Apr 142024
 

Hey! It’s me. I feel like after 23 years of blogging, I should have some really UNIQUE TO ME intro solidifed by now. But, eh. You know WHAT I finally solidified after 23 years, though? MY LEGAL PARTNERSHIP WITH IDIOT HENRY. I’m just a late bloomer with some things, I guess.

Anyway, I know I sprinkled bits and pieces throughout several months, but here are the juicy (not really) deets about why we chose to elope and the process of getting married in South Korea, because we struggled to find much information about this online so hopefully one day, some random American couple wanting to tie the knot in South Korea might not have to be as info-blind as we were going into this.

I’m not going to get into why it took so long for idiot Henry to propose (that’s his story to tell, after all, if he even has a story), but for nearly two decades I dreamed of how I wanted my wedding to be, at one point even considering doing it at Warped Tour. But, Warped Tour doesn’t exist anymore, and I also forgot about most of those dreams. When he finally proposed to me last June, people started asking questions IMMEDIATELY and I realized pretty quickly that I had no answers, nor did I have a desire to join the Knot, make a registry, brainstorm venues, deal with wedding parties (likely none because Henry and I don’t really have a “crew”).

And then I realized something else: I couldn’t picture it.

I don’t mean “a future with Henry” because come on, that isn’t changing just because now we were finally going to make it “official” in the eyes of the IRS, but I mean “the wedding.” I couldn’t picture it! I literally couldn’t imagine myself in a dress, walking down an aisle (I mean, it definitely wouldn’t be in a church, but you know what I mean). I couldn’t FATHOM standing there in front of a bunch of people, friends or not, reciting vows. I mean, I can barely talk to people on the phone these days without stuttering, and this felt like Public Speaking adjacent.

The unsolicited advice and suggestions started to roll in too and that made me actually feel like I was losing interest. I didn’t want this stress, especially with college applications coming up – I knew I didn’t want to wait too long to get married since I had already waited 22 (at the time) years, and I’m not saying I wanted to get it over with, but I felt like the sooner the better.

The one no-brainer was that we would go to South Korea for our honeymoon. There was no waffling on that one. We both sincerely love this country. I definitely love it more than Henry (he said the other day, “No one loves anything more than you do” and it’s kind of true because I am hyper-obsessive about things that I like, you weren’t aware of this though, so I’m telling you now) but he does genuinely enjoy everything about it, as well. And that’s special, you know? With Warped Tour, he would have just been going along with it and I can promise you he probably could have come up with 13 different ways to get married that he would have preferred more.

But then, one day last summer, I thought to myself, “Why the honeymoon though? Why not the actual MARRIAGE?” And I say marriage and not wedding because a destination wedding to South Korea felt like a logistical and financial nightmare, not to mention none of my friends or family would ever agree to attend that. Hi, you have never expressed a modicum of interest in visiting this country, but hello friends, please get ready to fork over $$$$ for airfare, thank you! And also, this still goes back to the whole “I don’t want an audience” sentiment. I mean, I know I’m a Leo but I’ll decide when and where I want attention paid to me, and it ain’t for this, fam.

Also, I started thinking about how even something like THE PIE PARTY or CHINGUMAS stresses me out to the point of laying awake in bed with heart palps, not being able to stop dwelling on the mistakes, the fails, the no-shows, the details that were forgotten in the rush to get ready. Imagine me and a WEDDING. I would spend the rest of my life with every last negative morsel of the day festering in my soul. I would definitely end friendships over it. Oh you didn’t RSVP? UNFRIENDED.

I started googling “foreigners getting married in Seoul” because surely, we could do something simple without the bells and whistles, something for just me, Henry, and obviously I’d want Chooch to be there. I mean, he’s dealt with us for nearly 18 years of his life, he might as well see this through, you know?

There wasn’t Too Much Information that came up, but from what I did see: it was possible, seemed relatively hassle-free, and is recognized in all 50 states. There was even information on the US Embassy’s website so that was reassuring knowing that the US Gov was telling me, “Yes, you can do this. We will allow it.”

Of course, Henry was on board without hesitation. He did suck in his breath a little when I said I wanted to do this March 2024, less than a year away, but we made it work. The hardest part turned out to be getting the appointment with the US Embassy in Seoul only because you had to have PATIENCE. This is something that I lack. But, this was the necessary Part 1 because here, we would receive our notarized Affidavit of Eligibility, which we would then take to the “Local District Office” for the actual marriage license to be issued.

However, for notarial services, the US Embassy in Seoul only books appointments on Tuesday and Thursdays (and some weeks, only one of those days from what I deciphered during my months of stalking, constant page refreshing, hysterical shrieking with frustration) but they only open appointment three weeks out. So, we either had to:

  1. wait to get an appointment and then quickly book our flight with three weeks notice;
  2. book our flight a normal amount of time in advance and then pray we could get an appointment for one of the Tuesdays or Thursdays we were going to be there.

We booked our flights in the beginning of January, for March 22 – April 2, and prayed for the best.

It’s here that I would like to apologize to my friends, primarily those I work with who had to deal with me screaming in text about this constantly. Every once in awhile, my brother and Christina would chime in with, “Any update re: the appointment?” and I would send them screenshots of the US Embassy’s appointment calendar.

“Getting close!” they would say, to which I would snarl, “NOT CLOSE ENOUGH.”

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the US Embassy was like, “FIND OUT WHO OWNS THIS IP # BECAUSE THEY MIGHT NEED TO BE PUT ON A SECURITY LIST.” Like, no one in their right mind visits their website as many times a day as I was, hitting refresh like a motherfucker, and then being SHOCKED when no new appointment availabilities would magically populate.

I don’t miss those days, happy to put that behind me.

I never did figure out exactly when the new appointments would open up on the website, if it was arbitrary, if there was ANY rhyme or reason to it, but Henry did manage to snag us two appointments for Tuesday 3/26 pretty much the moment the times were listed and he even got the first available – 12:30PM. I kept checking and I swear I never saw notarial appointments for any time before this so if you were hoping to get this done early in the AM, that probably isn’t going to happen.

These are the last two pictures I took as a single woman, en route to the Embassy, contemplating pulling a runner:

After parting ways with Chooch, who was eager to be on his own to play Pokemon Go without the background static of his parents bickering, we arrived at the US Embassy about 15 minutes before our appointment. There is a side entrance, rather than entering through the front, with numerous signs that says AMERICAN CITIZENS PLEASE GO TO THE FRONT OF THE LINE. That felt like entitlement but OK. So, the regular line wasn’t *too* long, but there was NO ONE in the Uppity Entitlement American Line so I felt really self-conscious standing there. The people in the other line were there for Visa and Passport issues, as we found when Henry EMBARRASSINGLY ran up to the window to ask the Embassy a guy a question and the guy was like THIS IS VISA AND PASSPORT ISSUE TIME! Like, for Christ’s sake Henry, WE ALREADY HAVE OUR OWN FANCY LINE, CAN YOU NOT CAUSE A SCENE.

The guy at the window was INTENSE.

Shortly before 12:30 though, the window guy cut off the other line and then waved us over. There was a few other people in our line by then so I didn’t feel as idiotic. The guy was still pretty intense (he kept yelling through a microphone which would blast his voice to kingdom come through a series of speakers outside of the building; it was unnerving. I mean, who goes to another country and WANTS to visit the Embassy, right?) but was much nicer than I anticipated once it was our rightful turn. We were thankfully allowed to show him our appointment confirmations on Henry’s phone but please, print that out beforehand because it will be much more efficient. I thought Henry had, but apparently, I need to go back to micromanaging him.

That portion took probably 2 minutes honestly. Showed our passports, the appointment confirmation, bam. Entry granted.

Once inside, you go through a security line. You will not get your phone back until after your appointment. The way my heart was racing. I felt like I was on my way to a sentencing. And I guess, in a way, I was.

After we made it through that part, the rest was A BREEZE. The first staff person we encountered was so pleasant, just immediately quelled my fears. She asked in a very sweet intonation, not sounding at all like an interrogation, what the purpose of our visit was. Instead of just saying “notarial purposes,” I fucking blurted out WE WANT TO GET MARRIED.

When I say this was something that kept ringing back throughout my head for days to come….

WE WANT TO GET MARRIED.

And you know I said it in that high-pitched hyper voice I get, too.

She was so kind though! She smiled and handed us a number and told us to have a seat. We were the first people to arrive and our number was going to be next to appear on the screen. We just had to wait for all of the clerks to come back from lunch, I guess, lol. But they did arrive a bit after 12:30 and then our number flashed on the screen pretty soon after.

The young woman at our designated window was just as sweet as the first one. Just, imagine the shitty attitudes that you often encounter in places like this. The DMV, for example. This was not that. We were treated like human beings.

She gave us a paper to fill out, just basic “bride” and “bridegroom” info, then we took it back to her, she prepared all of our paperwork and passports into a package for the notarizing officer, we paid $50 at another window, and then sat down and waited to be called into the “interview” rooms. As we were taking our seat, our clerk called out, “Congratulations!” and it was just so special! I loved this whole process. Everyone we encountered was so pleasant.

A few minutes later, we were called back to the interview room, where we had to answer a series of questions posed in the most conversational way imaginable by a tall white man with some indistinguishable European accent. His name was Denis and he told us that he had recently visited Pittsburgh and I was about to say, “Ew, why” but then he went on to say how much he loved it so even though I have certain feelings about my hometown, it was still kind of cool to hear accolades and I felt proud. There. I admitted it.

This is what the affidavit looked like, but I cut off the top part because it had our passport numbers.

Denis also gave me a blank Korean version of this form and said that depending on which district office we go to, they might require it to also be filled out. I was only half-paying attention to this because I was SO NERVOUS ABOUT THE NEXT PART. This is the part that was very unknown to me and for months leading up to this day, I had visions of getting there and running into issues or being questioned or scrutinized.

But anyway wow, what a great guy Denis was! And what a great moment in the story of our marriage. All these great people who essentially held the door open for us along the way, I will never forget them!

I went back and took this picture of the side entrance to the US Embassy later, I will never forget that stern ahjussi sitting behind that window his microphone, god love him:

The next part is where things got murky. I knew that after we received this document, we would have to go the “local district office” which I guess would basically be the equivalent of city hall in the US (I had to ask Henry because I don’t know adult things like this). So, in Korea, there is one of these offices in every district so you could pick one I guess, but there is literally one RIGHT BEHIND THE EMBASSY:

LOL I love this picture. If I send out marriage announcements, this is the one.

