You know when you hear about cool and/or weird things about other cities or countries that you would like to see in action yourself or at least have confirmed in person?
Well, my Airbnb apartment in Seoul was just that. Having gleaned a few things about Korea from YouTube stars Simon and Martina—who had lived in Korea for over seven years before recently moving to Tokyo (a life path I envy)—it felt a bit surreal to see things such as the flier for Korean takeout on the door (see video below) and different boxes for sorting trash, accompanied by a note from the host about Korea’s strict garbage sorting rules.
“I heard that in Korea, once you finish your takeout meals, you just leave the plates and utensils out in the hall to be collected,” I found myself excitedly telling my new friend I met on the AREX. “So they don’t use disposable plates or anything.”
Whether that was actually the case or not here, as I didn’t actually try ordering takeout, I liked entertaining the idea.
And when it came to sorting my trash, who knew throwing away stuff would involve so much thinking? I found myself pausing each time I had to toss something as small as contact lens (is it considered plastic?) or even, sorry, the hair I shed. #girls
Then in the bathroom, the showers aren’t separated from the rest of the bathroom, so everything is tiled (or otherwise that tub-like material) and makes it a lot easier to clean, as you would just use the shower head to literally spray the room down.
Anyway, after a packed first full day, it was time to go shopping. Seoul has several shopping areas, including Myeongdong, Hungdae, Dongdaemun, and Itaewon. Having arrived before shops near Ewha Womans University (Edae) opened, I searched for a breakfast spot on Foursquare, and unfortunately, I walked from one station to another only to find that Chloris Tea Garden didn’t open until 11. It was about 9:30 #earlybird. I ended up at Starbucks, enjoying a chai tea latte and a chocolate chip scone, both not sold in China, and received a free upgrade and my next drink free for completing an online survey. Nice.
I made my way back toward the Ewha campus, which I believe was made famous thanks to a Korean drama (or movie or both) filmed here. It wasn’t until I Googled news about the place after seeing all the sticky notes and signs on its walls down the huge staircase that I learned what they were about.
Protests happened as early as just a few weeks before I had visited regarding the plan by the nation’s top women’s university to establish a state-funded college of continuing education, which would have offered “bachelor’s degrees in new media, health, beauty and fashion to women who chose to work instead of pursuing further education after high school.” Against the plan for fear of “devaluing” the school and calling for the university president to resign, students managed to successfully halt the plan until, as students wished, further discussions with them. #drama
The area for shopping around the campus isn’t big but has all your typical Korean beauty stores. I made my first lip tint purchases from Etude House and Olive Young (CVS of Korea; for the brand Peripera, which doesn’t have its own stores for some reason). Given my recent travels, I have yet to try them but will give an update for those who care 😛
When lunchtime came around, I took the metro to another shopping area near Gangnam called Sinsadong, which the woman from the cooking class recommended, but thanks to the lack of WiFi, I wasn’t able to find exactly where to go once I arrived, and I didn’t feel like searching in the heat. Turns out the shops were only a short walk from the station, but instead, I turned around and made my way to the heart of Gangnam. Following the map toward Samsung d’light, an exhibition space for Samsung electronics, I chose to walk, thinking it would be not too far, but with the heat, the walk ended up being much longer and insufferable than expected.
At least I got to see the country’s first Shake Shack that had recently opened. I noticed it because of the very long line snaking outside. In that heat, I especially couldn’t believe it.
Finally, I had lunch in a 24-hour Korean food joint. Packed with people, I figured it would be a good choice. Of course, I chose bibimbap, my dish of choice in both South Korea and China (Food Republic has one of the best bibimbap dishes ever, even better than some that I’ve tried in Korea!). Meals in Korea are quite cheap, usually about $5 USD. This was where I also realized that utensils and napkins are stored under the table in drawers. The lady seated next to me on the communal table had to show me 😛
To cross the street to Samsung d’light, I had to go through the underground shopping mall that connects to the subway—not unlike the many found in China. It was here that I tried Paik’s Coffee, a chain found everywhere in Seoul. As for Samsung, I enjoyed the interactivity of it all. You can choose to get a band to save all the results from the activities available, but I just went through them and was happy to see that one activity predicted that I would be a “Future Coordinator.” As I’ll explain later, I find a lot of truth in this.
Before I left Gangnam, I stopped by Innisfree to restock on sheet masks. Innisfree is one of the few (maybe the only?) brands that don’t offer huge discounts for stockpiling on masks (although I believe the branch back in Edae seemed to have a minor deal with 10 or 20; too bad I didn’t get them then). From my observations, Tony Moly would always be the store to have crazy deals, such as “20+20” (buy 20, get 20) or huge discounts for buying ridiculous amounts such as 80 or 100. Like, what. Sorry I’m not doing business in China. Anyway, to lessen some of the ridiculousness, you have to understand that sheet masks in Korea are part of the “essential” 10-step beauty routine. Skin care is embedded in Korean culture and not just a fad among hipsters or the rich, as it feels like elsewhere.
This day was mostly planned around the things I learned from my interactions at O’ngo, so my next goal was to check out a dog café. The most popular one seems to be one in Myeongdong, and given that it was only two stops away from my Airbnb, I headed there next.
And boy, was it disappointing. And depressing!
Basically, you pay 9,000 won for a drink (tea or coffee) and are told you can stay as long as you wish. You are given a blanket so you can sit on the floor with it covering your lap. The nearly 30 dogs wander and, if you’re lucky, will choose to rest on your lap. Otherwise, you can sit on the torn-up booths and watch, as the dogs walk around aimlessly in the windowless second-floor room. The first dog I tried petting looked dead on a table and screeched upon my touch. Despite this, I stayed for nearly an hour, trying to give this place a chance to show its magic.
Unfortunately, it’s just a sad, sad place. While some do sit on the floor and manage to get dogs to come rest on their laps, others sit back and just watch the dogs, mostly playing with the employees and peeing here and there. And the couple from the cooking class was right—you’re immediately told to avoid two dogs, because they are apparently unfriendly and will bite. So there’s that.
After such a sad experience, whenever I saw signs for another dog café during this trip, I avoided them altogether. Something about having 30 dogs cooped up in on the second floor of a building without windows in the middle of a busy shopping district made me more depressed than happy—along with the fact that tourists come to annoy them constantly.
But then everything was great again when I discovered the wonders of the Shinsegae Department Store—specifically, its food court in the basement level that reminds me of Food Republic in Guangzhou but so much better.
Following where the locals go, I chose the gimkap (kimbap) station and got a front-row seat of its work station. The gimkap was perfect. There are so many layers of amazingness in one roll. I watched as each employee had her own specific role in the assembly line. One prepared the seaweed and rice, the next the vegetables and/or meat and rolling, and the last slicing and plating. Any low points from the day vanished with this one meal. It was that awesome.
The area itself is exciting, with a fancy supermarket and tons of other food stations, all under an upscale department store. So the people you see comprise both tourists and local working people fetching their dinners.
It had been a long second day in Seoul, but I had to fit in as much as possible before my next destination: JEONJU! The food capital of Korea, but most importantly, home of bibimbap!!!! ❤