September 2009


After the end of the crazy weekend, it was almost nice to get back to the daily grind of classes and studying.

Tuesday was a GREAT day – after classes, my roommate and our two friends went on an adventure to locate a hidden restaurant that Susan had gone to on her last trip to Korea. We were able to locate it without too much trouble, hidden in a small alleyway near Insadong. It was this tiny place, but it was packed, and when we left, there was a wait. And boy, was it amazing…

IMG_7878The best Dokbukki I’ve ever had in my life.

IMG_7883But it got better – the lady took our pan when there was ony scraps left over, and filled it with this rice/seaweed/corn concoction that was also pure yumminess.

Total cost of the meal for 4? About 6USD a person.

I did some shopping in Itaewon, the neighborhood known for catering more to expats and Americans. I was amused by my interaction with all the street vendors – I’d ask a question in Korean, and they would answer in English!

IMG_1472Why thank you!

Thursday I met up again with Phil, my old friend from back in the day, near city hall. It was a BEAUTIFUL night…

IMG_1490Color-changing fountain.

He wanted me to experience something I hadn’t before – Mexican food, done Korean style!

IMG_1495I couldn’t quite place what tasted different – I think it was either the lettuce or the sauce in the burrito…

Then we headed over to Cheonggye Stream, the newly renovated stream running right through downtown Seoul. It used to be covered up, but in the past few years, the city renovated and opened up the old river opening. It’s a pretty breath of fresh air, in a city where everything is urban, and parks, trees, and green things are scarce.

IMG_1510The beginning of the stream – totally beautiful.

IMG_1521Another view.

As you walked along the stream path, there were many people, partying, sitting, or couples enjoying a quiet moment together.

IMG_1531Cute, right?

There were also rock paths placed strategically across the stream, although me and Phil were both not brave enough to attempt to cross.

IMG_1535These girls successfully crossed – whew!

As we continued to walk, we discovered that we were hungry again – to the yogurt shop, ASAP!

IMG_1548These Red Mango yogurt shops were everywhere in Korea, but I haven’t seen any in California, although I hear that they exist…

IMG_1550We split a yogurt – it was as yummy as it looks.

Next up – Auctions, Buddhist sanctuaries, and Dr. Fish!

and P.S. I realize my trip is already over, and I am back to real life – but I’ll continue to update this, I still have quite a few things to report!

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The second weekend was probably the craziest/longest/interesting weekend I’ve had in quite a while…

I met up with an old friend from way back in the day on Friday~ I’ve known Phil since junior high, which is like, totally old-school, but in a good way.

Anyways, we met up in Hongdae, where he took me to a good restaurant he knew about.

IMG_1362The sign says it all…

IMG_1364Yummy ribs….

We then headed over to this amazing, crazy water bar in Hongdae. I’ve never seen anything like it. You take your shoes off, enter this winter wonderland, where there are pathways and streams of water winding throughout the place. It was beautiful, and really pretty chill.

IMG_1367View from the second-story floor…

As if that wasn’t enough, a groovy reggae bar was the next and final stop ~ a great way to catch up with an old friend, and a great way to end the night.

I was really set on going to a soccer game here, and in particular I really wanted to see a National Korea Soccer game – the Korean fans are known for being pretty damn awesome, and I wanted to experience that first-hand. We were able to score really good tickets (like, 5 seats away from the press boxes, and almost exactly the view you’d get if you were watching on television) for only 50,000 won (or about 40 USD), for Saturday night, and I was EXCITED!!!

…But of course we had to eat before hand…

IMG_1373At the food court at the Seoul World Cup Stadium. I love Kimchi.

We then made our way over to the entrance to the stadium, where you could FEEL the excitement, and HEAR the crowd already inside.

IMG_1378GOOOOOOooooooo Korea!!!!

IMG_1387Beautiful night, full moon, great view!

The game was AMAAAAZING – Korea played very well, and with the support of the home crowd, pulled off a 3 – 1 victory. The atmosphere was also great, with the Korean supporters waving flags, chanting, singing, beating drums, and generally going pretty crazy.

IMG_1383The Korean endzone was THE section to be in – everyone in that section stood the entire time, jumped up and down as a collective bunch, and were the loudest. Those were also the cheapest seats, but were the hardest to get. I’ll be sitting in that section next time 😉

IMG_1402The Korean team is known as the Red Devils, and everyone had these light-up headbands.

