Mandu, Dog Cafe, Magpies and Pizza

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!

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Jisan Forest Resort

Fueled by a desire to escape the monotony of Hanam life, and also to not have any regrets about not going, Danny and I accepted T and A’s invitation to go skiing this weekend, so we all – S included – met for dinner at the local BBQ and rushed to Gangnam to catch the free shutte bus that would take us to the resort. Forty-five minutes later, we were there. We all stayed in a pension on the backstreets of nowhere behind the place (which basically entails sleeping on the heated floor). Because we wanted the early pass the escape the crowds, we set out alarm for 5am and were out of there by half past, trying to find breakfast. Sadly the main food court wasn’t open because Koreans are notorious late-risers, so we ended up scraping together a convenience store lunch, then killing enough time to buy tickets. A and I decided to do the 7am-11:30am pass, whilst everyone else opted to finish at 1:30. Honeastly, thank god we decided to go early because the slopes were much emptier, thus must less people to witness the hilarity of us learning to ski.

To be fair, though, Danny and I did eventually get the hang of it, which was surprising. I really did think I would spend a majority of the time on my ass. Taylor taught us the basics (PIZZA SLICE!) and A and S were snowboarding, so it was a leap of faith going down that first hill. Also the baby slope wasn’t even open at that point so we had to use the ext level.

I can see why people get really into the whole thing. Once you go down the slope without doing yourself any damage, and with the basic ability to turn and stop and whatnot, it becomes quite exhilarating. For the first time I can see the appeal of a skiing holiday. By the end Danny and I were on the intermediate slope. We all regrouped for coffee at 9:30, then A and I left them to it at 11:30 and we went for lunch. Once everyone had found one another, we still had a few hours to kill before the bus, so we moved from place to place trying to get warm, finally settling down with a beer (smart) to play a wipe-out drinking game, before it turned 17:30.

The ride back was fine. We were all exhausted. We ended up all having dinner at a cheap buffet in Cheonho and the rest of the evening is history. When all is said and done, and even though I ache today like I’ve never ached before, I had a wonderful experience and I’m really glad I went. Sometimes it’s about getting out of your comfort zone and actually saying yes to something, even when it would be much simpler to say no. So, yeah, I can knock skiing off my bucket list!

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Considering the likes of Itaewon and Hongdae were supposed to be crazy busy last night, I’m rather happy we decided to attend a local house party. Danny spent the whole day assembling our costumes – original Team Rocket – and I spent a ridiculous amount of time crafting Pokeballs to stick on our belts. It was like walking into Cinderella’s workshop. He really did an amazing job stitching the ‘R’ template onto various pieces of clothing . Sadly our outfits were lost on most of the people at the party, but we definitely put the most effort in. Our intentions were to head out to Seoul tonight to make the most of it all but to be honest we’re feeling lazy and under the weather so we’re staying inside. The most we’ve ventured thus far is to E-mart’s food court for bibimbap and to Wicked Snow – the dessert cafe whose progression I’ve been keeping a beady eye on for weeks – for an oreo bingsu. It’s a cheat day. Or a cheat weekend. Anyway, we met a lot of new people at the party, and it was a really fun time. Me, Danny, Alison, Taylor, and another couple (with the cutest baby I’ve ever seen in my life) left at about 2pm. The only plans we have for the rest of this weekend is to watch movies, possibly re-watch the whole of Korra, and play the others’ Pokemon on the 3DS. Then we’ll eat chicken tonight because TGIS.

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Autumn is Here; Winter is Coming

Ever since the season started to shift from summer to autumn, I’ve felt this strange mix of nostalgia: that is, nostalgia for how it all was when I first got here, and nostalgia for how things were back in England, primarily when I was at university and it was cold and dark in my student houses. Since graduation my glasses have become rather rose-tinted, which is why I’m able to romanticise my frost-bitten existence at the time when I know how much I suffered – from the cold, the pressure of essays, and from being broke. Knowing this, however, doesn’t make me any less wistful. If anything, it enhances the wistfulness even more: remembering the Starbucks coffees drunk over christmas, the big, thick sweaters, the hot soups, the trips to the pub and/ or film quiz, the time spent walking around the frozen city centre in-between or after lectures.

