Discovering the Heart and S(e)oul of South Korea

After our brief visit to Singapore, we moseyed on over to Seoul, South Korea. Going into this trip, I had an idea of what most of the places would be like, but Korea was an unknown for me. If you asked me what I knew about Korea, the most I could give you would be a list of assorted food items that I’d seen at the Asian market growing up.

Our flight to Korea was about 6 hours long. We flew Singapore airlines, which I had heard rave reviews about. The airplane/airport geek in me was pumped! My short review? Good meals for economy. Decent leg room and seats that were as comfortable as an airplane can get. Great service. Insanely clean bathrooms.

Upon getting on the flight, we met our seat mate. His name is Jin, but he goes by Jimmy. Jimmy chatted with us throughout the flight, and essentially made us feel like unaccomplished humans. He had been in the Olympics as a judo fighter (I’m not 100% sure if it was judo or some other sport but I am 100% sure about the Olympic thing). He also had completed his mandatory 2-year service in the Korean army. What was Jimmy doing now? Training to be a commercial pilot. Jimmy gave us a little crash course into Korean life and described how insanely long days are for both children and adults. If anyone would like to follow our homie Jimmy on Instagram, click here. (You’re welcome Jimmy).

On to Korea.

We took a cab from the Incheon Airport into Seoul. Cabs are pretty affordable in South Korea and saved us the headache of trying to figure out the bus system. To be honest, we used cabs to get pretty much everywhere while we were in Seoul because #affordableluxury.

We stayed in an area called Myeong-dong, which is known for it’s shopping and K-beauty (neither of which interested me). For our first night, we wandered the streets near our AirBnB, and ate our little hearts out. The area was fun to wander through because of all the little side streets that kept leading you to more food! Scroll on for the grub from that night 😉

Buchimgae – Korean pancake
Kimchi
Banchan 4 life
Cute rice balls for the banchan
Hot pot

The next day, we had meandering on our schedule, as well as a kimchi making class. Whilst we meandered, I made a few observations…

  • Public bathrooms were a bit hard to come by – as were garbage cans
  • Americanos were not very good at all!
  • Air was dirty. Dirty enough that I longed for that presh Chicago air. Yes, it was really that bad!
  • Everyone is incredibly nice. Reflecting back on it now, I can’t determine if it was genuine niceness or just a politeness that we don’t have at home.
Google Translate: if I buy you a bouquet, will you be mine?
#kawaii

Meandering was fun, but the streets were incredibly crowded and the air was not the best, so we were ready to go indoors for our kimchi class. Kimchi is something that we eat frequently – we’re all about those probiotics! During the class we learned so much about the history of kimchi and what it means in Korea. Essentially, kimchi is a staple in Korean daily life. Families even get together annually for an event called Kimjang, in which they make kimchi all day long. People even get the day off of work for this! We also learned about the million and one types of kimchi, as well as how kimchi ages (similarly to wine I suppose).

If you’re curious about the process and history of kimchi, take this class! It was taught by a husband and wife team, and not only did we make kimchi, but we also had a homemade meal together! I would recommend it 100%!

All the spices!
Smug mug
Dinner! Bossam (boiled pork), buchimgae (pancakes) and rice cakes!

The last thing that we did in Seoul proper was a city walk. We booked a tour off of AirBnB and our host was great! We met at the Seoul Cinema, where he began by talking about the history of the Korean language. Fun fact alert: did you know that up until the 1980s, Mandarin Chinese was a common language for Koreans? I didn’t!

We continued on our tour by visiting what was the first shopping mall in Seoul. It has since been converted into electronic shops, as well as studios for young artists, who can receive funding from the country for an apartment and studio space! In front of the building was a statue of a robot, which symbolized the creation of new technology that occurred there.

We had to
There were public rooms where you could listen to a collection of records!
They had rooms throughout where people could meet and work!

As we delved deeper into the buildings, we came across stores that sold all types of obscure electronic pieces. The tour guide told us that the government paid for training so that these store owners could keep up to date with current technological needs!

The interior of the buildings
The view from the top floor, which had been renovated as a meeting space for locals

After exploring the buildings, our tour guide brought us to a fun little coffee shop in the design market. In Seoul, businesses that do similar jobs are located near one another. This coffee shop was in an area that had many businesses that did graphic design and packaging for goods. Clearly, the coffee shop had a great design team behind it.

The coffee shop!

We continued on with a walk through the Gwangjang market, where we saw stands selling custom made hanbok – traditional Korean dresses.

We ended our tour in the street food section of the market. Our tour guide got us bean sprout pancakes, as well as gimbap – Korean sushi rolls, and we went on our merry way to explore the market on our own! The tour itself was great, and I would highly recommend it! If you’re interested, this is the one we took.

Now here’s the exciting part! Guess who we met? GUESS? No, it was not the dude who sang Gangnam Style. It was mother fracking Yoosun Cho from Netflix’s Street Foods! Of course we stopped for a bite to eat and a selfie with the noodle queen!

We ended our visit to South Korea with a day trip to the DMZ (which I’ll obviously need to dedicate an entire post to), and a day in Incheon where we ventured to a Korean spa. In all honesty, I don’t get the hype about the Korean spa. It had a bunch of different saunas at different temperatures and purifying elements (like a sauna full of charcoal and one full of amethyst). It was cool, but one sauna room would have done the trick as well.

Overall, South Korea gave us some great times, some good laughs and tasty food. Coming from the U.S., it was hard to ignore the level of conformity that existed (a lot of websites were blocked – like Reddit) and the insane hours of work that people put in. At the end of a visit to a new country, I like to reflect and think about if the place I visited was a place I could imagine myself living. While Seoul was fun, it’s a hard no for me. The air quality was terrible (which is huge for us) and the idea of being a “company man” would never be appealing to me. Korea was fun to visit, but I’ll keep it at that!

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