OK, so as I said, the Jongno District Office is right behind the US Embassy so if you’re reading this in the future because you want to marry your US citizen boo, it’s really that easy – and from what we read online, this is also the district office that is the most familiar with foreigners getting married so = easiest.

This is the map they have on their website:

map

Honestly, this entire area is A TOURIST HUB so it’s very easily accessible by subway and bus. We took the subway there from our hotel.

When we walked in, we had no idea where to go because there are other things in this building too. But there was a very helpful and friendly woman at an information desk to the left, and when we said, “District Office?” She smiled and pointed to the first door to the right and then when she saw that we walked through the doors and still seemed confused, she came in after us and pushed something on a kiosk that we blindly walked right past and then handed us a number.

We didn’t even have a chance to sit down – our number was IMMEDIATELY called. Also, there was no one else in the waiting room so that helped calmed my nerves too.

IMPORTANT: Before we left for Korea, Henry found the form that is needed for the District Office online, but it was on the Dongdaemun District Office’s website. He printed out the English and Korean versions since we weren’t sure which would be needed but for some reason, the English one printed out HORRIBLY. I was like, “Oh great, I can’t wait to turn this in.”

These are the forms that we took to Jeonju the day before and had Jiyong help us fill out, plus these are the forms that require two native Korean witnesses. I wasn’t sure if this would be ok, to already have the forms filled out rather than obtain them here so I was sweating about this.

Everything I had read (and honestly, there wasn’t much) was that most district offices do not require the two Korean witnesses to be present, and that the Jongno office in particular definitely didn’t. I read that one couple asked two people at the front desk of their hotel to sign for them so I would suggest that if you don’t know how to write in Korean, print both forms out and ask whoever you target as your witnesses to also help you with the Korean form JUST IN CASE.

Again, we were met with nary an eye bat when we presented our forms to the young woman at the window. She was happy that we had both versions filled out too ahead of time.

HOWEVER.

Remember that other form that the guy gave me at the Embassy? Yeah, that needed to be filled out. The clerk asked if either of us could write in Korean and Henry nudged me forward like, “GO GIRL IT’S YOUR TIME TO SHINE.”

So I had to take that other to another counter and essentially just copy all of the info from the English version over, but in Hangeul, which I haven’t practiced writing in a very long time but was able to get it done. I mean, it was rough, but I did it.

Meanwhile, she had given us another form, which Henry was responsible for completing while I was struggling with my Korean alphabet but when he gave it back to her, she was like, “Sir, you missed an entire section” and I was so annoyed with him. Like, he had the easy part of answering in English for god’s sake.

We also had to write our parents’ names and birthdates and I fucking froze and blurted out, “I DIDN’T KNOW MY FATHER” and she was like, “It’s OK, we can skip that.” Jesus Christ, I was sweating.

Then the clerk wrote something in Korean with a colon at the bottom of the Korean form that I filled out and said to me, “OK sign here” and I said, “OK, what is this for?” and she said, “You’re signing as the translator of this document.”

Yo. Are you kidding? That was cooler to me than the actual marriage portion of the day! I will never forget years ago when I started studying Korean, some of my friends teasing me and asking me what in the world I was ever going to do with that. Well, clearly read signs and menus the three times I came to Korea and translating my own document in order to get married, also in Korea. So.

And that was it. We had to pay 400 won for two copies of the license. That’s basically less than 50 cents.

Boom, married! In Korea! Korean marriage license!

The part that I didn’t mention in my first “we got married” post was that when we got back to the hotel, I sent a picture of the license to my brother Corey. He goes, “That’s so cool! But…. why does it say your birthday is July 33rd????”

Oh, motherfuck.

It did too.

How does this happen to me?!

My heart sank. I mean, I’m no whiz when it comes to legal documents (says the bitch who’s worked in a law firm for 14 years) but I kind of felt like this would POSSIBLY render the marriage invalid if we brought that back to the states?!

Henry was like, “Calm down, we’re here for another week. We can go back and get it fixed.”

I cropped it before I posted in on Instagram because I just knew people would come for me in the comments lol.

“Um, I don’t think this is legit??”

“Do you really not know your birthday????”

“HOAX.”

The hilarious part to me is that it’s not even like it was July 3rd, like the zero was missed. No, the typo decided to assign a birthdate to me that DOES NOT EVEN EXIST. NOT EVEN ON A LEAP YEAR.

This had to happen though, right? Traumatic proposal. Losing my engagement ring 30 minutes before my surprise bridal dinner. And now I present to you Chapter 3: Going to Korea for an invalid marriage.

BUT don’t worry. The next day, Henry had to go and get an apostille for the marriage license, which I guess is just a certification to make it legit before bringing it back to the States. This is the final step. Here’s a picture with the information on where to go for this, and it’s also in that same area:

Here’s the fun part though and even more fun for me because I wasn’t with Henry for this because it sounded boring so now I’m relying on his recount which is he giving me while stuffing bread between his cheeks and stomping in and out of the kitchen. Literally, he sat right next to me this whole time I have been typing until I get to the part where I wasn’t there and need him to fill in the blanks.

MY HUSBAND, YOU GUYS. I AM SO LUCKY.

OK, so it’s the next right? I told Henry, “Please make sure you get my birthdate fixed before the license gets certified or whatever” and he is like, “OK.” Then a little while later, he texts and says, “OK done. I have to go back on Monday and pick it up.” (We weren’t going to be in Seoul on Thursday or Friday.)

“Great! Did they fix the date?”

“…..no.”

“So, you gave them the original marriage license with my birthdate being a day that doesn’t exist. HOW DOES THAT MAKE SENSE.”

“….I will take care of it.”

So now Henry is telling me that he went back to the Jongno District Office and the same clerk was working. He had the second copy with the wrong date and asked, “Can you fix this?” and she did and gave him new copies for free, so then he had to take the new one BACK to the Overseas Korean Services Support Center and said that it was like he was never there, no one remembered the American stoop, but he was finally able to go back to the original person who had helped him, explained that he needed to swap licenses, she said “OK” and took the new one, gave him back the old one, and on Monday he went back to pick it up. This is what they put on the back of it to make it look double-official:

Also, per Henry: When he first went to this Korean Service Center place, he had to fill out the initial “service form” I guess you would call it, in Korean. The security guard there helped him! He was probably cursing me for not being there with him so I felt bad, but not TOO bad considering he was going to get the wrong license certified so yes, I clearly should have gone with him!

Typing it all out, it seems like A LOT of bureaucratic bullshit, but it was actually in the end a lot easier than I imagined. No one asked “Why?” or made us feel weird about wanting to make this official in our favorite country, and I feel SO HAPPY every time I think about it. Like, we decided to do this and we did it. We did it our way, with Chooch rolling his eyes as he took pictures of us with the marriage license but probably was thinking, “Aw, yay mommy and daddy.” (OK, that’s pushing it.)

Afterward, we assumed we would have to register our marriage when we got home, but according to the Commonwealth of PA, our marriage will never be registered. They give no shits. And the US Gov and the IRS consider us legally married since we did the whole apostille part. So, if you are planning on doing this, just check with your state.

And that’s the story of our very clerical marriage that was made official in Seoul. <3

BONUS! Here’s a photo of Henry and me from our first trip to South Korea in 2018 which was the SAME DATES as this trip and I didn’t even plan it that way, it’s just that spring break/Easter happened to fall at the same time as 2018 this year. It was meant to be, you guys. I will never look back with regrets on how we chose to get married.

Apr 132024
 

I was obsessed with the view from our hotel window. Now that I’m back home, my view is the shitty church across the street and whatever derelicts deign to slither past my house all the livelong day.

Anyway! We woke up to more rain on our not-wedding day, but Margie said that this was good because it’s “good luck” if it rains on your wedding day. Supposedly. Allegedly. Apparently. So she says.

Did I wake up with nerves? Eh, not really. I woke up like FUCK YEAH I’M STILL IN KOREA LESSSSGO!!!”

We let Chooch get some more sleep and set out to visit various convenience stores in search of more of the vegetarian-friendly samgak kimbap. Also, just a heads up: I am currently knocking back some of our souvenir, mmm, beverages. So, I might get sloppy on here at some point because SOJU. MAKGEOLLI. DOWN. THE. HATCHEOLLI.

But let’s be serious, no one comes here for the New Yorker-levels of editing.

I feel like Henry for sure bickered on this morning stroll because HE IS NEVER LISTENING TO ME. But yes, let’s get married, babe. I said, I SAID LET’S GET MARRIED, BABE.

Meanwhile, Henry was yammering on about the donuts he saw on our walk and I was like, “Were they kwabaegi?”

“I DON’T KNOW, THEY WERE DONUTS.”

“But were they the Korean ones? Like chapssal?”

“I DON’T KNOW, THEY WERE DONUTS.”

I was right on both counts :)

Then I had to help Henry understand how to order them, and it was the guy in the picture down there that handled the transaction!

And they were gooooooood. You guys, Korean donuts. Get you some. Sheesh. Sheesh. Sheesh. Sheesh sheesh.

I don’t know if there was a reason I took this but I can tell you that I was just snapping shots willy-nilly because when I’m in Korea, I don’t want to forget how anything looks. It’s magical. It’s my kingdom.

Oh wait! Never mind. I just zoomed in and I see that this was Jongno Sam-ga subway which was our favorite one on our first visit and luckily, we got to utilize this line a lot on this trip. So now I can tell you that this was after we went back to the hotel, collected Chooch, and set off to look for a sweatshirt or something for Chooch because I couldn’t take being in public with him while he was wearing t-shirts in 50 degree weather, but OK.

We were planning on heading to Uniqlo – I couldn’t remember, and had to ask Chooch who just smugly told me because it’s on his list of THINGS I WANTED TO DO IN KOREA BUT THEN DIDN’T BECAUSE I HAVE THE WORST PARENTS – and now it’s all coming back to me: We were going to explore the Jongno station underground shops because they have a shit ton of street clothing on the cheap, but while we were there, Chooch suggested going to Uniqlo instead and now even more is coming back to me because an argument ensued between those two because YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME SOONER, WE NEEDED TO TAKE SOME OTHER LINE, IT IS TOO FAR AWAY, WE DO NOT HAVE TIME THIS MORNING but this argument took place after we already excited the Jongo line because Henry originally thought we could walk there, etc. I clearly blocked this all out because: boring.

So then we were just roaming around and I was like, “Let’s go down this alley” and it ended up taking us to the prime section of Ikseondong which is an area that’s always on my list when we’re in Korea but somehow we never go there?!?! This was totally unplanned but so serendipitous.

This is one of those areas of Seoul where every cafe and restaurant has a waiting list after a certain point, so being there in the morning was a blessing.

