A Travellerspoint blog

A Bit of Shopping, a Little Culture, and a Lotte World

fun and games in the city of Seoul

semi-overcast 64 °F

The day started early, with a ride on the metro to COEX Mall in the southern area of Seoul. Riding the metro is kind of creepy - it's strangely quiet, and when you start speaking in English to each other, added to the silence, it's just bound to have people staring at you. So all-in-all, it was a fairly quiet ride to the mall, where SJ's brother HD would be meeting us. The COEX Mall is a huge complex, of which we only saw a little bit - namely, the first floor. But I've read that there's a really nice movie theater, a Kimchi Museum, a Playstation store and an XBox store... which I would like to see next time! We met up with HD to go shopping at a huge bookstore called Bandi and Luni's, with a decent English offering. It was great seeing the rampant displays of Twilight books - something that brings us together!

Next was lunch at the COEX food court, which is a huge, bustling area with tons of little food stores selling delicious goodies. Food ranged from bulgogi burgers to pork katsu to noodles, and it was all uniformly tasty. Afterwards we shopped a bit, although most of the stores in the Mall were a little pricey for our taste - but we were mainly attracted to Yes!, a lingerie store that offered couple lingerie! Strictly cute stuff, like a polka-dotted set with matching bra/panties and boxers, etc. They had some really adorable stuff, so we ended up walking out with a few sets per person for our significant others. Across the way was Artbox, a store with cute stationery and accessories - kind of like a tricked up Morning Glory. As someone who loves cute journals, planners, etc, it was like a heaven for me.

Also at the mall were 29.00 flats/shoes being sold from a cart. I know that it sounds ghetto, but they had some pretty cute stuff - and I ended up walking away in a brand new pair of shiny black flats, to replace the ghetto flipflops I had been using up to now.

Techno Mart was our next stop, a big store with lots of different cameras and technology. We didn't buy much there, but browsed through the rest of the building, which had a cute store called My Life is Perfect - kind of Urban Outfitters in a Korean style, with furnishings, books, accessories, clothing, etc. They had cute mouses and utterly adorable and cheap teacups, but sigh, who needs more mouses and teacups anyway?

Our next shopping stop was the Dongdaemun Migliore, which was more clothes, more bargaining, more money spent. At the top of the Migliore is a food court of sorts, with rather pushy salespeople and a somewhat ugly view of the surrounding area, which looks to be under construction. We had some shaved ice and sweets to pump us up for the rest of the day, which was somewhat dreary. On our way back, we passed by a tent that was set up on the street - a Tarot card reading tent! Inside, we got a choice of readings - our personality, our job, our future, our lovelife etc etc. T and I both chose lovelife. I wonder a bit about the accuracy though, since everything was translated through SJ... Here's an example exchange:

Tarot Reader: <5 minutes of speaking Korean>
SJ: He stresses you.

The basic procedure is, the tarot card reader fans out the cards for you to choose, you pick one, usually while thinking about something, and then the reader tells you the signifiance of the card. T went first, and was informed that she was currently weighing things out with her boyfriend but felt stress from him, that he wasn't marriage material. Also... she would meet a rich, talented guy in the future, and would marry at 28-30. For me, the reader saw stress on me from my relationship (true, but most certainly true for everyone), currently separated (somewhat obvious since I was in Korea and he was not), an important issue of time management (which I do have to agree with, but is a bit general), and that there would be a new guy coming into my life. However, my current boy is thinking of the long-term and will be successful and rich - therefore, the reader advised against breaking up with him! Haha. But if we do break up, it'll be difficult but we'll remain friends. Interesting stuff, although I'm not sure how much faith I have in it.

The next day was more shopping, this time at the Western Dom Mall which is a partially covered outdoor mall with lots of shops, plus restaurants on the 2nd floor. We watched Star Trek in the IMAX theater there - great movie! I love Star Trek (+ Zachary Quinto as a terrific Spock)! Lunchtime was at a Chinese Bistro, where we got jajungmyun (black bean noodles), so delicious, and yummy sticky pork.
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We then took the subway to the Changdeok-gung, a palace complex with recently restored and repainted buildings. When we arrived, they were having a neotraditional musical performance that was at turns haunting and lively, and very pleasant to listen to. The buildings were vibrantly colored, mostly in red but with accents of blue, green and gold, and it was nice to walk around and see the architecture.
neotraditional music

neotraditional music

building details

building details

doorways

doorways

On the 18th, we went to Lotte World, a indoor and outdoor amusement park that's popular with couples. Their mascot are raccoons, which are kinda annoying in real life when they mess up your garbage, but cute in mascot form. We also got a foreigner discount =D
posing at Lotte World

posing at Lotte World

Inside, we rode the swinging ship and a Sindbad boat ride, queued up for the log flume, and rode the indoor roller coaster. But the outside part was much nicer - first of all, it was a perfect sunny day, so that just made everything better. There's a Disneyesque castle in the center, a major rollercoaster, and one of those really tall tower things that rotates when you're at top then drops you down. I have to admit, the view from the top was gorgeous for the five seconds we were there... and then we were free-falling back down to Earth! What a rush.
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After the fun and games at Lotte World, we were picked up by SJ's mom - it was time to drive to Gangwon, where we would be spending the next few days!

