Apr 092018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those colors though!

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

Apr 082018
 

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

These flowers are so pretty and light up at night!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that weird?” I asked.

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

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

Deoksugung Palace.

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

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

And so goddamn delicious.

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

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

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

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

Apr 072018
 

Today is Jonghyun’s birthday and I’m definitely feeling some type of way seeing all the tribute posts in my IG feed. I hope he’s up there with all the angels feasting on the most celestial of birthday cakes and serenading his new heaven-friends with his ethereal vocals.

Thank you to the kind soul who shared this video on YouTube. It’s my favorite song from Jonghyun’s final album.

I hope all the Shawols are staying strong today. <3

Apr 072018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then the exact opposite happened.

KOREA MADE US BFFS!

Yeouido Hangang Park selfie

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

Gyeongbokgung selfie because the picture Henry took of us sucked

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

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

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

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

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

Songdo Cable Car selfie!

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

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

Subway reflection selfie!

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

Busan Station slaphappiness

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

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

(We love you, Henry!)

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

Apr 062018
 

BTS, I can’t handle you.

I’ve watched this a hundred times and keep finding new things to obsess over. This is pure unadulterated art. So dark, yet so bright. Henry’s bias Jimin looks so pure with his black hair. Too many thoughts and feels! Such meaning! Can’t compute!

Apr 062018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus the subway stations are filled with beautiful kpop idols.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr 042018
 

View of Seoul from Naksan Park

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

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

Image result for boys over flowers F4

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

Chooch in front of the entrance to Jongmyo Shrine

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

Namsan walking trail to N. Seoul Tower

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

Jongno Jewelry District, early morning.

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

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

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

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

I Seoul U sign in Yeouido Hangang Park

Apr 022018
 

Today was my last time panicking because I thought I lost my subway card thing only to remember that I gave it to Henry to hold, and my last time seeing all the birthday billboards for idols

and the last time hearing the adorable “the train is approaching” music that announced each trains’ arrival,

Going to miss the cute subway announcement jingle.

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and the last time watching Chooch make life-changing vending machine decisions,

and the last time watching Chooch race to get an open seat and inevitably fall into conversation with old people,

and the last time to sigh impatiently as Henry paused every time to peruse the map and still takes us to the wrong side of the tracks,

and the last time to walk past underground food vendors and clothing shops,

and the last time to see my favorite k-drama stars in advertisements.

Each station was unique and I wish we had time to explore each one. And I can’t believe how clean they are! Even the bathrooms were remarkably clean every time I used one.

One thing about that though that caught me off guard was that some of the stalls had weird little urinals in the ground, I guess you have to squat over them?! I couldn’t understand why one time when I went in, there was a line when all of these stall doors were open, so I went over to one and was like “WHERE IS THE TOI—oh.” And then promptly got in line.

Sobering reminders.

Goodbye, Seoul, and your amazing subway system that seemed like it was going to be so daunting but ended up being the best thing ever and now I’m so sad that I have to go back to Pittsburgh and our dinky two-line trolley and orange piece of shit “President.”

Already planning the next trip, don’t tell Henry.

(I don’t know why we can’t just move here. The law firm I work at has an office there and Korea drinks juice so surely Henry can find another beverage company to work for?! POCARI SWEAT, YOU NEED A WAREHOUSE MANAGER?)

Apr 012018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zapangi was meant to be.

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

“Wait—we’re going in?” Henry sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 302018
 

Hi guys! It’s Friday evening and we’re on the KTX back to Seoul. Busan was really cool and Henry at one point said, “You’d need at least 5 days here to be able to get to do everything” and I took that to mean our next trip here will be three weeks long, so thanks for giving me something to look forward to Papa H!

One of many reasons I wanted to squeeze in Busan was because their cherry blossom season starts a bit earlier than Seoul’s and I feel like we’d be remiss to come to Korea without seeing a cherry blossom. Henry doesn’t get the appeal and made some remark about how he used to see cherry blossoms all the time when he was a kid wearing cardboard taped to his shoes in the 1940s.

Whatever, Hank.

Here are some photos of cherry blossoms!

I’ll do a proper Busan recap in the near future, but I will forever associate it with Chooch and I spraying the streets with our hysterical giddiness (I had to keep standing with my legs crossed so I wouldn’t pee) while Henry would stomp off and say, “to hell with you assholes!” Oh my god, we’re having so much fun and sometimes Henry tries to get in on the joke until he realizes that the joke is him. Why is everything he does so hilarious to us?!

For example, while I was in the restroom at Busan Station, Chooch took like 25 pictures of Henry squatting while putting stuff in my backpack and then showed me a few minutes later while we were in a cafe waiting for the train and we were laughing so uproariously that Henry got up and left us and now I’m sitting on this quiet-ass train thinking about it all over again and trying not to laugh out loud.