 

Especially when we accidentally stumbled upon this famous salt bread bakery – Jayeondo Sogumbbang. You guys. I can’t even explain this phenomenon but in EVERY INFLUENCER’S VLOG about Seoul, they will hype these salt breads, right? Apparently, the line gets absurdly unwieldy and do you know Henry? He is not one to stand in line for food. Not even bread-food. So when I saw that only one other couple was in line, I gave him a loving shove and told him “SECURE THE SALT BREAD OR ELSE.”

Apparently, you can only order it in bags of 4 for 12,000 won which, at the rate it was when we were there, works out to around $10? The people in line in front of Henry opted out, only wanting to get two. Henry said he considered asking them if they wanted to split a bag with us but YO – these idiot salt breads were so good, that when we finally dug into our bags about 15 minutes later, we were ready to maim each other for the fourth one.

I wish we could go back in time and convince that couple to BUY THE BAG.

Ikseondong is definitely my new favorite area of Seoul. And this was just our inaugural walk-through. I think we ended up going back two more times? And the second time was later that night!

Cheese Industry! We just popped in to ogle the goods, didn’t buy anything (this time, anyway).

Ikesondong spills out into Insadong, in case you care. I know, so many dongs.

We found a quiet, unpopulated area off to the side to try our recently procured salt bread for the first time. Somehow, live got turned off on my phone so I can’t fix this unfocused photo of the centerpiece, but you get the idea.

First of all, they’re made to order. So once you pay at the kiosk, you get into a second line to pick up your bag(s). They are light, moist, soft, but the BOTTOM IS WHERE IT’S AT. It’s a layer of buttery, salty, flaky crust.

I was shook. My world was rocked.

Henry? Sold.

His succinct review? “AWESOME.”

He has been on the prowl for a comparable recipe so he can try his hand at them.

But breadlovers beware: not all salt breads are created equal. The ones we had at this IG-popular bakery was hands down TOPS. I think the worst one we had was at Paris Croissant at Incheon Airport the day we left.

Henry literally just piped in that it was the best thing he ate in Korea. (At least on this trip.)

I…might agree?! So simple, but holy shit, so satisfying and addicting.

I wish I could have brought a box of bags of them home with us. I wish I could send you one (REWARD FOR READING THIS GARBAGE DUMP) so you could understand. We tried hyping them to Janna and Henry’s mom last weekend and they were like. “Wow. OK. Bread.”

FML, I am salivating at the memory of this manna from heaven.

This was the precursor to something amazing.

You will never believe it.

Mr. I Never Get Cold actually found a jacket that he wanted!!!

It was at a basement vintage shop in Insadong. We were looking at something hanging up at the street-level entrance, but the sweet halmeoni that worked there came to the bottom of the steps and jovially summoned us downward. I LOVED HER.

I LOVED THIS WHOLE TRIP.

AND SHE WAS PART OF IT.

SHE IS NOW A CORE MEMORY OF KOREA.

Anyway, she fussed over Chooch like you would not believe. She squeezed my arm and called me “omma” and said we were a cute family and he finally settled on this jacket ($100 but yo, it’s fucking cool!), thank god because I wasn’t leaving there unless someone bought something, I effing loved her so much.

Yes, I am pretty drunk right now and I love everyone but especially her!!

We had to start heading back to the hotel at this point to get our paperwork and head back to our dreaded (j/k) apppointment at the US Embassy.

We almost always took the steps. I appreciated that they have a calorie count on each step!

The view as we emerged from the Seodaemun subway exit in front of our hotel every day. <3

More bonus shots from our hotel window lol.

In comparison to the one from the morning, you can see that the clouds were beginning to break, and could that be some…blue sky?? Right before our potential marriage was sealed?!

TO BE CONTINUED. Lol, I mean, not much suspense, everyone already knows we’re married now, I guess.

Apr 122024
 

Before I dive into more Jeonju fun, I just want to say that I am disappointed not to mention OFFENDED that not a single person reached out to me yesterday after the news broke of OJ Simpson’s death, but OK. Cook on.

After leaving Cafe Tirol, Jiyong drove us back into Jeonju to show us the new restaurant that she and her husband are in the process of opening! At the time of this blog post, they’re doing a soft opening. I can’t wait to go back and eat here!

When they were living in Pittsburgh, Jiyong’s husband, Hyunjin, was a chef at a French restaurant and was always working when she and I hung out so I actually had only met him once, on my last hang out with her! He came to pick her up and deliver a huge bag of Korean snacks to me as a parting gift. It was so sweet and I was glad to meet him finally! Anyway, it was great to see him again, and have him sign as our second witness!

Jiyong did all of the interior design here too with no experience, no background, and I was blown away – it 100% looked like a professional consulting group came in with their color wheel and did their thing. She was so worried about it, but I was like, “YO. This is stunning!” I think this was Henry’s favorite part of the day, getting to walk around and like, I dunno, knock on beams and squint at electrical outlets. I don’t know what he looks at, but it’s not the pretty colors and aesthetics, that’s for sure. I’m surprised our guy didn’t pull a level out of his ass and start inspecting shelving, etc.

I’m going back there soon. I have to. They have arancini!

By this time, it was starting to rain really hard so Hyunjin drove us into the touristy hanok village where we were having bibimbap at Jiyong’s favorite restaurant! As travelers who have only really used the subway or our feet as the primary form of transport, it was bonkers being passengers in a car crawling down narrow alleys while people and scooters hogged the street. Usually, we are among the pedestrians trying to stay out of the way, so this was a fun new POV.

We walked in and Jiyong got us seated within seconds and within several more seconds, banchan was placed on the table for us. Chooch whispered, “Can she come with us everywhere?” LOL, seriously!

Anyway, this place was called Hanguk Jip, or Korea House. According to the tea cup, it was established in 1952!

I am certain I have detailed my love for bibimbap using many words and probably several raunchy sex analogies many time, but to recap: this was actually the first Korean food I ever had, and unknowingly at that. This bitch that I used to be friends with back in the day had a friend whose family owned a restaurant in Oakland and we would go there occasionally to see her.  Back in 1999, I didn’t know that the family was Korean, that the restaurant was Korean, that I had fallen in love with a traditional Korean dish. But, that’s exactly what happened. And I couldn’t never remember the name of it!! Ignorant whitey that I was, I would say to Christine, “Let’s go visit Meesh because I want that boppy thing.” Ugh. Kill 20-year-old me, please.

But yeah, it was a big deal because it was something that I could without meat, which is why I initially gravitated toward it.

Flash forward decades later, and this was our second time in the hometown of said boppy thing! Bibimbap is said to originate in Jeonju. Jiyong said that it noticeably is sans egg, because in Jeonju they believe that the egg yolk messes with the intended flavor of the dish, so that’s a difference in case you were wondering. Meanwhile, in one of the restaurants we had bibimbap at in Busan, there are eggs on the table so you can crack your own and dump it in!

Not all bibimbap is the same but most bibimbap is delicious!

Especially if you like gochujang. Which I do. I really really really do.

We talked about other Korean food and Jiyong asked if I liked nangmyeon, which is a cold noodle dish. I admitted to her that the first time I had it, I did not like it, but there was some underlying essence of it that made me come back for more and now it’s one of my favorites.

“With mustard and vinegar,” I said, rolling my eyes back.

“You’re Korean!” Jiyong laughed, and if you ask Chooch and Henry how many times I reminisced about this one short phrase throughout the rest of the trip, they will likely force themselves to astral project to a land where there is no Erin.

Anyway.

We had a bottle of makgeolli too and it felt like a real pre-celebration!

I’m getting really emotional as I remember this day. I have loved all of our trips to South Korea but this one really felt so much more personal. Having friends there now. Being so familiar with our surroundings. Having confidence with the language. I really feel like something shifted and I came back changed, in a really good way. (I mean, once the growing pains ceased and I quit crying and acting like a monster because I couldn’t process the emotions stemmed from our departure, I was able to notice a difference in myself!)

After lunch, we walked around in the sporadic rain. I loved how quiet the rain was making the area, because this place gets PACKED. We were there in July of 2019 and as the day got later, the people were just pouring in. So it was nice to see it almost as if it were just a regualr neighborhood and not a popular tourist destination.

I love Korean architecture so much. Henry, please buy me a house and build a wall around it just like this one.

Then we spotted a big orange cat and started tailing it!

Chooch was so frustrated because when he finally had a chance to take a picture, after the cat popped back up, this elderly woman in fron of him was “WALKING TOO SLOW” and made him miss the shot, and now this moment and his irritation with a sweet halmeoni is tarnishing my suggestion that he include something about “working with the elderly and computers” in an essay he needs to write….

I bought this backpack at Target before our trip and I really like it. It was a great personal item for the plane and fits so much stuff!

We followed the cat home! Or, what might be his home? He attempted to go inside one of the houses and another cat was like I DON’T THINK SO and chased him away. :/

Cafe Dalgom for a sweet snack!

OMG this was in a croffle cone and it was so delicious but I 100% could not finish it with that bibimbap sitting in my stomach. Chooch got a sikhye smoothie and Henry got whatever that waffle sandwich is with a butter and red bean filling. Jiyong got tea, which was the smartest option because it was cold, rainy, and we were stuffed!

This cafe was adorable.

Dear Henry, I like this wall too.

]

We walked in the pouring rain to PBC for chocopies! I’m pissed, looking at this picture, because I told Henry to get what he wanted, assuming we were getting an assortment to take home for us and for gifts, but instead he bought like, 4. Which was obviously devoured when we got back to Seoul and I was so mad that he didn’t buy more.

WHY DID I MARRY SOMEONE WHO CAN’T READ MY MIND.

We didn’t see any of this part of Jeonju the last time we were there, the more commercial area with shops, which reminded me of a more quiet and smaller….Myeongdong maybe? Hongdae?

One of the Korean phenomena we witnessed first here in Jeonju is the Kodak craze. And I don’t mean like, “Oh, here is a shop to buy Kodak film” or whatever, but, “Oh, here is a shop full of Kodak-branded clothes that are actually more expensive than you would imagine.” I know this because back in Seoul, we also saw this brand at the Lotte department store, along with National Geographic!? DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN GET NATGEO SHOES? I didn’t either and now Chooch won’t let me forget it because he wanted a pair and I can still hear the ghosts of his whines in my head.

Jeonju is the home to a big film festival, which I actually did know because I watch Korean Gentleman on YouTube, a British guy who has lived in Korea, is fluent in Korean, married a Korean, and devotes his life spreading the amazing joys of Korean culture on his YouTube channel; several years ago, he and his wife were invited to attend the film festival there!

