Talk about productive! To start the day, Danny and I grabbed a coffee at A Twosome Place – getting a free macaroon in the process – and then ventured to Hongdae, getting a mixed mandu (dumplings) platter for lunch at a place that’s been on our bucket list. Shortly after we found Bau House, the dog cafe. Because we wanted to grab a beer at Magpies, the brewing company, and it wasn’t open until 5, we had a drink at Zombie Coffee, another place on our bucket list. We ended up sitting in Magpies for a couple of hours, sampling a majority of the menu. By this time it was past dinner time so we called into Monster Pizza, then had a hotteok before calling it quits. We knocked off so many places!
I love Thursdays. It might be a random day to gush over, but I have this day off every week and Danny and I usually spend it wandering around a new area, eating lunch, grabbing coffee, that kind of thing. Today we ventured to Hongdae, which wasn’t a new place to us, but we walked around it unimpeded by the weekend crowds. I took him to Isaac’s Toast, which he loved. It’s a sandwich like you’ve never had before, trust me. I can’t even explain it. But I’ll try. Firstly, it’s dirt cheap. Secondly, it’s sweetened bread. Thirdly, I’m eighty percent sure that whatever meat substance they use isn’t quite right, but it’s so damn delicious that I would spend that hour of travelling whatever day of the week. For lunch it was between that and a mandu place we wanted to try, but since we were having the worst caffeine withdrawal headache I think we’ve ever experienced, we figured it best to head to a place I knew how to get to. Honestly, I don’t know what happened. We’re clearly addicted to our morning coffee and can’t venture outside without it.
After that, we had a leisurely stroll around the area. I do love it there. I think I’m a student at heart, always. Since a big part of our motivation for Hongdae was the You Are Here (which I wrote about previously on its opening day), we settled there, ordered a couple of americanos, and sat upstairs on the balcony. It was all very autumnal.
We did have tentative plans to visit the Hard Rock Cafe which just opened at the new Jamsil shopping centre, and we did head there to see the giant duck floating in Seokchon lake, but we ended up in a ramen place instead and then going to Gong Cha.
It was nice to get out of the apartment for a while and see something else. Hermitting away for most of winter is an inevitability, so these adventures must be cherished.
I’m feeling so sad and hungover. Last night was fun, though! It’s nice to have an actual drinking buddy who wants to, you know, drink.
I’m actually in the middle of a four day weekend, so yesterday’s original plan was to go to Lotte World, but Connie had a morning Skype date that would’ve pushed our time of entry closer to the evening time so it didn’t seem worth it, especially considering we had plans to meet Elena for dinner and drinks. I didn’t do a thing all Friday; I just finished watching Ouran High School Host Club.
Anyway, we met in Hongdae, I introduced Connie and Elena, and we went for barbecue. The thing I like about Elena is she isn’t afraid to – how shall I say? – rip the piss out of me, which is humour I appreciate. She’s so interesting, too. She was the president of the anime fan-club throughout middle and high school; she goes to conventions and cosplays; she does a lot of gaming- as in wakes up early on the weekends to do raids with her team; she can speak Japanese, where she lived for a bit, and she’s lived in Australia, too. She’s a DC native. She was a poly-sci major. She’s got a rather impressive job for her age (she’s 24): defence consultant in the military. Danny says I ought to properly write about the people that I’m meeting here because they’re all so fascinating.
So after barbecue we went for bubble tea at Gong Cha. Elena said I should try something different, so I reluctantly ordered the winter melon milk tea, but it was amazing! It might be my favourite one. I’ve got everyone addicted to bubble tea. Then as is the custom we went to the 7/11 and mixed soju-apple-juice. Connie wasn’t really drinking because she had a dentist appointment in the morning and her teeth were hurting. We ended up walking around for a bit and then decided to go to Itaewon where Reza was with his friends. That’s another story: one of them had just gotten out of prison where he had been kept unnecessarily for 200 days. Like, he was charged with something that wasn’t true. Apparently. What are people’s lives? So we went to Gecko’s. I was far too drunk to actually drink anything more but I did regardless. Elena and I snuck in our ice cups. Someone bought us a cocktail; Elena bought us shots, then I bought us shots. It was messy. I don’t remember the taxi home.