Oh, another thing we’ve been laughing about is that since we were only coming here overnight, we just packed the backpacks that Chooch and I brought with us. Chooch shoved the Kakao Friends plush-pillow thing he bought the other day into his backpack which took up every last centimeter of free space.

It ended up being really chilly in Busan last night since it’s right on the beach and Henry was wearing a t-shirt. He was so angry, because Chooch and I both packed jackets but he blamed Chooch’s stuffed animal for why he didn’t pack a jacket.

“Chooch had to bring that fucking thing with him so there wasn’t any room for me to pack my stuff!” Henry whined. I’m sorry, you couldn’t have tied your jacket around your waist like I did with mine?!

Oh, another day, another lament.

Ugh I love Korea so much!!

P.S. Chooch just leaned over and said, “it went rippin’ past” and now we’re giggling all over again because that’s what Henry said earlier about one of the high-speed trains and I don’t know why but it was SO FUCKING FUNNY to us so we kept saying it over and over while making circles with our heads and Henry was like GOODBYE. Also, he said something about how the beaches here are probably “rockin'” in the summer and I keep picturing Henry at a fucking sock hop ever since then.

Mar 282018
 

We’re on the train to Busan (insert obligatory zombie jokes here, har har) and I’m taking advantage of the free WiFi so here’s a quick update from yesterday! We spent the morning hiking up Namsan mountain to N. Seoul Tower, which Henry kept saying was going to BE SO CROWDED but then it wasn’t. I will do a proper post on this and also our lunchtime in Myeongdong, but right now I just want to quickly update about seeing the Jonghyun memorial at SMTown in Gangnam.

I was one of millions of people who were devastated when Jonghyun from SHINee took his life last December and it was important to me that I get to pay respects and add a note to the wall. Part of the process, as my friend Alyson Hell would say.

Here are some photos.

This was playing on the gigantic, seriously the largest I’ve ever seen on a building, screen outside of SMTown.

The Jonghyun shrine is on the top floor of SMTown, in a back corner room. The mood was understandably somber, and the people in there (maybe about 20 at the time of our visit) were very quiet and respectful.

I started crying immediately. I mean, do you know me? #emotionalhurricane

Chooch and I both wrote notes to add to the wall (his was so freaking sweet, I wanted to die) and then we slowly walked around looking at the fan art and other beautiful and thoughtful messages from around the world. It was really enough to take your breath away. You could just feel the love and pain radiating from those notes.

My heart ached so bad while we were there. But I feel grateful that I got to see it and just the simple act of standing in a room with other people who are still mourning and remembering was really special.

xo.

Mar 272018
 

Here are some photos from our morning at Namdaemun Market, which is a sprawling traditional market. You can get everything from fresh fish to Supreme knock-offs, street food to G-Dragon posters, unless you’re with Henry who will act like a tight-wad dad every time you want to buy something and then throw all the money at you when you remind him that it’s your money and he’s just holding it. NOT THAT THIS HAPPENED.

You gotta allow for one blow-out a day when traveling with your family, I guess.

Once we got that out of the way, the rest of our time in Namdaemun was swell!

My favorite part was when Henry asked someone from the tourist information center where the market was and in the politest way possible, she circled it on the map instead of just flat-out saying, “You’re standing in it, dumbass.”

Being a Tuesday morning, it wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded, but i can only imagine what this place is like on a weekend.

The lady selling dduk kept saying, “Cute, so cute” to Chooch. Later in the day, we were in one of many subway stations of the day (Henry is turning us into mole people because he always second-guesses himself and then we have to stop while he stares at the subway map for so many minutes), Chooch was going to sit down while waiting for the train, but two older men sat down first. There were still two empty seats so they were like, “No, sit! Sit!” and I shooed him back over there because people were being friendly and that is always such a relief to encounter in a foreign country! So he was sitting with these two ahjussis, and only one spoke a bit of English, so he just kept saying, “Handsome boy!” to Chooch and asked him general questions like his age and where he’s from, and then he would relay the gathered intel back to his non-English-speaking friend. Then another ahjussi came over and they were saying “Handsome boy!” to him and pointing at Chooch. We all got on the train together, but our stop was before theirs so they waved and said goodbye to Chooch which was just the cutest thing in the whole world. I love old guys so much (insert Henry joke) because I see my Pappap in so many of them.

“I wish the guys here in their 20s would say ‘Pretty girl!’ to me as much as you get ‘handsome boy’ said to you,” I whined to Chooch and he was so disgusted.

Anyway, back to Namdaemun!

Ugh, handsome boy.

