of those rare times when we had some free time away from the tour group so Sharon was like, “THIS LOOKS FUN AND NOT LIKE A REALLY BAD IDEA AT ALL.” I can’t remember a single fucking thing about this place except for the fun house we went into that knocked us all around and then the hamster wheel at the exit was spinning SO FAST that I kept falling and Sharon was screaming, “TURN IT THE FUCK OFF!!!” and this fat French bitch manning the gate was laughing her mole-dotted face off at us and I just remember sobbing and feeling so violated, and then having bruises and brushburn on my my legs and arms the next day. Fun times in France!
      • Actually, I think we also went into a haunted house where we were borderline assaulted by the “monsters” inside.
      • Now I want to dig out my old vaca-journals but the Walking Challenge just started at work and I can’t be sitting for that long so maybe sometime in June we’ll revisit this topic.

  • The park wasn’t too crowded, being a weekday in March, but there was one area where you could be sure to find a crowd, and that was the garden section. There was a tulip festival thing happened and if there is one thing people LOVE to do in Korea, it is have their picture taken copious times. Nearly everyone came equipped with either selfie sticks or actual freaking tri-pods — FOR THEIR PHONES! It was nuts, and made it impossible to stroll through that area leisurely because we were constantly photobombing adorable couples or besties dressed in matching school uniforms. This was fine though because it just meant that the lines for the rides weren’t too terrible!

  • Oh shit in the forefront of this picture you can see the tracks for the Dragon Coaster, a kid coaster that came super close to rivaling THE WACKY WORM. Chooch and I were huge fans and Henry didn’t even pay attention to us when we were on it. :(

  • I still don’t understand how this ride works but it’s called Flash Pang Pang and it inspired a SPIRITED debate, Henry and Chooch vs. me, later on when they insisted that it was called Flash Pong Pong and I countered, in a very calm and collected way, that no, it’s Pang Pang and they both flew off the handle and started slinging slurs at me and accused me of drinking nail polish remover, all sorts of terrible things! I continued being the mature one though, and politely pointed out that I had read the sign in hangeul and it was, in fact, a longer “a.” They continued to diss me and I said, “That is OK. I still love you both very much even if you disagree with me.” But then I smugly pointed out later on the map that I WAS RIGHT, MOTHERFUCKERRRRRRRRS.
    • If you’re wondering about the whereabouts of our headbands, Trudy the Mannequin is wearing them both.

Oh man, I feel like I’m missing so much here, but those are most of the highlights off the top of my head. Around 9, we went out the parking lot and panicked for a good 5 minutes because the bus wasn’t there and there was definitely a moment when we thought we had been left behind and would have to find our way back to Seoul, but then ALVIN *HEARTEYES* appeared on a cloud dropped straight from Heaven and showed us to the bus. THANK YOU ALVINNNNN.

Is it weird that I spent most of the day being hyper-aware that I was walking around a place that Running Man has filmed? I know that I’ve mentioned it a million times on here, but just in case someone is reading this and imaging a bunch of people doing the Running Man dance in an amusement park while being recorded, Running Man is a Korean variety show that Henry and I love so much. They have their permanent cast but there are also usually guests on each episode, from kpop idols to actors. I only started watching it because BIGBANG had appeared several times and even with subtitles, I had no idea what was going on at first, but the cast is so charismatic and hilarious, that I was hooked and found myself YouTubing more and more episodes until finally I said “fuck it” and started watching from the first episode on Drama Fever. I’m not allowed to watch it without Henry so that’s how he knows I must be mad at him, when he walks in the house and catches me in the act of cracking up while watching grown adults essentially playing tag.

That show has also helped me learn a lot about Korean culture too, like kai bai bo (the Korean version of rock paper scissors which is wildly popular for Koreans to play when in the need of breaking a tie, deciding who’s going to pay, etc), the honorific system/formal speak, and certain titles that people use on each other based on age. It’s fascinating and something that has changed my life, and now there I was, in a place where some of my favorite people have run around, tearing off each other’s name tags. #shook

So whenever I’m asked what my favorite thing was that I did in Korea, I can’t say one specific thing because the simple fact that I was there AT ALL was my favorite thing. How can I possibly choose one moment?!

First ones on the bus this time! I think that the next time we go to Korea (because I’m not through with Korea yet!!), we will probably use this tour company again for another day trip. It was reasonably-priced and definitely worth the price to have non-stop transportation provided. We ended up getting pretty comfortable with the subway system but I don’t think we could have handled making multiple transfers via subway and bus and shuttle with very much panache. I mean, I know Henry probably feels like he could conquered that but um…Chooch and I have seen him squint at maps enough to know that at some point, he’d have us going the wrong direction.

I miss Alvin.

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

Post-Everland notes:

It was 10:30 by the time we arrived back at Dongdaemun and you would never know it was a Monday night because that place was poppin’ off. All the department stores were still open, the street food was still being churned out with a vengeance, and people of all ages were milling about like it was a Friday night. Seoul, you truly are the city that never sleeps.

OMG we of course feasted on street food on our walk back to the hotel and it was the perfect ending. I miss these nights so much.

The next post will be all about Hongdae shopping!

Apr 152018
 

I feel like my epitaph should include something about amusement parks, because I have been known to plan vacations around them. You will never catch me going to a beach that doesn’t have a boardwalk theme park. So do you really think we could go to Korea and NOT go to an amusement park? We are freaking theme park enthusiasts and Everland has been on my list ever since I saw an episode of Running Man that was filmed there. (It’s one of my favorite episodes, too!) Plus, they have this famous wooden coaster called the T-Express which has also been featured on numerous variety shows, so sign me the fuck up.

The thing with Everland, though, is that it’s about an hour outside of Seoul, which is fine if you either have rented a car (we didn’t apply for an international license) or are more savvy with public transportation than we are. You can GET there using pub-trans, but it involves transfers and buses, and god only knows the things that could go awry with us idiot foreigners. Plus, I read that it can take around 3 hours to get there this way.

Luckily, Henry noticed that our hotel has some partnership with a company that provides not only discounted rates, but transportation on a chartered tour bus as well! So he did his thing through the website on our first day in Seoul, and then decided to also go down to the front desk and ask some follow-up questions, at which point he was told that they knew nothing about what he was telling him, so we thought for awhile that we had been scammed.

Early Monday morning, Henry stopped by the front desk on the way back from what was soon to become his traditional “before sunrise” convenience store breakfast run, and had the nice guy call the tour agency for him, at which point we learned that the bus was picking us up at 9am at some subway exit in Dongdaemun, so Henry was like, “Wow, good thing I didn’t wait until 9 to go down and ask” which is what he was originally going to do!

Anyway, long story short, we walked around for what seemed like an hour because Henry “wasn’t sure” and I was like, “If they said Exit 10, shouldn’t we just, you know, wait by Exit 10?” which is what Chooch and I did while Henry used my phone to call the travel company, who was like, “Well, we don’t have you on the list because you did this over the weekend while we were closed” so then there was this long moment of uncertainty where we thought we couldn’t go, but then they found our order and it was still an issue because the tour guide who was going to be on the bus didn’t know we were supposed to be there, so they were like, “You have to show him your receipt on your phone” and  thank god there was another family of three waiting there with us because who even knows if the bus would have stopped it was only us!

So the bus got there, and that’s when we met ALVIN with whom I imprinted almost immediately because when he was wearing his medical mask, he looked kind of like Song Joonki, but there was more back and forth with Alvin because he had to examine the receipt on Henry’s phone and take a picture of it with his phone and then text it to the office and wait for them to confirm, and meanwhile, there was a legit busload of people waiting on us and I gulped so many times.