Also, prior to meeting Jiyong, everything I knew about Jeonju I had learned from his videos. No shame!

Jiyong was so sad that it was raining (I wasn’t sad about that, just angry that when I said, “Yo we should buy umbrellas” Henry the Horrible screamed NO WE DON’T NEED IT and I was like OK I HOPE YOU MELT) but in all honesty, it was still a great day. Sharing an umbrella with her just made it more memorable!

Before we knew it, it was nearly 4:00PM, and time for us to go back to the Jeonju train station, where we witnessed Jiyong squeezing her car (dude she has a super cool electric Hyundai Ionic and Henry’s main takeaway possibly from the whole trip is that he wants one) into the tightest non-space in a temporary parking lot that’s being used while the station is under construction. I would have given up before even trying but she was like, “No. I got this.” AND SHE DID.

She walked us into the station and we were all chatting and then suddenly it became clear that our train was about to arrive and we had to go out to the platform, so we said our goodbyes and it SUCKED! I appreciate our friendship so much and am so grateful that we were able to see her while we were there. It just makes me more determined to go back again soon. I still want to have a Hangang picnic but will not do it unless she is with us!

According to my vacation journal, I didn’t write anything at all on the train ride back and now I remember why: I WAS IN A DEAD SLEEP for most of the trip back. We had been doing so much, running nearly non-stop, that it was good to catch up on some sleep. Especially because then I was ready to go out again once we got back, much to Henry’s chagrin, lol! I don’t think I have that much more to recap, but I’m still splitting this into a part 3 because I am a Blogger and this is my Blog.

JUST KIDDING – I just realized that this was the evening where Chooch was like, “I AM TIRED GOOD NIGHT” and went to bed as soon as we got back to the hotel but I was whining about wanting to go to SMTown Station to see if the new NCT Dream video was playing on the big video screen in that subway station (technically the Seoul Forest subway station). We had watched a video about this recently and I was excited because this wasn’t something that was around during our last trip AND that Monday was NCT Dream’s comeback.

In parentheses on that sign, it says SMTown, lol. SM practically owns Seoul, it’s insane.

When we came up the steps after getting off the subway, there really was a giant screen playing various SM artist videos. The volume was turned way down and I was tired and irritable and being a baby because none of the videos was NCT Dream and I was like, “I AM A BUST ADULT, I CANNOT STAND HERE ALL NIGHT” so then we started to walk around. I wanted to go to Kwangya (IYKYK) but we couldn’t find it because Jesus Christ, that station and the….mall? it was connected to was so hard to figure out. Anyway, it turns out that unlike 90% of the city, Kwangya closes at 8pm and it was already 9:30 by this point.

I SUPPORT THIS ^^^

I thought this was cool so I took a picture of it which is usually the impetus behind taking a picture, you heard it here first.

We went back to the hotel around 10:30 probably and I watched the NCT Dream video while pouting for absolutely no reason aside from the fact that I was exhausted and probably hungry for real food and not a choco pie but Jesus are those choco pies delicious.

Anyway, here’s the (short) video comp from this rainy travel day!

 

Apr 112024
 

Past Erin is saying hello from whatever subway station this is, on our way to Yongsan Station! It was around 7AM on Monday, March 25. Our train to Jeonju was scheduled to depart closer to 9 but Henry is always clenched when it comes to departure times and makes us arrive way too early.

This was our first time at Yongsan Station! The last time we went to Jeonju in 2019, we departed from Seoul Station but Jiyong helped us book our tickets a week before we left the US and said that Yongsan Station is the most convenient for traveling to Jeonju.

When we got there, I kept saying that we should buy umbrellas at Story Way because it was supposed to rain nearly the whole time we were set to be in Jeonju but Henry was like WE NOT NEED ‘BRELLAS. WE STRONG ‘MURRICANS. NOT MELTERS.

This was probably him mid-umbrella naysaying, actually.

Just a side note, Chooch and I hated all of the moments where Henry wasn’t wearing a hat. I promise you: it affected his attitude. Hatless Hank is also embarrassing and kind of derpy. I can’t explain it, but Chooch had a list of Henry Travel Rules and one of them was “always wear a hat.” Too bad he broke every rule in Chooch’s list at least once an hour.

Anyway, this was us noshing on sweet Korean breads for breakfast, except for Chooch who got some type of savory “vegan” bread and hated it LOL.

The bakery was essentially called Sweet Red Bean Bun, if I remember correctly, and this was awesome for Henry and me, red bean hoes that we are. Chooch HATES red bean. So Henry and I of course got red bean buns but also, and holy shit I just spontaneously salivated at the mere memory of this, a glutinous pumpkin donut. FML I wish I had one in my fist right now so that I could savagely jam it into my mouth and aggressively beast that shit. First of all? If you have never had a Korean chapssal donut, stop what you’re doing and Google immediately to see if you can score some in your town. You won’t be sorry. Typically, they’re packed with the aforementioned sweet red bean but this one was filled with soft, sweet pumpkin. I HATED that I only got one to “share” with Henry. I wish I could go back in time and buy a second one to eat in the bathroom like a middle school kid hiding from lunch-stealing bullies so that I wouldn’t have to share with him.

Of course, we had tons of time to kill. Our train wasn’t even listed on the departure board yet. I wanted to leave the station and see what was going on outside in the area.

Ceiling reflection.

Chooch became Pokemon Go friends with someone else in the vicinity who was playing and we had to hear about that for a while.

We walked up to the roof top garden of the building next to the train station, and you could see into the train station – it felt like we were spying! I liked it.

Fun fact: almost no one in Korea wears colorful clothes – can you tell?

I liked sitting on these steps. It was really peaceful. It was just Chooch and me sitting here alone for a long-ass time while Henry was “in the bathroom.”

We started recounting all the annoying things that Henry had been doing so far on the trip and I said, “Ugh, he’s going to be so embarrassing at the Embassy tomorrow.”

“Why are we going to the Embassy?” Chooch asked, not taking his eyes off his phone.

WOW OK. JUST WOW. Literally the whole point of the trip revolved around an appointment at the US Embassy, but cook on clueless kid-chef.

Train time!

An old man sat in front of me and immediately took a selfie. Chooch furiously texted me that Henry was in the background of it lol.

The trip was about 2 hours and the first 30 minutes or so was rife with old man eating loudly and making old men sounds. One of them was right behind me but somehow Chooch was more bothered by it, lol.

We arrived in Jeonju around 10:30 I think and as we walked up the steps to Jeonju Station, Jiyong was waiting there and seriously almost knocked me over with her enthusiastic hug! I was very caught off guard but also overcome with emotion because I haven’t seen her since 2021 when she left the US to move back home!

Just to recap, I had met Jiyong back in 2019 through Hello Talk, a language exchange app. We started, pretty much immediately, meeting every Saturday at various cafes or Panera to just chat and honestly while it was supposed to be “an exchange,” I’m the one who benefitted the most from it. She was also so patient with me but also a stickler who would make me repeat things over and over again until she was satisfied with my pronunciation. And though it all, we became friends and I was so very sad when she moved away.

But we stayed in touch (mostly through Instagram and it’s nice because she will usually comment on my posts in Korean so it’s good practice for me still and it makes me feel COOL, like LOOK GUYS my friend is commenting in Korean and I know what it says but you don’t!!!!) and she was one of the first people I texted back when I first had the brilliant idea to get married in Korea. I asked her then if she would sign as our witness and she was on board, no questions asked!

This was sometime over the summer, and we were still unsure at the time when or even IF this was going to happen. Of course, I was pushing for sooner rather than later, and as soon as we booked our flights, she was the first person I told (well, aside from friend Wendy who also happens to be my boss so keeping her in the loop was pretty important lol). Jiyong was stoked! And I was too because not only was I going to reunite with my friend, but now I had a friend IN KOREA.

Trust me, we were happy to book the train tickets to spend the day in Jeonju with her. Plus, Jeonju is magical! We were there in 2019 also but I was happy to go back and eat some bibimbap!

Jiyong had texted me prior to our visit and told me that she had been wanting to visit Cafe Tirol and I was like, “A cafe? Sign me up. Say no more. No selling point needed.” There are no bad cafes in South Korea, I refuse to believe even a mid cafe exists there.

I got this delicious matcha latte.

I don’t even think I had taken a sip yet before Jiyong was asking, “So, do you have the papers?” and I was like, “Wow, she is getting right to the point!” so I pulled out the paperwork for the marriage license process and she was so awesome, you guys. We had the English version and the Korean version and she filled out the entire Korean form for us, and then signed both and stamped it with her dojang  And to my delight, she even had dojang made for me, Henry and Chooch as a gift! Getting my own dojang was something that I have wanted to do since our first trip there but it’s one of the many things that got bumped to the bottom of the itinerary each time and I never got one. Now I have one and I’m so happy and it makes me feel even closer to the Korean culture!

I know it can be an uncomfortable subject and may border on appropriation to some, because I’m just a basic white American bitch, but the way I feel about this country, its culture, and its people, I really wonder if I have some past life connection to it because it’s bizarre even to me. I don’t understand how this happened to me but I’m also not mad about it (except for when I’m back in America wishing to be back in Korea every moment of my days, like I’m pining for a dead lover, it’s so fucking weird).

Anyway, I almost cried when she stamped that form. To have her be a part of this special, long-awaiting moment in my life was more than I could have asked for, honestly. I had read that the witnesses could literally be anyone as long as they are native Koreans, and that those people don’t even need to appear in person. Some of the accounts I read online said that they asked people at the front desk of their hotel to sign for them, and that was good enough. But having someone I’m actually friends, someone who spent years trying to help me learn Korean, it just made this so much more meaningful.

Ugh OK! Enough sappy emotional boo hoo stuff. Let’s look at pictures of the cafe because it was so charming and I can see why Jiyong wanted to come here! There’s an actual row boat that customers can use! We got there right when it opened and no one else came for awhile, but after we went back inside, a couple had arrived and the boyfriend must have spent a solid 30 minutes taking pictures of the girlfriend in the boat, lol.

Jiyong is the cutest! Also, she calls me unnie because I’m older than her and it makes me feel so legit, lol.

Also x2, this shirt is very unflattering on me.

Did I ever tell you about the time a few years ago when I had “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” in my head on a loop, apropos of NOTHING, for months and months? Well, Choochie row your boat ashore, halle-fucking-lujah.

Just great. Maybe I should look up the words so that at least some other part of the song can tag itself in.

Part of the cafe if hanok, so you have to remove your shoes to sit in that area.

Jiyong thought the rubber courtesy slippers were funny and sent me this picture.