When we first got to Namdaemun, we walked through this narrow alley full of street food vendors and actual restaurants. An elderly woman started excitedly calling out to us in Korean, waving her arm toward the doorway of her restaurant while pointing at all of the dishes she had available. She was so adorable, but it was only 10:30 and we weren’t ready for lunch yet.

However, we kept her in mind and instead of filling up on fried goods, we made our way back to her alley and she happily ushered us inside and suggested various tables for us to sit. She had so much energy!

What a great decision. I got mandu and dduk soup and it was exactly what I needed. I don’t know what Henry got, and Chooch ordered sticky noodles which came with a whopping dollop of gochujang, but that kid powered through like a champ. He is really trying! We were so worried about what he was going to eat here because he is notoriously picky, and he usually will pout if we go somewhere he doesn’t want to be.

One of the ahjummas brought him a fork, lol.

This place was LEGIT. Each table had a freaking pot of kimchi.

As we were leaving, I turned around to take a photo, and that sweet lady totally was waiting for it. Look at her back there smiling!

Be back later!

Mar 262018
 

My highlight for today* is probably vastly different from Chooch’s (we went to the Raccoon Cafe and he got to molest a Corgi AND Shibu). But here it is, quickly while we’re resting up before venturing out for some late night patbingsoo!

*(I didn’t get a chance to do a quick post on Monday because we spent the whole day at Everland, Korea’s largest amusement park, and I for once didn’t wake up at a god awful AM hour. I have a ton to write about Everland, so that will happen at some point when I’m home!)

Today, the plan was to hit up Namdaemun Market, which was awesome once Henry stopped being a jackass to us. After that, we went to Hongdae because there are a bunch of super-extra shops I wanted to check out (Ader Error takes the cake, only because the Hongdae Gentle Monster was under construction). We originally wanted to get patbingsoo at that time, but the place we were looking for either changed locations, closed, or only appeared to us in our dreams because we basically walked in circle for an hour. So the new plan was to eat at Aori Ramen, which is owned by BIGBANG’s Seungri. I originally wanted to eat at the Gangnam location, but I figured we all needed to eat before we murdered each other, and it was right in front of us.

There was only one couple there in line when we got there, but the place only seats like 32 people so we had to wait for about 20 minutes. The guy who was managing the place was so nice even though he was in there hustling. The line kept growing and growing, and he kept popping his head out to tell us “almost, almost.”

After a few minutes, I started to wonder if he could possibly be Seungri’s dad. I mean, he looked just like him! But then the girl in line behind us started excitedly talking to her boyfriend in Korean and I heard the word “appa” and she kept giddily peering through the glass of the door.

Henry and I looked at each other and mouthed, “IT’S SEUNGRI’S DAD!”

You guys! Even if Seungri’s dad hadn’t been there, it was the best freaking ramen I’ve ever had. (I mean, I’ve never been to Japan, though.) I really appreciated the ordering process too because don’t listen to what people say about South Korea being English-savvy – the language barrier is real.

Chooch ordered “spicy” because he thinks that just because he’s been here since Friday, his spice threshold has risen. The poor kid had bee-stung lips by the time he was done but I gotta give him props because he is legitimately trying new things here and has developed a taste for gochujang of all things.

Anyway, while we were eating, Henry said, “Those people just got their picture taken with Seungri’s dad.” So that settled it. Chooch agreed to be my picture=proxy as usual since I hate having my picture taken, and after Henry paid, I asked as politely and hopefully as non-sasaeng (crazy fan) as possible if we could get a picture, and he happily said, “OK OK!”

DYING. DEAD. DECOMPOSING FROM THE CUTENESS. This is just the sweetest thing ever and I am internally freaking out.

Image result for seungri and his dad

(Seungri and his dad.)

Mar 252018
 

Sunday in Seoul was full of activity, from Insadong (first official Korean bibimbap!) to Yeouido (we went to 3 Birds, a cafe owned by YG Entertainment, BIGBANG’s agency!), but for my quick update I want to focus on our hike to Naksan Park for some sunset-viewing. Henry rues the day I watched Joan Keem’s vlog about the best sunset view in Seoul because I became fixated on it and when I become fixated on something, well, you know the outcome.

Fun fact: In Hangul, “nakta” means camel and “san” means mountain, so that’s where Naksan Mountain gets its name, because it’s shaped like a camel’s hump. 

We left our hotel a bit after 5 to set off to Naksan, which Henry swore was “super close” yet it took us about an hour to get there. We almost gave up at one point because the directions Henry got online were super vague, and but then suddenly we rounded a corner in a super-popping college neighborhood and saw a sign that said NAKSAN PARK with an arrow pointing up the steepest fucking cobblestone-y road. Chooch was like *groan groan groan* and Henry’s moustache had turned into an undulating mass of middle fingers aimed at my direction, but then once we reached the top of the park, where all the observation areas were, everyone was suddenly in a great mood again. I mean, how could you not be, the view was breathtaking.