Posted by mushamello 12:42 Archived in South Korea Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Teacher's Day in Seoul

suhnsangnim, chukha hamnida!

overcast

The reason why we were called back from Jeju Island was to accompany SJ's mother to various schools on Teacher's Day, a holiday on May 15th where current and former students pay their respects to their teachers by giving them flowers or cards. We learned how to say, "Teacher, congratulations!" --> "Suhnsangnim, chukha hamnida!" And thus armed, we were off to our first school of the day, the all-boys high school of SJ's younger brother HD. It was quite a drive through the city to the school, which was located at the top of the hill and supposedly was the setting for the filming of some famous Korean drama (Autumn Story maybe?). When we got there, with gifts in tow, they were having a morning audience on the vast field outside, schoolboys neatly lined up. How cute!
morning audience

morning audience

After they were dismissed, we were shown around the school by HD, which caused a minor stir since we were the only females on campus. It's a huge school complex, with an elementary school, middle school, high school, and university area as well. There was a rock-climbing wall, which I found fantastically incongruous. The presence of girl's bathrooms was nice - but they didn't have any toilet paper in them, which I suppose made a sad kind of sense. We got to meet some of the teachers when we asked for TP, and they even threw in some Lamisil cream for a scrape I got on the rock climbing wall. Nice thought, although I'm not sure how much good an anti-fungal cream will do for me...
School Rock Climbing Wall

School Rock Climbing Wall

We were guests at HD's class, where the class presented the teacher with a bouquet (how sweet!). After that, SJ and her mother took turns giving a speech at the front of the room (to motivate the students?). At one point T and I had to come up to the front to introduce ourselves in broken Korean. It was a little nerve-racking, but for the most part we sat on the side and watched the typical classroom dynamics - kids in the front were paying rapt attention, while those in the back drifted into oblivion. After visiting HD's school, we paid a visit to SJ's mother's old school, a Catholic university where she presented her teacher with a plant and introduced us. Tada~ the end of Teacher's Day!
catholic women's university

catholic women's university

After lunch at a terrific bibimbop place, SJ, T and I went through Insadong, an area with a lot of traditional crafts stores, and then headed towards the Myeongdong Migliore, a huge complex with floors and floors of fashion and accsesories. Each floor of the Migliore had multiple little stores peddling cute clothes, although certain styles were dominant - ruffly cute pastels, bright colored and sporty, ghetto-style, etc. I gravitate towards ruffly cute stuff, so it was fun to look at the clothes and see if there was anything we liked. Unfortunately, at most of the stores we weren't allowed to try on the clothing so it was a matter of eyeballing it. We learned a few key phrases while shopping at the Migliore - "Pissaa! Kaka chuseyo!" Which is probably terribly romanized, but basically means - "Too expensive! Make it cheaper!" But in general, a dubious look and a shaking of the head worked pretty well. T turned out to be a master at bargaining, with storekeepers giving up their lunch money for a sale. It was kinda hilarious - she would look appraisingly at a piece, tilt her head, shake it. And then they'd lower the price, inching down and down til the storekeeper was practically begging for mercy. And then bam! Sale.
inside the migliore

inside the migliore

Our crowning achievement was at one of the accessory stores. Korean accessories trend towards the sparkly and cute, and this was no exception. We were eyeing a few crystal adorned hairsticks, which were advertised as ~$20 USD each - but after some wheedling on our part (come on, we're buying three of them, etc etc) we managed to bring it down to ~$5 USD apiece. We walked fully satisfied, our sparkly prizes in our hair.
sparkly hairsticks

sparkly hairsticks

Tuckered out by shopping, we had dinner at Sinpo Woori Mandoo and ate our fill of dumplings. We walked around the area some more, and got accosted into Nature Republic by extremely aggressive salespeople on the street, who basically shoved us inside. Nature Republic is kind of like a Body Shop in the US - selling "natural" beauty products and cosmetics - except they have Rain (bi) as their spokesperson. Rain is a pretty big deal in Korea, and somewhat in the US as well... so we had to take a picture with the Rain cardboard cutout, and maybe buy a few facemasks... Sigh, I guess aggressive marketing really does work.
posing with Rain

posing with Rain

Onto more shopping tomorrow!