Chooch, trying to act like the last time he touched us in a picture wasn’t 2015 probably.

What a great cafe! Good vibes, and sweet memories!

Next, we left here to go see Jiyong’s husband, who then dropped us off for the much-anticipated bibimbap lunch so CHECK BACK TOMORROW OR DON’T, THE POST WILL BE THERE REGARDLESS.

(Maybe. I’ve been tired and also having blog issues again so who knows what tomorrow will bring.)

Apr 102024
 
One thing that I have always wanted to do in Korea was a temple meal, and not even just because it’s vegan by default, but because it just seemed like a really cool way to experience traditional food. This time, we made sure to fit this in! There is a place called Sanchon Temple Cooking in Insadong, which is a great area to score some vegetarian / vegan food. In fact, that sign above Henry’s head in the below picture says Insadong tofu neighborhood!
You’ll note that Chooch is on his phone in nearly every photo and it’s because he was playing Pokemon Go because, Korea. Hilariously though, there was one time when Henry was like, “We need to find the 7 Eleven —” when we were looking for Sulbing (a popular Korean dessert place), and Chooch goes, “Hold on, I’ll find it. It’s right down there” and pointed down the street after consulting his map on Pokemon Go!
Immediately hit with this stunning scene!! All restaurants should be this green.
Dude, you get ALL OF THIS in the set meal, plus complimentary tea (I thought it was barley tea but Henry argued that it was green tea – it was not green tea). Henry also treated himself to a Cass beer and Chooch was livid because he wanted a different kind of tea but Henry was like DRINK WHAT YOU’RE GIVEN, actually, Henry just ignored him because he claims he can’t hear, how convenient that this sporadic hearing loss only seems to occur when one of us is asking for something.
There was a really cute older couple finishing up as we sat down and the man kept looking over at us and smiling so happily. I didn’t really understand why – do we look like a happy family? I mean….lol. Then as they were standing up to leave, he leaned over toward to us and said, “The food here is delicious, enjoy!” and it was such a simple interaction, but so sweet. So many people were so kind to us on this trip! Not to say that we were, I dunno, shunned the first two times, but I definitely felt more warmth overall and it was really appreciated and definitely did not go unnoticed. I love Korea so much!
OMG I’m such a loser.

I know, you’re looking at this picture like WTF kind of edible oddities am I seeing right now. The bowl to the left was some type of savory black sesame porridge – it was smooth and umami. The lotus root was marinated in some type of yuja marmalade, I don’t even know. But it was bright and crunchy, with a citrus zing. (Channeling the spirit of the food blogger buried in my basement.)

Meanwhile, the super sweet older man who seated us and was presumably either the owner or manager, never came back to explain what we were eating because shortly after seating us, a Korean couple came in and were seated behind Chooch. When the guy was pouring their tea, the POT FREAKING BROKE AND HOT TEA SPILLED ALL OVER THE SIDE OF THE WOMAN. She must have been wearing enough layers because she didn’t react as hysterically as you’d think, but instead just removed her coat and started patting herself down with a napkin. The Samchon man was beside himself, fussing over her and frantically trying to clean up the spill. It was really awkward to witness and I felt back for both parties, but that lady really handled it with grace and just quietly slipped away into the restroom. Then she came back and she and her companion went on with the meal like nothing happened, which was great for me because I was 100% spying on the man, who was seated facing me, to see if we were eating our stuff properly. For instance, Henry immediately grabbed one of those little dishes up there and started dumping food into it, but then I saw the man remove the tissue paper from the little bottle on the plate and pour some its contents into one of those dishes.

“So, is it sauce, then?” Chooch asked. But then I saw the man drink from the dish, so I mimicked him.

“Oooh, it’s like some type of sake I think!” I exclaimed, and Henry immediately knocked the food out of his dish and repeated after me.  Chooch sneered at both of us and opted out of mystery juice time. But he *did* ask for a sip of Henry’s beer, which was shocking because Chooch is straight edge without the label and even when we were on our last trip and he was of-age in some countries we traveled to, he did not partake in any adult libations.

(Side bar: I also tried some of Henry’s Cass and can confirm that it was good. I am so picky with beer, but this was really light and good, and also the first time we were in Korea, T.O.P. from BIGBANG was a Cass spokesperson so it only makes sense that I would like it. *HAIR TOSS*)

This was Chooch’s hell. Mr. Vegetarian Who Hates Vegetables said, “If I had known this is what we were doing, I would have stayed outside and explored.”

(See also: Played Pokemon Go.)

This plate of savory pancakes (not quite jeon – what are these called??) was a big highlight for me. Even Chooch was like, “This is fine, I’ll eat it.” It was basically cabbage leaves folded and fried in some type of light batter. It was so good, I wish we could have requested more!

He would not go near the mushrooms on the stakes though. This fun guy hates fungi.

Holy shit, vegetable heaven. I LOVED this set meal so much!
We also got soup and a dolsot bowl of rice. I watched my secret mentor from the table behind Chooch pour some tea from the tea pot into his bowl of rice after he had spooned a bunch out and it lit the lightbulb above my dumb head because I know that in a lot of Korean restaurants, the server will come over and pour hot water into the dolsot bowls so that it will loosen the now-crispy layer at the bottom in order for you to eat it but I wasn’t sure if that was going to happen here. No, because apparantly that’s what the tea was for!

“What if he knows you’ve been spying on him and now he’s just making shit up to see if you’ll do it,” Chooch mumbled and I refused to believe this, although he and I did make very awkward eye contact several times and I do think he eventually became aware of the fact that I was using him for table guidance without his consent.

Henry was in his own food world during this and had no idea that I even had a mentor.
OMG I loved this little collection of food I prepared for myself. I wish I could eat like this every day. Also, lotus root is one of my favorite things. Every once in a while, Henry will make it and I am the only one in the house who eats it and that is fine by me, motherfuckers.
Definitely having words here.

Meanwhile, I watched as  my mentor determined that his tea-rice had been soaking long enough, and he dove in with a spoon. “OK, I’m going in now too,” I said, as Chooch sighed and poured tea into his bowl of rice too.

The final round! Very delicate Korean tea snacks.

Then the owner/manager guy finally came over to check on us. To Henry, he said, “Usually, we will pour the tea into the bottom of the bowl to loosen the rice, and then we will eat it like soup. It is….Korean style.” Then he looked over at my bowl and Chooch’s and exclaimed, “Oh! Like them! They did it!” AND WE WERE SO FUCKING SMUG, YOU GUYS. Like star students. Henry looked like a big American doof, lol.

“I didn’t hear you guys talking about it!” he scoffed after the owner/manager guy walked away. Mmm.

Sanchon bathroom!

Sanchon! I miss you so much already.

Walking back through the alleys into the main street of Insadong, we ran into an old white couple who asked us if there was any food to be had back there.

“Yes, we just had a really great meal!” I cried. But, knowing not everyone would agree, I added a disclaimer of, “But it was vegetarian.”

They both grimaced and the guy said, “I just want a beer,” and Henry assured them  that there were many restaurants back there that also served beer. As we continued walking, Chooch said, “See? Even they were like ew no thanks.” He’s such a hater.

Then it was time for shopping! This cutie outdoor mall area was still pretty much the same from what I remembered. Mm, maybe a bit more crowded.

The poop bread stand is no longer at the bottom, but has been moved all the way to top outside of the Poop Cafe, which makes more sense, honestly.

Now there’s an entire new-to-us section of stores too – maybe it was there before but I definitely didn’t notice it. This was around the time I was starting to fall into a food coma and was losing steam. I really wanted to sit down with some coffee but also THERE WAS SO MUCH TO DO.

We made Chooch get his traditional Korea caricature much to his chagrin. I will say though, for someone who allegedly hates doing this, he never puts up a fight. I mean, he rolls his eyes and says he hates me, but he always goes along with it. He’s either broken or he secretly loves it.

All of a sudden, a surge of people converged on the shop while Chooch was sitting for his portrait and he was truly pissed about that I think.

After this, we made our way out of Insadong and stopped by Jongyesa Temple. Per Wiki:

this is the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The building dates back to the late 14th century and became the order’s chief temple in 1936. It thus plays a leading role in the current state of Seon Buddhism in South Korea.

We saw this on our first trip too but it’s so vibrant and cheerful with the colorful lanterns, who wouldn’t want to stop by again?!

I do art.

The plan was to go back to the hotel and get coffee at that WFH place that Henry and I saw earlier but OF COURSE IT WAS CLOSED FOR SOME KIND OF CONSTRUCTION. So instead, we walked a few stores down and went to Tiamo instead. I got a sweet potato latte (love these) but ordered it in Korean because I’m the best. Henry didn’t realize that and when he tasted it, he looked visibly shocked.

“That doesn’t taste like coconut AT ALL!” he screeched, and I calmly (of fucking course) said, “That’s because it’s not. It’s sweet potato.”

And he argued, “I swear you ordered coconut.”

To which I said in a reasonable tone without any trace of denigration,” That’s because I ordered it in Korean. Goguma.”

“Even I knew that,” Chooch sneered. We legit are the best at knocking Henry down. OH NO, POOR HENRY. WAH.

There were two guys sitting across from each other at a nearby table, and they were both COMPLETELY OUT, sleeping with their heads in their arms against the table. I assumed they were together, but then watched as they each woke up separately and left separately.

I don’t know what was happening there.

So, I thought that after this, we ended the night at the DDP, which I already posted about the next day from the train to Jeonju, but NO! We apparently when to Myeongdong first and THEN went to the DDP, I am so exhausted remembering that we did so much. I do know that we went back to the room for a bit after our latte break though because we were fucking stuffed from our lunch (well, Henry and I were) and needed to just….lay for a bit.

THEN we went to Myeongdong for shopping and street food! My dinner was hotteok – the injeolmi variety!

The way I just involuntarily shivered at the memory of this delicious hunk of fried porn-food. Jesus. Henry, please open a hotteok cart on Brookline Blvd please. Never mind, people in Brookline will ruin it.

Chooch got the OG variety. Actually, I regret not eating more hotteok while we were there. I mean, I’m not mad about somehow only gaining a pound there (the 30,000 steps-a-day thing definitely helped). But….shit. I could have eaten more with no regrets I think.

Myeongdong is soooo touristy BUT it is the place to go for skin care and shopping in general. I will never skip Myeongdong and somehow the crowds don’t even bother me that much. I guess because I’m still just so stoked to be there!  You can bet that you won’t see many local Koreans there.

Seventeen instant tteokbokki!!

LOL, Henry the Stay.