We invited Alison and Taylor out with us but they were going to Everland, another theme park, and that’s quite a distance away, so I’m not surprised they didn’t make it. I might suggest dinner and drinks next Friday because it’s been ages since we all hung out. Connie and Reza are doing a barbecue in the park tomorrow so I don’t know if they’ll show up to that.
So I’m laying in bed feeling sorry for myself waiting for Death Note to download and browsing Tumblr. Clearly living it up on my Saturday.
As many of you may know, Eat Your Kimchi are rather famous around Korea. Actually, let me amend that: they have a fan base that stretches across plenty of countries, but their base is in Korea. Basically they’re a Canadian couple who originally came to SK around six years ago to teach and started to make Youtube videos to document the experience. Since then their viewership has grown exponentially, they’ve made it into a career, and they’ve just now opened a cafe in Hongdae as a joint venture with Talk To Me In Korean. I had to be there to witness it firsthand.
I met Elena at 2:30pm – we both insisted on a lazy morning after last night’s events – and we found the cafe with relative ease; the huge line outside was a massive giveaway. It was mostly foreigners. The queue was long, really long, and the sun was blazing, but it was a bonding experience and we ended up talking with a few people. Simon even came out at one point and we had a short conversation with him. I don’t remember what I said. He looked exhausted. We saw Martina from the balcony at one point joking about the blender breaking earlier that morning and how the boys were not coming to the yard. On top of that we saw Soozee, who is more beautiful in person. Honestly it was strange seeing them all up-close after spending so much time watching them through a screen. Even though I wanted a ton of merchandise I thought I’d save it for another day – it was too crowded. Finally, after getting in, I ordered an oreo milkshake and a powerball – Martina’s own recipe. I hadn’t eaten and it was 4pm so I was starving. Elena and I sat with a couple of girls we had been stood with outside – Kylie and Sarah. From what I could tell they both live on-base in Yongsan with their families. I think. They were nice. They might have been my age. We decided to grab dinner together – dak galbi at a chain restaurant I’d been to before. It was alright. After that we wandered around Hongdae – I regret not buying that Totoro phone case but I will be back! – and went for bingsu. Then we went to Vinyl for a bag of cocktail. Elena and I were flagging at this point so we decided to call it quits, so now I’m home.
Oh, and on the journey back, some guy threw up on the bus. Nice.
I met Connie in the early afternoon and we went to Hongdae so she could get her hair cut. I don’t think I was the best company all day because my hangover was gathering strength as time went on, but she and I spend a lot of time together so she’s going to bear witness to this side of me, too. Because she was groggy and tired as well, our first stop was Starbucks; a grande low-fat iced sugar-free caramel macchiato for me. To be honest, what is life without fully sugared Starbucks syrup? I always ask for ‘skinny’ coffees – at least I did back home – but it’s a challenge finding coffee shops here that actually offer a low-fat milk option. Without sugar, though, it tasted like the remnants of a proper caramel macchiato. However, it did perk me up temporarily. We found the hairdressers and I sprawled out in the waiting area, anti-social sunglasses on, and dozed. There were a lot of foreigners there, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to make friends. The women I encountered were so nice, too! I couldn’t see Connie getting her hair cut, but when she came back after an hour she was not impressed; apparently the hairdresser was useless, telling her that every request she had about her own hair was going to be a problem, and if she cut it the way she wanted she would look like a boy, which is rather offensive – what’s wrong with that? It did look nice enough, though.
Because of her experience she roped me into making a soju cocktail at a 7/11, and we then went on a mission to find lunch. I was already feeling pretty lousy, so what’s more alcohol, right? We ended up in Isaac’s Toast at my suggestion but I don’t think she was impressed: to be fair we ordered the ‘hot chicken’ and it looked and tasted nothing like chicken, so that was a mistake. But it was 3,000 won. Then, because I was tipsy and my healthy streak was over with that sandwich, I went to try a Taro Bubble Tea finally at this new place that had just opened near the station. It was … interesting. I’m not sure if that’s what taro tastes like normally, because in pictures it looks much more purple, but the taste of it was akin to wheat maybe, or the dregs of cereal milk. It was very, very sweet. Either way I’ve tried it now and I’m sticking to Gong Cha and their black milk tea.
