Haircut in Korea

Hello strangers!

The past 2 weeks here at KU have been midterms weeks and I still have one more midterm left this week!! raarrgagh.

To take a break, I got a long over due haircut on Sunday. I went to Hair and Joy in Hongdae and I couldn’t be happier with the results! They speak excellent English there and they are pros. The cut was 30,000 won (not including tip). And they really go the full mile –  I got my hair shampooed, a scalp massage :), my hair layered, and finally blow dried and flat ironed. After 30 minutes, my hair went from shapeless to trimmed and soft. Yippee!

Verdict: I would definitely recommend this place to friends and family. Call ahead to make an appointment at their website – its really easy and you won’t regret it!

PS: don’t get a haircut in Anam. trust me.

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Saturday in Bukchon

On a whim, my friend and I chose Bukchon as our Saturday destination.

Bukchon is fulled with hundreds of Korean traditional houses called Hanok. It was really peaceful walking around looking at the ancient looking houses. Within the Hanok Village, there are dozens of small craft workshops. These workshops are more like miniature crafts museums that are situated right in the Hanoks. Stepping into the workshops is like stepping into someone’s home, especially with the complimentary tea and coffee. For some workshops, I got to go in and watch the shop owners make crafts. In others, I actually got to make crafts myself! Either way, for 3,000 to 10,000 won per workshop, it was a great experience. I got to relive kindergarten when I painted my own fan. I also had too much fun learning how to make my own bracelet using traditional Korean knots. Such a tourist, such a kid.

After making visiting the craft hanoks, we decided to head off  and explore the the west side of Bukchon. My friends and I had planned to make one big circle back so we could see Changdeokgun Palace… but we never made it. Once we hit Samcheong- dong Culture street, we were trapped. So much jewlery, knick-knacks, and street food! Samecheong-dong street is like an Old Town. The street is lined with small boutiques, accessory shops, snacks, and restaurants.

They even had macaron shops!!!!! I am a macaron making novice, so I bee-lined to shops. I couldn’t help myself and I got a green tea macaron to share. Nice shiny shells, chewy texture, good filling – the macarons here are great! Aside from the abundance of french confections, there are also a good amount of Italian restaurants. The pricey restaurants smelled so good that my friends and I vowed to come back next time.

Once I got to a street filled with snacks, sugary and delicious smells wafted my way. My friends and I caved, so we got a green tea hotteok. These cakes are eaten hot and gooey right off the fryer. I love street eating in Korea.

After meandering and window shopping some more, we headed to Gwanghamun to have dinner. For the night, we chose to eat at a very popular bindaetteok restaurant.  Yes, I had just eaten this the night before, but this time it’s filled with seafood! The service is fast and the bindaetteok is served hot. Even the off menu beef soup was delicious. Bellies full, we walked into the cold night air and enjoyed the city lights. I strolled around beautiful Gwanghamun Square before heading back to my goshitel, exhausted and happy.

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Friday Night at Gwangjang Market

In the Korea, the more alleyways and hidden side roads you take, the better the find! This week, my wish was to explore more of Seoul’s center and try more street food. Boy, did I get what I asked for!

On Friday night, I decided to check out Gwangjang market, purely out of curiosity. It was the adventure foodie’s heaven. Gwangjang market really is like a rabbit hole. I walk through the main gate and I am pulled in by the smell of freshly prepared food. Walking down a little further, I see stands full fresh raw fish ready to be cooked and old ladies beckoning passersby to come sit down and eat. Take a side street and then take another side street deeper into the market and it seems to never end.

All over the market were dozens of vendors selling these huge savory pancakes, bindaetteok. The cooks would scoop mung bean into a spinning stone grinder, turning the beans into a paste. Then they take this paste and add noodles, some sort of potato, and other goodies before frying it. I shared with my friends a bindaetteok the size of a dinner plate and it was only 4,000 won between the three of us.