We could have called it a night after the game, and I would have been a happy camper, but Oppa had plans for the rest of the weekend. We found ourselves packing small overnight bags, for “later,” then headed over to Ilsan, and one of the largest nightclubs around.

IMG_1412This monstrosity is known as the Tunnel Nightclub, and let me tell you, the inside is just as gaudy and imposing as the outside.

Korean nightclubs operate a little differently. There’s a large stage, and a dance floor, but the rest of the club is taken up by looooong rows of booths and tables. (The second story house the private, VIP rooms.)You are serviced by a single waiter assigned to your table, and he/she brings you all the drinks you want, of which you have two choices – aged malt-whiskey, or beer. We also got a large fancy fruit platter at our table. DJ’s played sets, and different bands would come and perform as well. The night we were there, a Korean boy band that was extremely popular about 10 years earlier performed, and both my girlfriends went super fan girl on all of us. If anyone’s heard of R.ef, let me know, I saw them liiiiive!

Most nightclubs practice an art called “booking” and this nightclub was no different – this differs from the more commonly known practice of “hosting,” which is basically bars that employ women to “entertain” the patrons. (Entertaining being loosely in quotes, to put it lightly.)  Booking differs because the participants are ALL patrons – the waiters will spot a young lady/group of ladies, and bring them over to a table of men. The ladies can stay for a drink, chat for a little, and choose to stay or leave after a drink or two, depending on how they got along with the men. Since we were with my cousin, our booking experience was minimal, although a few times waiters would walk by, stop, literally “appraise us,” then continue on when we conveyed our disinterest. If a pretty enough girl is booked, the waiter can make a pretty good tip, so the waiters take a vested interest in matchmaking.

IMG_1411More monstrosity.

We stayed ’til around 4 am, drinking, dancing, and generally having a good time. It got a little tiresome though, because anytime you walked up to the dance floor, or back to your seat, or used the restroom, EVERY SINGLE WAITER you passed would bow – of course you didn’t HAVE to bow back, but I felt like I was being rude, so I bowed back EVERY SINGLE TIME. This got old after 4-5 stops to the bathroom, and 4-5 trips up to the dance floor.

But oh no, the night wasn’t even close to being over…

We found ourselves driving away from city life, and further towards the sea and countryside. At 6 am, we finally arrived at our destination – a mansion by the sea!

IMG_1414This “mansion” is a pretty standard one – split into subunits, and rented to couples/families for the long weekends or a for nice getaway.

We promptly all passed out until almost 2 in the afternoon.

Then of course we went to go eat.

IMG_1422We were ravenously starving after our long adventure…obviously. And we ate it all.

We went and checked out the sea, fed the birds, and generally tried to relax a bit before heading back to Seoul.

IMG_1427It was low tide, so there was A LOT of mud – there were little kids absolutely covered in it, and I was a bit envious that I didn’t bring a change of clothes, I would have been rolling in it too.

All in all, a very long weekend – we got back after 9 PM on Sunday!

Up next – More school, Itaewon, and THE Stream.

I’ve talked about my school, so I thought it might be nice for everyone to see some pictures.

Yonsei University is considered one of the top schools in Korea. It’s one of the Big Three, or “SKY” – Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University. It’s basically like the Harvard or Yale of Korea, and it’s a pretty big deal. When you tell people you attend Yonsei University, they are VERY impressed.

Yonsei University has its own Language School, which runs classes year-round, teaching Korean to foreigners, students, businessmen, expatriates, etc etc.

IMG_1428The entrance to the Language School.

IMG_1430And just in case you didn’t know, they are the best. This is the school’s unofficial slogan – it’s displayed EVERYWHERE around campus.

Classes run from 9 AM to 1 PM, with a 20 minute lunch – the first two hours concentrate on reading and grammar, the third hour concentrates on dictation, and the fourth hour is dedicated to “higher learning,” or basically concepts of the language that no one gets.

IMG_1447I did a literal double-take the first time I walked into the restroom.

The entire school is on a huge hill, so there’s a lot of walking up and down stairs, to get around the campus.

IMG_1448These stairs I can handle.

IMG_1451This set of stairs not so much – I almost fell down them whilst attempting to traverse the crazy uneven stones.

The university has its own public hospital, dental school, funeral hall, etc etc, along with all the normal buildings associated with any university.

IMG_1449Pretty building – I think this was the International Business Building…

IMG_1455The Student center – Bank, Post Office, Global Lounge, Cafeteria, and Bookstore…

Every day all the clubs offered on campus set up shop along the main street of Yonsei, trying to recruit new members. No one attempted to talk to me into joining the glee club or taekwondo club, but perhaps they could tell I wasn’t a student there.