When I first came to Korea, back in March, it was about this temperature – sweater weather – and my school had a specific smell I wasn’t even aware of until I started smelling it again this past week. Honestly, the gloomier weather and darkening evenings are reminiscent of how it was months ago, and I don’t know how that makes me feel. Well, nothing exactly, it’s more of an observation, but it’s strange to think how far I’ve travelled, mentally, whilst remaining in the same physical space.

When I say I get stabs of nostalgia for my university days, I mean I haven’t felt this wintry since then. Newcastle was cold. But Danny and I spent an awful lot of time drinking said hot coffees and bundling and generally living life in what felt like perpetual winter. Memories of that are prominent here. It’s really strange – to be reminded of somewhere so forcibly because of a change in the weather. Summer here gave me a longing for cocktails at best, but it wasn’t infused with nostalgia (England really isn’t as warm as Korea, or as humid, so it was a new experience). The cold is something I’m more acquainted with.

It’s only going to get worse, I know. I’m not braced for it at all. I’ve never gotten along with the cold in practise. It’s always the accompanying ideas that are so favourable: hot drinks and food, cardigans, movies and takeaways with friends, the general ambience of autumn and winter days. Yes, in practise I suffer; I have thin, feeble blood. But I’ll manage. Korea is a good place to be cold. The sheer amount of coffee shops alone make for an ideal destination. Aside from that, a lot of Korean food is winter-friendly. Plus, Korea is beautiful in all weathers, I’m sure. Right now the leaves are changing colour and there’s a bite to the air that makes it perfect for walking, so here’s to making the best of it.


South Korean Food Picspam

Since my dad has been visiting these past two weeks, I’ve been eating out more. Here are a few pictures: dakgalbi (Hanam), chilli chicken (Samtong, Gangnam), bulgogi something (Hongdae), coffee patbingsu (Korean Desert Cafe), grilled chicken sandwich (Bread and Burger, Garosil-gil), cookie ice cream (a department store in Garosil-gil), street food (Insadong).

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Eat Your Kimchi’s Cafe Opening

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.


Go Bears!

James and I went to a baseball game Tuesday night. Considering this had been on my life bucket list for a long time, I was more than enthused to go. I met him at Jamsil Stadium and we bought kimbap, roasted peanut buttered squid, and beer from an ajumma outside the grounds, and must’ve walked around the whole stadium looking for the ticket booth. It was easy enough once we found it; there were a variety of seat prices and we picked the ones going for 10,000 won. Surprisingly the seats were really good. All I know is it involved walking up and lot of stairs and standing befuddled on the aisle for a while before some Korean guy took pity on us and directed us to our seats. I don’t know how big baseball is here in Korea but the stadium was full enough and the atmosphere was great.  The chants were great, too. It was like they had inserted Korean over recognisable western tunes, most notably Abba’s Honey Honey. James and I had a great time yelling out English taunts whenever something went awry in the game. Neither of us are particularly into sports so we had no allegiance either way. Also the amount of people with absolute mountains of food – KFC, pizza, the lot – was impressive.

From what I can tell, nothing really happens in baseball. Admittedly the teams weren’t exactly American league standard, but there was a lot of standing around as the crowd did their supportive singing and clapping, then the pitcher would aim, the batter would miss, and this would go on a while. There were no home-runs. James did explain the board to me and I do understand the general rules so it was all fine on that front, but I had the best time just drinking my beer and chatting and semi-paying attention. In fact, James had mixed a soju-apple-juice cocktail beforehand, and we had that about mid-way through, which livened things up greatly. He did buy us another beer and I would’ve drank it, too, if it wasn’t for the fact I had a full day of work on Wednesday. It really was a fantastic night and I’m going to miss him an awful lot when he leaves on Saturday. Thankfully I get to see him Friday night for his leaving dinner in Hongdae, but then that’s it. He’s doing some travelling immediately after and then he’ll either be in Beijing or Barcelona depending on how it goes on the job front, but I do know that I will see him again down the line. The people you meet in these circumstances are friends for life.