Chooch got a pizza stick but it ended up having meat in it so Henry inherited it and then Chooch spent the rest of our time in Myeongdong not being able to settle on anything to eat. It was actually so annoying. Like just pick something to eat and shut up, please.

Yo, HBAF. The best almonds in the world! I can’t believe how much of a conglomerate this has become!! So, our very first trip to Korea, we learned very quickly that Koreans were obsessed with these honey butter chips, right? So we got a bag and immediately understood it. They were unique and so delicious! The second time we went, we noticed that there were more honey butter products now and also several new flavors of almonds too. And then we noticed that in Myeongdong, what appeared to be a giant HBAF flagship store was under construction. Well, it’s up and running now, along with numerous other locations, and HONEY it is the place to be. Plus? Free samples. You know we went hog wild up in this piece.

I bought my dad the biggest variety bag that that have – it’s 88 mini bags of all 22 flavors. This is the ULTIMATE Dad gift. He will freak out and I can’t wait to give it to him!

I also got my friend Margie a smaller variety pack and she messaged me today at work to say that she’s only tried two of the flavors so far (garlic bread and injeolmi) and is ready to send me back to Korea to procure a bigger stock, lol. There is a lot of hype around these but yo, it checks out. These almonds are so delicious that I actually forgot about the OG honey butter chips until I started writing this part of the post, lol.

And then from here, we started our subway journey back to the hotel but when I saw that the stop for the DDP was on our route, I suggested that we get off there because there is nothing like the DDP at night. It’s such a gorgeous piece of architecture. But, you might have already seen those pictures here! 

Well, at this rate, it’s going to take me three mths to recap this trip. But you know I’m going to enjoy every last second of revisiting these memories! AND I HOPE YOU WILL ENJOY IT TOO.

Also, here is a video from that day:

Apr 092024
 

Sunday, March 24, 2024: I woke up bright and early rearin’ to go. We let Chooch sleep in while we went out to various convenience stores in search of the veggie “triangle kimbap” which is really called samgak kimbap. It’s one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast and this time, Chooch was fully on the bandwagon too. Only GS25 (as far as my experience went) had the “veggie garden” variety which had tofu in it and was delectable. Ya gotta be careful though because in Korea, even if something is billed as a “veggie” version, there could still be some meats in there. Or fish cake. Chooch and I did a lot of “picking out” every time we’d procure kimbap rolls, but what are you gonna do.

Henry and I decided to walk around a bit and see what the surrounding area near our hotel had to offer. It was so quiet and peaceful out.

I liked that this cafe was called Wth. Fun fact about South Korea is that while their cafe culture is….percolating (LOL I AM SO COOL), a lot of the cafes don’t open until 11AM on average. I think if it’s a chain (local Korean chains are Holly’s, Tom n Toms, Ediya….), you have a better chance of grabbing a morning coffee, but the more trendy, stand-alone, dessert-focused ones are likely not going to be open for your morning pleasure – BUT unlike idiotic Pittsburgh, cafes are open late into the night there.

Obligatory.

I look like a dumbo but I have been obsessed with these storefront gate things since our first trip. You know me and stripes.

Our hotel! We all really liked this place. It was very conveniently located.

The good triangle kimbap! I’m drooling right now. Henry just made a bunch of kimbap rolls (NOT SUSHI!!!! THEY ARE DIFFERENT!!!) yesterday but these samgak ones from the convenience store just hit different. They’re so satisfying. I wish we had good convenience stores here.

Chooch immediately busting the blinds in the hotel hallway.

SUBWAY TIME!! The morning plan was to go to Hongdae because I was still on a hunt for a good T-Money card and I remembered the last time we stayed in Hongdae, the subway exit closest to our guest house had a good T-Money Card machine with like, I dunno, Kakao Friends designs and stuff. Plus, Chooch wanted to walk down the main shopping street in Hongdae to look for an airpod case.

I think this mirror message translates to something like: Customer! Have a happy day!

The Pittsburgh trolley stations don’t give a shit if I’m having a happy day or not. They also don’t sell me delicious treats and even if they did, I’m certain I wouldn’t feel safe to ingest anything purchased down there lol.

STREET TOAST IN HONGDAE! Also, no cute T-Money machines were found.

Hongdae is a really lively college town, and at night it really comes alive with buskers and bars and clubs. However, we noticed that the stretch of area where the buskers usually perform was all dug up and looked to be in the works to be repaved. We came back a few days later, and it was almost completely renovated, but there was no busking going on. Henry wondered if they still needed to bring in electricity or something, I don’t know but he is a wise white man when it comes to construction things so he may have been correct.

Anyway, this street in the picture above was eerily quiet since it was so early in the day. I liked being able to walk around and take in everything in the daylight without swarms of crowds. (The Hongdae crowds never bother me though, FYI! It’s always so exciting and vibrant there.)

It’s so strange for a literal foreign country to feel so familiar and comfortable to me! This subway exit especially brought back the warm feels. I have a picture of that Hogndae Street mural on my wall!

Arguing over a map. All is right in the world.

We decided on a whim to go to Mangwon Market after our Hongdae excursion, where I forgot to mention but Chooch goaded Henry into doing one of those punching games with him and when it was Henry’s turn, he totally whiffed on the little punching bag and the secondhand embarrassment was real, you guys. I wish I had been recorded when that happened but also I’m glad that I wasn’t. It was painful to witness. LOL. My big strong almost-husband!

We first found this market by accident on our 2018 trip. The market that EVERYONE goes to when they come to Seoul is Gwangjang Market and that can be fun if you have never been to Seoul but it is so much of a tourist trap now that many locals have begun to boycott it. It was already popular and bustling when we first went, but since then, it was featured on some Netflix street food series and now every effing travel vlogger has to set up shop there. We didn’t go there at all this time but I have watched YouTube videos from locals who say that it’s become very overpriced and they give you less portions now.

Still, it’s an experience! But for us, Mangwon Market was more of what we wanted.

And we stopped at Mega Coffee for the first time too because there were signs for some Minions drink but then it turned out that the event had ended so Chooch had to settle for some other kind of apple-y drink and I got a refreshing green apple kombucha and Chooch got a green apple ade with pearl from their new spring menu.

The cup sleeves had Itzy on it so of course I had to save mine :)

Twigim!

We also got a selection of sweet tteok and other types of songpyeon, etc. I always forget the actual names for those but I love every single kind.

Wow, look a little happier to be eating twigim.

Then we headed back toward our hotel because we had a lunch reservation in Insadong at a Buddhist restaurant, 100% vegan! I really tried to write about this while we were still in Korea because it was such an immediate highlight but too many distractions.

I just perused my vacation journal to see if I missed anything pertinent from Hongdae (other than Chooch using all of Henry’s loose change in claw machines) and Mangwon Market (other than Henry being a see-u about everything I wanted to get and then me almost getting annihilated by a guy on a bicycle and I do mean it was a very close call and it could have potentially ended our trip if contact had been made) but apparently we’re all good!

I will continue this in another post because GUESS WHAT. It’s my blog and I can!

Apr 072024
 

Hello! Here is a video and some pictures from our first night in Seoul. Our flight landed around 3pm but by the time we did the whole customs/baggage claim rigmarole, picked up our portable wifi thingie, and then settled on the subway as opposed to the airport train which wasn’t leaving for another hour, it was around 6pm when we arrived at our hotel in Seodaemun. This was our first time being in that area of Seoul and it ended up being quite nice and convenient. One of the entrances to the subway was literally right outside of our hotel. The only way it could have been more convenient would be if there was, I dunno, a slide from our room’s window that shot us straight down into it.

So, I think I left off on 3-23-24 saying that we had checked in and were going to refresh before going out to explore in order to stave off the jet lag. And we did just that! We walked our fucking asses off, with no plan, just soaking it all in. I was beside myself, being there again. The sounds! The smells! The sights! It was surreal. Seoul is next level. I always rope Henry into the discussion of “would Korea still feel so magical if we went here knowing nothing about it?” I just don’t know if it feels this way because I already had a strong connection to it based on how it completely changed my lifestyle in 2015/2016, or if it would still feel like Heaven to me without any of that background? I think it’s a combo of both, probably and because of that I always worry that someone will vacation there someday and be like, “The fuck was Erin talking about? This place is OK, but not all that.”

Which then leads me to start wondering about my past life again, lol.

I just asked Henry last night if he’s sad to have left (“yes”) and if he even likes Korea (“yes”) but when I started to ask if he likes it as much as I do, he cut me off and said, “No one likes anything as much you!” and “you obsessive freak” was implied at the end. :)

So, let’s enjoy an evening stroll through Seoul together, shall we?

I was excited to see that our hotel was within walking distance (maybe a 10 minute walk?) from Gwanghwamun Square, which is the lively space leading up to Seoul’s biggest and most popular palace, Gyeongbokgung. This is also where the US Embassy is which is where we needed to go the following Tuesday to get the whole marriage party started. So, that was good to know we could walk there easily if needed, but we did take the <3subway<3

I have so many pictures of this beauty from all three trips now: King Sejong – the creator of the Korean alphabet, hangul. Love him. Underneath this square, there’s a free museum for the language, as well! Don’t miss it.

To the left of this, there were some night market stalls set up and I bought a Korean mother of pearl ring off the sweetest halmeoni. Henry glared at me and I snapped, “WHAT I TOLD YOU I’M BUYING ALL OF THE THINGS THIS TIME AROUND!” The last two trips I swear we came home with nothing because we always do the, “We’ll come back and get it before we leave” bullshit and then, well, you know how that story ends.

Palace at Night vibes.

We had a lot of fun taking selfies and just hanging out in this area.

I thought my hair looked pretty decent after a billion hours on multiple planes! (Speaking of, have I mentioned that I fell in love with the Minneapolis airport? I don’t know what I was expecting, something lame like the PIT airport, but this was sparkly and vibrant and had so many shops and good food places and CARIBOU COFFEE which I miss having in Pittsburgh.)

You’re shocked to know this, but it was NOT shorts and t-shirt weather.

My favorite color palette.

OK, OK, you get the point.

We continued walking and when we saw this big ass spire thing, I knew we made it to the entrance of the Cheonggyechon Stream! Fun fact: the law firm I work at has an office in this area and I swear to god if I could ever transfer there, watch me spend every lunch break strolling around the Cheonggyechon, for real. Love that area so much!! It’s a must-do for us every trip at this point.

We have so many nice memories from this area!

It was so lively on this night!

