Sep 032019
 

Funny how turning 40 was no big deal when I was in my favorite place in the whole entire world! And actually, I turned 40 even earlier because of that! I think a few years ago, this birthday milestone may have hit me a lot harder, but in the wise words of Aaliyah (or whoever wrote her songs, hopefully not R Kelly but I’m too L-Z to look it up right now), “age ain’t nuthin’ but a number” y’all.

And on this wonderful July 30th (a Tuesday, in case I ever come back to this blog post in the future and want to know), I sprung out of bed and was SO GIDDY because it was finally the day Chooch and I would be attending the live recording of one of the weekly kpop music shows: SBS MTV The Show.

But…more on that another day!

Fun fact: Chooch had to check out every vending machine we came upon in the subway stations and he got really excited when he thought one of them had a Rubix Cube in it but then it ended up being condoms!? He of course didn’t tell me about this until later so I have no idea how he made that mistake.

First order of business was to have a leisurely stroll around the Cheongyecheon Stream and find something delicious for my birthday lunch (which is never hard to accomplish in Seoul, let me tell you).

I just really liked this colorful building, OK?

Before heading to the entrance of the stream, we continued another block or so to Gwanghwamun Square. Each time we’ve been in this area, there have been protests (peaceful ones) and today was no exception. The protesters are always elderly people, and on this day I believe they were protesting something involving the US and ROC military exercises. Apparently, protests and demonstrations in the plaza itself are illegal, so the protesters are often seen lining up across the street from it.

A statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin looms over the entrance of the square. He led Koreans to victory during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–1598) and is just one of many reminders of the hardships this small country has fought its way through.

In the distance, you can see the Blue House, where the President lives (follow the peak of the mountain and you’ll see the Blue House roof). In front of that, but obscured from view in this picture, is the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

At the beginning of the stream is the Cheonggye Plaza and you can’t miss it thanks to the icon spiral of the Spring Sculpture, which is a piece of art that:

“represents new life for the once decrepit stream area. The sculpture was created by Dutch artist Coosje Van Bruggen and Swedish artist Claes Oldenburg.

The colorful ribbons that stream down the side are inspired by the traditional dress of Korean women. The colors of blue and red represent the unity of opposites in nature and human spirit. The shape was inspired by a shell rising up like a pagoda.” – The Seoul Guide

It’s really a cool landmark! “Oh wow, it’s a shell,” Janna said when she was over here watching our endless slideshow but I promise it was more enthusiastic than you might be imagining!

How awesome would it be to work nearby and spend your lunch breaks in the summer with your feet in the stream or taking hour-long walks away from your desk in the spring? I’d be there every day. It’s over 5 miles long!

Henry’s favorite moments in Korea was when we were on opposite sides of water.

There is artwork all along the stream.

At night, there are beautiful lights illuminating the water, night markets, music performances…it’s, as Henry would say, really hopping.

I didn’t realize at first that this mural says Seoul!! Also, Chooch is 100% a natural when it comes to posing for pictures while my basic instinct is to pretend like I’m playing vertical Twister.

Don’t ask Henry to take your senior pictures.

If it hadn’t been 90 degrees that night with literal boughs of precipitation waiting to break above our heads, I would have dragged those two along for the full five mile length of the stream. But…because of the aforementioned weather elements, we decided to go back up to the street and find a place for lunch, since it was nearing noon and it’s always better to find a place to eat before you actually get hungry, that is the key to not killing your travel companions.

Henry realized we were pretty close to Insadong, so that is where we went!

Poop bread!

Sadly, the place were I got my artwork last year was no longer in Insadong. :( This little shopping center is super touristy (the whole area is, really) and you will likely see it recommended on any Seoul travel videos or lists you come across, but it really is pretty cool. The shops are cute, the alleys are chockful of traditional restaurants and tea houses, there is great street food (this is where you can find the famous dragon’s beard candy vendors), and all of the store names are in Hangul which adds to the authentic Korean feel. I recommend this area for souvenirs!

Since it was MY BIRTHDAY, we ate at a vegan restaurant tucked away in an alley. This isn’t some trendy hipster vegan joint, but a legit traditional Korean place where you take off your shoes and sit on the floor…

Henry was THRILLED.

“I’m not going to be able to get back up,” he groaned.

It was so humid that day that I had to pull my hair back and Chooch consistently looked like he was just dunked in a pool.

So I was fucking STOKED when I saw that mul nangmyeon was on the menu!!

This is a cold noodle dish which was extremely off-putting the first time I ever had it—I flat out HATED IT. But then I found myself craving it…and now I just love it so much. The broth is ice cold and for this vegan version, made from fruit. In the center, you get a freaking NEST of buckwheat noodles, and usually very thin slices of pears and radish top it off. Then, you add squirts of hot mustard and vinegar to the broth, stir it all up, and slurp it while the spiciness shoots up your nose.

I.LOVE.THIS.DISH.

Chooch had a vegan version of samgyeopsal and made a real huge mess and then found out the hard way that he doesn’t like perilla leaves, and Henry had some mushroom noodle thing, but I honestly wasn’t paying attention because I was working so hard on eating my noodles and have you seen me eat noodles? I am a monster. But, I was’t going to ask for scissors!!

I’m pretty sure the waitress hated us because Chooch and I kept cracking up and Henry was doing his dumb “I’m speaking to a Korean” accent every time he had to talk to her, and then there was a table of Indian people and Koreans behind us who were all conversing in English about their cultural differences and Henry was like, “I THINK THEY ARE HAVING A BUSINESS LUNCH” and we were like, “OK you’re cool, Henry” and then Chooch totally crashed into the back of one of them when he got up from the table and I pretty much ran out of there while Henry paid, BYEEEEE.

We went to Osulloc afterward, which is a really famous and popular tea company that started on Jeju Island. We bought some tea for Chooch’s piano teacher (WHO JUST TOLD US SHE IS MOVING TO HAWAII AND CHOOCH AND I ARE SO SAD) and Janna (whose tea was confiscated by TSA at JFK airport so drink up, bitches) and then Chooch and I both got matcha lattes because we’re the best.

Casual walk back to the subway…

…but not without stopping at least one convenience store, holla.

Gotta end this with another picture from our guest house. This view might not be anything special to you, but it is everything to me!

We rested for a bit and changed clothes in preparation for the BIG BIRTHDAY EVENT which is coming up later, maybe tomorrow, who knows I am drowning in blog posts!

Sep 022019
 

The rain held off for the rest of the day, so we were able to enjoy the outdoor portion of Lotte World, too! First, we had to get the obligatory Instagram shot.

This park is so ADORABLE.

The outdoor portion didn’t seem like it was all that crowded—because everyone was already camping out in the outrageous lines. (Note to self: go back to this park in the spring time when all the kids are in school!)

Look, I know it’s no Cinderella’s Castle, but this castle is iconic in Korea and it was so cool to see it in real life!

During our outdoor jaunt, we at lunch at this place called School Food, where Chooch had cheesy ramen and I had tteokbokki and mandu — not something I would ever think I’d eat at an amusement park! Henry was all, “I DON’T WANT TO EAT ANYTHING HERE” but then he ended up eating our leftovers, so….

Henry’s favorite moments are when he’s able to wander of without off, like here, where he had a minute to stare sadly at a lake before we summoned him back to us and began firing off more demands.

We found this little house with candy stuck to it and I yelled, “IS THIS A RIDE?!!?” and I mean, people were standing in a line next to it, so that was enough confirmation for me.

“What even is this?” Henry asked, and I just shrugged. Who cares?! It was a house with candy stuck to it!

Candy roof-nipples!

Henry was like, “There are lots of little kids standing in this line” and I guess he was insinuating it was a KIDS RIDE but since when has that stopped me? Because of that though, he was like, “I’ll just see myself out of here,” and went and stood alone like the predator we all know him to be.

But you guys! Once we were let inside the doorway, we had to TAKE AN ESCALATOR down to another floor and I was like, “Whhhaaaat is this going to be?” OH I’LL TELL YOU WHAT IT WAS! It was a dark ride! Like It’s a Small World but with candy and clowns and a dragon and singing flowers and and and…

…we had to sit in a train and enter the ride through a clown’s mouth!!!

This was my favorite ride at Lotte World! I told my friend Jiyong about it after I came back to Pittsburgh and she literally had no idea what ride I was talking about and then, after she looked it up on her phone, said, “Oh, because it’s a childrens ride.”

WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY, JIYONG??

I sent this to coulrophobic Wendy and she was like, “Wow, it’s nice to know you still torture your friends while on the other side of the world.”

You’re welcome, Wendy. I do my best!

Immediately after, I decided I wanted to ride this outside coaster called Atlantis. The line was relatively long, but I conned Chooch into getting standing in it by reminding him that we may never be in Korea again and YOLO, whatever. He is absolutely spoiled when it comes to going to non-crowded amusement parks because we had a super longstreak where we just timed our trips right and wound up at parks on super light attendance days where we just walk right on rides. Well, guess what pal? This is what it’s like in the real world, so suck it up.

Right when we got in line, Chooch noticed a Gongcha, which is a super popular chain of Taiwen boba tea, so he sent Henry over to get him one. We watched Henry standing there in line and didn’t think anything of it, but then the next thing we knew, Henry had rejoined us…EMPTY-HANDED.

“Where’s my Gongcha?!” Chooch shrieked.

“The line was too long,” Henry replied calmly, because our histrionics don’t faze him at all anymore. “I’ll go see what else I can find you,” and he strode away.

And then we we were without Wifi for a REALLY LONG TIME because he had the wifi thingie in his man-purse and was probably making his food-stand rounds instead of procuring Chooch a boba tea…

…which he proved when he came back 45 minutes later with a Smoothie King smoothie, which sent Chooch over the edge.

Still in line! I think I took this picture at the point where it said we had 80 minutes left.

That sign LIED.

I mean, it sucked standing in line for so long, but since it was Korea, we actually had really decent, inoffensive people in line around with us, like the group of high school boys in front of us who were SO COOL and I wanted to be a part of their crew in the worst way. I don’t care how creepy it makes me, I had so much fun standing there and listening to them talk, and I even understood a little!

“That one right there is the leader,” I whispered to Henry one of the times he came back to “visit.” Chooch just rolled his eyes because he was so annoyed at everything by now.

There was also a young couple behind us, they weren’t Korean; it sounded like they were speaking in Thai, maybe? I’m not sure! But they also spoke English and I know this because the girl part of the couple was super concerned when she spotted a bug in my hair and was sweet enough to alert me about it, and then they both assisted in helping me get it out. It was so kind! Chooch and I agreed later on that this probably wouldn’t have happened in America.

“Yeah, people would have just made fun of me about it behind my back,” I sighed.

Chooch was using the faux rock wall to hold himself up. It’s amazing how tired standing in line can make you.

When we eventually got to the platform-part of the queue, we got to skip to the front because the ride attendants were looking for two people to fill one of the cars — and it was the front row!

I thought the coaster was worth the wait – it was pretty thrilling and had some indoor elements too which I like! And I know enough Korean to know that the girls behind us were shrieking, “WE’RE GOING TO DIE” lol.

Chooch was just like, “IT WAS GOOD BUT WE WAITED IN LINE FOR LIKE 2 HOURS” and then pretty much complained about that for the remainder of our trip.

We ventured back inside after that and it was definitely more crowded now. I don’t think any of the rides had a wait time that was less than 180 minutes by now….