Anyway, school has been fine this week. It’s been a slow adjustment after having last week off. To be honest, I was feeling rather restless about my lack of travelling; I was feeling like I wasn’t making the most of my time here. Everyone I know was travelling during their vacation, or will be shortly, and it was making me antsy to get out there and do something myself. However, I’ve had the best news – maybe of my entire life – at the beginning of this week that’s taking me a while to comprehend, but it’s changed my plans drastically. Danny is owing to visit me! From here on out it’s save, save, save. I mean, I want to have a good time whilst I’m here so it’s about learning to strike that balance with necessary and unnecessary spending. But it feels nice to look forward to the future.
Because of this reason, I haven’t done anything today – Thursday – besides watch Howl’s Moving Castle and hang out with Connie and Reza in Chenon for a bit. In a way it feels like I have a structure now. Chuseok is coming up and Connie and Reza are talking about camping for a cheap alternative to actual out-of-country travelling, so I might get in on that. We’ll see. I don’t know if I can handle another week off in Hanam.

And my dad is visiting soon, which I’m really excited about!

Mud Fest 2014

Let me start by saying that this will be a weekend I’ll always remember, especially as it was my first proper trip away from Hanam and Seoul. It was in Boryeong, wherever that is. I woke up at the crack of dawn Saturday morning – 6am, the likes of which I haven’t seen since my jet lag – and travelled to Apgujeong station. All went well, it was just a bit of a trek. I met Kelly on the bus; she’s studying at Sogang University for a semester – she’s studying Korean to be exact. She’s a SoCal native – Los Angelian – with a Korean mother, and she has an interest in Korean literature, which I believe she wants to eventually become a professor in. I’m collecting Californians like it’s my hobby. Anyway, Harry, the organiser, made us all introduce ourselves on the bus as is his custom and lo and behold the mic was thrust at me first, yet I never find myself panicking here when that’s the case. I’m by no means confident but I don’t stutter all of over myself and have a coronary. I sat with James on the bus. When we arrived we couldn’t yet check into our pension so we were let loose to find lunch, so me, him, Kelly and Iris (her coach-mate; she was from Hong Kong) sat on the floor in some restaurant and ordered some kind of bubbling bulgogi japchae pot and because Kelly is a pescatarian some kind of udon seafood stew.

After that we checked in, got changed, and made our way to the site of the mud boot camp. First, however, I’ll mention the pension: basically it’s a large room with blankets and pillow and a bathroom and you sleep five to a room on the floor. Oh, it also had a fridge. It was basic. My roommates were fine; there was Jasmine from Florida, a couple of sisters (one of whom was a lawyer) from Korea and Linda, a Seoul native, who I can’t remember anything about. They were all nice enough. So back to the first day of the mud festival.

We were the first group to arrive which basically meant the wasteland of mud was ours. Literally, it was a vast open space of mud, sort of apocalyptic in appearance with the hazy weather. We just strode right in. The feeling is akin to no other let me tell you. A few people played football (and I almost said soccer because of all these damn Americans in my life) but me and a few others stayed on the sidelines and talked. There I met Andrew; he’s from Texas and on an internship for the summer. In fact, while I’m at it I’ll give special mention to a few of the people I met just for recording purposes: there was an Irish guy who got so drunk on the Sunday he passed out face first in the sand and had to be carried onto the bus, Marybell (I think her name was) works in the military and is on base in Itaewon – she was really lovely and had the most athletic figure I’ve ever seen-, and there was Cady (I think!) from South Africa, and I have never been so tempted to quote Mean Girls at somebody in my life, and there was this one girl who got so drunk Saturday night that she had to get off the bus the next morning to vomit by the side of the road, and then there was this one guy who made us all bacardi and coke Saturday evening because he’d bartended in college. Right. Done. There were over forty people so that’s where I’m leaving it.