Chooch was being ridiculous while taking pictures of us (he does this thing where he hyper-zooms in on Henry’s face multiple times so then I have to go through my camera roll and delete them all) when these three girls were walking by and stopped to ask if we wanted a picture of all of us. It was a white Australian girl and two Korean girls, all carrying yoga mats. I was like, “OMG yes please, I can’t trust him to take a nice picture” and she laughed and said, “Oh no, I don’t know how much you can trust me either! I’m not very good at taking pictures.”

So while she was taking them, her friends were coaching her and then finally one of them fully took my phone from her and started taking her own. It was so cute and this was the result:

A natural laugh/smile on my face, can you even believe it?!

Chooch always takes a series of shots and as they go on you can see the progression of my exasperation, lol. In this one, I was definitely reaching that point and probably was starting to say, “Did you get it? OK you’re done, stop, let’s go, don’t be an idiot.”  And then again, it’s me deleting a series of Henry close-ups.

Walking around the Jongno area at night is so comforting. We stayed in Jongno on our first trip there so this area is special to me/us (probably just me, who am I kidding).

It’s weird to feel this conforting familiarity when surrounded by signs that aren’t in English.

Our first tteokbokki of the trip!!

We started walking toward a more crowded area – I believe we were near Insadong – where it started to get pretty dicey trying to walk down the sidewalks because so many restaurants had tables out there and there were a ton of food stalls too. I probably would have been scared if this was anywhere else, even in America because I’m so averse to crowds, but it just felt exciting being there in the middle of it all. And we “lost” Henry for a few minutes which was funny.

At first I was like, “Why did I take a picture of the adult shop, grow up Erin” but then I remembered that I was taking a picture of the Isaac Toast window down there, which is where “we” had our first Isaac Toast experience in 2018 and by “we” I mean that Chooch got one and didn’t like it because he’s so fucking picky, so Henry and I ended up eating it and loving it. I think it was the sauce that Chooch didn’t like  – it’s sort of reminiscent of honey mustard. But overall, it’s just a really delicious sandwich. We always get the one that has the hashbrown and egg on it because it’s the only non-meat option. I dunno, I like it enough that we’ve gone back to the sit-down location in Hongdae every time since then.

Then we took the subway!! I wanted to go to Seoul Station to see if I could find a cute T-Money card because I refused to use a basic one or the one that you get per-ride.

Their first subway argument! Always fighting over the machines. Anyway, for some reason none of the T-Money card machines were in use?!!? I ended up panicking and buying some non-T-Money card called Namake which can be used for transit as well as a debit card. I only got it because they had a Wiggle Wiggle design series to choose from. Of course, right at the end of our trip, Seventeen announced that they were collabing with Namake too and had a bunch of designs lol oh well it was a moot point anyway because two days later, Chooch found a Haechan one at an eMart in one of the subway stations (the Dongdaemun one I think) so then he used my Wiggle Wiggle one until he found one that he liked too. You don’t understand – T-money cards are part of the process. You gotta get one that suits your style or you can be like Henry and get some ugly WOW PASS thing that he also used for the subway/buses.

The Seodaemun subway steps that we walked up a million times during our time in Seoul. Is it weird to miss steps.

Then we had a late night tteokbokki & banana uyu feast back at the hotel after walking around for a good four hours. What a satisfying first time, you guys. It felt like being home again. I want to inject these memories and feelings into a blanket and burrito myself in it.

Apr 062024
 

Chooch keeps arguing that no one in his class has gotten proper senior portraits taken and even if that’s true (doubtful), I was not letting him get out of this. It’s MOMMY’S LAST CHANCE to photograph her surly son, you know? Let me have this.

Anyway, I wanted to get some nice pictures of him while we were in Korea because of the aesthetics of course, but also because it’s meaningful. I haven’t decided which ones to get printed for friends and family yet, but here are the contenders!

We took these at one of the smaller palaces, RIGHT when it opened to avoid the surge of tourists. However, we had to contend with a throng of older Asian gentlemen who were lining up at the gates with their big-ass paparazzi camera equipment. Was there going to be a celebrity appearance at the Changgyeonggung Palace? NOPE, just spring blossoms. You guys, the older population go NUTS over cherry blossoms, magnolia blossoms, any type of colorful blossom in March is subject to exploitation. And when I say they are packing $$$$$ lenses, I mean it. It’s like TMZ-levels of photography.

These first three photos were taken on the walk to the palace:

I had to take this one extremely fast because the pap were gaining on us.

If we’re Instagram friends, you might have seen that Chooch actually let us buy him a jacket while we were there! NOT because he was cold, don’t even think that. But we wandered into a vintage shop in Insadong and the sweetest halmeoni helped Chooch decided on a jacket. She even gave my arm a loving squeeze at one point and said we were a pretty family and gave us candy and called me umma – this was the best trip to Korea yet. I felt like I belonged there this time more than ever, like what even was my past life because I am sure it involved Korea somehow.

It’s the only explanation.

This palace was just as beautiful as the other more “popular” ones. My tip to you if you ever go to Korea, if you want great pictures without a million tourists in hanbok milling about in the background, come to this one when it opens at 9 and enjoy the serenity and peacefulness. (We were there in March so this might be just as nuts in the summer as the other main palaces, so don’t come for me!)

 

Obviously this isn’t a contender for senior portrait prints, but I liked the composition of this one!

Celebrity blossoms.

I like this one because you can see the city and a glimpse of Namsan Tower behind his head. It’s nuts how much ancient history is interspersed with the modern city. Seoul is amazing.

Also! We finally saw our first  (AND ONLY) squirrel in Korea here in this palace! Chooch took this photo for me and when one of the old guy photogs saw Chooch pointing the SLR at a tree, he came scurrying over not wanting to miss a bloom I guess. But then when he saw the subject matter was a squirrel, he still seemed into it so he joined Chooch and started snapping away, as well. It was kind of adorable.

I posted a picture of the squirrel on Instagram using what I thought was the Korean word for squirrel, but Jiyong saw it and corrected me via Kakao Talk because the word I used was actually for chipmunk! Fuck you, Google Translate! Jiyong said that actually, most Koreans don’t even know the word for squirrel and just default to chipmunk and that there are more squirrels in the US than in Korea, apparently! What a great morning and learning experience.

I have more non-Chooch pictures from that day so we will revisit with more words (yay for you) at some point. Wow, look forward to that!

Apr 042024
 

I’m still slightly jet-lagged and REALLY deep in my feels  and as much as that phrase makes me cringe as a broad in her 40s, I am at a loss to think of a better way to explain my listlessness, like I’m going through a bad high school breakup. It hurts to be so in love with a country on the other side of the world, lol. Is this a past life thing, I wonder? Because I feel so whole and alive when I’m there and then just whatever when I’m here. What does it meaaaaannnnn.

Anyway, I haven’t even started going through my photos yet because every time I start to, I end up weeping uncontrollably (like just a few minutes when I called Henry and gurgled, “I AM SO SADDDDD” and he was like, “Jesus Christ, we will go back.” So, until I’m able to compose myself and type out proper recaps of each day we were in South Korea, here is a list of things I have been wailing about missing since we’ve come home.

  • The uneven sidewalks that Henry constantly – and I mean like perpetually – tripped over.
  • Using my Haechan T-money card for the subway/bus everyday:

  • Dunkin injeolmi lattes :( Generally we don’t do American chains while on traveling but injeolmi is one of my fave Korean flavors so I had to try this. It was so good, I had it twice – tried for a third when we were at Seoul station waiting for the airport train on our departure day but apparently this was a limited menu and it ended after March. :(
  • 87 convenience stores on every block (ok maybe an exaggeration but really there are a ton) where we’d get total delicious trash food (& sometimes healthy food!) for breakfast ever day. I even bought a cute suitcase at a 7 Eleven in the subway station outside of our hotel and it was filled with treats!

  • 24:7 kpop and I mean good kpop and barely any BTS, what a blessing. I was so happy at how much BIGBANG we heard as we walk down the sidewalks. One night in 명동 there was a bar and a store across from each other blasting two different BIGBANG songs at once, and a shop when we were in 경주 that was cycling through an entire BIGBANG playlist while we were there! Lots of Seventeen too – probably the group I heard the most of while there honestly.
  • Chooch getting his semi-daily shot of coffee in the subway station:
  • 그녕…the way it smells. I can’t explain it. But it’s nostalgic and comforting to me.
  • The language. When I say it’s music to my ears…
  • Matcha.
  • MOTHERFUCKING SALT BREAD. Changed my life. Full post coming soon about the 소금빵
  • Barely any Taylor Swift assaulting the airways! Blessed be.
  • The convenience of being able to grab snacks from subway ajummas (kimbap, hodu gwaja, etc).
  • The self-serve store in the subway station by our hotel exit that sold Levain cookies.
  • CAFES BEING OPEN LATE unlike here in Pgh where most of them close at 2 or 3 because apparently no one drinks coffee after that, we move on to Bud Lite or something, I guess.

I will end with my current favorite NCT Dream song from their new album (that came out while we were there!!) which has become the soundtrack to the way I’m feeling post-SK. I’ll be ok, I know. Just bear with me while I work through this and be glad you’re not Henry, who has to deal with my mopiness IRL. (I think I probably just need to go to an amusement park….HINT HINT, HUSBAND. LOL not as gross as “hubby”, but I’ll still never do that again don’t worry.)

 

(RENJUN AT 2:51!!! THAT SMILE.)

(Great now I’m sitting here sobbing right as I have to begin working, I’m going to be loads of fun in group chat today.)

(Do I possibly need therapy?)

 

Apr 032024
 

You’ll be shocked to know that I completely and totally didn’t want to leave Korea yesterday. I hate to say that I was thinking about this moment starting at the middle of last week which is so bad because obviously our looming departure prevented me from fully being present and enjoying myself. I mean, our last day was filled with misdirected outbursts and projections because I was so upset about having to leave the next morning. I hate it. I have never felt this strongly about a place before where it completely turns me into a monster when I have to leave, kicking and screaming, lol.

We arranged for a Kakao taxi to pick us at 5:50am to take us to Seoul Station. Here’s one last look at our hotel. I really liked it. We stayed in a different area this time – Seodaemun, and when I say that the subway entrance was right outside of the hotel’s front doors….literally couldn’t have been more convenient. If you’re in Seoul and not utilizing the exceptional subway system, I’m sad to inform you that you’re not doing it right! Cheap, easy, efficient. Plus, it’s part of the process. I am already homesick for the upbeat subway jingles (though I guess I can just reach behind me and push the button on our Seoul subway sign!).

My last banana uyu, at Seoul Station. :( You can get banana uyu in the States but it never tastes the same. I’m not being melodramatic – there is actually something different about it, I swear!

