North America, Asia · 19 Days · 57 Moments · June 2018

Sarah's Trip to a Language School in Seoul

21 June 2018

Eggs, bacon, kimchi dumplings and bulgogi for breakfast in an airport lounge - the perfect combination of east meets west! I’m so excited to return to my family and friends in NYC and so grateful for the opportunity to have done this trip. There are some things I will miss! All the mom and pop restaurants that fed me delicious $5 meals. My classes and international classmates, especially the funny debates we had when a word or concept didn’t have a direct English translation. The (mostly) clean bathrooms at the subway stations. The cute tunes they play to tell you the subway is arriving. The delicious, creative drinks at the coffee shops (great for a non coffee drinker like me!) All the free stuff you get from the skincare shops (if you spend a lot of money!) Getting applauded by old men when I finished my runs All the surprises. What I won’t miss All the surprises! Thanks for joining me on my trip! Sarah

20 June 2018

Yes, I had mango bingsoo for dinner and while I didn’t manage all of it I came pretty close!
I wrapped things up by visiting the royal tombs. They are set in a lovely wooded park in Gangnam. It was a boiling hot afternoon so I really appreciated the shade. The kings and queens were buried in mounds as you can see here.
I dropped my Bongeunsa Temple after class. It was founded in 794 and is a little slice of tranquility amidst the hubbub of Gangnam. Many of the lanterns have the names of families attached to them. These papers make a lovely rustling sound in the breeze.
Today was my last day at Lexis. It was a little sad to say goodbye to my classmates from both my morning and afternoon classes. It was fun to be around people from all over the world, all trying to master this tough language!
Saw some filming going on at the local Baskin Robbins on my way to school this morning. They do some over the top product placement scenes in K dramas so that is probably what was going on.

19 June 2018

There’s an alley in Gangnam that has one barbecue place after another. Since barbecue is not a solo venture I got together with Tiffany to go and eat samgyopsal (pork). It came with steamed eggs and soybean stew - two of my favorite dishes!

18 June 2018

There’s quite a street food scene in Myeongdong. There are even cute puppies persuading you to eat potatoes on a stick - not that I need much persuading :)
After class yesterday I wandered around Myeongdong at the very heart of Seoul. It’s known as a shopping mecca but I checked out the cathedral. It was the first Catholic Church to be built in the country. It has bunch of outer buildings and occupies a bit of prime real estate. I took in a service for a bit - quite relaxing after battling the hoards of Chinese tourists outside. Unexpectedly saw some British outposts so I kept my eyes peeled for a Bridgewater but no dice.

17 June 2018

Back in Seoul and feeling a little tired so I’ve come to the movies. I’d like to see a Korean movie but it wouldn’t have subtitles in English so I’m seeing Ocean’s 8 or 오션스8 as it is known here. I wasn’t prepared for screen only ticketing but luckily there was an American at the screen next to me who helped me out. My seat is assigned - I won’t make that mistake again! They are selling hot dogs, popcorn and coke at the concession stand - even in this land of food deliciousness!

16 June 2018

On my way back I stopped to watch a dance performance. It seemed to be a modern take on a traditional fan dance. I got a really great view by standing at the side of the stage. One of the dancers was the dance teacher of the little girl standing next to me.
By 7:30 I was suddenly starving when I realized that my total consumption for the day was a strawberry smoothie, a beer and an artisanal choco pie! Time for some nutrition. Jeonju is known as the food capital of Korea and the birthplace of bibimbap so everyone tells you that you have to eat it when you come here. It took a while to find a place that serves it that wasn’t either closed or sold out but eventually I found somewhere. The egg is raw instead of fried. The beef is also supposed to be raw in Jeonju but at this place it was cooked. It was still really great though. The server gave me the gochujang rather gingerly as if he was worried I would put all of it in. Which I did :)
Jaman Village is a group of shacks nestled into a steep hillside near here. Lately they have been decorated with murals. Some cafes have opened up. I found one with a great view to hang out in for a while.
This restaurant sells ice cream pasta. Your choice of pink, green or India ink. I may have to pass!
Jeonju is very charming. Sort of Colonial Williamsburg meets Disney at a ratio of 4:1 although with Korean culture of course. I’ve heard there’s a hipster element too but I haven’t come across that. There are lots of Korean tourists here. I haven’t heard any other languages spoken. Lots of families with little kids but also people in their 20s. People like to rent hanboks (traditional clothes) to walk around in. I’m thinking they must be so hot!
Jeonju is famous for its Hanok Village. It is filled with traditional houses, many of them now converted to inns, cafes and shops. This is the one where I am staying. It is located right in the heart of things and looks great from the outside. All the rooms look on to a little garden courtyard. On the negative side my room is really small and I had to shower with freezing cold water this morning. Also water leaks all over the floor from the bottom of the sink. The mattress is so thin it feels like sleeping on a slab of rock, although to be fair, that would be true of all hanok rooms. Oh and I only had one thin cover so I was really cold when the temperature dropped. Home is going to feel so luxurious after this! One of the benefits of travel :)
I hardly see anybody when I go for an early morning run in Seoul but as I was running along the river this morning in Jeonju I came across this waterside market. It was teeming with mostly older people buying vegetables in bulk, probably for their restaurants and food stalls.