But then, yay, our reservation was confirmed and we were allowed to board the bus! We were the last stop too, and there were JUST ENOUGH seats. It reminded me of when the bus I sometimes took in high school would get to my street and my neighbor Lindsay and I were the last ones to get on and the bus was always packed to capacity and it was so uncomfortable having to squeeze into a seat that already held two people. Oh, anxiety! But Chooch and I got to sit together, so it wasn’t too bad. Henry had to sit with the dad of the family we were waiting with, lol.

So everyone on the bus was either English- or Chinese-speakers, which meant that Alvin had to go over everything in both languages and that made me love him even more because not only is he Korean, but he also speaks English and Chinese!? Yes, please. Chooch was like, “Get a life, you’re so embarrassing” because he saw me scribbling in my vacation journal about my wedding plans.

It turns out that Henry went through K-Tour Story, which I had come across numerous times while planning our trip because they offer other day tours, as well, like ones to Nami Island and the palaces. So I felt better knowing that this was a legit thing Henry purchased, it just got a little messed up since he went about this on the weekend.

When we arrived, Alvin gave us explicit instructions on when and where to meet later that night at 9, and then made us pose for a group photo, which was later posted on their Instagram along with other recent tours they led. THAT IS ALVIN ON THE FAR RIGHT, but in this picture his true Song Joonki-ness isn’t shining through.

Henry was just like, “What is happening, what have I done?”

And then Alvin handed everyone their tickets and said, “MAKE SURE YOU KEEP THESE WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES” in the  most foreshadowing tone possible, and we all ran to the entrance where we were greeted with glorious amusement park music.

“GIVE ME THOSE,” Henry barked, snatching our tickets from us so we wouldn’t lose them.

Henry disappeared immediately and we thought he was pooping somewhere because that’s always our first suspicion, but then it turns out he was exchanging money or something non-bathroom related. So he says.

Since the park had just opened, none of the rides were running yet so we used this opportunity to go see the pandas before it got insanely crowded.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen pandas in real life before,” I mused out loud.

“WELL UNLESS YOU’VE BEEN TO CHINA OR THE SAN DIEGO ZOO I’M GOING TO GUESS THAT YOU HAVEN’T,” Henry scoffed haughtily, because if there is one thing for you to learn about Henry from this blog post, it’s that he sometimes acts like he is a fucking zoologist who was first in his class.

For instance, one time we were driving past Columbus, Ohio and this is an actual conversation we had and I know it’s verbatim because I literally just copied and pasted this from the liveblog I was writing when it happened:

Henry: I’d like to go to the Columbus zoo someday.
Me: Why.
Henry: Because they have a nice zoo.
Me: How do you know?
Henry: Because they have a nice zoo, OK?
Me: Yeah but how do you know if you’ve never been there?
Henry: Because…THEY JUST HAVE A NICE ZOO.
Me: BUT HOW DO YOU KNOW?????
Henry: *mumbled something about Jack Hanna*

Henry and zoos, man.

Anyway, we got to enjoy some glorious time with pandas with only a handful of other people and it was really something special.

Especially when this guy was rubbing his butt on a rock.

Getting to see pandas in an Asian country was something that I never thought I’d do in this lifetime. It was beyond amazing.

I’m going to try and get Chooch to write a guest post about Everland because he took a shit-ton of videos, but he is L-Z when it comes to writing.

Right after this, we got in line for a small steel coaster called the Rolling X-Train. Henry was all clenched because he thought he’d have to ride with a stranger which is his least favorite thing to do especially after he had to ride with some 13-year-old girl on one of the Harry Potter coasters at Universal and Chooch and I spent the next two months talking about “that time Henry had a date with a teenager,” so he opted out.

The line wasn’t too terribly long, maybe about a 15 minute wait, but as we got closer to the top, I started noticing that everyone was flashing something at the ride attendants.

“Oh fuck, do we need our tickets?!” I whispered to Chooch, Alvin’s warning playing back in my head in slo-mo.

And sure enough, when we got to the front of the line, the ride attendant asked to see our tickets and I was so flustered. I told him that we left our tickets “with some guy” and it was so embarrassing because here we are, Korea! Dumb Americans who can’t follow instructions! Anyway, he was super nice and told us to go and get our tickets and then come back through the exit so we wouldn’t have to wait in line again.

HOW FUCKING NICE IS THAT?! That never would have happened here in Pittsburgh. (But then again, Kennywood doesn’t even issue tickets anymore, so…) So we angrily held out our hands for Henry to give us back our tickets because this was all his fault, and then we guiltily and shamefully re-entered through the exit ramp, where we waited on the other side of the concourse. The girl on that side was like, “Hello who are you?!” but our friend jumped over the tracks and explained to her what happened, so she was like, “OK OK you can go on the next one.” I love you, Korea.

Meanwhile, two girls joined us.

“Did you guys forget your tickets too?” I asked.

“Yes!” the one said dramatically, and we bonded over how embarrassed we felt. Turns out they were from the Philippines, which is only a 4 hour flight to Korea so if moving to Korea doesn’t pan out for me, perhaps I’ll consider the Philippines?

Anyway, those girls were nice and Chooch and I were excited to have made “friends.” Especially friends who also failed to follow directions.

And then it was our turn to ride and all I could think was, “I AM ON A ROLLER COASTER IN KOREA! LIFE IS FUCKING AMAZING!” And as the coaster started to leave the platform, the ride attendants all yelled, “화이팅!” (hwaiting) and I was like, “HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE?!!?!?” because I have heard this so many times on all of the Korean shows I watch but NEVER IN REAL LIFE.

Gah, now I’m over here crying about it! I will be back with more Everland pictures and recaps once I compose myself. My state is fragile right now.

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 132018
 

I lied. I said the next post was going to be about Everland but then I finished sorting through the photos and I’m already tired, ugh. Everland was a long day! So let’s skip that for now and fast-forward to  the next day (Tuesday 3/27) when we went to the Raccoon Cafe in Hongdae!

This was one of those bones we keep in our back pockets to  throw to Chooch every now and then so he forgets about all the shitty parenting moments we have, but let’s face it — it’s not like Henry and I were completely adverse to going to a freaking raccoon cafe!

I’ll write more about the Hongdae area at length in another post because it just might be my favorite part of Seoul, but for now, let’s just talk about raccoons!

If you’re into novelty, themed cafes, Seoul has got your kitschy ass covered. They have a wealth of PC and VR cafes (obvi), a phone case cafe where you literally go to drink cafe and hot glue sequins and flesh to a phone case, poop cafes, Hello Kitty cafes, and an array of animal cafes. Pittsburgh has a cat cafe now, so we didn’t do one of those, but it was hard to choose between the meercat cafe, sheep cafe, and raccoon cafe. (And yes, Chooch tried to get us to go  to all of them but I was like THERE ARE TOO MANY GENTLE MONSTERS TO CONQUER, COME BACK TO KOREA ON YOUR OWN TIME.)

Ultimately, the raccoon won because Chooch was watching a video on YouTube and saw that they also have dogs, and of those dogs, there is a Corgi and a Shiba Inu. So, that was easy.

Plus, raccoons are fucking adorable.

(Henry hates raccoons because they hang out in the dumpster at his work and he has early morning arguments with them.)

It’s a little misleading because you’re not actually allowed to take your drinks in the room with the animals, which of course is 100% understandable! But if you have an image of sipping an Americano and  writing some BTS fanfiction while a raccoon sleeps in your lap….just know it’s not like that.

