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.

Day One

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

Day Two

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!

Day Three

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!

Day Four

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.

Reflection

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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Five Thangs Friday

Five Thangs Friday #6

I’ve begun to really look forward to Five Thangs Friday. It makes me really take a step back and think about five things that truly made my week better – which can help me when I’m stuck in a rut, as I have been.

I haven’t posted much lately. I’ve lacked thoughts, which is a strange thing to say, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I’ve been preoccupied with other things. This post makes me take a step back though, which is why I’m continuing to do it. What do you do when you’re in a rut? How do you get your thoughts and creativity back? Let me know ya’ll!

Enough digression – here’s my week in iPhone photos. I hope everyone had a great first week of “spring”! The fact that the sun isn’t setting until 7 is giving me lifeeee!

#1. Deep Conditioner

I colored my hair about two years ago and I deeply regret it. The first 8 inches of my hair are a deep brown, but now, the remaining 6 inches of colored hair are a rusty orange from all the bleach. Needless to say, my hair is dry AF. I’ve switched to clean shampoos and conditioners, which aren’t really helping the case either. This weekend, I picked up a few deep conditioners at Target to see if they could work some magic, and ya’ll, THEY DID! I’ve only used the one on the left so far (Shea Moisture) and it has made me hair feel so much better this week. I’m planning on using another this weekend and ya know I’ll let ya’ll know how it goes!

#2. Paleo Muesli

I found this as Aldi this week, and to say I was geeked would be an understatement! While I love granola, it’s difficult to find a good quality clean one at a decent price. These were $4 a box, and each had a pound of paleo deliciousness inside! I’m not one to eat a bowl of muesli, but I did enjoy it drizzle over a smoothie bowl! Highly recommend ya’ll!

This beauty was an avocado kale banana smoothie with some sprouts! Delish!

#3. Workin’ Moms!

OMG. Go to Netflix, now. WATCH THIS SHOW! It is hilarious, and honest, and while I’m not a mother, I assume, pretty dang realistic. Canadian TV has been on fire lately! Between this and Kim’s Convenience (also found on Netflix), I’ve been impressed! I binge watched this show in a week, and tried extremely hard to get access to Canadian Netflix so I could watch the other seasons. (Update: I did not find access)

#4. This Episode of This American Life!

I listen to at least one podcast a day, on my way to work. This one was the best of the week! As a special educator, and a sibling of someone with mental disabilities, this episode resonated with me. It gave insight into what parenting someone with special needs is like, and had me bawling on my way to work. Side note: this podcast has a show on Amazon that you can watch the first 2 seasons of! Very interesting stuff guys!

#5. Oversized Coffee

We buy most things on bulk on Amazon. 20 pound buckets of salt. 5 pound bags of coffee. 1000 pens. We get it all! I amused myself on Wednesday night with this larger than life bag of coffee. (PS: this coffee is actually delicious if you’re looking for a good quality, inexpensive organic dark roast)

Other highlights of my week include teaching my students about riverdancing and square dancing, which many are now obsessed with! It’s adorable! I’ve also been loooooving this window down weather (when you’re a Chicagoan, anything over 40 is windows down). The countdown to spring break has also officially begun – LESS THAN A MONTH AWAY!

I hope ya’ll have a relaxing weekend! Please, please, please – let me know how you get creative!

XO, J