Posted by mushamello 12:06 Archived in South Korea Tagged educational Comments (0)

Jeju Island, here we... go?

cutting our trip a day short!

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Where there's warmth and humidity, there's mosquitoes! We found this out the hard way in the morning, when T (who was sleeping on the living room couch) discovered multiple bites on her arms and legs. SJ and I were protected, having slept in the inner bedroom on futons. Needless to say, T was not a happy camper.
mosquito party!

mosquito party!

After we ate our ramen, the breakfast of champions, we were ready to explore our surroundings a little. The Euro Resort Pension is a collection of European villa-style apartments arranged around an (empty) fountain. Summer means roses, and roses were in abundance – growing over the railings, fences, and just bursting with gorgeous fuschia blooms. Behind the apartments was a grassy area for lounging and barbecues, with swinging chairs aimed towards the water with a view of the islands in the distance. Besides the mosquitoes, it really was a fairly nice place!
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It was back onto the tour bus for us, and the first stop was at a jewelry store, where the customers were poring over rings and necklaces with fascination. The jewelry was nice, but I was more concerned with getting my camera charged, which I tried with no avail at the local grocery store (apparently they offer battery charging services!). Defeated, we bought banana milk and moved on to our next destination, the Mysterious Road. This is a road where it appears that water, bottles, and cars in neutral will move uphill. It wasn't that impressive to us... but we took a picture there nontheless!
by the mysterious road

by the mysterious road

Here's another Jeju tour guide joke for you:
Usually when a man is urinating in public, they'll put their hand in front. But there's one guy who'll urinate with his hand on his back. Why?
.... Because he has back problems and his doctor told him to avoid heavy lifting. Ha!

We also learned some other Korean tidbits. I've always known that Koreans (and Asians in particular) have certain notions about people's personalities based on their blood-types, but did you know that the fingers have specific connotations also? So quick, think about which finger you like the best - thumb, pointer, middle, ring, or pinky? Now here's the breakdown:

  • Thumb – violent (keeping you under their thumb) --> SJ
  • Pointer – aggressive (pointing at YOU!) --> T
  • Middle – indecisive (can't decide on the ones on the left or right...)
  • Ring – love (marriage finger?) --> Me
  • Pinky – dirty (.... don't know why!)

We saw a horse show with acrobats bouncing on and around them, performing stunts complete with horse performances and a creepy clown. After inspiring us with the horse show, they had planned to have us go horseback riding, but even while on the road we could see the tour buses lined up so we decided to have lunch instead. We had more of the black-haired pork, this time in a deliciously spicy broth, simmering over a tabletop fire. We devoured it - much to the surprise of our bus-mates, who thought that we would be grossed out by the poop-eating habits of the pigs. Little did they know... we love food!
spicy black-haired pork

spicy black-haired pork

After lunch we went on to go horseback riding, where we were outfitted in uniformly ugly baggy vests and cowboy hats before mounting our horses and plodding down a dusty path in a line. It was kind of sad... It was a hot day and it looked like the horses had been carrying people for the entire day. Or maybe they switched them out, I'm not sure, but the horses just looked tired. All in all, it was maybe 10 minutes of riding, or rather, walking along a dusty trail in a circle. There were cute foals walking along the trail too, perhaps following their mother as they lugged us around.
with a foal

with a foal

riding the trail

riding the trail

foal following along

foal following along

Our next stop was the Seongeup Folk Village, which is a traditional Jeju village where people live. There were homes and livestock, in particular a sty with the infamous black-haired pig that eats poop - complete with a little potty-hole where people could just sit and let their business become the pig's meal. After we toured the village, it was time to try and sell us stuff - this time, horse bone powder and herb powder.
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Next was something out of a Beatles song - we boarded a yellow submarine courtesy of Jeju Sea World that brought us down to see coral and the fish that lived among them. It was pretty cool, with everything tinted a bright blue from the sun refracting through the water. They even had a diver come down to wave at us - photo op! We got him with his fob sign on.
diver greeting us

diver greeting us

It was around this time that SJ got a call from her mother, requesting that we come back a day earlier. Tomorrow (5/15/2009) would be Teacher's Day, and she wanted us to come back so we could visit a Seoul high school with them and offer congratulations to the teachers. Given the hectic pace of the previous days and T's discomfort with all the mosquitoes, we decided to return to Seoul - but we'd have to rush back to the Pension to pack and eat quickly if we were going to make it to the airport on time!