Anyway, the first thing we had to do was get yelled at by the barista for failing to read the sign when we walked in which said in large letters TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF AND PUT AL OF YOUR BELONGINGS IN A LOCKER OR GTFO.

Maybe that wasn’t the exact wording.

So we had to go back to the entryway with our dumb American heads hung low and have a do-over with Following Directions, and then we had to wait for Big Foot Henry to find a pair of house shoes that fit his dumb wide feet, and then finally we were able to buy our drinks and pay for our raccoon meet-n-greet. (8,000 won I think it was per person? So, a little less than $8. Worth it.)

I got a green tea latte and instantly realized that every green tea latte I’ve drunk here in the States has been a fat green lie.  Take me in, Asia. HOLD ME AND NEVER LET ME GO.

Once I finished my drink (Chooch made me inhale it) I went to into a little vestibule where a girl employee asked me if my pockets were empty and I said because I had taken all my change and lip gloss out but she was like, “ARE THEY?” and I was like,” Well, I guess I have this scrap of a gum wra—” and she pointed to the exit before I could even finish and wouldn’t let me back in until each pocket was as empty as Trump’s soul.

Then I walked in and  got mauled by eight dogs and raccoons because when you live with cats, you are marked, my friends.

Chooch’s review: “CORGIS!”

He honestly spent most of the time with the corgi, taking pictures of its butt, filming it getting its nails clipped…here’s his Instagram post about it.

So, I did have a raccoon in my lap at one point and I was like, “AW  YOU LOVE ME” but he was just rooting in my jacket pockets for trash. Suddenly, that girl’s garbage-sternness made a lot of sense.

Henry made a friend with this boy but it turned out the dog was just trying to hide from the Nail Clippers.

This guy was my favorite! He hung out in a hole in the wall the whole time, baiting people.

Henry went over to say hi and the raccoon immediately tried to take his hat off and then stole his glasses right off his face – it was amazing.

“Please put your phone down and help me get my glasses back,” Henry hissed, but he was actually smiling and having a nice time too which was weird.

I was really excited that the raccoons were so outgoing. You didn’t even have to seek any out! I sat down on a bench the whole time and they all took turns coming over to inspect me. The only time we were kind of scared was when several of the dogs started barking at each other and then two of the raccoons ran over and hid behind Henry and me. I was afraid they were going to go on the defensive and attack us but then they lost interest in whatever the dogs were riled up about and went back to waddling around the room.

Henry just walked by and I asked him if he has anything to add and he said he’s not doing anything for me anymore WOW JUST WOW and also hilarious because he literally just came back from getting me an iced latte haha forever spoiled, hate me.

That was an hour well-spent! And as soon as we left, Chooch missed a step (the cafe is on the 4th floor of a building) in the stairwell, sprained his ankle and collapsed. There was that scary 2-second delay where everything just stops and you’re praying that your kid isn’t going to cry, but then he burst into tears and all I could think was OMG WHAT’S THE KOREAN WORD FOR HOSPITAL, THINK ERIN, YOU KNOW THIS because a kid writhing in pain clearly isn’t enough context clue for someone to crack the language code and know what you’re asking for.

Luckily, he was able to shake it off and although he spent the rest of the day limping (probably only 25% was legit), he was a trooper and never complained about it until we walked past a VR cafe and he reminded us about how he almost had to his foot amputated because his careless parents shoved him down an elevator shaft, but even then we were like NOT TODAY.

At least now he had an excuse to steal subway seats from ahjummas.

Yeah, so that was another installment of Erin’s Tour of Seoul – definitely check this place out if you’re ever in the Hongdae are and if you’re in Seoul you should DEFINITELY BE IN THE HONGDAE AREA unless you are a fucking square who hates cool shops and street performers and being in close proximity to YG Entertainment (where my KING G-Dragon spent most of his life!)

After this, we checked out some super cool stores which will be in a later post, and then had dinner at Aori Ramen which I wrote about while we were still in Korea. Recapping this is so exhausting that I might need another vacation!

Apr 112018
 

What’s a trip to Seoul without seeing the Han River, amiright? The air was starting to get a clearer by Sunday afternoon, so we took the subway across the Han to Yeouido, which is actually an island on the Han, and home to Seoul’s main business and banking district. Basically like Korea’s Wall Street. It definitely had a more high-end feel to it too. We originally had booked a hotel there but changed it to the Jongno area closer to our departure date and I’m glad that we did because being in Yeouido didn’t have that gritty city feel to it that Jongno has. I liked staying in Jongno because it felt more like being in the thick of things, which I enjoyed!

However, Yeouido was perfect for when we were looking for something a little quieter and slower-paced, plus that’s where the Instagram-famous I Seoul U sign was located so it was on our list.

“I Seoul U” is kind of confusing, but it’s the slogan that Korean citizens chose to represent their city brand. From what I’ve read, it essentially means that Seoul is a city that connects people. I think? Maybe? In any case, the sign is giant and cool, and it was really fun to see in person and watch everyone try to one-up each others’ poses.

Everyone was really cool and gave Chooch a chance without a dozen photo bombs.

Anyway, this sign is right smack in the middle of Yeouido Hangang Park. “Gang” means river in Korean so literally it’s the Yeouido Han River Park. Even on a March day in the high 50s, this place was full of life so I can only imagine how packed it must get in the summer! You can rent little tents to take down to the park and there were tons of people down there having picnics on blankets.

“Jesus, even at the park, people dress to impress,” Henry, aka Captain Casual muttered. That was definitely one of his main take-aways from our trip – fashion first!

The Han <3

“I’m not leaving this park until I see a Corgi,” Chooch said as we sat on a bench to spectate the park action in all of its well-dressed glory. And as if it was scripted, a couple entered the park with a Corgi, who spotted Chooch and took off running toward him, dragging his owners in his wake.

“SEE, I’M FAMOUS WITH CORGIS!” Chooch exclaimed as the Corgi licked his hands. It was so weird.

After that, we walked to some huge, glitzy mall because the YG-owned 3 Birds cafe was supposed to be there somewhere. Henry immediately hated the mall because it was overwhelmingly fancy, and have you met Henry? Not quite his scene. We did a quick walk-around the food court (which was fucking amazing and nothing like the gross shit at the food courts here in our malls) and even I was starting to feel slightly underdressed so I put a moratorium on our mission and we went back outside.

Luckily, the cafe was in another part of the mall that we walked by, and it had its own entrance so we didn’t have to go back in and feel like we were swimming upstream past all the perfect people. (To be fair, we never got any judge-y stares! Everyone in that mall was too in-the-zone to give a shit about some sloppy Americans.)

I was excited to be in 3 Birds but not excited by the intimidating barista who seemed extremely annoyed to have to take our order. This was really the only time we experienced anything like this the whole time we were there and honestly, I get that shit way more in my own damn city when I have the audacity to patronize some uppity, too-cool-for-school cafe.

Once we got our drinks and sat down, everything was much more relaxed. Chooch and I wrote some postcards while Henry…I don’t know what Henry did. Daydreamed about Henry-things like ridding the world of moss? Planned his real vacation to some Panama army base sans Erin and Chooch? Doodled “Henry <3s Ted Nugent” on the 3 Birds receipt? Took unflattering pictures of us? Clearly.

Henry was living large and DAY-DRINKING.