Once other meet ups started to arrive, we lined up at the starting line for the mud marathon, a supposed 3km around the wasteland. Honestly, everybody started off with good intentions, but thick, deep mud is not the best for running in, so Kelly and I did it at short bursts. It hurt. Since we’d done that and been in the mud most of the morning, we opted out of the other bootcamp style activities and sat in the army clothing the organisers supplied us foreigners with (for the photo opportunities) and watched everyone making a fool of themselves with music blasting in our ears. I had a couple of cameras pointed at me and I just mumbled something and snuck away.

Then back onto the bus. Half naked, we all strolled around E-mart for alcohol supplies and Harry picked up enough pizzas and chicken to feed our entire group. We sat on benches outside the pension and wolfed it down; I don’t think the flies got a crumb. Kelly, James and I decided to make maekchu (Korea’s infamous mix of beer and soju) and because Kelly had the bright idea to look up the exact measurements, we were both rather tipsy after a single cup. Instead of continuing down that path, we stuck with soju-orange juice the rest of the night. After our bacardi coke of course. It was the nicest I’d ever had – that guy really did know his measurements. We headed to the beach for the concert and fireworks, but the layout of the concert area was less than ideal and you could see jack-shit, so we sat off to the side and had the better view for the fireworks. The weather was so hazy that it even obscured some of the fireworks, but there was a beautiful, eerie sort of glow to the night sky, and sitting there, soju cocktail in hand, right in the middle of James and Kelly, listening to a playlist of music (most notably Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful), knowing I was in the middle of Korea doing this, was a feeling I hope I always remember. Fireworks finished, we headed back into our separate rooms; I chatted with Jasmine for an hour, then tried to sleep. Though I was tired, that didn’t pan out; there was noise. Our other roommates didn’t stroll in until three. A lot of other people were out and I know if I went with them I would be hungover to hell and back the next day, and I didn’t want to feel that shitty. I woke up early and got a half-shower and ate breakfast with Jasmine and Marybell, then went down to the beach with them to kill some time.

We had to pack up by 11 so we left all of our belongings on the coach, set up camp on the beach, and then a few of us headed into the mud festival itself, which was a diluted version of what we had experienced the day before. It was crowded as hell and not all that big, surprisingly. The biggest attraction of course was the mudslide so we all queued up for that – for ages – only for there to be mid-afternoon break for the workers right before we could get on. Marvellous. Instead we went back to the beach and swam until it re-opened. It wasn’t worth all of the queuing let me tell you. Andrew and I paired together. You go down that thing at some right speed! I was over all the mud by that point so I rinsed off as much as possible and James and I went looking for food; I had street food kimchi bokkeumbap. We just sat overlooking the beach and talking until 4, when it was time to leave. The journey back is always worse than the journey going. I watched a Korean TV show the whole way even though I couldn’t understand a word. If there’s a big TV on the bus, I’ll watch it. Tired as hell, sunburnt, wearing bathroom slippers, I made the long trek home, stuffed my face with Lotteria, and made myself get a shower. Connie invited me for barbecue in the park but I could not.

All in all I met some great people and had an experience. That was the whole point. I’m sure I’ll see Kelly again, and there were a couple of others I wouldn’t mind making the effort with. There was a lot more that happened but it feels so difficult to describe. I think you just had to be there. I’ll remember more and more things after this post, but this is the gist of my experience. Today at school I felt awful. I’m tired, sunburnt, and my hair is a bird’s nest. I kept applying lotion all over my body in what must be the most unattractive fashion. But I had my week’s vacation confirmed for next week, so silver lining. Also, my mud fest diet is over, and I feel so free.