Walking in the market, I could see all sorts of delicious food. There was a whole section for kimchi, another for fresh veggies, and several for fresh fruit. I got a bag of 7 oranges for 3,000 won. And most of all, there was fresh raw seafood everywhere – some of it was still kicking! Crabs, scallops, skates, octopus, and prickly slug-like things. Don’t know all the names, but I know I’ll be back  with an appetite. Bustling with Korean people and teeming with new things to try, Gwangjang has definitely earned a spot on my growing list of favorite places in Seoul.

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Lost Entry 1: Birthday Weekend in Korea

I turned 20 in Korea! My Korean age is 21.

Friday before the weekend, my friend and I went to Insa-ga. Our birthdays are only a week apart. First, after getting lost, we scarfed down some delicious street food. I had a Korean corn dog and my friend had a bacon covered hot dog. Hungry no more, we walked around looking at clothing shops, nik-naks, beauty products, and cakes!

No matter where I go, the cakes in Korea are so adorable! And, for how beautiful they are, they are incredibly cheap. Continuing on our junk food binge, my friend and I got a small chocolate cake for 5,000 won to kick off our birthdays. After sunset, we met up with some other friends and we all went to see the comedy martial arts show, JUMP. The show was a mix of non-dramatized, true martial arts with overly dramatized slapstick humor. Everyone laughed and had a great time.

After the show, we went for steak at VIPS steak house. It was pricey, but the presentation was good and it was an all you can eat buffet of gourmet food. YUM. All of us missed western food and we agreed – you can’t go wrong with steak.

On Saturday, I went to the Hanok Village. I got to learn how to make kimbap – for free! I was surprised my kimbap stayed together after I rolled it up (looks like sushi). Some of my friends were not so lucky, and ended up with something more like bibimbap (looks like fried rice).

After the village, I went to Myeong-Dong, a shopping district. There was one main road lined with countless shops like MANGO, Lacoste, Puma, and Nike just to name a few I remember. I was ready to be occupied for a few hours but it was extremely crowded. The flow of people was like one way traffic and it was difficult to freely meander. Ditching shopping for food, my friends and I ate some delicious street food instead.

At sundown, we headed to Namsan Tower, also called Seoul Tower. From Myeongdong, we took a yellow bus to the base of the mountain. From there, we took a cable car up the mountain and to the tower. It was windy and freezing up on the mountain but what a sight! At night there are lights that illuminate the tower so it seems to be glowing alternating hues. Once up in the observatory, I could see the city, like thousands of stars, in every direction. The roads become glowing golden veins that run through a spotted sea of multicolored lights.

On Sunday night, I went to KUBA’s 70-80s themed party and then went to dinner with them. We ate seafood soup, played games, and then celebrated 4 birthdays with one big cake. Thank you to my friends and my awesome KUBA buddy for surprising me with cake, because for the next couple of days I had cake, cake, and a solid sugar panda!

Turning 20 in Korea was such a fun experience. Surrounded by the people I had just met, I am so touched that they wished me a happy birthday. I will treasure these memories even years from now.

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Mellon Candy

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Picked up a bag of mellon flavored hard candies! I picked them up at Daiso, a five and under store. Everyone at KU has gotten sick, so these have helped the tickle in my throat.

Reminds me of my childhood, when Dad would magically take mellon candies out of his pocket for my brother and me. Happy to have found a small comfort away from home.

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The Lost Entries

I cannot believe almost a month has passed since I got here. I feel as though I just got off the plane!

With this thought in mind, I apologize for slacking off on posts. The first two weeks here were nonstop from sunrise to midnight. I felt like I was on terminator mode – but in tourist form. I wanted to try every food and every experience in my line of site. It was fun but it definitely exhausted my time.

Now that the dust has finally settled, I will start doing two types of retro posts:

1. The first type are the Lost Entries. These entries will contain anything that I could not post right after it happened because of shenanigans.

2. The second type of post will be more of a reflection. Being here in Korea, I am constantly in observation and self-reflection. I try the best I can to disable any prejudices I discover within myself so that I can really see world around me. I feel like I am reading a good novel – I can sense and pick out themes in this life experience, but I am only through the first chapter so the final meanings are not clear yet.