Here’s a shitload of photos from my camera and phone.

This place was definitely a date-area. There were so many adorable young couples and believe the hype, you guys – couple culture in Korea is STRONG. It’s just like what you see in dramas — they love to match, they hold each other while walking, and the aegyo (over-the-top cuteness) is off the charts. We even passed a couple playing kai bai bo and I almost cried.

I love it here so much.

You can see the tops of the DDP down there to the right.

Chooch was happy because he saw many dogs and also got to pet TWO cats.

“I love it here,” he exclaimed at one point during our walk back to the hotel, suddenly forgetting about how much “pain” he was in on the trek there. I warned him months ago that he better get his ass in shape because I don’t play around when traveling!

Chooch waited patiently for a young couple to finish taking pictures of each other petting this cat, and when it was his turn, he was so excited that the couple turned around as they were walking away and giggled at him.

“Cat!” the guy giggled to Chooch and it was so fucking charming.

His face in this picture, though.

After walking back down from the park, we dined on street food. Chooch has decided that twigum (fried food), specifically the kimbap variety, is his favorite food here so far. I’m still down with tteokbokki though. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of it!

I would stay here forever if I could.

Mar 242018
 

For my quick Saturday update, I just want to talk about Seoul Fashion Week! I thought that it ended on Friday, but when we walked over to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, it was still happening! I mean, you have to be invited to the actual shows, of course, but there was so much to take in outside so much to Henry’s chagrin, we decided to hang around for a bit.

Everyone was taking pictures of EVERYONE so Chooch and I didn’t feel shy at all about whipping out our phones and cameras. There was this one girl escorting around a guy wearing something made out of magazines and plastic I think, so when I took his picture, she smiled and took pictures of us too but I’m convinced that she was actually photographing Henry because SUCH TREND SO STYLE.

“Sir, what are you wearing?”

“A Faygo snapback and Everfresh Juice brand windbreaker, natch.”

I’m telling you, when Middle Aged American Warehouse Manager style starts trending Fall 2018, you heard it here first.

Korean street fashion, though. At first I was like, “Wow, it’s cool that these models just hang out and let randos photograph them” but then I quickly realized that these are just super fashion-obsessed people who turn up to show off their personal style by lining up against a wall and baiting people to take their picture. I figured this out when the couple in the above photo noticed my camera and immediately stopped smiling and posed. It was incredible and I want everyone to react this way when they see me creeping with my camera.

Seoul is spoiling me!

Can this be Chooch’s future wife though, please.

I would totally wear that girl’s jacket and spent a good hour obsessing over it. I think it was pleather with some type of Big Bird fabric at the bottom and it brought back memories of senior year when I used to wear furry cropped sweaters and had a yellow one that everyone called my Big Bird sweater. I miss those sweaters and I miss Contempo!

I would wear this jacket too. I love outerwear.

Here’s Henry showing the kids how to really wear dad jeans.

My favorite part was before all the crowd photographing action, when we walked past a roped off area and a crowd of girls with their cameras pointed and ready. I wanted to know who they were waiting for, so we sat on a wall and observed. Eventually, a small fleet of super official looking SUVs rolled up, so Chooch and I walked over to the crowd to get a better look. Several fancy people got out of the first several cars and people started snapping pictures. I figured they were celebrities but Chooch and I were on a side where we could only see their backs.

But then some guy got out of a car on our side so we were able to see him very well. I still couldn’t recognize him though but when he walked around the car, the crowd on the other side started screaming hysterically. I found out later it was Jeong Sewoon, a singer/songwriter who was on the second season of Produce 101. He’s super cute!

The guys who got the biggest reaction were cool-looking even from the back but I have no idea who they were and still haven’t figured it out. I thought maybe it was several guys from Vixx but I don’t think they’re in Korea right now?

We randomly stumbled upon Seoul Fashion Week and it was so exciting!

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I found out later that Seulgi from Red Velvet and Key from SHINee we’re also there and I’m sad we didn’t see them! I would have died.

Meanwhile, we’ve been here for like 24 hours and Chooch is suddenly obsessed with designer sunglasses and shoes, and also “11 for 10,000 won” street socks (he stops at every vendor selling them) so I think he already has the right idea re: street fashion. Maybe someday he’ll borrow a pair of Henry’s jeans and be a part of Seoul Fashion Week himself.

ETA: Two week’s later and I’m watching vlogs on YouTube to try and figure out who was in my video and I think possibly some of the guys from either Pentagon or Astro? I’m in the background of one of the vlogs I was watching and I’m stupidly excited about it lol.