15 June 2018

Just had dinner at Nambu night market. At this market every stall has different food. I couldn’t figure out what a lot of it was but blow torches were often involved. This seemed the way to go so for dessert I got strawberry ice cream wrapped in marshmallow and toasted with a blow torch. Honestly I felt a bit sick after but it was worth it! Got a high five from the man in red because we are the same age! On my way back I stopped to listen to some traditional music performances.
I made it to Jeonju okay! The bus was very relaxing since my seat reclined almost the whole way back and the only sounds were people being pinged by Kakao Talk! I’m sitting down with a mango beer. I thought it would be mango flavored but there are frozen mango chunks in a top compartment with a straw that runs all the way through. I’m a bit confused!
We just had a half day of school today so I’m heading out to Jeonju. I was going to take the fast KTX train but with a heavy bag I couldn’t face getting across town to the station so I’m taking the bus instead. I just got kicked out of my seat because I didn’t realize they are assigned. There’s never a dull moment! I booked an inn on the phone but the lady didn’t want to take my credit card details or even my name! She said to just come on by so we will see if I actually have a place to stay when I get there! They’ve got the World Cup playing on the tv but I think I’ll get my homework out the way...

14 June 2018

After class today I visited the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History. It has certainly been a turbulent 150 years. The museum itself is quite lovely and very well curated. At the end I pressed a bunch of buttons somewhat randomly and ended up with a souvenir photograph :)
Eating food off a stick is kind of a thing here and since I don’t like fish cakes which are the most popular stick food, I thought I’d try a hot dog on a stick. Which to go for though? In the end I went for the biggest and strangest looking. The hot dog was encased in molten mozzarella and had french fries stuck all over it. The server offered to coat in in sugar but I thought it best to decline. With a little cheddar cheese sauce it wasn’t bad!
It’s 8am and I’m at my local Coffee Bean where I sip overpriced, frothy drinks while studying for tests. The vocabulary verges on the esoteric - names for different kinds of perms and the various stages of bowing (really!) Today we have a test on every word to do with banking. Now if I could just have a decent conversation with a cab driver...

13 June 2018

I found myself quite close to Gwangjang Market so I popped over there for lunch. I remember being overwhelmed when we were there two years ago but this time I knew what most of the food was and how to go about getting served. I noticed that similar food stalls are grouped together such as all the fried foods, all the seafood and all the noodles and dumplings. This makes it hard to choose which stall to sit down at so I just went with whoever was calling me over the loudest! I tried sujebi or handpulled noodle soup. They were rolling the dough right in front of me.
Police officers using umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun.
Today I went to visit Korea’s oldest university- Sungkyunkwan. Although it dates back to the 1300s, the original buildings were destroyed by the Japanese. There are still a few that date back to the 1600s and are used as a filming location. The university is now owned by Samsung and is located elsewhere. My guide was lovely and she gave me a thorough history lesson and answered all my questions about the Korean university system. Some children were visiting from Busan so we crashed their lecture for a bit!

12 June 2018

After class I went to explore the area around Ewha Womans University which I heard was fun for wandering around and shopping. There were a bunch of shops selling very cheap knock offs of brands like Supreme. Also many, many shoe and sock shops and tons of places to eat. I resisted the urge to get a bagel (the first bagel place I’ve seen) and got army stew instead. Why do I love this dish so much... could it be the spam??
Some subway stations here have malls located inside them and my local station - Gangnam- has the Goto Mall which is the biggest one of all. I’ve been eyeing the street food they sell at stands here so I decided to give it a go for lunch today. You have to stand up at a lot of these stalls but I found one with a few seats. They had over a dozen kinds of kimbap (stuff wrapped inside rice and seaweed). I ordered cheese and fire chicken inside and added some tteokbokki and hard boiled eggs. Delicious! Afterwards I tried ordering a peach juice from a screen but as the line built up behind me I had to get some help from the other customers!