We went back to the hotel after this and had some convenience store snacks (I miss those convenience store triangle kimbap!), freshened up, and then started our epic trek to Naksan Park for some sunset viewing, which I wrote about already while we were still in Korea, but here are some pictures from our never-ending trudge through the Daehangno / Hyehwa area, which is a totally cool, artsy college town.

We gorged on street food after coming back down from Naksan Park and it was good. It was so, so, so good. I wish I could walk down my street and buy skewered Korean food for $1 like I could on literally every block in Seoul. Life will never be the same!

My next recap will be about Everland, the largest theme park in Korea. WOW CAN YOU STAND THE SUSPENSE.

Apr 102018
 

Me: Insadong is the best dong.

Henry: Thanks.

Seriously, Insadong is pretty freaking great. And since I like to occasionally sprinkle some actual facts on this broke-down Internet page of fake news, a “dong” is actually a “neighborhood” in Korea. This particular dong, while fairly touristy & gimmicky, also provides a glimpse into the traditional aspects of Korea as well. The streets are lined with souvenir shops selling traditional Korean masks (you know I bought one for my mask collection!), clothing boutiques, and local art shops. Plus FOOD VENDORS, restaurants, cafes, and tea houses. Basically, all of the staples of Seoul.

We got there around 9:00 on a Sunday morning, and the main street of Insadong was still sleepy. There were people out walking, but none of the shops were open yet. This was fine because the first thing we wanted to do was throw Chooch a bone by taking him to the Alive Museum, which was already open. It’s just one of those trick eye museums with a billion photo ops. I was annoyed about it at first because god forbid we were doing something for someone else, but then I couldn’t help but join in after a few minutes of faux-sulking.

 

After spending a good hour in that place, Insadong was waking up and the streets were already way more lively. Henry wanted to go to the tourist information booth because he was obsessed with getting a map of each area we visited (little good that did us), and while he was doing that, Chooch and I slipped into an alley to take some pictures. I thought Henry knew our whereabouts, but apparently not because he walked the opposite direction, stopped, looked all around with his arms out and palms up to the sky, and we of course started our giddy bray which led him right back to us.

This was the first time we’d lose Henry, but not the first time for the “lost” theme in general. Did I tell you guys about how we lost Chooch in Chicago on the day we left for Korea? Oh yeah, it was awesome! We had just landed in Chicago and needed to take a shuttle to the international terminal. Chooch was all, “Hurry guys, it’s leaving!” and swan-dove onto it just as the doors were closing and we were like, “NOOOOOOOoooooooo—–!”

I was panicked but Henry was all calm and collected, and actually even LAUGHED ABOUT IT?!

“I’d be worried if we had a stupid kid, but he’s not stupid, so…” Henry shrugged. But in my eyes, Chooch is still a LITTLE BABY WHO NEEDS HIS MOMMY.

And of course, he was fine. Henry and I got on the next shuttle and Chooch was waiting for us on the exact correct platform because he pays attention and follows direction, unlike me. He wasn’t even crying! When I was 11, if that had happened to me, I’d probably have died of fright right there on that shuttle.

Fuck, even now I’d probably poop my pants if I got lost in some other city, OMG someone help me grow up.

Anyway, our first order of business after the Alive Museum and losing Henry was to find food. We hadn’t eaten at a legit restaurant yet since arriving Friday night because the temptation of street food was just too strong, but now our bodies were craving a balanced meal. Chooch found this great little place in an alley and we had our first round of authentic, actual Korean bibimbap.

I was in heaven! Bibimbap has been one of my favorite foods for years and years, and to be eating it in a small, traditional restaurant in a back street of Seoul was just blowing my mind. We were shocked that Chooch ordered bibimbap as well without any whining and actually ate a good portion of it, also without whining. He is so notoriously picky, as kids are wont to be, but he swore that he would try new things when we got to Korea and I have to be honest here, as the title of my blog suggests: he was pretty fucking adventurous.

That banchan though. Good lord, take me back.

Afterward, we got some poop bread! It comes in two flavors – chocolate or pat (sweet red beans). When pat is an option, I will always choose that. It’s such a sweet, earthy flavor! We should use that more in American desserts, guys. Maybe I’ll have pat-filled cake at my imaginary never-wedding.

AND WE CAN CALL IT A PAT-TY CAKE.

There is also a poop cafe in Insadong, but we didn’t go. So many novelty cafes, so little time!

I wanted to buy something from every store in this shopping center, but I didn’t because I’m cheap AF.

It was here in this shopping center where Chooch was scanning a display of phone cases for Bambi and I was like, “BOY, NO ONE HAS CARED ABOUT BAMBI SINCE LIKE 1961, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO FIND A BAMBI PHONE CASE” and then guess who was handing over 20,000 won for a Bambi phone case 30 seconds later?

Ugh. Really, Korea?!

Also Insadong is where you can find the famous Dragon Beard candy vendors! The guy we bought from was excited that we were from Pittsburgh because of the Pirates and told Chooch he was a handsome boy and I was like, “WHAT ABOUT ME WHAT AM I!?” Ugh, Chooch got all the attention.

On the way out of Insadong and to the subway station, we bought some chapssal donuts from a vendor wherein I gave a big fat FUCK YOU to any semblance of a diet that I might have been trying to maintain. I mean, it’s not everyday I can eat legit Korean street food, so I was basically on a mission to try one of everything, and then of course on the flight home, I started making a mental list of all the stuff I forgot to try.

OH WELL, I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Next post: Yeouido Hangang Park!

Apr 092018
 

We walked to Insadong from our hotel on Sunday morning, March 25th. It was maybe about a 30 minute walk? Here are some pre-Insadong pictures with very little words.

The first picture up there is near our hotel. I always knew we were close to being to able to soak our feet for the night when I’d see the Pope!

(Honestly, I only had one day in Korea where I got less than 30,000 steps. We have a walking challenge starting next week at work so I think I should probably go back to Korea for that.)

Our hotel was centrally located near so many palaces and shrines, Jongmyo Shrine being the closest.

Streets in Seoul aren’t quiet for very long, so this was a rare sight.

Henry took us the long way (and not on purpose, my friends) but it was good because we got to see Jongyesa Temple, where you can do a temple stay if that’s something that piques your interest.

It was serene and quiet on that early Sunday morning and I honestly felt like I was sullying the joint with my dirty American Catholic juju.

Those colors though!

Henry could suddenly read Korean and told me to stop taking pictures before Buddha steals my soul. So we continued on to the main, popular drag of Insadong right after this so that will be my next post. I am such a great travel writer! Being all chronological! (For now, anyway. I’m dying to skip ahead and write about Gentle Monster.)

Apr 082018
 

After our Saturday morning in Myeongdong, I wanted to go to the DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza). I had seen tons of videos of it online and am just obsessed with its architecture and unique crashing-UFO design. It just so happened that the tail-end of Seoul Fashion Week was underway, so we had free entertainment! I previously posted about this while we were still in Korea, so you can read that here if you want.

These flowers are so pretty and light up at night!

 

I could have easily stayed here all day long and people-watched, but the one thing that I should say is that I spent a good chunk of our trip with this terrible Chasing the White Rabbit mentality, where I felt like we were running out of time, and I was in a near-constant state of panic that we weren’t doing enough. At the end of each day though, I went to bed grateful that we were even there at all, trust me! And even the times Henry got us lost, after my anger subsided I was able to reason that at least we were lost in freakin’ SEOUL. And honestly, that allowed us to see parts of the city that we might not have seen otherwise, lol!