Chooch and his new Kakao Friend. It’s tradition for him to buy a Kakao Friend plushie on every Korea trip now. He moderately deviated from tradition by not selecting an Apeach version though! This was on the airport train to Incheon airport. :( I was numb for this ride. Emotionally dead.

The other two times we went to Korea, we flew Korean Air. This time, it was Delta and both flights were mid. Barely any Koreans on either flight and the flight attendants were meh. On this flight in particular, there was one older white dude FA who was actually such an asshole. He wasn’t rude to us in particular, but I witnessed him being a jerk to some other passengers and saying inappropriate things to his fellow FAs, like, “Can’t wait for this party to be over,” “Can I take my break yet?” “This is disgusting” while acting like pushing a beverage cart was part of a prison sentence.

There was an old Asian lady sitting across from us and one row up – she didn’t speak much English and all she kept requesting was hot water. But I guess at one point, this shit head was walking by and she tapped him to get his attention and he snapped, “DO NOT TOUCH ME. NO, WE’RE NOT GOING TO DO THIS” and I was so fucking tense around this prick like he was Alcoholic Dad just come home from the corner bar. THEN, later in the flight, he said to one of the other FAs, “That’s the hot water freak.”

I am 100% filling out a survey about this flight.

He made me so uncomfy!!!

I have so much to write about and so many pictures to sort through! This is going to take a while and I’m going to be crying a lot, I think. Henry kept calling it a vacation but this was so much more than that to me. Korea is my everything. <3

Anyway, I somehow made it through my first day back at work but now I’m ready to crawl back into bed at….5:30PM.

Apr 012024
 

It’s our last night here in Seoul and I am wrecked. In full disclosure, I was a raging asshole all day, truly. I know I should have been enjoying the last full day here but the reality of leaving was weighing on me and I was sooooo snippy and couldn’t make up my mind with what I wanted to do, eat, drink, buy, etc.

in the end, we were all over the place, roaming aimlessly, but I guess when you think about it, at least we were here.

In Korea.

My favorite place in the whole world. :(

I’m excited to get home to my cats, though. If it wasn’t for the cats, I wouldn’t miss home AT ALL.

Two things that happened today which were kind of cool:

  • We were in the area of Tongin Market, on some random side street in a quiet area while Chooch was eating his 떡볶이, when a red-haired girl walked past us. I did a double take and said, “OMG it’s CariCakes lol.” She’s an American YouTuber that lives here in Seoul and I have been watching her videos since late 2016/2017. I have learned so much about this country from her channel. It was hilarious though because Chooch kept saying, “look there’s Cari Cakes” and “When I was in Gangnam without you, I saw Cari Cakes” – you know, being his usual pest self. And then we ended up ACTUALLY seeing her. Henry was like “go say hi!” and was being really persistent about it but then she was already pretty far gone so we had to speed walk but since we were behind her at that point, I couldn’t find a good way to approach her without looking like we were following her (I mean, we were). But anyway, she was super pleasant and didn’t seem too alarmed at my trying-to-not-ambush but-still-kind-of-ambushy approach. We chatted about the cherry blossoms and where we’re from and how the blossoms just feel more magical here in Korea. I dunno, it was just really nice and also surreal because her vlogs are always like, “Today I’m taking you guys to—” so it always feels like she’s talking directly to you and then in this brief moment, she actually was. Social media really makes the world such a wild place, you guys.
  • On the subway, a woman walked past us carrying a bag (like a gift bag?) with the name of the law firm I work at on it so that also was wild. A city with millions of people and today we saw a YouTuber and a bag with the logo of the place I work. Seoul, you are fucking crazy magical.

And now I’m just sitting here listening to Henry and Chooch bitch at each other while Henry furiously tries to pack everything – we had to buy two extra carry-ons while here lol. The one I bought on Wednesday and filled it with stuff IMMEDIATELY. Henry had to buy a second one tonight in 명동 while Chooch and I were doing last minute shopping. ;)

I wish I could put my feelings into words other than “ow my heart.” I am going to be really depressed for quite some time, I think. Henry keeps saying, “we’ll just have to come back” every time I remember yet another thing that we didn’t get to do this time around. I really hope so. I try not to take things like this for granted so any time we do come back, it feels like such a gift.

Chooch, please become a super successful computer guy and buy me an apartment here so I can visit twice, three, four times a year.

Mar 312024
 

Today we explored to a new-to-us neighborhood (문래) and it ended up being pretty excellent honestly. A little out of our comfort zone, but that’s part of traveling, right? Being able to read Hangul really comes in clutch.

Anyway we are about to go back out for dinner but I wanted to post this picture of Chooch because I spent all morning taking “senior portraits” of him with the “good camera” but then this picture I took with my phone in Mullae ended up being better than all of them. Isn’t that always the case!!

Mar 292024
 

I only post when we’re on the train I guess, so here I am with another quick check-in on the KTX from Gyeongju back to Seoul. We did an overnight trip here and it was…chaotic and full of dramatic arguing as is our brand but also really fun and beautiful too. Gyeongju is famous for having Silla Dynasty burial mounds and they were breathtaking in person, I was actually in awe.

I have to talk about The Tree though as the main topic of this post. When we arrived yesterday, it was downpouring. Like, 100% rain all day. Long story short, we ended up switching plans around and instead of Gyeongju World, we headed back to this trendy little tourist area around the burial mounds called Hwangnam Dong. On our walk into it, there was this lone magnolia tree in front of some of the mounds and some people were getting their pictures taken there. I wanted one too so Chooch took one of me and Henry but I didn’t like it so I wanted a do-over but by then, there were more people waiting and I panicked so we left.

Henry and I woke up around 6am this morning because I wanted to go back out and see everything in the not-rain before going to Gyeongju World, and to also have him take my picture by the tree again but it was still just as frustrating!! Some guy came over and started taking pictures at the same time so I felt self-conscious and stepped away from the tree but then a couple with freaking paparazzi lenses showed up and did a full-blown fashion shoot and then another couple came and they started talking pictures FOR each other and I was like FUCK IT!!! so we left.

The terrible picture Henry took of me squinting into the sun.

Anyway, after walking around for a bit, we came back to the tree because we had to pass it to go back to our guest house anyway, and I was like “ok there is only one couple there, let’s wait.”

Yo. They were absolutely fucking ridiculous about this tree. The amount of pictures the boyfriend took of the girlfriend was absurd. With her jacket on. With it off. With it over her shoulder. With her back to the camera. With her side to the camera. Facing the camera. All the while, some man was flying a drone RIGHT OVER THE TREE.

Then the girl swapped places and started taking pictures or the boyfriend!!! THEN THEY STOOD TOGETHER UNDER THE TREE WHILE LOOKING THRU THE PICTURES.

THEN SHE WENT BACK AND STARTED POSING FOR MORE.

THEN ANOTHER COUPLE APPROACHED and I said WE HAVE MAGNOLIA TREES IN AMERICA WHO THE FUCK CARES and stormed off. And that is the end of my story about The Tree.

However, we had time to kill before catching our train so Chooch and I went back and walked around the main burial mound area where we stumbled across an even more popular tree.

I mean, this really is beautiful though. But not standing-in-a-line levels of beauty. Also I would die of anxiety having my picture taken in front of a literal queue.

Also? Those aren’t hills. They’re actual burial mounds for the royal family from the Silla Dynasty.

It gave me chills, for real. But also, when the first mound was created 100s of years ago, I wonder if those people ever would have predicted that it would turn into a historical/tourist destination with a street lined with self-operated photo rooms, cafes, and pancakes in the shape of giant Korean coins and stuffed with melted cheese.

Mar 272024
 

Yo! We’re on a KTX to Gyeongju right now so I have some downtime to check in with you, Blog. First of all, I can’t believe it’s Thursday already. I started getting the WE HAVE TO LEAVE SOON panic basically from the very first day here. This country has me by the heart. I don’t know that I will ever be able to explain it but the ensuing crash of depression once we get home is going to hit me hard so probably just best to avoid me for a while if you know me IRL, ugh.

Anyway, for today’s micro update, I will talk about yesterday morning’s scheduled activity! I thought it would be meaningful to make our own wedding bands while here in Seoul and I found someone offering a ring-making workshop on AirBnB Experiences which I never look at but something made me check it this time.

The workshop is held by a jeweler, 충호, in their studio in Hongdae (actually a bit outside of Hongdae I think). We were a half hour early because we just wanted to make sure we knew where the place was and were going to just continue walking around but she ended up showing up just then and unlocked the door for us so we got started right away!

First, she apologized for not speaking much English but she did a great job explaining the process to us and even though we couldn’t really have a conversation, the vibe was still pretty chill and casual. I mean, I was my usual spastic self though because I was worried about fucking up my ring but it was fine!

Then, the three of us (Chooch wanted to make one for himself too) had to choose the style and we all somehow chose the same so it’s like these are our family rings now lol. Except that Henry and I chose to have our engraved. My ring has his initials and our “marriage date” and his has mine. AWWW.

I was actually surprised that Chooch opted to do this with us rather than roam about Pokemon Go’ing.

I wonder if Chungho was happy to get rid of us though lol.

Chooch is currently sitting across from me on the train, spinning his ring on his finger like an old man gangster.

And yeah that’s the story of our wedding bands. Now I just have to get my replacement engagement ring lololol ugh.

Mar 262024
 

I have a lot to say about this because it’s been 23 years in the making, but for now, as a placeholder: IT WORKED. WE DID IT. HENRY AND I GOT MARRIED TODAY (3/26/24) IN SEOUL!

I’m eternally grateful for my dear friend Jiyong and her husband signing as witnesses for us when we visited them in Jeonju on Monday, and for the Jongno District Office not requiring witnesses to be physically present.

I’m appreciative of my friends back home who endured my constant stressing and hand wringing over the logistics. “What if this doesn’t work? What if we go all the way there and they’re like NO and then I look like a dumb dumb, like, ‘ha, u thought.'”

I love that Chooch came along for the ride and I love that he was thoroughly put-out when he had to CROSS THE STREET to come over and take these pictures for us GOD FORBID we interrupted his Pokemon Go’ing that he was doing while waiting for us to complete our bureaucratic gymnastics.

I love that in spite of all the people over the years who hated us, spread rumors about us, stood in front of our house harassing us, cyber bullied us…ok this is really just two people lol…we stuck it out all these years. It was really rough at times but we made it work.

This feels like such a relief and it’s also still kind of surreal but don’t worry, within 30 seconds of the license being stamped, I was already telling him he was annoying me so really not much has changed. Back to the regularly-scheduled Henry beratings :)

Now I’m going to relax and fully enjoy the rest of my time in my favorite place in the world without this hanging over my head!