…except for the haunted house!

We had to pay extra for it but whatever – the wait was only about 15 minutes.

Spoiler: we escaped. It was your typical country fair-level haunt, and I think only two actual scare actors were inside. One was super laissez faire with their role, and the other kind of got into it, but the scariest thing for me was the fact that I was creeping around a dark haunted house with only one contact in.

Then as we were walking, a parade ended and everyone turned around and walked right toward us, like a literal Korean Wave, and I got caught in the undertow.

“10 million people in Seoul and a million of them are here right now,” Henry said after we swam to shore. It was overwhelming! But not as scary as it would have been if this happened in like, NYC or something. No one really pushes or shoves in Seoul, for what it’s worth.

We got some ice cream and were just about ready to punch out for the day when I noticed an entire kiddie section that we had missed earlier and I became obsessed with riding this dumb fish ride. Even this had about a 30 minute wait (I have never waited this long for a freaking kids attraction before!) but again, standing in line for rides in Korea is not as excruciating as it in America.

The whole time we were in line, Chooch kept saying, ‘We have to get the puffer fish!” and I was like, “Sure whatever,” but then when it was our turn, the ride attendant came over and said, “Oh no, you can ride by yourself,” to Chooch, because the front seat on the fish are smaller and meant for little kids, so Chooch was SO PISSED because now he had to ride in a different fish while I got to stay in the puffer fish, and not only that, but we were THE ONLY PEOPLE RIDING ALONE WITHOUT SMALL CHILDREN and it was so uncomfortable but oh well, YOLO remember.

Jackass Henry took pictures with his crappy phone but you can tell that Chooch is super sulky here, haha.

We picked up some stuff in the gift shop and then decided to peace out. It was 7pm at that point and the lines weren’t getting any shorter…

Chooch was soooooo cranky, but THANK GOD he got a seat on the subway. Trolling for seats is his specialty.

…so we left, rode the subway 20+ stops back to Hongdae, dropped our stuff off, and then headed back out to Dongdaemun/Jongno for some late night food and giddiness.

Overall, this was a great pre-birthday celebration. I love amusement parks so much and couldn’t imagine a Korean vacation without including one!

****

PRO TIP: If you ever go to Seoul and want to visit Lotte World, they have huge discounts for foreigners! We got ours through Trazy.com, but there are a number of websites that offer comparable deals, so don’t go to the gate and pay full price! 

Aug 292019
 

Every time I hear “Lotte World,” I imagine Pee Wee yelling, “SCREAM REAL LOUD!!!” and then in my head, I scream real loud because anytime I do that out loud, people think I’m either IN trouble or that I AM trouble and let’s be real, either one of those could be true at any given time.

Let me back up a minute. Lotte World is not only considered Korea’s Disneyland, but it also just happens to be the largest indoor amusement park IN THE WORLD.

THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD!

It also has an outdoor section, too!

Originally, I planned to go here on my actual birthday, but then  that turned out to be the day of the kpop show, so Lotte World birthday pre-gaming it was!

But first — idol sandwich for breakfast!

And Henry had his basic red bean bun.

Then Chooch and I had to go and get our daily elevator selfie and also a picture of the view of Hongdae.

I have this Instax taped to my monitor at work and I blow it a kiss every now and then OK FINE IT’S THE TAEMIN BACKGROUN ON MY COMPUTER THAT I’M BLOWING A KISS TO, GODDAMMIT.

I dunno, I just thought this broom was nice-looking.

We had to take the subway out to Jamsil, and this was the first time we made it out to this area, which is nuts because it’s where the famous Lotte World Tower is and that’s like a total tourist destination. Imagine my surprised when we were walking through the subway station and stumbled upon this “little” slice of Italy! Yeah, just chilling underground, you guys, this luxurious fountain.

No big deal.

Then we emerged from the subway like mole people and this humongous phallic symbol of Seoul was thrusting its shiny tip into the heavens right before us. There’s an observation deck up there but…heights.

And then there it was—Lotte World!

Oh, also in case you didn’t know, Lotte is a HUGE corporation in Korea. They have luxury hotels, department stores, food (Choco Pies!)—don’t fuck with Lotte, is all I’m saying. You might end up at the bottom of the Han River with a cinder block tied to your ankle.

Chooch said he didn’t agree to this pose but I was like IT’S THE DAY BEFORE MY BIRTHDAY JUST DO IT.

We had to go into some special foreigner office to get our discounted tickets and then Chooch was like, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU” because I kept trying to hand my ticket to a Lotte World worker at the ticket turnstile to have them scan it but it turned out IT WAS A KID, LIKE A YOUNGGGGG KID who was just standing there waiting for his family and I felt like such a stoop but look—I was still just wearing the one contact, OK?

I will milk that excuse for all it’s worth, you betcha.

Anyway, look how fancy the lobby area was!

Family portrait. We *mostly* got along all day. *Mostly.* There were moments, though.

Then suddenly—BAM. We were inside Lotte World and it was staggering. Also, it was already pretty crowded even though it was only 9:30AM and had just barely opened. But look at that layered cake of amusement!

One thing I wasn’t stoked about was the pirate ship. I just generally dislike them lately because they make me literally feel seasick, and for some reason, seeing this gigantic one INSIDE made me feel so terrified.

Luckily, the line for it was ridiculously long all day so Chooch never even once entertained the idea of riding it.

We did ride Sinbad though! Lotte World has so many cool dark rides! Granted, we had no idea what was being said during the ride, but they were fucking fun! IT WAS A BOAT RIDE!!!

When we were standing in line for it, Henry murmured, “I wish we had a washing machine in the bathroom at home…” because he was OBSESSED with washing clothes every night in our guest house bathroom.

The Thoughts Henry Has.

We thought we were going to have the front row but then dumb fast pass people showed up and stole it from us, story of our lives.

(We were just bitter because Henry is too cheap to get us fast passes.)

30th anniversary, apparently!

Lotte World was so massive inside that it was hard to understand just how to get from one place to the next. It took us a stupidly long time to find the line for French Revolution and that had nothing to do with being foreigners — the signs were in English! There were just so many nooks and crannies like Thomas left the English Muffin factory to give amusement park designing a go. Random staircases were nearly hidden in the dimly lit hallways and we never did figure out how to get to the 4th floor until the end of the day. It was nuts and I already can’t wait to go back during the off season to really explore that motherfucker!

OMG for some reason, I really latched on to the rapids ride they have there. I mean, first of all, it’s indoors and that made it seem so much scarier! We rode it with some lady and her two kids who did not seem happy to be on it probably because the mom kept making them smile for pictures.

Even Henry rode it with us! And then he would tap out, having ridden two whole rides first thing in the morning. He spent the rest of the day people-watching while Chooch and I aged exponentially in lines.

Like when we were standing in line for what we thought was the French Revolution, because we were literally standing right next to part of it. It was about an hour long wait, I would say, but it went fast because so much was happening around us. First, there was a young elementary school and his sister in front of us, and he was happy to get to practice his English on us. HE WAS SO FUCKING CUTE. I have spent my entire blogging career (lol) bitching about how much I hate children, but Korean children are the exception. They were just wonderful and adorable and I made the mistake of telling Chooch once on the subway that I love listening to them talk and he congratulated me for being a predator but WHATEVER CHOOCH YOU’RE JUST JEALOUS THAT I LIKE KOREAN KIDS BETTER THAN YOU.

Then this kid starts talking to us about the French Revolution and how scary it is, etc and I was like, “Wow, what a brave kid, standing in line for this roller coaster even though he’s clearly terrified of it.” But then he and his sister decided that the wait was too long so they said bye and peaced out. Now there were new people in front of us, and one of them spent THE ENTIRE TIME taking selfies of herself so I had to keep ducking and turning my head or else I’d have ugged-up some nice Korean girl’s selfie bigtime.

MEANWHILE, there was live entertainment below us. Lotte’s house band was down there playing Baby Shark and Chooch demanded that Henry go to the source and record it for Calvin who, like all 2-year-olds and probably some weird adults, loves Baby Shark.

I looked over the railing after a minute or two and thought for sure I saw Henry but it turned out to be some pot-bellied ahjussi, so Chooch and I were nearly peeing our pants over this but then a minute later, I looked again…

AND HENRY WAS STANDING NEXT TO HIM!!!

OMG.

Then I was like, “WHY IS HIS HAIRLINE SO WIDE?!?!” and we were cracking up over it so I airdropped the picture to Chooch and he airdropped this one back to me:

And to top it all off, Chooch does the best impression of Henry which makes Henry look like a barbarian, and Chooch does this grunting thing that sounds like Paul Eugene and I swear that Henry doesn’t actually grunt when he walks, but it is SO FUCKING FUNNY TO ME that I had to beg Chooch to stop because I was seriously coming super close to peeing my pants and people in line around us were probably SO ANNOYED at the obnoxious Americans but I couldn’t help it—making fun of Henry is Chooch’s and my best hobby.

Oh, my stomach hurt badly from laughing.

Then Henry came back up to the line after we had moved forward considerably and Chooch stopped laughing and barked, “WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOU. DID YOU GET A RECORDING OF BABY SHARK” because he’s more of a nagging wife than I am, and Henry calmly said that no, he didn’t, because the band had already moved on to the next song by the time he managed to weave through the labyrinthine hallways to find the steps and he excitedly told us that the foreign girls dancing in the performance were scantily-clad in bikinis while the Korean girl dancers were wearing really nice and respectable dresses.

If Henry kept a diary, this would have been the only thing he wrote that day.

After standing in the extended queue for about 45 minutes, we were finally ushered into the entrance of the ride, where of course there was more standing but at least we were inside the main queue now, which was dark and made to look like a cave, so of course I tripped–HARD–and again I loudly reminded those around me that I was only wearing one contact.

Just the one.

In one eyeball.

When I have two eyes.

And then my favorite thing ever happened! WE GOT TO THE FRONT OF THE LINE AND I SAW THE RIDE VEHICLE.

IT WAS NOT A COASTER.

IT WAS A SAFARI JEEP THING.

WE HAD BEEN STANDING IN LINE FOR THE WRONG RIDE THAT WHOLE TIME!!

This ended up being some type of Indiana Jones-like ride called Pharaoh’s Fury and it was actually a lot of fun but my feelings were all wacked out because I spent an hour thinking I was going on some crazy-ass coasters with a bunch of inversions, but oh well. Lotte World had other plans for me.

SERIOUSLY I NEED TO STUDY THE LAYOUT OF THIS PARK NEXT TIME.

As the day went on, the line for French Revolution kept getting longer and longer until it was eventually like 250 minutes so, no French Revolution for me.

Stay tuned for the second half of our Lotte World adventures!

Aug 282019
 

After leaving the mural village, we spent the rest of the afternoon being nebby (Pittsburghese for nosey, yo) in Jeonju. HERE ARE SOME MORE PICTURES and then we can move on to the next day.

I loved this classic-looking store!

Gray skies & sunflowers.

The Daeseongjeon Shrine was under construction but we were still able to explore it.

Korea is chockful of these beautiful, historical shrines. My favorite parts of them is the underneath of the roof — there is a name for that, I think!? There’s always the coolest designs painted in bright reds, greens, and blues.

Being presh + Henry’s finger that I forgot to crop out. He’s such a great photog.

Nearby, there was some summer festival going on with a huge blown-up pool. Some of the locals tried to coax Chooch into swimming but he shyly said no — people in Jeonju were SO NICE.