OK that was pretty sappy, but stay with me.

First reflection: More than meets the eye.

When I stepped off the plane, breathing in new air, I vowed to make the most out of my brief time here. One of the first mental steps was to open up my mind to anything new without hesitation – just like Anthony Bourdain’s catchphrase, “No Reservations!” The first result of this new attitude is that I experienced everyone around me. It’s embarrassing to say that in the US, I would have made some quick judgments of people – sorting everything into good or bad. But then after getting to know people for a while, I could see that almost nothing is as it appears the first time. I got to understanding people’s true natures, good intentions, and personalities. All of this stuff, is not in what they say or the obvious things that they do – it is the details gathered. And with these details, we interact, making the intricate and beautiful human picture.

So that’s if for today. This post was wordy, so here is waffle and gelato picture. Bon appetit to a sweet life!

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March 23-25 Weekend

This weekend was filled with new places and I loved it.

To kickoff the weekend, I had dinner with a very good Korean friend. For the purposes of this entry, lets call him K. K had studied abroad in the US, so we had met before and it’s by coincidence that I decided to study abroad in Korea. K showed us to his favorite makgeolli (rice wine) place. When he described the rice wine he kept drawing a big circle with his fingers, leading me to think that makgeolli might have been the Korean pizza he said we were going to eat. Only when we were served did I put two and two…

Makeolgi is traditionally served from a big bowl into smaller bowls.

Makeolgi is traditionally served from a big bowl into smaller bowls.

After dinner, we went to norebang! Norebang is Korean karaoke and it is definitely a part of life here. Walking down the Anam, there are countless norebangs to choose from. Thanks to a friend, the norebang we went to was a nice small lounge with a disco light and lasers.  We sang for 3 hours and it was more fun than I ever thought karaoke could be. Here in Korea, it’s norebang is not competitive, and it only matters if everyone is having a good time. The braver, louder, and more obnoxious the singer, the better. Koreans cheer the loudest for the worst singer. There is a 3″ thick binder filled with songs and a good third of it is popular English songs. Just to name a few, we sang Michael Jackson (poorly), Queen (loudly), and Journey with smiles on our faces. We had such a good time that I lost my voice for the rest of the weekend.

Then on Saturday, I got to go on an overnight trip to Gongjo organized by some KUBA members! It was really enjoyable and I am glad that I went. Gongjo is 2 hours south of Seoul, and it was the capital of the Paekche kingdom. We left at 9 am and got there by 12 pm because we hit traffic. Once there, the first thing we did was learn archery. A target with the image of a deer was set up only a few yards away. Only 3 of us hit the target. I am glad I don’t need to hunt for my food..

For lunch, we went to eat Korean kalguksu, traditional ‘knife’ noodles. As soon as I stepped in the small, humble-looking restaurant, I could smell a delicious salty aroma that reminded me of my favorite home food, Vietnamese ca kho to (caramelized fish). I knew this was going to be good. We sat on the traditional floor seating. The heated floors were nice because it was cold, freezing, and lightly snowing outside. I from where I sat, I could see the kitchen – which is a second sign the food will be good. The KUBA buddies said that only in Gongjo is kalguksu prepared spicy. The bowl was huge, but I ate all that I could because it was soooo good. It really reminded me of another home food, Vietnamese banh kan. After the soup, we were served little dumplings called manu.

After, we got to make traditional Korean pottery. I really enjoyed this part because it reminded me of elementary school days. I wanted to make a beautiful cup, but it was too big, so I made it into a bowl.

The place where we made pottery.

Finally at night, we got arrived at our traditional Korean housing. Shoes off a the door, and step into the room with toasty heated floors! There was no furniture outside of the sleeping mats, blankets, and pillows. No one could complain though – because heated floors are that awesome. For dinner, we were going to make bibimbap. While the rice was cooking, everyone went outside and played Korean traditional games. We went inside, mixed up three large bowls of bibimbap, and ate a great dinner.