IMG_1456Bowling, anyone?

IMG_1464The main gate.

Sorry I haven’t updated in a few days, really the past week has been a bit…mundane, so I didn’t want to bore you with any of those kind of details. I’ve been pretty much attending school in the morning/early afternoon, eating, studying, eating some more, and going to bed. I told myself before I left that I would be going out EVERY night, but the actual logistics and time restraints make that pretty much impossible. Let me put it this way – I’ve never studied so hard in my life for a class that didn’t really count for any kind of credit. (well, life credit (?) maybe, but that’s different.)

IMG_1348Not the BEST study environment, but it reminds me alot of my old college days!

On Wednesday a few friends and I set out to find the restaurant with the best mohndew (again, sorry about the phonetic spelling, it seriously sucks). Our friend Richard remembered a place he went to a few years back, so we headed over by subway. (which, have I mentioned, is amazing, no really.)

IMG_1351Let me tell you, this did NOT disappoint. We were contemplating ordering another order to go, but the restaurant was closing soon, so we had to make do with what we had. They were HUGE.

IMG_1352Can’t forget the noodles we ate as well – I added a crapload of hot sauce to mine, my nose wouldn’t stop running, but I was a happy camper.

Actually, to date, I have yet to have a meal that hasn’t been a culinary delight to my taste buds. Even when I cook at home (which I’ve done a few times, while studying and being too lazy to go out) the instant food Korea has is amaaaaaaaazing.

IMG_0989Oh Korean snack and soft drink, I heart you.

We ate at a Chinese restaurant on Wednesday, where I encountered my first fancy toilet. Let me just say, the experience did not go as well as planned. My advice to any one encountering a fancy toilet: make sure you are SITTING before trying to push any fancy buttons on the fancy toilet. ;o)

IMG_7708mmm, Korea’s version of Chinese food…

Just a small observation for those who are wondering what Korea is like – it’s amazing. But the thing I was most surprised about is how BIG CITY it is. I mean, I know, it’s like 8+ million people, but I really had no idea it would look the way it did – it kind of reminded me of New York, with the many shops, lights, cars, and busy people. The weather is also similar – hot and sticky in the summer, really cold in the winter.

There are a few key differences though – even though there are hardly ANY garbage cans around, the streets are really clean. Also, obviously, there are mostly Koreans here – with the random foreigner throw in once in a while. For someone who’s used to the virtual melting pot of the USA, and the Bay Area, it’s interesting to see only one homogenous group of people in one place. (I know, I am in Korea, of course there are Koreans. It’s just the LACK of anyone else that I’m trying to point out.)

IMG_1149Average front of an average building.

IMG_1206Bucheon at night.

Thursday was a really long day – Oppa picked me up after class, and we went back to Dongdaemun – this time, we perused all the street vendor stalls. It’s amazing how good the designer knock-offs are here, you seriously can’t even tell the difference, and it seems like EVERYONE has designer clothing/shoes/bags/belts/wallets/watches/etc etc etc. I think the general feeling is, “if it LOOKS real, then who cares if it really is?”

IMG_1357Busy street stalls at Dongdaemun market – around 12 midnight.

I am really enjoying my time here, there’s so much to do, and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on all that Korea has to offer…I know it’s going to be hard to leave! I still have alot to share and tell though, so please stay with me!

The upcoming weekend: Hongdae, soccer matches, crazy Korean nightclubs, and a mansion by the sea. 🙂

Sunday was a relatively unproductive day ~ I had a load of homework to get through, plus that pesky little thing called “studying.”

Anyways, I still found time to do a bit of shopping with Oppa ~ it’s funny, large companies here in Korea have their foot in the door with EVERYTHING. You thought Hyundai and Samsung were car and electronic companies? OH NO. Not only do they deal with cars and electronics, but they have their own water brand, department stores, gas stations, convenience stores, etc. This goes for other large companies as well.

IMG_1304The Hyundai Department store in Sinchon was 10 stories, with a glass elevator on the outside. We used it, and I almost barfed when I looked down and saw how fast we were going.

We also ate at a Chinese restaurant, located at the top of the department store. I finally got my FAVORITE food, chajyangmun. (err, my attempts to phonetically spell out Korean words in English = EPIC FAIL, so please bear with me).

IMG_1307chajyangmun is noodles in a black bean sauce. It’s a dry noodle dish, gets all over your face, and is really yummy. When I’m at home, I try to have it at least once a week.