There were several caricature places around, but I was drawn to this girl’s little studio.

She was so cute!

It’s tradition now for Chooch to get a caricature in Korea, I guess. I love this one and it also marked the first time ever that I got to say “daebak” in Korea. The artist loved that I said that and gave me a thumbs up, haha.

We went back to the choco pie bakery to get a box of them. There was no way I was leaving without more!

I loved that there were places of tranquility all around.

LOLOLOL so Henry kept wandering off and by the time we would realize, he’d be on the other side of the street and the only reason we would even realize is because he was the keeper of the wifi and if he strayed too far, we’d lose our connection. Chooch was constantly trying to play Pokemon Go so he’d usually be the first to notice.

Anyway, Henry was like straight up Peeping Tom’ing all the food vendors from afar and I was like, “OMG he looks like Michael Myers! He’s so creepy!” so then Chooch and I kept humming the Halloween theme and Henry was like WHY R U DOING THAT when we caught up to him but then we were laughing too hard by then to talk.

So one of the times he roamed away from us was to splurge on a BEER but not just any BEER, it was BEER with HONEY drizzled on top.

And he immediately got it all over his stupid beard.

Then we lost him again and when Chooch asked where he went, I said, “I dunno. Probably off looking for Laurie Strode” so then we lost it all over again.

Ugh Jeonju made us so slaphappy.

Random butts!

I am constantly craving bingsu so we stopped in 1723 Cafe for a fix.

It was really pretty inside, like a peaceful escape! I chose a secluded table though because Chooch and I were getting super hyper at this point and there was group of super cool looking high school boys in their uniforms sitting by the counter and I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of them, so we sent Henry up to order by himself.

FUCK you guys, I think this may have been the best bingsu I had on this trip. It was black sesame, red bean, walnuts, injeolmi (sweet soy powder, which is one of the BEST bingsu ingredients), and pumpkin. It was fucking divine and I regret so hard that I chose to share this with Henry. I could have easily inhaled that whole thing on my own.

Chooch got this refreshing parfait.

This is going to be futile to try and put into words, but while we were here, Henry finally cracked and started fighting back after we mocked him mercilessly for the 83749827498245th time that day.

“OK! Every time I say something, you have to say it twice three four times!” and shit motherfucker goddamn you guys, the way he said it was SO STUPIDLY FUNNY that we cracked the FUCK up all over again and Chooch went the extra mile by spitting his water into his hand.

The way he said “twice three four times” though!!! It was like “twice three-FOUR” times, like he couldn’t decide how many times and just kept moving the number up in a weird stutter, and we latched on to this SO HARD. Ir’s been a month and we still say it to him every chance we get and he is just like IT WASN’T THAT FUNNY.

Au contraire!

Then we had to quickly leave before we caused any more of a scene, but it wouldn’t be a Korea Vacation if we didn’t cause one every day.

We also spent some time tooling around this Cathedral which I already posted about because I like to jump around and stay unorganized.

We had to be back at the train station in time for our train back to Seoul, which was around 7PM, so we quickly shopped for some moju, which is a traditional Jeonju liquor with medicinal properties. It tastes like cinnamon, actually, and is super refreshing. Chooch and I also put money in some weird traditional capsule machine to get what I thought was going to be some astrological toy, like a year of the whatever animal thing, but ended up being our horoscopes in Korean, so that was 1000 won…not very well spent. Except that I was excited because I was at least able to figure out which machine we each had to use for our birth year. It was the most complicated, rudimentary capsule machine I’ve ever used.

Took a taxi back to the station and the guy was listening to Western soft rock which was interesting and he was also an aggressively efficient driver who saved us time from sitting in taxi traffic and extra fare by pointing to the train station from across a courtyard and basically kicking us out of his car.

I was excited to sit next to some Korean soldiers in the waiting area but then asshole Henry made me get up for no reason and I lost my seat. PRO TIP: a surefire way to make locals like you in Korea is to move over so that they have room to sit. Every time I did this small act of courtesy, the thankful response I got was startling. When we were sitting outside in the air-conditioned sitting area, I squeezed over closer to Chooch and motioned for an older woman to sit down next to me and she was happy about it. I am forever wanting to be liked in Korea (I’m so pathetic) and this is a really good way!

I was actually pretty sad to leave! Like I mentioned before, Jeonju is a pretty popular domestic tourist area, but it doesn’t seem like it’s a place that foreigners really travel to. If you ever go to South Korea, pencil this onto your itinerary! Obviously, there are a lot of other things to do while in Jeonju, not just the hanok village, so I think it’s going to be on our agenda when we go back to Korea.

On the train ride back, Henry was in an entirely different car and Chooch and I were also separated. He sat next to a young guy who watched kdramas on his phone and I sat next to a young girl who slept the whole time and I definitely nodded off here and there too but the ride back was ROUGH so I kept waking up in a jolt thinking that we were derailing. I’m not kidding, it was pretty scary.

It was after 11 by the time we got back to Hongdae and I don’t think any of us had trouble falling asleep, and I’m pretty sure it was also the first time I slept straight through the night until a reasonable hour the next morning! Jeonju was exhausting.

Aug 262019
 

While walking around Jeonju Hanok Village, we randomly climbed up a small hillside just for funsies because why not go on a mini-hike in the middle of an Asian summer while the air is pregnant with condensation, ready to pop.

Seriously, if you’re the type that goes on vacations to loaf, lounge, and leisure, don’t travel with us. We don’t feel like we got the most out of our days unless we’re tucking ourselves in with sore, busted bodies at night.

I loved the aerial views we got of the hanok village.

Here’s Henry dreaming of living out here, alone…just a middle-aged man and his kimchi pots.

Chooch recreated his Instagram-famous Gamcheon Culture Village pose from last year.

Anyway, the little hill wasn’t that large so we made it to the top in no time. It was just like a little forest park up there, and we considered just turning around and heading back, but then we saw another set of steps on the other side of the hill, so we took those ones to see where they led, because YOLO or whatever, right?

Do the kids still say that?

No?

Good.

Anyway, at the bottom of the steps, we found ourselves outside of the hanok village and next to a road, and across the street was Jaman Mural Village, which was actually on my list of things to see in Jeonju!

Also, Korea and their mural villages. Jesus.

Since the day was so dreary, the mural village was a ghost town, although there was this group of tourists, who we think were German, that we kept running into and they were getting on Henry’s nerves for some reason.

We happened upon this food stand which was featured on Korean Englishman (one of our favorite YouTubers). They sell waffle-wrapped bibimbap but tragically, we were all still too full from our lunch to try one! #ANGONYFACEEMOJI

I tried to coax Henry into buying one just so I could have a bite but even Trashcan Stomach had reached his food intake limit, can you ever believe it.

FUCK I WANT ONE OF THOSE RIGHT NOW.

It started raining so we dipped into the closest cafe and it was so quaint! The older woman running it was very sweet and it was a comfortable refuge from the downpour. There were two high school-aged girls sitting near us, giggling like….well, school girls. I loved it. Chooch was obsessed with this book by Neil Patrick Harris so he was happy to have an opportunity to relax and get some reading in.

The Maybe Germans walked by while we were inside and Henry was so angry.

The rain died down after 30 minutes or so and we continued our exploration of the village. Chooch found a cat almost immediately and then I became with these fruit-things, which Henry’s phone said might be guava.

If so, I’m no longer obsessed.

Guava and I just aren’t friends. I don’t mind guava flavored things but the actual fruit can go kindly fuck itself.

Jaman Mural Village is built into a steep hillside so the views were sweeping no matter where you stood.

This little path was so steep and my backpack kept threatening to topple me over backward.

When Chooch and I posed for this, I bitched because I wanted Chooch to do the same pose as me….

…so he did, but then he called me a crybaby. WHATEVER, IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY TRIP NOT HIS.

Random Edward Scissorhands mural.

This cafe though!!! I wish it wasn’t closed that day.

You never when you’re going to turn a corner in Korea and find yourself in front of some historical monument from an ancient dynasty.

It never gets old.

Me, my iced Americano, and the Imokdae memorial.

And then more murals of Western pop stars…

While on the hillside, we also stumbled upon a lady running a balloon-dart game, which Chooch sucked at and only managed to get a small prize, which was some strange stuffed cartoon carp.

I BET YOU THINK THIS JEONJU IS CLOSED NOW. Well, you’re wrong. Get out your bookmark because the Neverending Story, Part Korea continues tomorrow with (probably) one last Jeonju recap, and then FINALLY I can start telling you about our day at Lotte World, a/k/a Korea’s Disneyworld. It was quite an experience.

Aug 232019
 

Oh shit you guys, I can’t even tell you how stoked I was for our Jeonju day trip! It almost didn’t happen though because Henry went online to get train tickets the night before and they were all sold out because it’s a popular daytrip destination. But then the next morning, Henry found seats on a different train which were a little more expensive because it’s a sightseeing/tourist train, but YOLO right, guys? I was excited to go to Seoul Station and go down to the train platform! I’m a little kid when it comes to these things so I get easily excited and giddy.

GIDDY ON THE PLATFORM.

Since it was a tourist train, it went a bit slower than the KTX…but it was SO PRETTY!

Highly recommend this train for your slower-paced sightseeing needs.

Chooch was repulsed because I got a pack of chestnuts for my train snack but hey, it’s a popular Korean snack so don’t knock it.

The day started out all gray-skied and sprinkly again but this was really the only day we had available to make this trip so RAIN OR SHINE, MOTHERFUCKERS. I still enjoyed looking at the Korean countryside on the way there. Mountains galore! Henry sat behind us watching boring Middle Aged Man shows on Netflix (probably something about cops) and Chooch alternated between watching dumb YouTube videos and reading. Me? I just observed the people around us (this one guy brought corn on the cob for a snack and he ate it with such confidence that I decided I wanted to live my life like that guy, although it’s been a month and I still haven’t eaten corn on the cob on public transportation. Maybe I’ll whip one out on the trolley this week.

We arrived at the Jeonju train station around 11am and took a taxi (our first Korean taxi!) to Jeonju Hanok Village. It was about a fifteen minute trip and easier than trying to figure out which bus to take.

The Hanok Village here is one of the largest in Korea and if you have learned anything about me from (pretending to) read these Korea recaps, it’s that I love me some hanok. But the main reason why I wanted to go is because it’s also the birthplace of my favorite Korean dish, bibimbap. This was the first Korean food I ever had, decades ago, and likely didn’t even realize I was eating Korean food at the time. I had a friend (emphasis on “had”) whose family friends owned a Korean restaurant here and sometimes we would go so she could visit with the daughter who was around our age. Being a vegetarian, I always got the same thing: bibimbap. I remember loving that it came with a fried egg on top, and that I could NEVER remember the name and always called it “that beebop thing.” Oh, what a long way I’ve come!

It’s funny how exciting a travel day within a vacation can be! There are still thousands of things we have left to explore in Seoul alone, but that city still feels somewhat familiar to us, so getting away for a day to traipse around a quieter, smaller city was thrilling. I was so happy to be there! Even though Jeonju’s hankok village is a popular tourist destination (even for domestic travel), it was still so much quieter and slower-paced than being in Seoul.

Chooch was starting to get his hunger-attitude (note the forced smile) so after a brief walk of the area, we decided it was time to find a bibimbap place, and fast. Luckily, there were a ton to choose from.