Whilst waiting for the bus at Gangdong, we bumped into Alison and Taylor. They were returning from a trip to Costco, which Alison did invite me along to, and had stocked up – they’re starting a paleo diet next week. If I were going to attempt a diet, I would like to give paleo a try; basically you eat like your ancestors would have eaten, so lots of meat and vegetables. No carbs, dairy, processed sugars, coffee, alcohol. I’m guessing some people are lax about the no-coffee-no-alcohol thing. It’s unrealistic long-term, surely, but it seems like a sure-fire way of slimming down fast. Korea in theory is a good place to incorporate that diet – there are barbecues everywhere!
Anyway, my Saturday night was spent watching the last couple of episodes of Coffee Prince, eating ramen, and drinking Coke Zero. I didn’t go to bed late. I really, really need to go clothes shopping, so I might go to Cheonho later today, but in all reality I’ll probably venture to the supermarket and back and call it a lazy day.
We spotted this guy wandering around Hongdae by himself cosplaying what looked like Ezio from Assassin’s Creed.
Not a very good picture, but this was my taro milk bubble tea. I don’t think I’ll be back there. They did have cuddle owls dotted about, though.
10pm hangover food.
Saturday: I messaged Connie and asked her whether she wanted to grab lunch in Seoul, so we headed to Noksapyeong, grabbed a churro, and walked into a nail bar for the kind of girly day I had only ever fantasised about having. I never did anything like that with friends back home, but that’s therapy I don’t have time for; basically I spent too much time wanting to be that person, and put no effort into actually making that happen. Although it took me thirty minutes to decide what I wanted – I’m not kidding – I opted for two Totoro’s on my thumbs with a single colour on the rest, which cost 35,000 won. I wanted all of them doing in various My Neighbour Totoro designs but it bumped the price up a bit, so maybe next time once I’m mentally prepared. Let me tell you, my nails have never looked so good. It was amazing because I showed the nail artist a blurry picture on my phone of what I wanted, and even though I’m pretty sure she didn’t even know what a Totoro was, she painted it expertly. It’s opening my eyes to the possibilities! Connie got hers decorated in the style of the Iranian flag for 25,000 won in support of the Iran versus Argentina game that Reza was watching later that night, and they turned out awesome, too. Happy, we strolled into Itaewon and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant called On The Border. Although expensive, we expected it: we were in Itaewon and it wasn’t Korean food. We ordered double-stacked quesadillas to share, a citrus blast cocktail bowl, and I switched to a maragarita – my first ever! – for my second drink. We even managed to move to a balcony table once a spot opened up.
Then, because Connie was missing her cats, we headed into Hongdae to visit a cat café. It was nowhere near as nice as the one at Myeong-dong; in fact it was depressing. Connie was going around checking all the cats and saying they were sick. Needless to say, we were outta there pretty quick. We tried to find the stall that served roadside cocktails but couldn’t, and we had to meet Reza anyways, so we ended up in a coffee shop for a bit whilst the heavens opened. Honestly, Korea has been monsooning lately. He was going out with his friends to watch the football, so we headed back to Hanam. We even made our own cocktail at the 7/11 for the journey – soju and flavoured iced tea.
By this point it was 9pm, and though Alison was in contact with us saying there might be plans in Hanam that night, nothing came of it, so we wandered into e-mart for supplies – the pizza part was closed sadly! – and came out with frozen pizza to cook ourselves, more soju, and a mango smoothie to mix with it. God, that pizza was something. Let’s just say it didn’t quite hit the spot, particularly when you’re wanting proper takeout food and are absolutely starving. We just hung out at Connie’s and watched Secondhand Lions at her suggestion and ate chocolate digestives.