10 June 2018

After studying for a bit I rewarded myself with a trip to the jimjilbang (bath house). Something about trying to communicate, possibly while naked, made me a bit apprehensive about this particular venture but I do love a good scrub so I went for it. My local place is a mom and pop operation in a sub basement and, as I suspected, they didn’t speak English. Somehow I managed to arrange a scrub for after I was done with the hot tubs and sauna. I was scrubbed within an inch of my life! It came with a bit of a massage and a hair wash. I am now literally squeaky clean and soft - brilliant! All for under $30!
When I met the monks and saw that they shave their heads it made me feel even more sheepish about the shampoo! Overall, though, my stay at the temple as great! We couldn’t take photos so I just have this one of my beads. When we arrived we had a short lecture about Buddhism in Korea and then learned how to do prostrations. We had to do 108 of them while stringing beads- 45 minutes of constantly getting up and down. There were about 30 of us. Me, seven exchange students from various countries and the rest were Koreans. We all had to introduce ourselves and then we helped to ring a huge bell. Next was temple for chanting and more prostrations. Dinner was vegan and delicious. After dinner was mediation which was tough as my legs went numb. Early night because we had to be up at 4am. Temple time this morning then candlelight mediation (more dead legs). Breakfast was japchae. The tea ceremony was next. I was tea master for my group! After one more lecture we helped to clean. Tired now!

9 June 2018

Just arrived at Myokaksa Temple to stay for the weekend. Had a great chat on the bus with a Korean man who has started a non profit that is helping the Rohingya, among other groups.The temple email listed a bunch of different ‘offerings’ so I bought some bottles of shampoo for them. Turns out it was a list of things they provide not things they want, so that was a bit embarrassing! I have my own room which doesn’t have a single piece of furniture other than lockers but which seems huge after my mini studio. Also, it has great AC! Now I’m in a cute little uniform and ready to get started.
These look tasty right? Well they are not! They are little raspberry wannabes that go by the name of ground strawberries. My mouth was watering until I tried one - the taste, to me anyway, is like antiseptic! Now I’m stuck with a big box of them. Disappointed ...

8 June 2018

So this notice was stuck to my door when I got home. ?????! It’s in the high eighties and we get AC for three 30 minute slots, during two of which I will be asleep. Having issues understanding this whole timing situation!
I spent a little time taking in an exhibit at the K Museum of Contemporary Art. One artist had pieces that looked like candy and there was a lollipop dispenser with lollipops featuring designs from the show. Finished the day with chicken and beer while watching the world go by.
Spent a lazy afternoon walking around the fancier parts of my neighborhood- Apugujeong and Cheongdam. Saw lots of flower shops and European style cafes and had to dodge more than a couple of Range Rovers. It’s hard to tell from the picture but that vending machine was only selling apples and apple sauce. Fell in love with the food hall at Luxury Hall West ($40 watermelons!) and stumbled into Dosan Neighborhood Park just when I needed some shade.
Making japchae at Korean class. 맛있어요!

7 June 2018

The Lotte corporation is on every corner of the intersection by Jamsil subway stop and from what I could tell their stores sell pretty much the same thing as each other. It helps if you can sell melons for $25 each - bow included:)