Henry was already walking so far ahead of us because we get on his nerves, I guess. THAT’S FINE. It’s easier for us to make fun of him this way. And oh, the fun we made, folks. OH THE FUN WE MADE.

We chose this cute little spot for our bibimbap lunch. Except that Henry doesn’t like bibimbap and got something else.

Doesn’t he just look so wonderful to be around? Luckily, the food really gave him life.

The best thing about Korean restaurants is that even though you typically get your food really fast, you’re given an array of banchan (side dishes) to share before your main meal comes out so any present HANGER is sure to quickly subside almost immediately after ordering.

SO SMART.

Plus, the banchan is usually an assortment of kimchi and other vegetables, so it’s not like filling up on mozzarella sticks and loaded potato skins. It’s a healthy yet delicious pre-game! Also, most restaurants give free refills on the banchan too! You’re lucky if you can get free drink refills in most American restaurants these days.

THE MAIN ATTRACTION: Jeonju bibimbap! It was very satisfying and filling without making me feel like I had a rice-brick in my stomach, which is how I sometimes feel after eating bibimbap in America. This one was light and had an interesting variety of vegetables not usually found in Western bibimbap, like fernbrake, a walnut, something that I believe was a gingko nut?

Another must-do in Jeonju is PNB BAKERY! It claims to be one of the oldest bakeries in Korea, but also the originator of the famous choco pies, which have become mass-produced by companies such as Lotte and Orion. North Korea banned them in 2014 and they have since become a hot commodity on the black market. The NK soldier who defected last year requested a choco pie when he was in the hospital and Orion gave him a lifetime supply.

Choco pies are NO JOKE in Korea. We buy boxes of them sometimes at the Asian market here in Pittsburgh, but like anything else, they taste so much better in Korea.

But these ones from PNB? Holy goddamn shit, next level. They are, obviously, unbelievably fresh and come in 6 varieties, and instead of a marshmallow filling like the ones from Lotte and Orion, these ones are stuffed with fresh, smooth cream.

Hold on. I’m choking on my saliva at the memory.

We each bought one to eat while we were there, and then stopped back to get a box before going back to Seoul, and believe me — we tried to make them last as long as possible once we got back to Pittsburgh, but it was tough. These things are legit.

I have to see if I can buy them online…

Hanok Village has lots of soothing fountain and water features throughout, and the main drag is even divided by a little stream which was delightful to walk along. You could also rent these little electric car things which were kind of golf carts but cooler and Chooch was begging us to get one but only because he wanted to drive it and there was no way that was happening. Those things were a hazard with OTHER people driving them, I can only imagine the devastation that Chooch would leave in his wake.

We almost got flattened several times by those things.

We went inside this nice (TOO NICE) boutique of local crafts and tea sets, but pretty much everything was well out of our budget (and probably most people’s budgets, if we’re being honest – Chooch’s eyes bugged out at some of the price tags). There were things in there that I could definitely imagine my grandma making my pappap buy though.

So, you know. It was like THAT.

One of those OMG DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING shops.

It sure was pretty though.

A lot of the shops and restaurants were just in Korean so it was another time when it was helpful that I could at least read it. I’m pretty much map-illiterate (I couldn’t remember the word ‘illiterate’ and had to google it, I swear the only thing that has changed about me since turning 40 is that I’m getting dumber quicker), so I’m always happy to have some other useful skill while traveling, lol. Because aside from that I’m W-O-R-T-H-L-E-S-S.

Just like my daddy used to always say!

Lol.

Remember when I said I’m obsessed with hanok?

Yeah. Sigh.

More dumb poses.

Then we were like, “WHAT IS UP THERE I WONDER” because we some people climbing the steps so we followed like lemmings and that is how we exactly found the MURAL VILLAGE which is coming atchu next time, let a girl rest her fingertips. Ouch.

Aug 222019
 

I’m really slogging through this as fast as I can before I start forgetting the pertinents! It was all such a whirlwind and I didn’t realize just how much we actually did until I started sorting through all the pictures on my phone, like whoa.

But anyway, after an afternoon of shopping in superfluous Sinsa stores, we got back on the subway to go even deeper into Gangnam, where Coex and SMTown reside in all their Goliath glory.

We went to SMTown last year as well…but the museum portion of the experience was not yet fully constructed so of course I needed to go back because there is an entire SHINee exhibit and that alone was worth to me, especially since SHINee themselves have toured it!

Also something to note is that this time around, Henry was so much more experienced with the subway, that he got us straight to Coex with no hiccups. In fact, this time we got off at an exit that literally spilled us right out into the Coex/SMtown plaza and I asked, “Why didn’t we go this way last year?” and he just glowered at me in response.

I dunno, I guess Google maps had a big update since the last time we were there and now it actually tells you which line and exit to take. It definitely did not do that last time and Naver maps is all in Korean, so it was like taking a leap of faith every time we got on the subway.

Once we were inside SMTown, Henry very quickly bowed out of touring the actual museum portion because it cost like $15 god forbid. So Chooch and I went ahead and did this without him. We got to choose from a variety of passes to wear around our necks and we made a huge production out of this. The SHINee ones that had available were an Odd Eye design, and then ones with Onew and Key. I was sad there was no Taemin option (and I also found this kind of strange!) so I chose Key because I was really liked his solo album from earlier in the year. Chooch chose one that had a black and white picture of Red Velvet and then painstakingly filled out the back with his contact information while an SMTown employee giggled at him.

The museum is actually quite large and takes you down SM memory lane, starting with the founding of SM in 1989 by Lee Soo-man, who was also a performer himself. Before BTS broke into the western market, SM was widely considered to be the apex of the Hallyu Wave what with the crazy success and popularity of groups like TVXQ, Girl’s Generation, Super Junior, SHINee, and EXO. They figured out the formula and ran with it.

There are also displays of various outfits/costumes worn in popular music videos, like the above suits that my beloved SHINee wore in their first comeback video after the passing of Jonghyun, “Good Evening.”

Each group or artist had their own section of memorabilia, history, behind the scenes photos from videos. And there were also rooms designed to make it look like you were on the set of certain videos, with photo ops! This was our favorite part.

Of course we had to stand in a stupid line at the end and buy prints of the ones we liked best (which was all of them but Henry had joined us at this point and was like JUST PICK A FEW!!!!! as Won signs came out of his ears like smoke signals.

It was cool because the idols “interacted” with you before the pictures were taken. Chooch was really good at acting back with them but I always just stood there with one hand up and a surprised look on my stupid face. There was also an option to purchase a digital video of all of the “photo shoots” too but I didn’t want a forever-copy of myself looking like a deer in headlights.

I thought that maybe Chooch would get bored or rush me through, but he was just as interested and entertained as I was. We had fun looking for all of our favorites in the big collage of Polaroids and sending Henry photos of his Red Velvet and NCT biases (he never thanked us, by the way).

Actual wardrobe from various videos and music show performances!

Shockingly, there weren’t a ton of people there that day (that’s because they were all in the cafe and gift shop, as we’d find out later) so we really got to take our time and mess around with props and read all of the interesting descriptions.

Maybe you might be thinking, “This is so stupid, why would you want to do something like this while in Seoul” and it’s kind of similar to going to the Rock n’ Roll hall of fame in Cleveland–if you really like a certain type of music, these things aren’t stupid or a waste of time. For me, it’s like paying respect to groups that have added so much light and happiness to my life!

To Henry, it’s just another way for SM to be even more of a cash cow, and…I won’t disagree with that, lol. But even with all the hardships and scandals YG Entertainment has been going through, if they offered an experience like this, you best believe I’d be relinquishing my wallet to them.

And if a museum ever opened in England in homage to the Cure? Book me the next flight.

I love shit like this.

Sweet Jonghyun. </3

These are the clothes from the View video.

And this whole room had artifacts from the Married to the Music video which is coincidentally playing behind me as I type this!

The first time I saw this video, I fell in love with SHINee even harder and knew that stanning them was right.

It gave me so many Halloween dinner party ideas!

Some f(x) love! I don’t think they’re ever coming out of hiatus though, sadly. Krystal just recently announced that she doesn’t want to perform anymore, but I hope she at least keeps acting because she is always so good in dramas!!

We weren’t sure if people are allowed to sit in this chair, but there was no sign saying not to and no one was around to scold us, so…

Ugh, there should be a mold of Donghae’s face. He is seriously so beautiful and I should know – I stood about ten feet from him on a sidewalk in NYC last year! I honestly almost dropped to the ground in front of him, those strong visuals hit my body like a handful of muscle relaxers.

Henry texted me after an hour and was like, “…are you guys still in there?” Uh, yes. Getting our money’s worth!

NCT!!

Eventually, we made it to the end of the museum which, as I mentioned earlier, spit us out right into the madhouse that is the SM Cafe and Gift Shop. Hooooo boy, every fucking kpop-loving foreigner was up in that piece and there was Henry, standing alone, looking absolutely frayed and violated. It was pretty hilarious. It took us a good 30 minutes to get our pictures paid for and printed, and then Chooch wanted and EXO tumbler which required us to stand in the long cafe line, but that at least went pretty quickly.

We were really reaching the hunger boiler point by now, and planned on going to Plant, a vegan joint in Itaewon, but I was like, “WAITTTTTT, STARFIELD!!”

I was not going to be that close, twice in two visits, without finally seeing this incredible library-cum-art installation!

And it was worth it. Even if it meant braving the Saturday afternoon mall crowds in order to experience it. And wow, let me tell you—that mall was PACKED. Mall culture is alive and well in Seoul!

The amazing thing is that people really do grab a book and read here.

Then after that, I stalled my travel cohorts one more time so that I could get a quick video of the area and they wanted to kill me, but I thought that commercial playing on the giant screen was cute OK?!

Luckily, Itaewon is only a few stops away from Coex, so we got to Plant in no time and since it was only about 4:30 at this point, we managed to beat the dinner rush and got seated right away. First of all, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Who goes to Seoul and eats vegan food?!” but look: their veg scene has really been heating up over the last several years, and I have heard a lot of rave reviews about Plant, from vegans and carnivores alike.

Because it’s in Itaewon, a neighborhood in Seoul known for its large population of expats, I assumed that this place was started by one of those aforementioned expats; turns out, the owner was born in Busan, but has lived everywhere from the Ivory Coast to the US, before moving back to Korea in 2006. One of the other chefs is an American Korean, but the staff we saw that day was comprised entirely of expats – our waitress was Australian, for instance. Everyone in there was speaking English, and the whole vibe and aesthetic also reminded me so much of home that I almost forgot I was in Korea! It was pretty weird.

Henry treated himself after enduring 2 hours alone in SMTown haha.

Shit you guys, Chooch and I both had the chili burger and I’m not lying — it may have been the best homemade veggie burger of my life. The bun was incredible, the fries were so satisfying, the whole place was just so homey — I could definitely see myself easing into a Plant regular if I lived in Seoul.

(God, why don’t I live in Seoul!?!?)

Even Henry was like, “I’m comfortable enough in my meathood to admit that this is a delicious non-meat meal.”

Capped off the night with some Hongdae strolling while Chooch hung back in the room because he decided that waking up from his evening nap was not an option.

I made Henry go to his least favorite Korean store of all time, Chuu, but I sadly didn’t see anything I was interested in buying! That was a bummer, because last year I was panicked about the whole free-size thing and OMG what if nothing fit me, but then I bought a shirt from Chuu last winter and it was so comfortable and flattering, so I couldn’t wait to go back in person and buy clothes. But nothing caught my eye!