Tuesday: I’m about ready for this week to be over. I don’t know what it is; I just feel tired. It’s not like I have plans for the weekend, but I guess I’m having one of those weeks. Anyway, I met with Connie, and her laptop’s broken so we headed to Apgujeong, the posh area, to get it fixed. Turns out the price of repair costs about as much as a new laptop so she’s just going to do that. Then we went to an Indian restaurant called Namaste which was, you know, alright – it wasn’t Korean food, which was the point. Apgujeong Rodeo Street is so posh the cinema has valets, and there are more plastic surgery clinics than there are people, and they sell actual salads in the stores. What a wonder. I saw a young woman in sunglasses holding a cigarette out the window of her expensive car, living the life I want.
At some point in the recent past James and I agreed to embark upon an adventure that entailed visiting Seoul’s various, renowned, quirky cafes. He’s leaving in a couple of months and I’m just the kind of person who loves to cafe-hop, so our interests were a match made in Korean heaven. Aiden met us in Hongdae, too. I first saw him at the picnic (he’s the guy who’s mastered the British accent and seems to like all things British). First stop: the Hello Kitty cafe, which was very pink and very … Hello Kitty. It’s exactly what you’d expect it to be. After that we ventured to the dog cafe – Bau House – which was incredibly difficult to find what with the vague instructions on the internet and Korea’s general disregard for understandable signs. Eventually, however, we stumbled upon it (it helped having someone who could decipher Korean). Basically the admission is free but you’re required to purchase a drink that costs more than usual, so you’re essentially paying for entry. The cafe was segregated; small dogs on one side, larger dogs on the other. It was pretty crazy! A lot of them were really fussy, energetic, and eager. One of them chewed my cardigan. I was not impressed. There were a variety of breeds, too, which is surprising for Korea. We even bought them treats, and one small, scrappy thing clambered up onto the table and chomped it out of my hand before I could blink.
After that we tried to find the camping cafe, which was another nightmare, until the internet informed us it had closed down. The thing about Korea is there aren’t official websites for many things, so it’s a case of relying on expat blog posts for information and directions. Not the most reliable source clearly. Lunch plans tarnished, we went back onto the main street, surprisingly having real trouble finding a suitable food place, and settled for somewhere that had blurry pictures of questionable Korean ‘pub grub’ but found ourselves on an empty terrace overlooking the main street in Hongdae. Aiden translated the menu for us and we settled on a plate full of chicken. And, um, beer was had. I made them both come with me for liquid nitrogen ice cream afterwards – there was a queue and I wanted to see what the fuss was about – and although it was nice (and big!) I don’t think it was anything to faint over. Still, another tick on the bucket list, right? I’d been messaging Joonho throughout lunch and he met us at the subway station on the way to our next venture – the cat cafe. Honestly, Myeong-dong is the biggest pain to get to from Hondgae. It’s not that far on the map, and it only involves a couple of subway changes, but the trek it takes around these various stations is tremendous; it must’ve taken upwards of forty minutes. I’m never going to Seoul station again let me tell you. Poor Joonho may as well have joined us at Myeong-dong. However, we found the cat cafe relatively easily. A person dressed as a giant cat rather helped with that. It was a nice enough place; lots of cats being pestered by smaller children. I think by that point we just needed a caffeine hit because our energy was waning. Compared to the dog cafe, we didn’t stay long; our phone batteries were dying and we wanted to make it to the k-pop cafe. Aiden left us at that point, and we never found the k-pop cafe due to very vague instructions online once again, and our phones had truly died anyway so we couldn’t take pictures. Why else would you go to the k-pop cafe aside from the picture opportunities? It’s not like any of us are that into k-pop. Instead we sat outside some fountain near the cable car for Namsan tower and drank beer and talked about football and politics and sci-fi movies.
We’re going to do the hanbok cafe another day, possibly Wednesday. It was surprising how fast the day had gone. We must have called it a night at eight, and that was mainly because James was getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the England match in Bulldogs. It’s a crying shame the world cup is on at the worst possible time in Korea, because it can be a lot of fun. I’m not one for football, but c’mon, it’s every four years, and no one begrudges England and football like I do so if I can get into it, anyone can.
Lets just say I’m not feeling very sprightly this Sunday morning. Long Island Iced Teas and beer were most definitely had, and I can’t remember how much of each. Judging by my general state today, it’s safe to assume I drank more than I should have.