Jeju Island was fun and full of activities and good food, but so hectic that we were exhausted by the time we got back at night. I was somewhat relieved that we got to return to Seoul a day ahead of time.

Posted by mushamello 12:36 Archived in South Korea Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Jeju Island, here we come!

flying to the "Island of the Gods"

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If you're a fan of Korean dramas, you've probably already heard of Jeju Island - it's the setting for the rich and elite to jet to when they're tired of glamorous city life. I've seen Jeju Island before - at least through the camera lens - in dramas like Goong, Boys over Flowers and My Girl, so I was pretty excited - maybe we'd see some hot Korean movie stars!

the cast of Goong in teddy bear form, from the Teddy Bear Museum in Jeju-do

the cast of Goong in teddy bear form, from the Teddy Bear Museum in Jeju-do

the protagonists of My Girl, who first meet in Jeju-do

the protagonists of My Girl, who first meet in Jeju-do

Anyway, with these high expectations we arrived in Gimpo International Airport and checked in at Jeju Air, which has a cute logo of winky face with a J for a nose. Our flight was at 7 am, so as soon as we passed through security we were taking a bus over the tarmac to our plane, and not long after that we were passing over patchworks of fields and groves, and then landing at Jeju Airport.

DSCF5277.jpg jeju air welcomes you to jeju island!

jeju air welcomes you to jeju island!

Jeju-do is off the southern coast of S. Korea, and the weather was perfectly balmy and warm. Outside, we were driven through Jeju City to the tour bus that would be taking us around to see various sites. In general, I'm not a fan of tour buses, but... well, I'm not a fan of them. Anyway, there were quite a few buses around, and we were a little confused at first. Then, we saw our bus - full of young, trendy-looking Asians - and started boarding. "错!错了!" They said as we stepped on. Hmm... I've only taken 1 semester of Mandarin, but I know that means WRONG! Finally SJ asked around and we got onto our real bus - which happened to be fully populated by visor-clad ahjummas (middle-aged women). Hot Korean men? No where in sight!
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I know, I'm being superficial. And even though there was quite an age difference and a language barrier (except for SJ) the women were very friendly towards us, fueled by their curiosity. The tour guide was a younger woman, very energetic, who was constantly talking about the island and cracking jokes - she must have been hilarious because the bus would erupt in laughter every so often. Here are a few jokes that SJ translated for us:

  • Q: What kind of crime is it if a woman enters the men's bathroom?
  • A: .... Arson!

  • Q: What kind of crime is it if a man enters the women's bathroom?
  • A: .... Possession of an illegal weapon!

Which I thought was pretty funny, but it's kind of sad to be laughing at a joke 5 minutes after it's been told! Anyway, our first stop of the day was at Halla-san, the main mountain of Jeju Island. It's a broad, green ridge of a mountain, not very high but fairly visible from most places in Jeju. We only spent 15 minutes there before moving on to our next stop, a concrete building incongruously called "Happy Town" where we watched a Chinese acrobat and motorcycle show. After that, we took a tour of a mandarin orange orchard, which Jeju is famous for, and got imitation ginseng peddled to us. Another reason I don't like tours - they always try to sell you stuff!
oranges from jeju~

oranges from jeju~


Lunchtime was next, on a particular Food Street by the coast which we would return to several times throughout our stay on the island. For this first lunch, we had traditional Jeju-do fresh fish in a hotpot style, very tasty! We ate everything within 10 minutes, because we were hungry and also because we wanted to get some pictures outside by the coastline. The water was gorgeously clear and in the distance were the other small islands, with little caves.
lovely clear water

lovely clear water

We must have been really entranced by the scenery, because the next thing we knew SJ was getting a phone call from the tour guide - we were late! Unfortunately, this became a habit with us.

Next was a boat tour of the islands surrounding Jeju. I'll admit that I didn't get much out of this since everything was in Korean, but it was a beautiful day and the simply having the fresh breeze and seeing the numerous rocky islands, many with hidden little coves and caves, was relaxing in and of itself. On the lower levels of the boat, you could get snacks or simply lounge in the main area, where people were belting out old Korean songs on a karaoke machine. Pure, pure entertainment.
one of many sea caves

one of many sea caves

After we disembarked, our next stop was Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, with lots of little snack stalls outside. We took a picture with a fertility statue, the "dol hareubang", which are scattered across the island. Supposedly, if you rub its nose, you'll have sons when you get pregnant. Then we continued up the river towards its source, the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall. It was a very scenic approach, with stepping stones across the river and lots of lush greenery on either side. Actually, I felt like the approach was better than the waterfall itself, which was a somewhat stingy trickle and swarming with tourists and schoolchildren.
approaching Cheonjiyeon Waterfall