Then we had a late night convenience store run before heading back to the room and I finally got a real life Idol Sandwich! This one was from 7-Eleven I think, and it was the seasonal blueberry variety. It was SO FUCKING DELICIOUS. There is something about the bouncy, chewy bread that they use in Korea that really makes sandwiches POP. Would I go to the CoGo’s down the street from my house and buy a sandwich? FUCK NO. Would I confidently eat a sandwich from pretty much any convenience store in Korea? FUCK YEAH BRING IT. Their convenience stores are so superior to ours in America.

For instance, if something is out of date, the cashier won’t be able to ring it up! That happened to us! I couldn’t believe it.

Anyway, this concludes the three-part summary of our third day in Korea. It was definitely the first REALLY GOOD, everything feels normal again, day that we had since arriving and I was so relieved. My eye was nearly healed, the jetlag fog had finally evaporated, I felt fully functioning and oriented – from here on every day was better than the last. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish recapping it before winter, haha.

Aug 212019
 

So in my last post I was getting all high and mighty about how I love exploring old historical stuff but now I’m gonna be all contrary and tell you that one of my favorite things about Seoul is their weird, eclectic collection of stores masquerading as modern art installations.

One of the best areas for these quirky (and pricey) boutiques is Sinsa-dong, home of the famed Garosu-gil which is a tree-lined street full of designer $$$$ stores and fancy cafes. So like, Henry’s hell.

This is also near Gangnam, which is the majorly high-class part of Seoul, the subject of Psy’s hit crossover pop song “Gangnam Style,” and Plastic Surgery Town. Basically, we knew we were in Sinsa-dong when we got off the subway and were assayed by giant plastic surgery ads all over the station. People take “medical vacations” to Seoul, specifically to get plastic surgery and the whole time we were there, I kept examining my aging face in the mirror and musing, “Maybe I should get some work down while we’re here” and Henry’s frown (and eyeball dollar signs) pushed me onto my ass.

…which COULD ALSO USE SOME WORK.

You can maybe see why this isn’t Mr. Plain Wal-Mart T-Shirt’s ideal spot to spend a Saturday.

Or any day.

But you really can’t go to Seoul without experiencing this area…and nearly get run over by BMWs and Porches with tinted windows along the narrow side streets. (Henry’s like, “Yeah you can.”) And I was insistent that we make it out there because the Garosu-girl Gentle Monster was currently running a pop-up cafe in collaboration with Fendi! I saw pictures on Instagram and was naturally hypnotized by the aesthetics.

Something that Henry is immune to.

On the walk there, we passed this totally cool Baskin Robbins which really rubbed the salt in the wound of the recent horrible experience I had in an AMERICAN Baskin Robbins.

Ice cream ATM, you guys. I’m looking into having one of these installed in our office at the Law Firm.

No, we didn’t get anything! We knew that we were going to be scarfing down 1000s of calories at the Gentle Monster cafe in a few minutes, so we abstained from acting like stereotypical ‘mericans just let loose in the cookie aisle of Walmart.

Even the classy Sinsa area of Seoul has these stupid claw machine arcades, ughhh. I hate them because they put Chooch in such a shitty mood! And just as expected, he was a little jerk for about an hour after not winning anything. I fear that this is the gateway to the gambling and I’m so nervous for his future.

Luckily, Gentle Monster was right around the corner and we arrived just as the cafe was opening. There was already a small group of people waiting, and I was glad that we got there early because I have heard that some of the items sell out quickly and it often is too crowded to even get a seat.

I really didn’t want to sit outside and eat melty desserts, thanks.

Chooch got the first Fendi popsicle of the day! Hilariously,  this is the only Fendi we can comfortably afford, so hopefully Chooch savored every last lick.

(He certainly didn’t let the rest of us taste it.)

His super-verbose review was that it was “good.”

The dessert display inside was gorgeous, and also kind of like a game of “which one is edible?”

We chose the set of three banana which were surprisingly soft – we were all expecting more of a hardened candy-coating, or maybe something akin to fondant, but it was a soft icing-like consistency and each was filled with a different type of mousse. They were extremely decadent and fulfilling. I wish I could have them with coffee everyday.

The moss-looking tree stump was actually a pistachio cake topped with an almond cookie and it was also WORTH IT. And we all fought over the last bits like starving birds who found a tin of severed toes in a junkyard during the apocalypse.

We got to sit in the best room of the cafe since we got there early!

Chooch was pissed because we didn’t let him have the entire cookie off the cake and I pointed out that he had just had a popsicle so then I was accused of fat-shaming him and that really set the tone but deep down I knew he was still surly about that fucking claw machine. But then he was happy because he took this tilted picture of me and I actually liked it and I am super hard to please with pictures.

My iced Americano didn’t taste any better in a cup with Fendi scrawled across it but it was still refreshing.

The main Gentle Monster showroom across the street didn’t open until noon so we went shopping at Aland. I LOVE Aland. They sell CosRX products there and I really like CosRX facial cleansers so I got one of those and also discovered the Korean clothing line Dear Stalker which I fell in love with immediately and bought one shirt even though I wanted them all.

Chooch was being a pissy brat and actually disappeared to be alone with his brooding sulkiness but then we found him (it was one of those, “Oh shit, does anyone know where Chooch is?” moments) and showed him the Wiggle Wiggle section–Wiggle Wiggle is another Korean brand and they have some of the best phone cases. One of my most recent phone cases is actually from Wiggle Wiggle, so Chooch was like, “OH GREAT MOM IS PROBABLY GOING TO GET ANOTHER PHONE CASE BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS FOR HER” and yeah he’s right because this was MY BIRTHDAY TRIP but anyway, I was nice and said that he could get a phone case and he was excited because they had a Corgi one so he got to add another thing to his Corgi collection that has everything but a real Corgi in it.

Admiring his new case while adjusting his attitude.

Henry’s lucky that he was off “looking for a garbage can” while also conveniently being the keeper of all of the money, because I would have thrown down some major ₩₩₩₩₩₩ at Stretch Angels. Their bags are so appealing to me! And their store gave me MUCH interior decorating inspo.

Henry really missed out on this one, that’s for sure.

But no worries, because Gentle Monster was open and ready to accept Henry’s sneers and grimaces!

I kept trying to get Henry to buy new frames but he was all, “THEN I WILL HAVE TO PAY A LOT OF MONEY FOR LENSES” and I was like, “Yes, but you will have GENTLE MONSTER frames, so…”

I thought for a second that I almost had him swayed when we found some cool black frames, but then he backed out.

And Chooch was mad because still, a year later, we wouldn’t buy him a pair of sunglasses.

One of the salespeople saw him trying to figure out how to put on this one pair, which is always a questionable thing when you have to figure out how to put on a pair of sunglasses, so she came over and happily demonstrated for him. Then she was like, “Here, you try” and this is why I love Gentle Monster – for as artsy and peacocky as their glasses are, the people who work there (and we have been to like 5 of them) are so kind and helpful! They don’t breathe down your back, they don’t try to upsell, they don’t tell you not to touch or take pictures—they encourage it! It’s just as much of a multi-media, hands-on art experience as it is a shopping trip.

This video was actually from our last day in Seoul, when we went to the Gentle Monster in Hongdae and Chooch was like, “Whoa, look at me, knowing how to open these complicated shades.”

 

Next up was Dr. Jart, a Korean skincare brand that also makes browsing an interactive, stimulating experience.

The outside was themed like an olympic swimming pool, complete with misters which didn’t really help on this sweltering 90 degree day, but thanks for trying, Dr. Jart!

The upper level was themed after Henry’s place of employment. Just kidding, but he does work in the warehouse of a beverage company so this definitely made him feel like home, I think. Complimentary water bottles of varying temperatures were offered and there was a young couple chilling off to the side, on a seat made of water pallets. So strange, yet cool and I wasn’t exactly sure why I was excited about this other than the fact than I was in Korea and everything there makes me happy, even a room decorated with hundreds of water bottles.

Behind those curtains were several sinks where you could wash your hands using this lovely citrus hand wash, which Chooch and I immediately imprinted on. Henry was like, “Oh for god’s sake, fine” and washed his hands too and agreed that it was a very nice cleansing experience and I’ll tell you what, Dr. Jart — great fucking marketing. Because even though we had already perused the actual shop portion of the three-level experience, we marched our asses right back down the steps and bought some of that citrus shit. We actually opted for the hand cream and Chooch also got a lip treatment because he always gets chapped lips in the winter, so…way to think ahead. And the salesgirl threw in a TON of samples for me too and I was stoked because one of the samples was the BB cream, which I love.

Also, props to Dr. Jart for being one of the only skin care shops where you can shop peacefully without a shadow. Sometimes I will leave a shop even though I originally planned on buying something, because the salespeople make me feel so pressured and self-conscious! The two people working at Dr. Jart that day just stayed behind the counter, but they did smile and say hello, so it wasn’t like a frigid, uncomfortable experience. It’s all about balance, salespeople!

This concludes the shopping portion of our Saturday in Sinsa. Next up: SMTown and Plant!

Aug 182019
 

By the third full day in Korea, my eye was feeling better (still only wore contact though per the advice of Dr. Henry who apparently earned his optometry degree by mailing in $1 to an address on the back of a matchbook) and the jetlag fog had mostly dissipated, so this was the first full day where I felt like myself and I had to stop myself from running through the subway station, screaming, “ERIN’S BACK, BITCHES!”

Plus, Chooch and I were being rowdy in the hotel hallway that morning so Henry hissed, “shut the fuck up” but he did so under his breath because he’s afraid of us.

Yes, things were definitely feeling normal! We commemorated the start of a great day by taking an #OOTD selfie in a subway station mirror, a la Joan Kim.

Anyway, this was us on our way to this cool urban walkway called Seoullo 7017. It’s a former highway overpass that was recently repurposed into a skywalk, full of plants and brightly-painted pianos, with plenty of seating which likely makes it a great spot to escape the daily office grind.

Chooch and I adopted this dumb pose for nearly every picture and it made us crack up but Henry was just like, “You guys look dumb.”

We got to the walkway pretty early on Saturday morning, so the streets were still relatively quiet. If there’s one thing about Seoul, it’s that everything stays open extremely late, but nothing opens early, man. Not even cafes.

Also? THIS IS THE FIRST BLUE SKY OF THE TRIP! I was like, “Something looks diffe—-OMG THE SKY IS BLUE! THE SKY IS FUCKING BLUE!” From this day on, the weather would be mostly clear, with sporadic showers here and there so I was relieved. I really thought a fucking monsoon was going to come in and flood out our vacation.

Henry was trying to enjoy all the pretty plants but Chooch and I were giddy AF and kept making Cheetah Girl jokes which never sits well with Henry, and then there would be the occasional person passing by on a morning walk, and they would look at us like we had escaped a mental institution.

ALWAYS stop & smell the Korean flowers, guys.

You can see how the rain clouds were still chilling in the background; they stuck around just long enough to make us wonder if we were about to regret not bringing our umbrellas but it never did rain that day, just once earlier in the morning, before we even left the room.

That glass building to the left of the green-dome is Seoul Station, a major subway station but also the KTX and AREX train terminals. There’s a Lotte Mart there, Lotte Outlets, plus a ton of restaurants, cafes, and other shops. We spent a shit-ton of time there last year, spinning around in circles, being thoroughly lost, but Henry and Chooch are like pub-trans pros at this point and we just breezed right through every time we had to go there on this trip. It was cool seeing it from this perspective though, considering we’re always inside and underneath it.