The DDP was within walking distance from our hotel so we took a leisurely stroll back, where the intention was to “rest” for “an hour or so.” But first we got some piping hot croquettes from a vendor (mine was kimchi, I always opted for kimchi fillings whenever that was an option because my love affair with that fermented babe is real). Chooch got a potato one and I was so happy that he was actually eating things. Henry and I were afraid that he’s starve to death in Korea because he’s so goddamn picky. But he promised us that he would try things and he really did uphold his end of the deal.

If you read my Naksan sunset post from last week, you might recognize that wall. It’s the Seoul Fortress Wall and if we had followed it down from Naksan Park, it would have brought us all the way down to the Heunginjimun Gate which I photographed on our very first night in Seoul when we were half-asleep and shambling around in the dark like American zombies. When we made this realization the next evening in Naksan Park, I got so excited because I am always completely confused by maps and geography so it was cool to start having pieces of Seoul fall into place in my mind’s compass, you know?

You can’t go through the Gate, but look at the beautiful design on the ceiling!

After this, we walked down the street and popped into Gwangjang Market (formerly Dongdaemun Market which we were desperately trying to find, unbeknownst that it changed names) where Chooch confidently walked up to a vendor and ordered a fresh fruit juice. He was so proud of himself! Simple things like ordering a drink can be daunting in a foreign country and I give him major props for wanting to do this himself instead of relying on Henry and me. That kid is really going to go places someday, I’m sure of it.

We also got our first real Korean bindaetteok (mung bean pancake) and I was in clogged artery heaven.

This was in the plaza right next to our hotel (Hotel Atrium). Chooch was desperate for me to take this picture (Gwangjang fruit juice cameo!) and two young girls giggled when they walked past so my new dream is for Chooch to get a Korean girlfriend, move to Korea, and let me visit 10 times a year.

So then we went back to the room to “rest” which inevitably turned into a three hour nap because our bodies were telling us that it was 3AM. When we woke up, all of us, it was nearly 7PM. I felt like absolute shit. It’s been awhile since I last traveled this far (Australia was the farthest for me) so I can’t remember how badly my previous bouts with jetlag were, and I was also much younger too so probably more resilient at that. But when I woke up, I felt like I had the flu. Full body chills, feverish, just really awful. I was scared that I actually have the flu because I’ve been surrounded by it at work, and wouldn’t that just be my luck? To finally make it to Korea and wind up sick in a hotel room for most of it.

Henry said he was fine with whatever I decided to do but I refused to lay around in the room and wanted to at least go for a walk to see how I would feel. We walked to a nearby Paris Baguette where I had an Americano and milk bread, and then just like that, I was fine. I started to wonder if maybe that was my body reacting to the yellow dust?

We took the subway to the start of Cheonggyecheon so we could check out Cheonggye Plaza. Turns out there was some Earth Day event thing going on where they were turning off all the lights for an hour and having a small concert, so Chooch got to have his picture taken with a panda, which is all he cared about. Seriously, he could be having the worst day, but then someone will walk by in an animal suit and it’s suddenly a brand new day for him.

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I think I will remember this night at the first time we were approached by locals, asking us where we’re from, etc. I had a nice conversation with a young guy at the stream about how he used to live in DC, and then earlier on our way to the stream, a young guy eating an ice cream cone approached us too. It was really exciting for me because I LOVE KOREANS and was so happy that someone wanted to talk to us. It was very overwhelming for us on thus first full day but there was just enough random kindness and helpfulness to make us feel less like aliens.

Also, most people just ignored us on the subway so that wasn’t nearly as scary as I had built it up in my mind and every single fucking day since we’ve been home, I’ve shed legit tears thinking about how much I miss it. I told Henry earlier today that I think I imprinted on the entire Korean transit system.

“Is that weird?” I asked.

“Not for you,” he said, unfazed by my soul-splitting admission.

We left the plaza and walked for a while but then HANGER set in so Henry frantically went into “FIND FOOD” mode before Chooch and I ate him alive.

Deoksugung Palace.

Bosingak Bell Pavilion, which Henry kept calling a Palace and we were like NOT EVERYTHING IS A PALACE! Honestly though, it seems like no matter what direction you walk around Seoul, you will inevitably turn a corner on one of these ancient beauties. I loved it so much.

Originally, we were going to get pizza because I needed to judge for myself just how “weird” Korean pizza is supposed to be, but we wound up filling up on street food which is, in our defense, very easy and fast to do.

And so goddamn delicious.

I could eat hotteok for every meal. In fact, some random YouTube video about hotteok was just playing as I’m typing this and now I’m drinking a dixie cup of a tears/saliva blend. I’ve had hotteok at Korean food festivals here in the States but there is nothing like burning the fuck out of your mouth on that piping hot brown sugar filling while standing on the streets of actual Seoul, Korea — how was this a reality just a mere two weeks ago!?

Chooch got something from an Isaac Toast walk-up window and didn’t like it all that much, but I was like, “GIVE ME THAT” and then ended up eating all of it because holy fuck how do they take something so simple as bread and egg and cheese and turn it into God’s own hangover breakfast? There was something about the sauce, for god’s sake, that sauce. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but it tasted something like honey mustard mixed with mayo? Henry, am I wrong? (LOL, like he would know, I barely let him have any!) We saw another Issac Toast window earlier that day when we were in Myeongdong and the line for it was about a block long. Now I understand why. I know that there is at least one location in Seoul where you can actually go inside and I kept saying I wanted to find it but then I kept getting distracted by all of the other shiny things Seoul has to offer, so I never did get another Isaac toast.

We started walking back to the hotel after that, and even though it was after 10 by then, all of the shops were still open. Chooch went to a candy shop and bought his own stuff and then promptly hid it from Henry in the hotel.

It was a good (and filling) end to the first full day. Please hurry up and get me back there ASAP.

Apr 072018
 

Getting ready to embarrass Henry on the hotel elevator: A Korean Tradition

Can we do a side-bar for a second and get kind of uncharacteristically mushy? OK great.

Not everyone thought it was a great idea for us to take Chooch with us to Korea (“it’s too expensive;” “he’s too young;” “it’s dangerous over there!”*). And believe me, it would have saved us a lot of money if it was just Henry and me, and we could have gone to G-Dragon’s pension and Kpop countdown shows and, you know, bars — all of the things an 11-year-old is too young for. (Seriously, GD’s pension and all the countdown shows have age restrictions, so lame!)

*(Dangerous in South Korea? We’d all have a better chance of getting shot in America than getting nuked in South Korea, sorry.)

But I couldn’t leave him behind. He has been just as much a part of this journey as Henry has, so how is that fair? And ever since I became a mom, it’s been my dream to be able to do for him what my Pappap did for me, and that was opening up the world for me when I was an impressionable child. He took me to Europe every summer and that’s something that really shaped who I am—it made me appreciate other cultures, it opened my mind, and it made me cherish travel in general even if it’s just a two-hour road trip to some small town with quirky roadside attractions. I have the best childhood memories because of my Pappap and the adventures he took me on, and I have always wanted so much for my own kid to grow up and have veritable tomes of fond memories to flip through. (For me, it’s tangible tomes because I wrote in vacation journals with fervor back then and still leaf through them every now and then!)

At the Alive Museum in Insadong, which I didn’t want to do but Henry was like WE HAVE TO THROW CHOOCH A BONE ONCE IN AWHILE.

So we had to work a little harder (read: a lot harder) to make sure that Chooch could come with us.

I was nervous because if you have ever been around the two of us, Chooch and me, you have probably at some point seen us viciously snipe at each other like siblings. This is because we are essentially the same person. I had visions of us fighting the entire time we were in Korea, and having my experience completely tainted by resentment.