approaching Cheonjiyeon Waterfall

I couldn't really believe that the day wasn't over. I felt like I'd already seen so much that I'd reached my saturation point and any new experiences would just slide off like water on a duck's feathers. But wait - there's more! We stopped at Mini World and Miniature Theme Park, an attraction with mini versions of famous world architecture. We had lots of fun posing with the Tower Bridge, Easter Island statues, and other landmarks. Interestingly enough, they also had life-size models of cartoon and video game characters like Winnie the Pooh and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But it was here that we discovered something terrible - my camera was running out of batteries AND I forgot the plug adapter for my camera charger in Seoul! For someone who can only remember something if I take a photo of it, this was painful news indeed. And the most painful part was that our next stop was at the Glass Castle, which is terribly photogenic with all the sparkly glass sculptures and decorations. We spent most of our time in the outdoor section, which had a garden of glass, glass musical instruments, and a maze of glass crystals. The late afternoon sun set all the glass afire with brilliance. It got so bad that we actually bought a disposable camera! But the main draw of the Glass Castle were the glass restrooms, which were placed outside for all to view. The premise of the restrooms was that when you closed the door and locked it, the glass would become opaque to prevent peeping. We tested this out - thumbs up in approval!

After the Glass Castle, we split up from the rest of the tour and returned to the Food Street where we had a delicious dinner of black-haired pork, grilled tableside. It was so fatty and delicious that I didn't care when SJ told me that these pigs were also famous because they were fed on human excrement! Another good thing about this restaurant was that they had a western-style plug adapter, so while I ate they could charge my camera. I was really happy about this, even though I couldn't charge it fully! We bought some instant ramen from the corner store to eat for breakfast, and arrived at the Euro Resort Pension, where we would be staying in Seogwipo. It wasn't really a hotel, but more like a cluster of little apartments or guesthouses. Our little apartment had a full kitchen and living room and a bedroom with two blankets, and a cute little balcony with a view of the sea. It was already dark when we checked in, so we settled in for the night, ready to wake up tomorrow for what would no doubt be another action-packed day on Jeju Island!

Posted by mushamello 07:06 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Starting Point!

The first stop - Seoul, S. Korea!

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This is a trip from over the summer, but I never got a chance to really record the journey. I always mean to put them in a written journal - anyone who has ever traveled with me knows that I collect plane tickets, entrance cards, etc for souvenirs and that I like to take notes about the day on scraps of paper. But unfortunately, those scraps of paper have yet to be translated to an actual re-telling of the trip, so I'm turning to the more efficient means of blogging to get everything down before I forget... and I would hate to forget this trip! So here goes...

Our final exams had just been a few days before, but all thoughts of school were forgotten as we prepared for our Epic Asia Trip! For the next 6 weeks we would be traveling through S. Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and China - an exciting but also rather daunting endeavor. For months beforehand, me and my bestest traveling buddy T had booked hostels, planned out itineraries, applied for visas and passes and basically waited anxiously for May 11th to roll around.

It was a gorgeous day, probably the best day to spend 13 hours in a plane. T and I somehow didn't get our assigned seats, so we were split up... but Korean Air made up for this by having great customer service and in-flight entertainment. I don't know how those stewardesses manage to look perfect and pretty throughout the entire flight, but they were super feminine and polite. My Korean friend SJ told me that the #1 marriage choice for Korean men are stewardesses; now I can see why!

In Seoul, we would be staying with our friend and classmate SJ, who was returning to Korea for the summer. After landing, we all met up and SJ's father gave us a ride to her apartment, which is in a suburb of Seoul, and we were greeted by her mom and brother, who were super friendly. I feel extremely grateful to her mother, since she gave me and T her room! Which has its own bathroom, complete with cute curvy bathtub and bidet.
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We also got to meet Moongchi - DSCF5224.jpg Pretty cute, eh?

For our first night, we were treated out to dinner at a restaurant called Bulgogi Brothers. With a name like that, we had to have bulgogi - accompanied by kiwi juice, a drink which sounded delicious but was thick and sour. It was a pretty good meal, but the bill! At roughly a little more than 1000 won to 1 dollar, it came out to a roughly $110 for four people. That made me appreciate SJ's mother all that much more!

Tomorrow we would be heading to Jeju Island - at 7 AM! Which translated to an early night for us...

Posted by mushamello 13:36 Archived in South Korea Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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