With Monday came the daily grind again – school, studying, subway riding. Oppa had me scheduled for a face massage though (my skin decided to protest against being in Korea).

This is where we showed up to get my face massage:

IMG_1311Be afraid, be very afraid.

According to some fancy medical journal, almost 1 out of every 10 Koreans living in Korea will get some kind of plastic surgery done. I think the most common is the blepharoplasty, aka the double eyelid surgery. Actually, that procedure almost like a rite-of-passage nowadays, and is often given as graduation gifts, when finishing high school. Can you imagine getting plastic surgery as a GIFT?! But anyways, business was definitely booming here, and there were MANY people in the waiting room.

Anyways, my face massage didn’t consist of any invasive surgical procedures, although they did use this really nifty LASER on me to make my pores smaller. 🙂 They also cleaned, cleansed, rubbed, massaged, poked, patted, wiped, smoothed, etc. my face, followed by a head massage that felt sooooo good. Anyways, whatever they did, it worked – my skin looks amazing now, I am practically glowing.

IMG_1314Oppa’s favorite – LA Kalbi. Our lunch after my facial massage.

Traffic from between 5 and 8 is absolutely impossible in Seoul, so Oppa and I decided to wait it out  first at a nice park, then at a creepster tea place, up in the mountains away from the city. We were near the place my family used to live, but it was much too dark to take any pictures.

IMG_1316Old men playing some version of checkers or chess in the park.

IMG_1341Creepster tea place decor. We were the only ones there, it was dark out, and I was scared.

IMG_1345Seoul at night from a fast moving car. Those are apartment buildings.

See y’all soon! ~ The daily grind, and the search for the best mohndew up next!

Day 7 in Korea was a Friday, and I was glad when class was over. (Not that I’m not enjoying it, but boy, it’s been a long time since I was a full-time student, and I’m a little rusty).

I hurried home, because I was meeting Oppa and 둘째 삼촌 (Second Uncle) for dinner. My Uncle and my Mom had a nice conversation via video Skype, and man, were the waterworks flowing. They haven’t seen each other face to face in probably close to twenty years, so to be able to see each other (even via webcam) was a real treat and gift for everyone. I felt like blubbering like a baby too, but managed to hold it together (kinda.)

IMG_1260Korean’s idea of “sushi” means slicing up a raw fish and throwing it on a plate. It was still very delicious.

IMG_1272One small happy family.

Saturday was great, because I met up with my old Korean tutor, who I haven’t seen in months and months, since she left San Francisco to return to Korea. PLUS, I took a different subway route ALL BY MYSELF, and managed not to get lost. The double-takes I’ve been experiencing have continued, but there’s never any malice, so I don’t mind. It’s like, people see me, then have to look again because they can’t quite figure me out, or they’re not sure what exactly I am…hahaha.

IMG_1292Erm, awesome pic on a wall near some boutique stores.

IMG_1293My Korean tutor Hyejin is in shock over the wall pic. Meanwhile, her BF has never seen a Hapa like me before.

IMG_1287Row after row after row of food ~ oh, and side dishes. ;o)

Saturday night was meant to be spent in the neighborhood of Hongdae, a big party/club area, but I talked Oppa out of it. I wasn’t really feeling like being cheesy at a dance club that night, so instead Oppa, a few of his good friends and I headed to Wolmi Island – it’s one of the islands that makes up the port city of Incheon. The island has many many restaurants, a small amusement park, and places to play games and win prizes.

IMG_0970This was the best/most popular ride, with a large crowd of people watching the whole time. The object is to hang on for dear life as the whole thing spins, tilts, jumps suddenly, etc, all while the ride operator keeps up a steady stream of commentary. I’m at the top, TRYING to hang on.

IMG_0971…which I was only partially successful, since I had to resort to hanging on to Oppa’s friend’s legs – our other friend didn’t do as well; that’s her in the middle, flying.

IMG_0976We ate outside right by the water, with some delicious seafood – most of it was mussels and clams, but some of it looked suspiciously like escargot. I ate it anyways.

IMG_0983Can’t forget about the national drink of Korea: Soju. We three girls finished off two bottles, but I think we could have done more.

IMG_0986Oppa won me a pink pig at one of the carnival games. I love it. Obviously.

I got home SO late, and was so exhausted after such a long, but fun-filled day. Still, every time the memory of me on that crazy ride popped into my head, I laughed out loud.

Next up: Shopping and Plastic Surgery (!!!!)