But then the exact opposite happened.

KOREA MADE US BFFS!

Yeouido Hangang Park selfie

We ended up bro’ing up against Henry for some reason and collected so many inside jokes in our pockets that there were times we’d be in the middle of the street (or the aforementioned elevator) and just totally lose our minds at the mere thought of Henry looking at a map. And then there was this one time in Busan when Henry was talking about the high-speed trains and how he saw one go “rippin’ past” which made us double-over in laugh-pain and spend the next two days mercilessly reenacting Henry’s “rippin'” amazement. Henry was not as amused about this as we were, surprisingly, and kept storming off, dismissing us with a flick of his hand, telling us to go to hell, and “good luck getting back to the hotel” and “have fun finding something to eat tonight.”

Gyeongbokgung selfie because the picture Henry took of us sucked

Getting ready for a night at Hongdae / bad hotel room lighting selfie

I think I will always associate our pilgrimage to Korea with side-splitting laughter, mean girl shenanigans, and just pure undulterated joy (even though our joy was nearly Henryerated from time to time – he apparently hates the sound of our laughter because it’s “embarrassing”).

Didn’t even bother wiping the ice cream from my lip for this Gamcheon selfie because I WAS A KID AGAIN AND IT WAS FANTASTIC!

At one point I said to Henry, “When did Chooch become so funny? Was he always this funny?” and Henry just sneered at me like I was delirious because Henry was not impressed with our humor AT ALL. This just made it even funnier!

Henry should feel blessed that he was the source of so much of our laughter though. There was another time in Busan where we were at a beach and he was like, “I bet this place is rockin’ in the summer” which made Chooch and I wheeze, “ROCKIN’!!!!!!!” So the laughter started all over again and before we knew it, Henry was like three blocks ahead of us while we were still collapsing into each other and trying not to pee our pants (I came super close multiple times, not apologizing for the TMI because if you’re here, you should expect that!).

Songdo Cable Car selfie!

Even when we were shopping, there wasn’t a single time that Chooch did the “kid sigh” or suddenly “didn’t feel good” — you know, the things that kids do on vacation when the grown-ups have the audacity to do a thing that they want to do? I think this was a good age to start taking him on big trips.

The “Henry has us on a bus in Busan, will we survive?” selfie

Subway reflection selfie!

Every time Henry would say something to us, we would repeat it using an Eeyore-esque voice and I think he was really considering back-handing us several times. We were out of control! I honestly can’t remember the last time I have ever laughed that hard and consistently; it was honestly an everyday occurrence. Korea is just the best!

Busan Station slaphappiness

So that last picture isn’t a selfie but I wanted to include it because it involves another source of our pants-peeing hilarity. Chooch took a picture of Henry squatting and putting something in my pink backpack and for some reason, we latched on to this picture and cracked up to the point where I am certain there appeared to be something wrong with us. Chooch made so many different edits of this picture and it wil never not be funny to us. I actually was walking down the hall at work on Wednesday and started thinking about it and then the giggles visited me straight from Busan Station and there I was, laughing alone at work, because some things never change. I texted Henry to tell him I couldn’t stop laughing and when he asked why, I responded by texting him that picture and he was like, “go fuck yourself.”

Our relationship became almost symbiotic in Korea, and I will always cherish that! We were on the same wavelength, didn’t grate on each other like we do at home (lol), and just honestly enjoyed each others’ company. Thank you, Korea! What a life-changing experience.

(We love you, Henry!)

ETA: Henry just now said, “All you had to write was ‘Me and Chooch were assholes in Korea’ and be done with it.” Ok but I would have said “Chooch and I” instead.

Apr 062018
 

A lot of my friends kept asking for our itinerary before we left, and well, we didn’t really have one. I just had a list of all the major areas of Seoul I wanted to visit, and get in lost in thanks to Henry (but even though I was really annoyed at the amount of directionless wandering we did, I eventually reasoned that hey, we might be lost, but at least we’re lost in SOUTH KOREA #brightside). So every morning, we’d wing it. I think that kind of harried, unorganized travel non-plan really suits us, though.

For our first morning, we woke up around 3am because jetlag. Luckily, there were a million convenience stores nearby, and Henry latched on to the GS25 around the corner and became a regular during our time there. We dined on packaged Korean pastries—I’m sorry, but I will eat the fuck out of anything filled with pat (red bean). I also finally had legit Binggrae banana milk and expected it to be gross because I typically don’t enjoy banana-flavored things, but this was like perfectly-sweetened liquid silk, I can’t even explain it. I would be so fat if I lived in Korea because I would probably drink it more than I drink coffee and I drink a lot of coffee if you didn’t know.

Chooch became obsessed with Shiro and Maro because he’s really into Corgis and Shiba Inus, so Korea was his Babylon in that respect. He made Henry get him one of these every day so he could collect the stickers.

While we were sitting there waiting for the rest of the city to wake up. I mean, Seoul truly never sleeps so we could have probably walked outside and easily found a soju bar still rockin’ at 5am, but we’re old people with an 11-year-old so we figured we’d just wait for the regular things to open.

I decided that I wanted to go to Myeongdong first. This is an area of Seoul known for all of its makeup shops and Kpop-blasting. But first, we had to fuck around with the subway! There was this thing called the Korea Tour Card that Henry wanted to get, because it’s made specifically for foreigners and gives you discounts into some of the palaces and shops, etc. But you can only purchase it in some locations, so we had to go to the station close to us (there were two — our hotel was super convenient) and get a ticket to Seoul Station.

Chooch ended up understanding the subway lines way before Henry which I think is hilarious. The amount of times Chooch got us un-lost was amazing to me and crippling to Henry’s man-of-the-house masculinity.

Long story short, it ended up taking over an hour trying to locate this stupid tourist card because Henry wouldn’t listen to us and insisted on walking us in circles around Seoul Station, and then when I found an American lady in front of us at one of the T-Money machines, I asked her how to get one and she was all, “Oh  you can get one using this machine!” which is what Chooch and I kept telling Henry but he was like NO THAT IS NOT RIGHT. Meanwhile, two other foreign tourists approached Henry and gave him their T-Money cards because they were leaving and didn’t need them anymore. They weren’t the ones that Henry wanted, but it was still a sweet deal because T-Money cards are like $4 a piece, plus the fare money that you have to load onto them. And then all we had to get was purchase a child card through the machine for Chooch and luckily that was pretty much the end of our subway saga pretty much for our entire stay. Seoul’s subway system is amazing and relatively simple to master—we used it multiple times a day while there and it saved us so much time and money!

Plus the subway stations are filled with beautiful kpop idols.

We ran into this on our walk to Myeongdong and if you know Chooch, you know that he has to have his picture taken at every character statue thing he comes across which was cute when he was 4….

Anyway, by the time we made it to Myeongdong, it was still pretty early on Saturday morning so it wasn’t TOO NUTS yet but it was quickly getting there! The food vendors were already out and  the kpop was blasting – it was just like how I imagined!

Myeongdong is the perfect cocktail of trendy makeup shops, stalls full of cheap but adorable socks (Chooch and I were sock-obsessed and bought a ton), and FOOD.

Side bar: We prayed the whole time that Trump wouldn’t plan his North Korea talk while we were there. It was already nerve-wracking just being an American over there. (I was practicing my “eh”s and “aboots” and “soory”s and maple syrup facts just in case – love you, Canada!!) Actually, there were huge protests going on all day on Saturday and there were actual busloads of police all over the street near our hotel. People were standing on things and yelling, but other than that, it didn’t seem violent. I couldn’t tell what was going on, but there were people holding the American flag and that made me nervous.