I’ll start from the beginning: in the early afternoon me, Connie, Amy and Reza went to Gangnam to do some general shopping. We first stopped off in this very weird, empty area of Gangnam that came as a recommendation, but that didn’t pan out, and me and Amy were crashing from lack of food/sugar/caffiene so we instead ventured into the main area of Gangnam, which is much more fun and populated. Like really awful tourists we took pictures in front of the Gangnam Style sign, and Connie got some random Korean guy’s bulldog puppy in the picture with her. We ate in Noodle Box. Then, yes, I may have gone into Gong Cha for a bubble tea. Aside from wandering around a few shops (and witnessing a group of muscular Korean men partially strip for some cause or other), there isn’t much else to report, so we travelled to Hongdae and met up with Bridget and Anthony – Connie and Amy’s friends from Cheongwon. Honestly, they are a couple of the coolest people I’ve ever met. They were endlessly interesting. I don’t even know where to begin with discussing them to be honest; I just know they’re good people. I think I talked about everything under the sun with them – probably stupidly in my drunken state I’m wincing to realise – but I know we talked about feminist literature and Hemingway and why I liked what novels I liked and OH MY GOD someone asked me to talk in detail about something I like, which is crazy. No one ever wants to talk about books, never mind hear my opinions on what I liked to study. Lord knows what I said, but I hope it came out eloquently.
We started off in a really cool bar (we snagged the booth in the corner) and that’s where the drinking began: the Long Island Iced Teas were ridiculously strong, and I had two. After that, we bought beer from the store and walked around the streets of Hongdae. From there on, I don’t know what I drank. We ended up in the spot where they hold the free market for a while, and I know I talked to some Korean guy about his Heisenberg shirt, then attempted to get a kebab but the place was closed, and finally settled for some very mediocre and undoubtedly overpriced Mexican food (I’m pretty sure I complained a lot about that). Reza’s friend owns a hookah bar so we eventually ended up there, and LaShara joined us, and so did a bunch of random people, and we ended up sitting on the floor in the corner and doing some very strange bonding ritual which Anthony instigated. He leaned in and told me ‘you can do whatever you want’ and I watched him do just that. His philosophies just blew my mind all night. He got a group of people doing exactly what he said, and it was fun and stupid and I still don’t know who those people were – I met a girl from England who was travelling through, and her travelling partner who was from Germany.
Because no night is complete without it, we ended up in Taco Bell, then got a taxi home. We talked about the difference in accent the whole way. I think I got in about 4:30am and I just know I’m going to feel tragic for the next couple of days whilst I catch up on sleep. I’m really, really hoping I didn’t come across as an idiot last night. I drank more than was reasonable, and we all know what drunken conversations can be like, so I’m sitting here stewing in my own post-drunken shame. I’m not drinking like that for a while, that’s for sure. I probably missed out on a whole bunch of stuff, but that’s the gist of it all.
The following picture is really bad but we found Eat Your Kimchi’s studio! I’m a huge Simon and Martini fan, and Anthony and Bridget made sure I got to see it, which was lovely of them, because they love them, too. Looks like I’ll have friends to visit their cafe once it opens! And, look, I’m not even pointing in the general area of where it is.
It may not look very attractive but this was honestly delicious. I bought the hot tteokgalbi toast, which I believe contained some kind of meatloaf-esque patty, egg, cheese, cabbage, sweet pickles, some kind of hot sauce, and their signature butter bread. I’m salivating just thinking about it! It was only 3,200 won, too! ‘Twas huge. I’d heard about it through Eat Your Kimchi and they haven’t failed me yet (I’m still making my way through their recommendations at Gong Cha, but I’m reluctant to stray far away from the black milk tea with pearl) so I went to Hongdae with the intention of trying this and it did not disappoint. It was right by the uni’s front gates for anyone wondering.
I went to Hongdae earlier today, as indicated in the photo I posted earlier, just for something to do: my intention was to go to the free market but I lost track of all that and just wandered around. I ended up buying the best t-shirt with a hipster bunny on it for 6,000 won. The main reason I went was for the street food to be honest, of which I had plenty. The picture, again, is evidence of that. I love street food. I love Korean food. There’s so many places in Hongdae to eat! I wanted it all. Anyway, I managed to get back home with relative ease (I did miss my stop because I was distracted by my game – Frozen free fall if you must know – so I did have to go on the opposite line to get back to where I was supposed to be) and then I had plans to meet up with some friends to celebrate an engagement.