 

At night we stayed up late eating junk food and drinking. (I had to opt out of the drinking because I lost my voice) As the night went on everyone got drunker and louder. We played games, and by the end of the night everyone was dancing and doing KU spirit cheers.

The next morning, I woke up to a pounding and I thought it was people who were still drunk. Actually it was the pounding of tteok (rice cake)! I went outside and to my surprise, there was free fresh tteok. Delicious! I looked over and saw a smoking pit and I saw roasted chestnuts. The older Korean people could see that we were students, so they gave us a lot of food and tried to tell us some things about the foods. One old man even handed me a whole box of tteok and another old man handed my friend a bottle of chestnut wine. I felt like a kid at my grandparent’s house being fattened up so I can study hard. The Korean hospitality keeps me warm and fuzzy even though I’m 2,000 miles away from home.

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Kumdo

Last night, I attended my first Kumdo (Korean Kendo) club session. I feel it immersed me in student life much more than just organized school activities, or hanging out with other exchanges. It was such a refreshing experience to enter a new territory and not speak working Korean. I didn’t know where to stand or what to do but by the end of the night, I felt it was one of my best decisions in Korea so far. I’m happy to confirm that joining a school club in a foreign land is one of the best ways to make friends.

I found out about Kumdo during the 3rd week of being in Korea by attending a student org fair. The fair took place outside on the main campus there were so many student orgs there, it’s impossible to miss. KU has a whole myriad of clubs from sports, dancing, conversation, to even traditional Korean drumming. It was really easy to find some clubs that fit my interest for a different experience.

Kumdo is the Korean adaptation of Kendo, the Japanese art of swordsmanship. According to a Kumdo member (with 13+ years’ experience), Kendo is strength and form, while Kumdo is about speed and skill.

For the first night, I even got to borrow a hakama (uniform) and beginner’s bokken (wooden sword). However, I won’t actually be fighting any time soon, because training takes a period of 5 months, where I’ll have to learn foot work and the basic strokes. Kumdo, as with every martial art, is definitely a long-term commitment.

By the end of the session, the newcomers got to stop practicing and watch the experienced students in matches. Kumdo is even more violent than I imagined. In the matches, there was a lot of yells and swings of the bokken. Everyone wore protective armor, but the hits sounded extremely forceful. And through out every match, when the fighters were lagging and panting, the other students were shouting their support.

After, the newbies were invited to join for chicken and beer, to break the ice. Once the uniforms were off, everyone was so friendly that it was hard for me to believe  these smiling faces were screaming and making bone shattering blows for the last 3 hours. All of the members really welcomed the new comers. My first experience with Kumdo, and I am looking forward to learning this Korean art with new friends.

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Seoul City Tour

After paperwork for registration on Monday and Tuesday were over, I got to go on a Seoul City Tour! The tour was arranged and organized by KUBA. The price of the tour was 40,000 won (US$35.80), but the tour was definitely worth at least twice that amount.

Our first stop was the National Folk Museum. It was too crowded and our groups were cycled through pretty quickly so I managed to read about a few things.

Small dolls doing the farmer's dance to relieve stress and promote production.

 

Model of emperor's entourage.

Traditional Korean clothing.

Next, we visited the Gyeongbukgung Palace. The palace was so beautiful and well kept. It is located in northern Seoul. I was surprised to see right sky-rise buildings bordering the palace walls. This speaks to what a treasure the palace since it is seems untouched by the alive and growing city.

After the palace, we got to see the Cheong Wa Dae, which is where president Lee Myung-bak lives. Koreans call it the “Blue House”, just like the White House in the US. For security reasons, we didn’t get to go in but photos were allowed.

At noon, we headed to In-Sa Dong. I really love it there.

Fun fact!: My KUBA buddy for the day told me that in Insadong, all restaurant signs are in Korean, not English. I feel this added to the atmosphere.