“Well, at least they’re waving it and not burning it,” Henry pointed out.

“What type of Hell did the subway bring me to?”

BTS and EXO were everywhere in Myeongdong because they’re the faces of various skincare lines. So is the actor Gong Yoo, and he’s one of my favorites so I definitely didn’t mind seeing his handsome face on every other store window!

Then we stumbled upon the Line Friends store and Chooch was like, “YES, FUN TIME!” I have to say, he was pretty content doing all of the things I wanted to do, as well, but we did try to carve out time each day for Chooch-appropriate activities, as well. Luckily (or sadly?), there are Line Friends and Kakao Friends stores in pretty much every major neighborhood of Seoul so he really enjoyed that.

I hate this picture of me, but the one where I looked normal was the one where Henry cut off Sally (the duck on the top of Brown’s head) because he is the literal worst person ever to take pictures. He never tells us when he’s taking the picture so I’m usually in the middle of talking or yawning or my hair’s in my face, and he’s just like, “K, done” and then walks away!? WE HAD TO STAND IN LINE FOR THIS FUCKING PICTURE!

Chooch would have went home with every one of these plushes if I was a nicer mom. But I only let him pick out one. A much smaller one, lol.

Or if I was more like my Pappap, who for sure would have had them all shipped back to Pittsburgh. He was the best.

(He was also a millionaire. I am not a millionaire.)

Henry was not happy about posing for this picture and refused to  go inside the store to stand next to his bias, Jimin. I went inside and saw that they were selling BTS toothpaste sets and I really wanted one but then I was like, “Erin, you do not need a BTS toothpaste set.”

BUT NOW THAT I’M HOME I REALIZE THAT YES, YES I DO NEED A BTS TOOTHPASTE SET! I just hate shopping.

Then we had street food! We got some ttkeobokki and mayak kimbap to share. Chooch was like, “No, I like it. I swear I like it. It’s um…just a little spicy.”

Tteokbokki is my actual favorite. Henry makes it for me at home sometimes and I had to say, his is pretty comparable! I still prefer actual Korean street ttkeobokki of course. This was when I started to realize that the last year and a half of eating a 90% Korean diet has really dulled my tongue because when all the street vendors were warning us of things being “hot! very spicy!” I was like, “This isn’t spicy at all??” while Henry and Chooch were coughing out fireballs.

Looking back at our first day, it feels like such a blur. We were all still very jet-lagged and it also just felt completely like a dream. I kept catching myself looking around and staring at everything with my mouth hanging open like a farmgirl seeing the big city for the first time. It was just so stimulating, such a sensory free-for-all, walking down these streets that I have seen so many times on my TV, in YouTube videos and in dramas, hearing all of my favorite songs blasting at full volume, having an elderly man in a kpop merch shop showing Chooch and me his collection of Twice of memorabilia (I ended up buying a Taemin vinyl thingie to go with my G-Dragon one that I thought someone stole a few months ago!)

Be back later with part 2 of day 1! I am drowning in photo-editing.

Apr 042018
 

View of Seoul from Naksan Park

Before I start my daily recaps, I wanted to take some time to sleep forever write about some general things I observed during our too-brief stay in Korea.

  • Kpop is everywhere, naturally! Especially in places like Hongdae and Myeongdong, you can’t walk down the street without getting aurally assaulted in the best ways by competing Kpop songs being blasted out of every single shop so if you hate Kpop, you are SCREWED in Korea! We obviously loved it. Chooch said, “it’s so weird hearing all the songs we love every time we walk down the street!” because obviously here in America, we only hear Kpop in our house and car. For as wildly popular as BTS is around the world now, we actually didnt hear as much of their music here as we thought we would. It was mostly BIGBANG and Wanna One. BIGBANG is definitely the Kings of Korea and that makes me so happy. There are posters of G-Dragon everywhere. Long live King Kwon Jiyong!
    • There was also some western pop being played here and there. We heard Shawn Mendes the most, I’d say. I was OK with that.
  • Seriously clean public bathrooms but you have to pay attention to the signs because some bathrooms require you to throw your toilet paper in the garbage can. The sewage system is pretty bad in Korea I guess. You’d have to ask Henry about those bland types of things though. Maybe I can get him to guest post about how many times he had to reluctantly tell the front desk that our hotel toilet was clogged again (thanks, Chooch!).
  • Food delivery drivers use scooters and basically abide by their own rogue traffic laws. They go through red lights, ride on the sidewalks, weave in and out of traffic. “You know what I miss?” I just said to Chooch. “Almost getting killed by—” “the scooters,” he finished for me, knowingly nodding.
  • The stares are no exaggeration – middle-aged women (ahjummas) stared at us on the subway with wanton abandon, but I did notice that they stared at all younger people too regardless of race, etc. Even though we were prepared for this thanks to all the vlogs I obsessively watch, it was still awkward for about half a day but then we quickly learned to ignore it. The older women are also super pushy, and linebacker-esque with said pushiness. One woman practically picked Chooch up and punted him out of her way and it was pretty hilarious. He treated walking down sidewalks like a game of Dodge the Ahjumma so it worked out, really.
  • There is this really ugly beige-slash-goldenrod color that is really popular with younger people; we rarely saw anyone under the age of 35 wearing anything other than that color, black, white or gray. People in their 20s and 30s don’t seem to really venture outside of the current fashion trends which makes for a lot of uniformity on the streets. And they freaking dress to a T, too! When we were at Everland, the couples were dressed flawlessly and most of the girls were wearing skirts and dressed, even. We even saw a bunch of people in school uniforms and some of them looked like real life F4. You would never ever ever see this at Kennywood! Kennywood haute couture is fannypacks, beer tees, and bad tattoos.

Image result for boys over flowers F4

  • Garbage cans are really hard to find!
  • Old guys are super friendly and open to conversation. They always engaged Chooch!
  • Couple culture is huge – there were couples being super cute and adorable everywhere and every other girl seemed to be walking down the street holding a small bouquet of flowers. There are actual flower vending machines for God’s sake! Do you think Henry bought me a single one? NO! In the dramas I watch, couples are always buying matching shoes, or wearing couple rings, and it was nuts to see that this isn’t exaggerated for TV at all; especially in Everland we saw tons of couples who were matching. Couples are always taking blatant selfies. It’s really adorable and also slightly nauseating because hello jealousy.
  • People really do play kai bai bo (rock paper scissors) in public! We saw a couple playing it while walking up steps in Naksan, and we saw a group of boys playing it in Busan to decide who was going to pay for waffles at one of the street food stalls. It was so cute!
  • Koreans say “jjinja?!” in conversation constantly and I got so happy every time I heard it! (It means “really”.) I also heard lots of “oppa!!”s in super-cute voices pretty much all day at Everland considering that amusement park was Couple Central. Chooch and I felt like voyeuristic third wheels to everyone in line on nearly every ride and had to keep ducking so we wouldn’t get caught in the background of all the hundreds of selcas (selfies) being taken around us constantly.
  • Most food is cheap as fuuuuuck. Almost every meal we had was under $25. We can’t even have lunch here at crappy Eat n Park for less than $30! And most of the street food was between $1-$3. It was insanity.
  • Conversely, cafes are $$$$ – their “regular” size is smaller than an American small and more expensive. However, every coffee drink I got was really good so I didn’t mind paying that much. Henry is like, “Speak for yourself!”