6 June 2018

I met up with Tiffany from Korean class in New York since she just moved here for a year. We had these little lamb skewers cooked table side(not a great idea since it’s in the 80s!) and then grabbed a beer at Jeju Mekju. They make these picnic packs with blankets and little cardboard seats and everyone was buying them to take outside to the steam. They were clearly on to something. We wandered around and watched a bunch of singers and dancers performing in the street. We watched one guy patiently taking selfie after selfie with his fans.
We ended out tour by seeing a couple of filming locations. One was the spot of a final scene from a really popular t.v. show. The other is one of the first apartment buildings built in Seoul. It almost looks derelict and is often used in movies. Since it is ten stories high and has no elevator, they built an entrance at the fifth floor level. Pretty clever.
We also saw the gate at Namdaemun and part of the wall that used to circle all the way around the city. We hiked up into Namsan Park and talked a lot about the Japanese occupation. There was nothing our tour guide couldn’t answer!
The Korean government offers free walking tours. I did one this morning with Namok Bae. The first building is the original Seoul Station built by the Japanese during the occupation. Namok gave me an amazing drawing she did of it. We walked along 7017 Seollo a landscaped overpass that was inspired by the Highline.
I’ve had some issues with Korean washing machines before since deciphering the labels is really hard. Did my first wash this morning and it went off without a hitch (these aren’t all mine!) Clothes full of sunshine!
Got up at 6am to go for a run before it got hot. Ran along Yangjaecheon Steam which has been gorgeously landscaped. Quite a few people were working out, including a group of adults who were doing some sort of hand clapping exercises.

5 June 2018

Found a great greasy spoon for dinner. A lady at the front was making roll after roll of kimbap. I remembered to look in the drawer in my table for chopsticks this time. Whoever thought of putting ramen, rice cakes and cheese together was a genius- fish cakes need not apply.
I got horribly lost last night just as it was getting dark and had to get a taxi home which felt like admitting defeat. After class today I decided to tackle public transportation. Even finding the train at Gangnam station was daunting as it is so big. I managed to get myself to Seoul station (with a transfer) and then back again by bus. Actually the bus ride was brilliant. I got a seat up high in the back and saw some great views as we circled high above the city.
Jujube tea - it’s like drinking warm raisins.

4 June 2018

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my dinner. 닭 걸비 which translates to chicken ribs. Fortunately they seem to have found meat from another part of the chicken because I was very full at the end.
You’ve got to wonder - what is cheese tea and why the need for a new standard?
After the afternoon class some students took us on a tour of Gangnam which actually turned out to be just going in a bunch of shops. I’ve noticed that there are so many branches of some of the chain stores that you can see several while standing in one spot.
First day of class at Lexis. We started with a written test and a quick interview so we could be placed at the right level. My teacher is pretty fun. We are focusing on the body and illnesses this week. The class moved really quickly since Wednesday is a holiday and we have to cover the same amount of material. Grabbed a buffet lunch with one of my new class mates. Only $6 and the food was pretty good.

3 June 2018

If you are going to make kimchi, you have to have garlic!
We wandered around the neighborhoods of Insadong, Samchongdong, and Ikseondong. Ikseondong is an area that has very old buildings and tiny alleyways. Recently bars and cafes have been opening up in them. We grabbed a beer outside and watched a parade of young couples, some of them in matching t-shirts.
I spent the afternoon driving around Seoul I With Jina. We visited the kimchi museum and Osulloc where you can have high end green tea but we opted for Jeju tangerine ice cream instead. It’s hard to tell from the picture but the lights look like tea bags. A street seller showed us how to make 꿀타래, a kind of honey candy floss that apparently the kings used to eat. If I don’t eat it all I’ll bring some home!
After showering I took a walk to explore the neighborhood and figure out where the language school is located. Tom Lee’s parents-in-law and sister-in-law, Jina, picked me up and took me out for a lunch of kalbi and nengmyong (cold noodles) So nice of them!
So this is Happy House where I am staying. Before I arrived I imagined a tiny room. In reality it is about a third of that size. There’s a toilet and a sink inside my shower which you don’t see everyday. On the plus side there is enough storage and everything is literally within arms reach. I have a locker for my shoes two floors down as you have to wear slippers inside. You aren’t allowed visitors here and you have to be silent - not sure if I can get away with a hair dryer in the morning! I’ve seen about five of the other residents but none of them say hello or even make eye contact so that’s a bit weird. The kitchen has free cooked rice, instant ramen and a kimchi fridge stocked with excellent homemade kimchi. I made some ramen, threw in some kimchi and ate it on the rooftop for breakfast. I noticed that we are sharing the building with a karaoke place but so far I haven’t heard anything...
Arrived at Incheon airport at 4:30 on Sunday morning. I managed about one hour of sleep on the plane so that gave me a solid thirteen hours to watch k dramas :) A taxi driver was waiting for me and I managed to conduct our whole conversation in Korean (it was short!) Just leaving the airport now as the sun is rising over the mountains.

1 June 2018

At JFK. All day I’ve been excited but now I just want to get on the plane and sleep. It’s 10:50 pm so still another two hours until boarding...