My first morning in Seoul started off bright and early! My Airbnb was at the top floor (only fifth lol), so before making my way down, I walked out onto the building’s rooftop to an amazing view.
A quick metro ride over to the O’ngo Food Communications building later, I joined a couple from NYC to cook seafood scallion pancake and tofu soup. Small class 🙂
We first went on a brief market tour, although all the actual ingredients we needed were already bought and prepped 😛 Basically, all we had to do was minimal chopping and mixing and cooking, but hey, we got a yummy meal and nice photos out of it! I believe this was my third cooking class around the world, having made Spanish paella in Barcelona and Moroccan pastries in Marrakesh. And in high school, I took a fun cake-decorating class back home in Maryland. And there was that quick demo on wrapping Vietnamese spring rolls on a boat in Halong Bay… Clearly not a real cook, I take these classes (for beginners, anyway) purely for the experience and the food, not actually with the intention to make these again 😀
I learned that the woman who showed us around the market loves Jeonju, the city I was headed to after Seoul, and she gave me great tips on what to do and eat in Jeonju and Busan. I remember feeling so lucky to have met someone who was so open to giving her suggestions and recommendations. We also chatted about our love for Hong Kong 😛
I had also signed up for a group food tour that night, not realizing it was with the same company, but anyway, that meant I would have to return later that day. Especially with traveling solo, I felt that to be able to enjoy most Korean food, it’s necessary to eat with at least one other person, best if it’s a group of people. All those side dishes alone can be overwhelming!
Anyway, with several hours to kill until the night food tour, I decided to walk over to the art museum (the nearest palace was closed on Monday). On the way, I walked through an adorable hanok village, hanok being a word to describe traditional Korean houses. Apparently, you can rent out hambok dresses for an afternoon walking around and taking pictures. I later found that it seems much better to do so in a city like Jeonju, where the Hanok Village there is much bigger and easy to navigate while wearing the cumbersome outfits. As for myself, I reasoned that if I weren’t alone or if the heat weren’t so deadly, I would’ve tried it out myself. Still, I was happy with just exploring the boutique shops along the roads.
Among the many tips the woman from the cooking class gave me, one included how Gentle Monster, the Korean sunglasses shop made famous by local celebrities, was nearby. It’s crazy (slightly scary) how much of a Korean fangirl I’ve become in terms of beauty and fashion trends, although I still have to catch up on K-pop culture. So when I learned that the Gentle Monster Bath House concept store was close, I definitely made it a mission to get a pair. These glasses don’t come cheap ($200 to $300 USD), but I would argue they’re standard pricing for brand-name designer glasses, especially with such a high profile.
Despite claiming to fall victim to the hype, I soon realized that I still didn’t exactly know which pairs were popular or worn by celebrities—not that it should matter. But in the end, after walking throughout the beautiful three-floor showroom and trying on countless pairs, I chose Cuba 502 G1 which, after asking the saleswoman, turns out to be the most popular style (out of stock online! Wow). I haven’t yet worn them, simply because I’ve been sweating like mad throughout this trip, so I would rather wait until I return to the comfier A/C’d confines of suburban life in Maryland.
It’s unfortunate that after giving some time for these memories to settle, the most poignant feeling from this afternoon was the extreme heat. Art museum also closed. Feeling defeated and needing to cool down, I made my way back to a nice café I had passed by earlier called Wood & Brick. Macarons are a huge thing here, with stores dedicated to selling them. So when I saw a fridge full of cute macaron ice cream sandwiches, it was an easy choice.
Throughout the afternoon, I was also on the hunt for nail salons (pushing those gel nails to their limits). When I found the only one in the area that was booked until 7 p.m. and after learning from my Airbnb host that nail salons require reservations a week in advance, I was beginning to think that nail salons were strangely rare in Seoul. Desperate and with three hours left before having to return for the food tour, I hopped on the metro to Itaewon, a foreigner hub at night with many bars and clubs, and the place I had Googled earlier for ONE nail salon.
Expecting it to be full, I was surprised to walk in to a spacious and empty salon. I sat with a TV above the two employees, who both worked on my nails and, unlike in the U.S., didn’t try to talk to me. On the TV played a weird show involving the Korean girl group Mamamoo visiting NYC and filming themselves talking to the camera and experiencing things like Shake Shack and Times Square. They looked 12 and acted like typical Asian tourists with those cameras and shopping bags. I didn’t want to understand the appeal of such a show, and yet, I somehow did. Of course, this is coming from someone who was addicted to watching Korean beauty videos for a while. It’s worth noting the group’s dancing skills are somewhat interesting. Here’s its most popular YouTube video:
Back to the nails, it ended up costing a hefty $50 for the gel manicure, whereas I keep thinking back to the Boston nail salon that charges just $25 for both a manicure and pedicure. Of course, that doesn’t include gel or the $5 tip, so I suppose adding gel and tips would come to about the same price but at least including a pedicure? Anyway, I basically had a private experience with two people simultaneously working on my nails and the chance to watch Korean reality TV. And I really love the nails 😛 Here’s a shot of them, which also serves as a preview to my next destination in Jeonju!
Finally, it was time for the food tour! Frankly, I felt that I and this one other girl who happened to have studied at UMCP talked more than the actual tour guide, which is BAD. It’s not that the tour guide wasn’t nice or helpful, but if I’m having a better time chatting with others than the tour guide is sharing tips and experiences, then there’s something wrong. From my experience, the best guides are the life of the party and inspire others to feel excited, which is to say that we all could have been motivated to feel more excited at the very exciting things that we were experiencing, from chicken and beer to yummy bingsoo dessert (shaved ice).
But yes, I had a great time chatting with the various other tourists and loved getting to try all the foods I wouldn’t have been able to stomach by myself.
Up next: Adventuring in Gangnam and checking out a dog café!