Chooch in front of the entrance to Jongmyo Shrine

  • Koreans take their desserts very seriously. I think there is a misconception that Asian countries don’t “do dessert” because it’s not really offered on restaurant menus. That’s because they have separate dessert places and cafes on every fucking block, how is obesity not a thing in Korea*?! We had so many amazing sugar rushes during our time there. I’d like to go back and just do a cafe tour and drink all the sugary coffee and then face-plant into pretty cakes, all day, everyday.
    • *Probably because they balance all the FOOD with intense self-care. There are gyms everywhere and dedicated areas with exercise equipment in all of the parks and mountain trails, which surprisingly were always being used by the ahjumma and ahjussi. Older people are fit as fuck in Korea and those were the ones we saw the most on every freaking hike we took. The day we went to Namsan Tower, Chooch and I paused to watch this one shirtless guy hanging upside down on a bar and doing intense sit-ups. After he finished and back to standing on solid ground, we were shocked to see that he was probably in his 60s! He caught us watching him and gave us a big smile and wave — we were in awe and then totally giddy that he acknowledged us! There was another guy doing stretches and lunges; Chooch gasped, “LOOK AT HIS BUTTOCKS! OMG, THOSE GLUTES!” and I was like, “OK health textbook!” Honestly though, it was inspiring and I hope that I’m that physically capable when I’m in my 60s and beyond.

Namsan walking trail to N. Seoul Tower

  • I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep all of the different areas straight in my head, but every part of Seoul we visited had such a different and distinct feel to it so it was easy to not confuse things.
  • Gentle Monster lived up to the hype.
  • I heard once that South Korea is the biggest drinking country in the world, even topping Russia. This has to be true because every night, the streets are filled with drunk people. This sounds awful and dangerous, but it was the complete opposite! There was no belligerence that we saw, just friends happily linking arms, older men singing, people laughing — it was a very joyful atmosphere and when people say, “Forget NYC, Seoul is the real city that never sleeps” – believe in that. Even on weeknights, that city is poppin’ off. There are night markets all over the place, the malls stay open until the wee hours of the morning, and when we were just getting our day started in the morning we were passing people who were just leaving the bars and clubs. It’s insanity!
  • People don’t jaywalk in Korea. Pittsburghers wouldn’t be able to handle that shit!
  • Subway maps and things of that nature were usually in English as well, but not always true for store signs and such (see picture below). Chooch wanted to do noraebong (karaoke room) on the last night and if I hadn’t known how to spell that in Hangeul, we might still be in Myeongdong looking for one. Knowing how to at least read Hangeul is HUGELY beneficial, and it only takes about 45-60 minutes to learn so I’m glad I did that last year. It also really helped with reading menus because the smaller, hole-in-the-wall restaurants tended to rely more on using pictures rather than English, and that doesn’t always help, especially when you’re on the hunt for kimchi jjigae which also looks like 75 other stew variations!

Jongno Jewelry District, early morning.

While we were prepared for the cultural differences as much as possible (using honorifics, using both hands when giving something to someone or at least placing the left hand under the right elbow when handing over money, etc) there was one thing that I never could have been fully prepared for and that is just how much I loved being in this country. I guess I was just worried that I would get there and wouldn’t be what I thought, maybe it would too hectic and fast-paced for me to handle, maybe people would treat us badly, but none of those things happened (the amount of random kindness we experienced was really unexpected, to be honest). The emotional attachment and connection I felt while there was strong AF. I have cried so many times since being home because I want to go back desperately. We crammed as much as possible into the short time we were there but there was so much we didn’t get to and I am so motivated to get back there as soon as possible.

Chooch is also way more sentimental about it than I thought he would be. Meanwhile, Henry is just like “………….” lol.

People are always like, “Blah blah vacation was good but I’m glad to be home.” I’m not glad at all. :(

A million more posts to follow once I get some semblance of organization to my photos and thoughts. SIGH.

I Seoul U sign in Yeouido Hangang Park

Apr 012018
 

I have been lacking with the vacation updates but everyday is so jam-packed with activities that it’s hard for me to find one thing to focus on, and also I’m fucking exhausted by the end of the day! Saturday was full of palace sight-seeing, the Hangul museum beneath Gwanghwamun Plaza, Bukchon Hanok Village where we went to another Gentle Monster and randomly found an entire collection of Bambi figurines still in the box at some vintage toy shop.

[SIDE BAR: Chooch is obsessed with the Disney cartoon Bambi and has even changed our cat Drew’s name to that last year. Anyway during this whole trip, he’s been stopping at every single sock vendor to see if they have Bambi socks because each stall always has a Disney section. They even have Chip n Dale socks, but never Bambi. When we were in Insadong last week, there was a cell phone case shop and I was all, “I bet you any money they don’t have a Bambi case” as he was prowling through the selection.

Anyway, guess who’s been walking around since then with a motherfucking Bambi phonecase? I can’t even believe it!]

We capped off the day with some night action in Hongdae but before that – Zapangi.

Seoul is a freaking haven for Instagram-aesthetic stores and cafes. It was definitely too much for Henry but I loved that stuff just as much as the traditional aspects to Korea.

I had a list of cafes I wanted to go to while here but there just wasn’t enough time to do every single one. I had to pare down the list and Zapangi made the final cut. I follow their IG account and I’m sorry, but the idea of entering a building through a vending machine is super appealing to me.

I like things like this, I can’t help it.

Henry was annoyed but still diligently figured out which subway lines we would need to take and this was actually one of the few places we made it to without slamming into Henry every time he stopped to check the map on his phone or pull out his fucking sun dial. Or my favorite: walk a mile before Henry realizes we’re going the wrong direction. Or arrive and find that the building is under construction.

Zapangi was meant to be.

I saw it from a block away and got so giddy while Henry muttered, “Oh Jesus Christ.” There was a line of passers-by stopping just for the photo-op but when it was our turn, I told Chooch to stop before going all the way in so I could take a picture.

“Wait—we’re going in?” Henry sighed.

Um, yeah big boy. Mama didn’t come all this way for just a picture. I wanted the whole experience.

The cafe itself isn’t very big and it was crowded when we arrived, so when the barista asked us if we wanted it to go or for there, he stopped and said, “Oh, well it looks like there are no seats, so…”

I wasn’t sure if he was like, “TOO BAD SO SAD NOW GFTO” or what, but I think I was just reading too much into things as usual because I always feel like I’m not cool enough to be in these types of joints. Anyway, before our drinks were even done, a bunch of people left so the barista’s tune changed and he was all, “YES PLEASE HAVE A SEAT AND STAY AWHILE” and Henry was like, “Thanks, I just paid $25 for t wo fucking drinks and a cake in a tin-can the size of a thimble so I think I will.”

Honestly, prettttty pricey but everything did taste good, so…

I had the Sakura latte which was 9,000 won (about $9) but so pretty and it tasted like maybe it was worth 7,000 won but still — we were there for the experience.

Shit son, I was so sick after this. Henry actually had to finish the whipped cream on my drink, the remainder of Chooch’s chocolate drink, and the strawberry cake because he’d rather go into sugar shock than waste money.

I personally enjoyed it. If I lived in Seoul, I feel like I wouldn’t go out of my way to get there but I would definitely take visiting friends. It’s very novel. And it was good, don’t get me wrong, but too rich for me (cost and taste-wise)!

His review is, “Overpriced. Didn’t impress me.”

But did you really expect Henry to be impressed by a cafe with a vending machine door?