Cody, who I hadn’t met previous, is a veteran Hanamer: he’s been in South Korea for six years, and is originally from Hawaii. He loves his job, is a devout animal right activist who spends his free time volunteering at a cat shelter, and is practically vegan. I say practically because it’s impossible to be fully committed to that kind of diet here; even being a vegetarian is difficult. Everything is meat based. He picked a restaurant near his apartment (which is near city hall) and we all agreed to dine in the most authentic, traditional Korean place possible.
I should mention there were six of us altogether: Connie and Reza, Allison and Taylor, and me and Cody. It was the kind of place where you take off your shoes at the door and sit on the floor. It was basically a free-for-all: the side dishes took up the whole table, and everything was delicious. The bulgogi was incredible. It’s somewhere that I won’t ever be able to come back to because I can’t speak Korean. Trust me, it was that authentic. We all shared beer as well, which I’m developing a taste for. I didn’t take pictures because it wasn’t really the occasion for it. There’s a closeness about Korean dining: everything is communal, and it’s rude to pour your own drink.
What’s amazing to me is the position religion takes in people’s lives. There was a discussion at the table that I won’t relay in too much detail, but it seems that it’s at the forefront of a fair few people’s concerns, which I suppose isn’t unusual in anyway; yet for me, who’s grown up in a place where religion isn’t even on the radar, it’s a startling realisation how seriously it is taken, or how integral it is to people’s existence in the real world. Maybe that sounds stupid, because the origins of religion are about how to live your life, but it takes me aback when I hear people freely talk about what they believe in, or that they go to church, or what their stance is on certain things. As a concept it’s always seemed very far removed from what I have ever known: it was the kind of thing I heard about on the news, or saw in movies. I have lived a very sheltered life in that respect. Allison said that when she was on a study abroad program and she visited Egypt that she had a tour guide who was Christian but couldn’t tell his family or friends (or anyone for that matter) because of obvious reasons, and he was that happy to share that part of himself to the group she was with (it must have been a christian thing), that he cried.
After that, we planned to get drinks. Before we got further than than restaurant, we bumped into a Korean family, and two ladies were very excited to find two westerners who could speak fluent Korean (Cody and Reza) that they were practically bouncing up and down. They loved it. Taylor left early because he’s in the middle of studying for a master’s and had a deadline, but the rest of us all caught the bus into old Hanam to a western-style bar that Cody knows of, and we all ordered cocktails. The Long Island Iced Tea was delicious. We basically sat and talked and played ‘one truth, one lie’, and then Cody left because he had to be up early what with the cat shelter, and from then on we listened to Reza’s story about how he came to be in Korea. He’s Persian, and was living in Iran beforehand, so it was quite the story. All I know is there are people who have it much worse than I could ever conceive, and I have lead a very fortunate life. Allison, bless her heart, paid for all of the drinks, which I protested vehemently, but she insisted. It was an engagement treat, yet she paid for mine as well. Then Reza paid for the taxi on the way back, and we all parted ways with promises to stay in touch. I can’t handle how wonderful people can be. The next event is definitely on me! It sounds like the waygooks of Hanam are becoming a community again: aparrantly it hasn’t been so good for that lately, and Connie had a tough time of it when she first arrived. However, she’s in a really good place now, newly engaged and whatnot, so it’s lovely to know she’s happy. Honestly the kindness of strangers here astonishes me: there’s a real sense of community here. Maybe it’s because we’re small fishes in a big pond, and we’ve got to band together, but there’s seomthing so wonderful about people’s inherent kindness and generosity. It’s a world I haven’t experienced.
Every little thing here is opening up my eyes, from the culture to the people. Hearing people talk about their lives is the biggest honour I can think of. To share something of yourself to people you meet halfway around the world, to meet up under entirely different circumstances and connect, is something I can’t put into words. To travel is to live as fully as you can. I am certain of that.
P.S: It’s been absolutely freezing here today.