Lush urban vegetation! Pittsburgh has Point Park downtown, but I do wish there were more green areas to visit while I’m on my lunch break walks. Pavement-pounding gets pretty old after a while.

Meanwhile, Henry took a timelapse of traffic on the other side of one of the railings and I don’t know it was so funny to us, but it was and Henry was like, “YOU KNOW WHAT, GO FUCK YOURSELVES.”

Then, I saw in the near distance one of the numerous “Gates” around Seoul, so I was like, “CAN WE WALK THERE” and Henry was like, “LET ME LOOK AT MY MAP” and then somehow, we stumbled upon one of the the secret alley entrances to Namdaemun Market and I was SO CONFUSED, because I am directionally challenged and even here at home, it’s fucking WILD to me when I look at a map and realize where certain neighborhoods are in relation to Pittsburgh because I can’t grasp the concept of NORTH EAST SOUTH WEST. One time recently, Nate was asking me which direction we were flying out of the US to Korea, and I had to stand next to him so we were facing the same direction so that I could wave a hand in front of us and say, “OK so if this *wipes air with hand*is America, we fly out this way *points to the left*.”

“Oh OK, so….west,” Nate said in his best effort to eradicate any ounce of condescension from his tone.

In most US cities, you’d generally want to avoid alleys of any kind, but in Korea, this is where you can find hidden gems, like tucked-away mandu guk (dumpling soup) restaurants or a food stall housing a breakfast sandwich-slinging ahjumma.

Chooch got an egg & cheese toast and as much as I wanted one too, I held off because I knew more options awaited.

Namdaemun is also a good place to get some cheap threads & good Korean donuts, yo. I wish Pittsburgh alleys had less piss and the possibility of rape, more egg toast and knock-off designer clothes stands.

But first we had to go and find that gate so we cut through the main roads of Namdaemun to get there. (Again, mindblown that we were where we were. I should study a map more often, I think.)

But FIRST first Henry had to embarrass us at 7-Eleven in front of the cute cashier because we kept taking our stuff up to pay and Henry would be like ME NOT READY, ROARRRRR and we would have to take our stuff off the counter but then finally Henry put his shit on the counter so we were like ok cool it’s time to pay and we put our stuffs down too (they sell SM idol group jellies there so I got EXO and NCT127 for Veronica!) but then Henry just kept standing there looking at his phone and Chooch and I were like tugging on our collars, asking each other with our eyes, “What is he doing???” And the cashier kept looking at us and we were all smiling at each other nervously, then finally Henry thrust his phone at the young man and barked DO YOU HAVE THIS and apparently it was a picture of Ibuprofen and the guy was like I don’t know what that is and so Henry was like FOR A HEADACHE?! and the guy was like OH! Here, this will work and gave Henry a box of something else but it ended up being children’s Tylenol and THAT IS NOT GOING TO WORK, Henry growled to us outside of the store as Chooch and I were saying in tandem, “you are so embarrassing!” Ugh.

We reached Sungnyemun Gate, which was free to explore. It’s billed as the first National Treasure, so how could we not give it some tourist love? This is one of the eight gates of the Fortress Wall that once surrounded Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty. It was built in 1396!

1396!! It’s super hard to wrap my head around things like this. It was rebuilt in 1447, survived some damage from the Korean war which required repairs, before burning to the ground by arson in 2008. It was rebuilt in 2013 — as of this time, it was the most expensive restoration project South Korea has ever seen. There are still some smoke-stained stones.

I love resting my eyeballs on sights like these and imaging what it must have been like when it was in use.

You just, you know, don’t see things like this in Pittsburgh and gives you a brand new perspective on a life and time where a city needed to be walled-inn to protect itself. And I love that these historical bad boys are just right smack in the middle of modern, high-tech Seoul.

The colors on that ceiling though!

Imagining trying to break down that door. Maybe my ex-neighbor “Ned” the Kingpin should have replaced his door with one like this,

Honestly, you walk through the doors of the gate and you’re back in the 21st century.

Thoroughly history-fed, it was time to revisit Namdaemun for some additional feeding (this time of the mandu variety) before leaving behind all the palaces and gates for super-new Seoul a/k/a Gangnam. Stay tuned, or turn the channel if you’ve had enough of Korea; break my heart – it’s fine!

Aug 172019
 

Our plan after a long day in Incheon was to go back to the room, rest a bit, look up a spell to cure my eye, procure a virgin and a rib from a centaur to complete said spell, and then head on out to Myeongdong for some street food and night shopping.

I LOVE Myeongdong! It’s street after street of beauty shops and boutiques and kpop merch and loud music and laughter and street food, and and and…it’s just a must-visit on any trip to Seoul. If you’re looking to just shop, then probably stick with going there during the day. But I like being there at night because it’s more of a party, night-market atmosphere and not as many food carts are out during the day.

And really, isn’t it all about the food?!

I didn’t think twice about throwing down some Won on a gyeran bbang (egg bread). This little loaf looks like it would be savory, but it is surprisingly sweet, the kind of sweetness you’d get from French toast, with a delicious egg baked right into the center, and topped with a sprinkling of sunflower seeds.

FUCK.

These things are so good.

Maybe the new Pie Party should be Korean Street Food Fest.

Henry doesn’t hate Myeongdong or anything, but he does get nervous because people will stand outside of various skincare shops, luring potential customers inside with the prospect of free sheet masks or other assorted “1+1” deals. And I’m a sucker. I’ll go in and look at the lip gloss and next thing I know, I’m walking out with $100 worth of premium snail serum for my face and this is not an exaggeration, this actually happened last year at The Saem in Busan. BUT THE LADY WAS SO CONVINCING and that shit actually was amazing on my skin, I’m not even going to lie. I still have some left because it was so expensive that I use it so sparingly.

But I did good on this night! I avoided all those shops and we just focused on socks (there are sooooo many sock shops in Korea but especially Myeongdong and they are fucking CUTE AND WELL-MADE – most shops have 11 for $10 deals. Chooch and I stocked the fuck up…or should I say, SOCKED the fuck up?

OHHHHH!!!!

They also have kid socks so we were nice and got some for Calvin too.

One of my early observations from this trip is that, in spite of what all the Kpop news articles and social media would have us believe, Bigbang doesn’t seem to have actually been canceled over there. I still heard a good bit of it being played in shops and there was still just as much Bigbang merch as any other group, even Seungri specifically. So I just don’t know. Is it propaganda, do the average Koreans condemn Seungri for alleged crimes he hasn’t actually been tried for? Because if I wanted to buy a pair of Seungri socks, or a Seungri keychain, I could have easily done so at a variety of shops. So that was reassuring!

I also thought it was cool how familiar it felt being back in Myeongdong. How did Seoul so quickly start to feel like my second home!? It really must be hard-packed into my heart.

Before the trip, I was telling my co-worker Margie that we were staying in my favorite neighborhood of Hongdae and she was like, “How do you know all the different neighborhoods?” and I was like, “BECAUSE THIS IS MY LIFE, MARGIE.” But honestly, even before our first trip there, I had spent a year and a half watching vlog after vlog on YouTube of people living in Seoul and you just start to understand and recognize different areas, just like you would in your own city.

One of my favorite stores is Stylenanda, even though I never buy anything there. They sell makeup and clothes, but their stores are SO PRETTY. The one in Myeongdong specifically is themed as a hotel, and it’s like 6 floors of makeup, clothing, accessories, and a cafe themed as a rooftop pool.

Henry hates it there.

This tub is iconic.

I love shops like this because they make Henry uncomfortable and it’s so much fun for me to force him to pose for pretty princess pictures.

This bed and table are suspended over the entryway (lobby) of the store. It makes me nervous.

Stylenanda Pink Cafe.

Also in Myeongdong is an accessories boutique called My Poetry. It’s a Korean brand with multiple locations around the country, but it’s so intimately-themed that you would think it was an independent shop. And the earrings! They are so beautiful that I poured one out in an alley later that night for my closed-up holes. I really need to get my ears repierced and this shop maybe was the boot in the ass that I needed.

I did get a ring for myself there but holy shit I was really coveting some of those delicate earrings.

Also, I love that this brand’s tagline is “I still hide you in my poetry.”

Chooch got one of these s’mores-esque things to cap off the night. It had a chunk of ice cream in the middle and he of course did not let us try it.

On the subway back to Hongdae, I sat in between Chooch and some sleeping, possibly-drunk, older man who kept getting dangerously close to slumping over on me. The guy on the other side of him kept shouldering him back upright, but then at one of the subway stops, Sleeping Guy had enough momentum to fall all the way into my side. So then it was basically me and the guy on the other side volleying Sleeping Guy back and forth like a bizarre game of Subway Ping Pong, until I finally got up and stood because it was too much responsibility for me to bear.

Ugh, I miss the subway so much. :( And Myeongdong. And gyeran bbang. And sock-shopping. And Korea all around.

Aug 152019
 

I didn’t know about Wolmi Island during our first visit to Korea, or I would have dragged my fam there in an instant! It’s basically a BOARDWALK, you guys. WITH RIDES. It’s also a seafood lover’s Mecca, if that matters to you.

The only way to reach Wolmi from Chinatown in Incheon was either to walk (which Henry said would only be “like 20 minutes”), take a taxi, or take a bus. Now for some reason, I am still terrified of public buses. I don’t know why! Ok I do know why–it’s because I’m always worried my transit card won’t work when I tap it and unlike on the subway, you’re face to face with the bus driver and everyone on the bus is getting all huffy and surly because you’re holding everything up.

I write this like it’s from personal experience and it is NOT. I have only ridden the bus in Pittsburgh once in my whole life and that was in 1998 waaaay before the days of transit cards, and the times we rode a bus last year in Busan, we had zero problemo.

So Henry did his thing, found out which bus would take us there (um, nearly all of them) and we waited at the stop right across from Chinatown, then got on the EMPTY BUS with some old man and that was it! Success!

Also, after riding there on a bus, I can now tell you that it would have been one fucking bitch of a walk there through mostly industrial areas, so…dodged that bullet.

The bus ride was only about 10 minutes and not scary at all. It is still highly unlikely that I will ever willingly board a PAT bus in Pittsburgh though.

So here’s a nugget of history about Wolmi Island, which I only recently learned: “On September 10, 1950, the U.S. Army began five days of bombing Wolmido Island, which contained North Korean Army soldiers. Several hundred civilians were killed in the dropping of 93 napalm bombs. The battle was inspiration for the North Korean Propaganda Film Wolmi Island produced in 1982.”

Yikes. Thinking about that, and knowing I walked all over this place is goosebump-inducing.

And yet, now it’s a big tourist spot full of restaurants, bars, and amusement parks!

It had stopped raining by the time we made it to Wolmi, but the gray skies kept most people away. Wolmi Theme Park was open, and the ride operators were busily squeegee’ing the rides of puddles.

But were the only people strolling around, so it gave it a mildly sinister feel. Later though, some people were riding the pirate ship and hearing their screams made it less creepy, somehow.

The famous Tagada! Or, also known as Disco Pang Pang. So this ride is popular in various Asian countries but it’s not something you would ever see in the States, what with, you know, safety regulations and whatnot. But the ride operator essentially tries to catapult the riders off the ride. And there are no seatbelts or anything! So you have to grab on to the rails with all your might and give it to God, I guess.