Starbucks Coffee sign in Korean

The street was lined with carts and stands selling tiny trinkets. There was tons delicious street food to try. I got to try Hotteok, a Korean rice flour cake with peanut filling. It was only 1,000 won (90 cents!) and I really enjoyed the experience. The cakes were fried right there on the street out in the open and they are eaten piping hot. I also got to try tteok, which is also a small dessert made with rice flour but it is not fried. The tteok I got were filled with red bean. Everyone, no matter from where or what background, enjoyed hotteok and tteok :)

There were even little stunts at these food vendors! One was ice cream. The ice cream was churned by hand and the seller joked with his customer. He pretended to throw a huge ice cream lump at the audience and he flipped an ice cream cone around. There was also a stall where a man turned a lump of sugar into a silky curtain of strings. He joked and played with the kids that no one had realized that he was already done pulling the sugar with his incredibly fast hands. The adorable little Korean kids all loved it. They were laughing, giggling, and smiling – never taking their eyes away from the sweets. I think the kid inside me (and everyone else) really loved it too.

We ate lunch one of In-Sa Dong’s restaurant that was located in a small alley way. I can’t read Korean, but my buddy told me that the name translates to: “Wow! So good!” According to my buddy, In-Sa Dong is the place to go for more traditional food. The restaurant had tables and chairs, but I was in a lucky group, and we got to sit in a private room with the traditional floor sitting. We had bulgogi, a spicy soup, and fish! The fish was my favorite part.

Fun fact: Why do Koreans us metal chopsticks?

A: Because long ago, the royalty took to using golden chopsticks. Then a fad started and the common folk started using metal chopsticks to imitate the royal trend. It’s a small detail, but its amazing how long lasting small things can last. (source: KUBA buddy eating with us).

At 4:00 we left In-Sa Dong to go see NANTA, a comedy performance that was a perfect blend of knives, drums, and Salmulnori. What a show! The entire show was non-verbal, so the entire KU foreign audience enjoyed the jokes. I was laughing so hard the entire time. Sorry, no pictures of the performance so go see the show! They have performed all over the world. I felt this performance alone was worth well over the 40,000 won city tour cost.

And that was my exciting tour day in a bundle. Next up is Thursday and Friday, where we got to explore the city on our own. Until then, Anyeoung!

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Busy First Week in Korea!

Hello again and mian (sorry) for disappearing for a while.

I have been here in Seoul for 4 days and it has really been non-stop! But I absolutely love it here. It’s such a blast and there hasn’t been a dull moment. It is 6:00 am as I am writing this and soon I will be going on a Seoul city tour.

So I will try to marathon blog to catch up!

The 15 hour flight here was in all great. I love speed, so I love flying because of the take off.     The personal TVs, they are real! There were so many options. I could watch movies, documentaries, listen to English or Korean Music, and even play games!

I also could check on the plane’s location on a map as well as see the live feed from the cameras at the front and at the bottom of the plane. Importantly, bibimbap lunch and fish dinner was tasty :)

After 15 long hours of seeing nothing but ice and cloud, I started to see land!And then I saw fleets of fishing ships the size of rice grains appearing as if they came to greet my flight. I couldn’t stop beaming from the pure joy of arriving in a new world.

At customs, it was very easy to get through. Even though the immigration inspection man (can’t think of better word) didn’t speak English, I got my first taste of just how far non-verbal communication can express. I showed my passport, my customs card, scanned my finger prints, and then I was legally in Korea!

I found the Korea University Buddy Association (KUBA) team leaders outside the gate. More international students arrived, and the KUBA buddies showed us to the University shuttle. We got stuck in traffic, but the atmosphere the busy Korea was still refreshing.

The shuttle dropped us off at Allive Gositel around 10pm. A KUBA buddy kindly helped me with my bags to my room. KUBA, you all are so awesomely friendly. My single room is a tiny square, but it is so well equipped. I get my own bathroom and there an amazing amount of closet space. I am very happy staying here at Allive.

That is day 1 for now. I have to get going. Day 2 exploring, day 3-4 orientation will come soon, I promise. Kamsa-hamnida (thank you) for letting me share all of my excitement with you!

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