Saturday, July 8, 2017

New Foods (and other experiences)

Last Thursday, I met up with a former mentee of mine from college. It’s kinda funny because everyone else I haven’t seen in a couple years but I saw Gilyoung about a month ago when school ended. So our meeting wasn’t as dramatic as some of the others. It was more just like “Hey. How’s your month back been?”

Anyway, we met in Hongdae for lunch and went to a place called Hongdae Donburi. It has Hongdae in the name but it’s actually all over Seoul (and Korea). It serves Japanese food and I got the mixed donburi with don katsu and shrimp. It was really, really good. It was just onions, rice, the meats, egg, and some sort of sauce but it was absolutely delicious. I definitely recommend going to Hongdae Donburi if you have the time. It was about 10,000 won, so not too terrible.

After lunch, we decided to wonder around for a bit before going to the bakery because we were both stuffed. There’s always a lot to do in Hongdae so I wasn’t too worried. Seoul is a place for trends and one of the current trends is the claw machine. The claw machine is literally everywhere right now. There are entire stores just with claw machines in them. It seems silly to me; like, this fad can’t possibly last so what are you going to do with your business then? I bring this up because we found a three floor arcade in Hongdae. The whole first floor was claw machines. The second had shooting and driving games, with darts near the front, and the third floor was more familiar games to me, like basketball, air hockey, and Dance Dance Revolution. We played a couple games, and totally sucked at all of them, before leaving so we wouldn’t go broke.

Gilyoung and I walked by some tarot card readers and she asked if I had ever gone. When I told her that I hadn’t (because my Korean wasn’t good enough) but I wanted to, we walked right into one of the stores. I paid 3,000 won to ask a simple question. I asked if I would get a job that I liked within three months. The tarot card lady had me pick out three cards that represented my past, current, and future job luck. Guess what card I managed to draw for my future? The death card. There are 56 cards in a tarot deck and I manage to pick the death card for my professional future. But my past and present looked fine so hey. Gilyoung then asked the lady if my fortune would change so I chose three more cards. According to those, my fortune will change for the better in one month. So the tarot lady recommended that I just stay still and not apply for too many jobs for a month and then try again after that. We left the store with Gilyoung feeling bad and me a little surprised at my own (bad) luck.

On the way to the bakery, we also looked for some clothing for Gilyoung because she wants new dresses. That is another current fad in Korea. Women are wearing spaghetti strap dresses with white T-shirts underneath. That in itself isn’t so surprising because Koreans generally don’t show cleavage but what’s driving me insane is that the women are purposefully making the adjustable straps too long. So instead of the dress fitting like it’s supposed to, it cuts across too low on their boobs or falls to the side or below their chest. It looks absolutely ridiculous and not cute at all. Jihye and I actually talked about this before she left and she says it’s supposed to make them look young. Like, clothes that are too big will make them look younger. I sorta get that, even though it’s a bit creepy, but this doesn’t even look good! I shake my head every time I see a woman with the chest of the dress in the wrong place. Gilyoung actually wanted to buy a dress like that but I vetoed it. She probably has enough sense not to wear the dress with the straps too long but I didn’t want to even risk it.

After shopping, we finally made it over to the bakery I wanted to try. Yay! It’s called Aoitori Bakery and I saw it on a show called Battle Trip. The show was totally boring (I watched because IOI was on it) but the bakery looked delicious! We ordered four buns; a green tea melon bun, a yakisoba bun, a butter-red bean paste bun, and a typical cream bun as a safety net in case the others sucked. We tried the green tea melon bun first. It was pretty good. You couldn’t really taste the melon underneath the green tea flavor and I’m not really a green tea person so even though I enjoyed it, I would try something else next time. We then went for the yakisoba bun, which looked the best on the broadcast. It was so, so good. It’s kinda like someone took a hotdog, removed the sausage and stir fried it with yakisoba, and then put it back in the bun. That sounds really strange but it was super good, I promise. The ginger didn’t blend with the other flavors as well though so, next time, I’ll take off the ginger. Next time I’m in Hongdae, I plan to buy two of the yakisoba buns and bring them home for dinner. The butter-red bean paste was Gilyoung’s favorite. It actually tasted much better than I expected but it’s hard to get past the visual. It looks like they put a small stick of butter in there with a thick line of red bean paste, which dries on the outside and looks even less appealing than usual. Despite all that, it was pretty good. After sharing three buns, Gilyoung and I were full so I took the cream bun home to eat later. We eventually parted ways so Gilyoung could have a late dinner with her brother. I went home and tried the cream bun. It was nothing special but, overall, I was very happy with my Aoitori experience and would go back.

Gilyoung and I + creme bun

butter + red bean paste bun

yakisoba bun :D

green tea melon bun

Friday, I didn’t do anything too exciting. I wrote up my ad to put up, offering tutoring over the summer break to college students. It was Byul’s idea and it sounded like a good plan. I later found out that a lot of the colleges offer free tutoring as part of the tuition so I can’t post on the college sites like I was planning to.