(No one actually gets flung off but I have seen videos of people sliding around all over the place!)

Taemin and Key from SHINee were actually on  this ride during an episode of “We Got Married”! It’s the very beginning of the video, so just watch it:

I mean…I was attacked by our family’s pet rabbit Rudy when I was 15 so just glancing at this ride was enough for me.

Across from the entrance to Wolmi Theme Park is the Wolmido Lighthouse.

Yellow Sea.

It didn’t even feel like we were in Korea while we were here. It could have been some small town on the Jersey Shore, to be honest. It was nice to have a slower pace and hear all the seagulls squawking as people fed them squid snacks. Chooch and I got drinks from a little cafe run by the most adorable and pleasant older couple (Chooch was on a major bubble tea spree, and I mostly opted for iced Americanos everywhere we went).

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“Fun time,” as Chooch would call it.

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We stumbled upon another little park that had not one but THREE pirate ships. They love their pirate ships in Korea!

I can definitely imagine this being a major hotspot during nicer days and it probably is a madhouse during summer nights.

Before we headed back to Seoul, I was adamant that we ride the ferris wheel, which cost us like $18 I think but it was worth it not because yay, family time, but because TAEMIN RODE THIS FERRIS WHEEL.

Also, Henry smiled once.

Chooch was tired of hearing me complain about my eye woes.

Eye drama and intermittent rain showers aside, this day trip was actually pretty great. However, the highlight for me when we were sitting on the subway on the way back to Seoul and Chooch created an Instagram account for Cheetah Girl – the imaginary stripper girlfriend we invented for Henry – and I was fucking laughing so hard that I thought my bum eye was going to shoot out, and Henry was like, “WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING” so Cheetah Girl sent him a friend request BUT HE DENIED IT.

Aug 142019
 

Hello. This is still the second day. My recaps are tedious and ridiculous.

Every time I would start to get sad that it was raining, I would remind myself that it was STILL BETTER THAN BEING IN PITTSBURGH. Honestly, when I started planning this trip, I knew it was Korea’s rain season but I was adamant on being here for my birthday – who knew my birthday was in Asia’s monsoon season? Coincidentally, all the rain really helped with the air quality and there were no yellow dust advisories the whole time we were there, as opposed to our last visit in spring when everyone was wearing medical masks the whole time.

Give and take, I guess.

Anyway, it was fine that it started to rain because we were ready to get Our jjajangmyeon on anyway. I guess now is where I tell you that jjajangmyeon is a noodle dish with a really thick and rich black bean sauce. It’s served with danmuji (pickled yellow radish) and lemme tell you what, it is such a satisfying dish.

Interestingly, it’s a Koreanized version of a Chinese dish, much like how America has its own versions of Chinese food that is most likely not served in China. Incheon’s Chinatown is allegedly the birthplace of this dish (there’s even a museum there for it) so naturally, this is what we had to have for lunch!

There are numerous places that serve this, clearly, but we chose a place that one of our favorite Korean YouTubers recommended, and it has the “a k-drama was filmed here” claim to fame. When we walked in, there were several tables occupied by old men, which is always a good sign.

I think our waitress freaking hated us though. She just gave off “trespassers!” vibes even though this was like a major tourist area.

But we still happily ate our jjajangmyeon. (Chooch did too even though he was being a bitch about it when we were looking at the menu—he and I both have massive food/mood swings.)

Actually, we ate so happily that I failed to even take a picture of the jjajangmyeon after all this hype about the jjajangmyeon but honestly, it’s not a very attractive dish. It’s literally a bowl of noodles with a wet crowd of dark gravy-like gloop.

Fun fact: there is a holiday in Korea called Black Day where single people gather to eat jjajangmyeon in an effort to dull the pain of not having a Valentine, I guess.

I got this picture from the Internet but you can just pretend like it was my bowl before I bibim’d that shit up into a chunky nest of black bean ooze.

(OMG as I’m writing this a video about kimchi jjigae is playing on my TV in the background and I just realized that I never ate any of that this time around and it’s one of my favorite Korean dishes, ugh guess I have to GO BACK AGAIN.)

Our lunch was so delicious but I definitely had regertz afterward because there was this one restaurant we walked by earlier, and also after lunch, where an older woman was standing in the doorway cheerfully saying hello to passersby in an attempt to lure them inside and I wished so deeply that we had chosen her noodle house instead.

Le sigh.

Look at the little chairs on the windowsill!

We strolled around some other areas of Chinatown after lunch. I ended up not gaining any weight the entire time we were away even though I ate so much and it’s definitely because we did so much walking. It’s the best way to digest, you guys.

I don’t know if it really is or not.

I was scared walking up these steps because they were so wet and shiny.

But there was a reward at the top! Look at how beautiful that is. There were steps on the other side of that Chinese gate, which led us into a forest/park-type area which also was home to a Korea-US Centennial Monument, so that was pretty cool.

There was also a General MacArthur statue, which Henry correctly guessed from many yards away because he knows more history stuffs than me but also he probably saw this on the map that we were looking at next to the entrance of Chinatown.

Chooch and that damn umbrella that I had to carry through four airports on the way home, ugh.

That MacArthur guy. Maybe I should look him up sometime.

CAT!!

Oh shit you guys, we got some Mooncakes from this vendor that I read can have lines up to 90 minutes long so it was another reminder to thank the rain for keeping away the crowds. Mine had a green tea filling, Chooch’s was super-messy chocolate, and of course Henry got red bean. These were way better than the buns we had earlier that day, and also fresher. Plus, the vendor was so much nicer and personable and happy to sell us his Mooncakes.

I dunno, these alone might have been worth the excursion away from Seoul!

Before we could say goodbye to Chinatown, Chooch had to waste more of our precious coins in the claw machine arcade.

I think that I will definitely visit C-town again if I ever return to Korea. There are so many different things to eat there and my stomach is just not as big as it feels when I’m watching food vlogs.

Before we left Incheon, we had more place to go: Wolmi Island. SEE YOU IN THE NEXT POST!

Aug 132019
 

Incheon is a city about an hour west of Seoul, and also the location of the international airport. But it’s also home to Korea’s largest (and only official) Chinatown. Why would you want to go to a Chinatown in Korea, you may be asking if you’re even reading this but you probably aren’t whoever YOU ARE.

Anyway, I wanted to go specifically because I heard through the grapevine also known as YouTube that this is like the premiere place to get ye a bowl of that good-good jjajangmyeon.

WHAT IS JJAJANGMYEON you might be asking and look maybe it’s time that you utilize that Siri or Google bullshit. And this is where Henry reminds me that I have chased all my blog readers away with  my poor attitude, so fine I’ll tell you what jjajangmyeon is….in another post. Because this post is about killing time before the jjajangmyeon.

It took about 2 hours to reach Incheon’s Chinatown by subway (several transfers were necessary and then there was that whole bit where Henry left me on a train platform) but overall, it was relatively easy to figure out how to get there (and by that I mean I let Henry and Chooch look at the maps and I followed them blindly with outstretched hands while wobbling to and fro with big dumb glasses on my big dumb face).

The gate is pretty much right outside the station (which I also believe was the last stop): so um, you really can’t miss it. Even I could see it!

The downside to this excursion was that it was raining off and on. Plus, we had arrived just a bit too early so nothing was really open yet, but we did find a nice little garden area to take refuge and get our bearings.

You can tell even from far away that my eye was jacked!

A tour group arrived as we were chilling here and at the same time, it stopped raining. Suddenly, everything came to life in Chinatown!

It was so gloomy all day, but I liked the vibe. It matched my eye-pain-inducing CLOUD ABOVE MY HEAD.

We did some lunch pre-gaming by swiping some Hwadok Mandu. The vendor seemed impressed when I ordered mine and said “hobak” instead of “pumpkin.” I KNOW MY FOOD WORDS, OK. Henry got red bean and I already forget which one Chooch got. Apparently, the lines for this vendor get quite long so I was no longer that mad about that rain. I expect things to be crowded when I’m traveling, but we had this whole little town almost entirely to ourselves and it was bizarre yet wonderful. Especially when we got to Fairytale Village!

If there is one thing Korea loves, it’s murals and cartoon kitsch. There was no rhyme or reason for this section of Chinatown, and it actually felt pretty out of place, but goddamn if we didn’t peruse every last street and alley and take those photo spots up on their offers!

At first, Chooch was kind of like, “This is dumb…” but then he kept finding random dog murals.

The freshly wetted paths and gray skies added an extra layer of creepiness! Like some unsettling Slovakian horror fantasy. At times, you could almost forget that you were even in Korea. I

Just, you know, straddling a giant Pinocchio in Chinatown, nothing to see here.

Now I kind of wish this was in my living room. I’ve been looking for years for an adequate couch-substitute and this might actually replace my strong desire for a vintage bumper car TV-watching vessel. Just put some throw pillows down on his legs and get cozy, friends!

I’m not sure Henry was very enchanted by this.

Brookline needs to jazz up the town with some whimsical fiberglass tree things. I’ll mention it at the next town hall.

Well, then Chooch found this Bambi thing and freaked out. I don’t know what it is with him and Bambi, but Korea is the perfect place for him because Bambi just happens to pop up everywhere?!

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I wish a truck selling soondubu stopped on MY street.

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All over Korea, you will see trucks peddling food (like eggs and produce) while announcing their wares in a trance-like cadence over a megaphone. This particular guy was vending tofu.

All those lifestyle Instagrammers would have a field day here with ALL THE WALLS OMG. SUCH CONTENT.

I allowed photos even though I was wearing my hideous glasses.

Even Korea’s sewer grate things are excelsior.

More Bambi, inexplicably.

동화마을 = Fairytale Village (Dong-hwa maeul)

I guess I can’t hate on Chooch’s Bambi fascination too hard because I am definitely into Alice in Wonderland. I was excited when we came across this but it turns out it was just a trick eye museum and we did one of those last year in Insadong.

And you know what they say about trick eye museums: if you’ve been to one…why? you’ve been to ’em all.

ANOTHER FUCKING BAMBI.

So many possible captions here.

Anyway, that was the first part of our visit to Incheon’s Chinatown. Oh! We also went to a little sock shop because Chooch and I are obsessed with Korean socks (THEY ARE FUCKING CUTE AND CHEAP AND ACTUALLY GOOD QUALITY). When Henry was paying, he noticed some old-ass cellphone on the counter and thought it belonged to the lady who had been in line in front of him so he grabbed it and called after her but the cashier was like “yo bro that’s a pop-socket display, put it down!” except he said that in Korean and Chooch and I were like, to each other, “omg he is so embarrassing.” That was the catchphrase of this trip, definitely.

Anyway, the next part will be about how we finally got our jjajangmyeon which will include an explanation of said jjajangmyeon in case you haven’t already googled that shit.

Aug 112019
 

This is waaaaay more dramatic-sounding that it really was! You know how I do.

But my eye, you guys. My eyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

I thought I would be OK if we went back to the room so I could take my contact out, and then carry on with business.

I think this was in the City Hall subway station. All I remember is that it was the exit right next to some convenience store where Henry bought a cord for the wifi thingie. So, whatever subway station that is.

Weird family portrait in this mirror-y art installation thing.

Not even an eyeball hanging out of its socket could stop me from taking a picture of the adult shop by our guest house, which we pointed and snickered at EVERY SINGLE TIME and yelled, “IT’S HENRY’S STORE!” This was second only to a lingerie store elsewhere in Hongdae called Sexy Cookie, which I only just realized Friday on our walk home from Summer Breakfast Club that I never took a picture of it!! I tried one night to get Henry to stand in front of it for a picture after he was mouthing off about how things like this didn’t make him feel ashamed or bothered, yet he was super quick to snuff out any impending photo ops, so…

You tell me.

Went back to the room and peeled the contact off my eye.

THAT FELT GREAT.

I’m fucking kidding.

It felt goddamn awful, like several layers of my eyeball slipped off with the contact like fucking onion skin.

Holy fuck.

Now I was at the point where my eyelid was like, “Hey, I’m just gonna stay shut for the next 72 hours, cash me outside if you disagree.” But I kept fighting to keep it open and my eye actually looked like it was bleeding and then the whole fucking lid and area around it turned swollen, so I had to walk around THE FUCKING COOLEST AREA OF SEOUL with my hair flung over my right eye like a follicular curtain of shame. And it would sporadically well up with tears because, as Dr. Henry liked to remind me 87 times during this chapter of my life, “EYES ARE SELF-CLEANING.”

So then my other eye wanted to join the watering party and then it was also raining so my face was all oily with humidity and basically, I wasn’t bringing any Korean boys back with me at this juncture, is all I’m saying. Unless I could find some strange subgroup on the dark Internet of Korean men who like white American girls that look like freshly-punched glazed Easter hams. Then, swipe right boys!

Plus, I was shambling around with only one contact in, so my balance and depth perception were fragile.

Thank god this Taeyong birthday tribute was so gigantic or I might have missed it.

(It was painted over by the following week, in preparation for the next idol shrine to go up.)

It started pouring right when we were looking for a pizza place. (Chooch’s choice—I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes it’s easier to just let him have his way every now and then so that we’re all happy and it’s not, apparently, the Erin Show even though I AM THE REASON WE WERE EVEN THERE!)

My only requirement was that I wanted it to be a place that wasn’t super crowded so that people wouldn’t have to stare at the Mongoloid American. I considered getting an eye patch and pretending like I was healing from plastic surgery, which, in Seoul, no one would even think twice about.

We found a small little walk-up called Monster Pizza right by our room and it was perfect. We sat at a table outside and it was getting dark so my eye was less noticeable maybe.

We went back to the room to relax for a bit and I tried on my new pajamas that I bought in Hongdae after seeing this pattern EVERYWHERE, even in the shops in the subway stations. I was nervous because most shops like that are one-size (or free-size) which made me so nervous last time  to the point where I panicked and refused to buy anything, but this time, I took the (half) blind leap and bought it. AND IT FIT, WOO!!! So then I was just like, “BUY ALL THE SHIRTS!!” after that.

I wanted to see the Han River later that night so we had to take the subway to Yeouido and I thought Henry knew what he was doing but he had us walking for-fucking-ever on some trail which wasn’t actually all that bad because my eye was being a fucker still and it was nice to not have to be around crowds. Nearly ever person we passed on the trail was an old person which I thought was awesome – old people in Korea are so into fitness!  They’re an inspiration.

We saw this random BTS thing next a yacht club. I guess you’re supposed to write a letter to them and put it somewhere, I dunno. America’s oversaturation of them has kind of left a gummy taste in my mouth so I’m not as excited to see BTS stuff anymore. Interestingly, though, Korea doesn’t shove them down a person’s throat as much as you would think so it wasn’t BTS-overload for us at all.

Anyway, we were out by the Han for what felt like hours. The air was so soupy and thick with humidity and my eye felt like it had been removed and replaced with a shrunken Pinhead. I was in PAIN, y’all. However, when Henry suggested that we get our first bingsu of the trip before heading back to the room, I didn’t put up much an argument (although I did whine a lot about the pain I was in, just in case either of my healthy-eyeballed companions forgot).

It felt SO GOOD to be back in Korea’s underground again! Chooch and I developed a really weird attachment to Seoul’s subway system last year and when we first heard the “train is approaching” jingle this time around, I felt my heart skip a beat.

Also, I can’t remember if it was like this last year, but I noticed this time that the jingle for the airport train was a REMIX of the standard subway tune!

Subway art on point, Seoul.

The streets of Hongdae <3

I kept asking Henry if my eye looked OK and he would say yes without hardly looking, so then I would ask Chooch and he would do this sharp intake of breath and then say, “……well…..” with his face molded into a strong YIKES! expression, so if you ever want to know the truth, ask Chooch not Henry.

We went to Sulbing, which is a popular bingsu chain in Korea. Bingsu is a traditional Korean shaved ice dessert, but that description does NOT do it justice. It’s not like that coarse, watery snocone bullshit. This is a soft, velvety, fluffy concoction of what we believe is more of a milk-ice. There are all kinds of seasonal flavors, but the most original, I think, is the patbingsu – red bean. I prefer the green tea varieties, which also usually include a layer of soft, sweet red bean paste (don’t knock it, man—it’s a fucking crime that we don’t use this ingredient in American desserts) and an additional cup of green tea-infused condensed milk to pour over the whole thing.

It is our absolute favorite dessert in Korea! There’s a Korean bakery in Pittsburgh that makes it but they use regular ice and, well, that ain’t it.

Chooch got the tiramisu one, and Korean’s obsession with tiramisu never ceases to amuse me! I thought maybe it was a trend that would have died out by the time we came back, but no—you can find tiramisu-flavored treats in nearly every bakery and dessert cafe.

I always make Henry share a bingsu with me even though I’m sure I could easily clean a bowl on my own, and he gets so annoyed because I always order without consulting him and he dislikes green tea which is my favorite and I ask you, blog, for the 8087986th time, why are we still together?!

I was so miserable up until the bingsu was placed in front of me, but not even the invisible sword impaling my right eyeball could take my bingsu joy away from me. It was the best way to end the day, that’s for sure.

We walked back to the room after this and I went to bed hoping that my eye would be back to normal the next day.

Please look forward to my next post about Incheon’s Chinatown, but in the meantime, you can read about the next morning when Henry and Chooch abandoned me.

Aug 102019
 

After we left Onion, we set off for Bukchon Hanok Village. I recently saw an article about how it’s South Korea’s “best kept secret” and that made me laugh because this place can be a madhouse, just a bumbling conglomerate of tourists. When we were there last year, it was…pretty crowded. Crowded enough that it was difficult to get any decent photos. I wanted to try again, by going on a weekday morning and the streets leading to the village were nearly empty. It was ghostly!

Oh, also this time around, we made it straight here without getting lost in alleys and yelling at each other, so it was already a better experience! Please enjoy some pictures from our walk around the ridiculously steep streets of Bukchon Hanok Village!

Hanok translates literally to “Korean house.” Some of them have been converted to guesthouses, so you can actually go to Korea and do what is called a “hanok stay” where you sleep on the floor and experience what it was like to live in a house like that way long ago. I know, that doesn’t sound very glamorous, but I bet it’s still wildly interesting and fun!

Oh, and the floors are heated!

I’m in love with this architecture style. When I came back last year, I changed the picture on our shared Wiki page at work to a shot I took from a balcony of the hanok below and one of my co-workers was like, “Wow…a picture of…roofs.”

I was like, “THEY ARE NOT JUST ‘ROOFS’! GOD!”

Honestly!

Here is a picture of Chooch and me, pretending to get along. J/K we actually were  getting along for real at this juncture. Anyway, the street behind us is like the most iconic street, the one that everyone wants to photograph, and Psy even filmed part of music video here. It’s like, so Completely Korea, you know? Iconic. There are lots of other streets too, and some of the hanoks are open to the public and provide arts and crafts workshops, some are galleries, some are little boutiques. But also, a lot are actual residences (I imagine the people living there have some big ₩₩₩).

(THOSE ARE THE SYMBOLS FOR KOREAN CURRENCY, WON, YOU GUYS. LOOK HOW MUCH YOU LEARN HERE. I SHOULD HAVE A PhD IN MY FUCKING BLOG URL.)

Look how wet Chooch’s hair is! Wet with sweat! It was pretty rainy and humid for the first few days we were there, and then after that it was just humid. And Asian humidity is NO JOKE. I thought that coming from Pittsburgh, where are summers are typically hot and soupy, I would be somewhat prepared, but then we ended up having a pretty mild summer here so far so I WAS NOT PREPARED for the humidity and actually, now that I’m home, it feels CHILLY to me and I am sitting here with a blanket on my lap while I type this.

Something interesting that I noted in Seoul is the summer fashion. Here, people wear the least amount of clothes as possible when it’s hot. But in Korea, protecting the skin is a priority, so you would still see most people walking around in pants and long-sleeves. And if they were wearing shorts, then their shirt would be a billowy blouse. Or if you saw someone in a tank top (not very often) they would almost definitely have jeans on. This was appealing to me because I am so body-conscious that I was giddy to be in a place where I could stay covered and not get strange looks. And honestly, it made me feel even more comfortable.

I really think I would thrive if I lived in Korea, lol.

Also, I never did anything with my hair the whole time we were there. First, it was because my hair straightener didn’t work in our guest house because of the voltage and I considered if it was even worth buying a different straightener but the weather forecast app opened magically on my phone with a message that said, “ARE YOU DUMB?” So most days, I didn’t even dry it after showering, just let the humidity do it’s thang, lol.

Being here makes me feel like I’m walking through a historical drama.

This type of architecture has been around since the 14th century. Amazing.

I love how you can see modern Seoul in the background.

My calves would be poppin’ if I had to walk up this every day.

I wonder if they ever do any kind of walking/running challenges in this area. In Pittsburgh, we have a TON of hilly streets and there is a marathon built around that, I feel like it has something to do with “Hell” and “Hills” but I can’t think of the proper name for it right now. And actually, the alleged “steepest road in the world” is like, a mile away from my house. So there are some similarities to my home that is so interesting to think about. Because who would ever compare Pittsburgh to Seoul.

When we reached the top of this road, I looked at Chooch and panted, “Welcome back to Korea!” because our whole last visit was summarized by “TRUDGING UP HILLS.” Lol.

Chooch at the top. We never would have been able to get this shot last year! Or if we came later in the day, or on a weekend. Good lord.

Afterward, it was starting to get dangerously close to lunch time and Chooch and I need to be regularly-fed in order to maintain our angelic dispositions, so we had to start walking to Tongin Market before it got any later. Henry was legit racing the clock at this point because Chooch and I turn on the HUNGER faster than vampires at sunset.

Chooch and I stepped off the road when we saw a vending machine, because he wanted a Gatorade (which apparently tastes different in Korea) but neither of us told Henry so he kept walking and then we were pissed when he didn’t even care that he lost us, so that backfired.

Random art wall.

We got to walk past the Blue House, where the president lives! MUCH BETTER PRESIDENT THAN OURS, that’s all.

It was about a 30-minute walk to Tongin Market, but we somehow made it without getting lost and then we all stuffed our faces and were quite happy. I wrote about that while we were still in Korea, and you can read that here if you are so inclined. 

We were going to get bingsu after this but then we realized that the place I chose was actually a super far walk and it was starting to rain, and by this point, my right eyeball was SCREAMING and when I checked my reflection in the Tongin Market bathroom market, my eye was as bloodshot as one of those aforementioned vampires and it was straight screaming for me to take the contact out.