I also mailed a package all by myself! Let’s hear a round of applause. It was not without struggle. I mailed my forms to an FBI channeler to get my background check sent back to me sooner. I think background checks are only necessary for the E-2 (teaching) visa but I’d rather have it just in case. The people at the post office and I worked together to figure the whole mailing process out. It was actually funny because their English was at the same level as my Korean and that meant that we both knew how to say the same phrases in each other’s languages. So, for example, we couldn’t figure out how to say things like “travel insurance” or “customs form” but he would say “this will take 2 weeks” and then I’d repeat that in Korean back to him and then we’d stare at each other trying to figure out the right wording so the other one would understand. It was great. I felt very accomplished after my long trial and promptly texted most of my friends so I could be praised. They mostly teased me about it but I’m still happy.

Saturday, I had lunch with someone I met on the street. Literally. The past Monday night, there was a woman in my subway car that got off at the same station. We walked up through the station together and walked to the same exit. She then went the same way as me and we walked near each other all the way from the station to my street. It was getting extremely awkward so I was getting ready to speed up to pass her when she, Jane, turned to me and said “Hi” in English. We talked for a bit and exchanged Kakao IDs before turning in for the night. Turns out we live like two minutes from each other. After texting, we decided to meet for lunch on Saturday at my favorite dakgabli-bokkeumbap place, 샘터골. I was excited about making a new friend at first but then I remembered that there are a lot of Christian fanatics in Seoul that very actively try to recruit people. I dealt with this a lot two years ago.

So I went to our meeting place with a little trepidation but still looking forward to talking and finally eating one of my favorite dishes. I’ve tried to replicate it in America but we simply don’t cut up chickens that way, so that there’s “chicken ribs” (it’s really throat and shoulder meat). Sure enough, about ten minutes into our meal Jane brings up her church and starts talking about how dedicated she is. It wasn’t anything too crazy; we talked about other things too and I told her I wasn’t religious. She would find ways to bring it up though. Like, when I told her I studied editing, Jane said that she knew some people who edited that I should meet but I could tell from her tone that they were from her church. However, we talked about other things and when I told her I love dogs, she said we should go to a dog café together. So, I thought I got through to her that I had no interest in going to her church. After we finished (delicious), Jane offered to pay and even though I said no, she said I could pay next time so I let it go. As we’re leaving though, she said “My church is actually just this way a bit, if you want to check it out.” I wonder if she thought I’d feel like I had to go since she paid but I have absolutely no intention to get roped into something I don’t want to do. So I said that I was actually going to the market, which was in the other direction. I like her so I’ll still hang out if she wants to but I can’t tell if she just wanted to recruit me. So, for now, I’m going to wait until Jane texts me and we’ll take it from there. It’s almost been a week and she hasn’t texted me so I suspect that’s the end of our relationship. Oh well.

Sunday, I went to the Seodaemun Prison Museum. It was a political prison during both the Japanese colonial era and the dictatorship that followed. It’s not exactly a tourist spot so it was 95% Koreans there. I think the older gentleman who took my ticket was excited to see a foreigner interested in Korean history because, as I’m walking away, he suddenly yells “Hi!” very brightly and waves. I laughed and waved back; he was adorable.

The prison was interesting. It was interesting in the same way the Holocaust Museum is interesting; it’s not fun but it’s important to remember history and the people whose lives were taken. I also learned my word of the day for that day: 고문(gomun), which means torture.

It is of note that the museum had much more information on the Japanese era than the dictatorship era. I don’t think it’s because the Japanese were worse to the prisoners (although I learned some new ways to terrify and hurt somebody), I think it’s just easier to see others as the bad guy instead of your own people. What information there was about the dictatorship era (which was maybe 20%, if I’m being generous, of the exhibits) was not translated into English. All the signs and explanations about the Japanese colonial era were translated into English but none of the stuff about the dictatorship era was. I thought that was a very deliberate decision.

It was a bit surprising to me who Koreans call patriots and heroes during the Japanese era. Many of the prisoners are what we would today call terrorists. There were two signs in the entire place about peaceful protests, one about a labor strike and one about a newspaper. All of the other protests were violent, either robbing or assassinating people. I would honestly understand if it was the Japanese they were murdering but some of these “heroes” killed Koreans who supported the Japanese. That was what surprised me. I can’t imagine praising someone who murdered our own people just because of their way of thinking. However. I also can’t imagine being forbidden to speak my language, being forced to change my name, and seeing my countrymen and women carted off to labor or sex camps. I can’t imagine someone trying to systematically destroy my culture so I don’t get to judge. I didn’t live then and I will never be in the same situation so it’s not my place. I was just surprised, that’s all.


View from lepers' building

"exercise facility" what bull

Prison cells

Torture box so you can neither stand nor sit comfortably

Building underneath gallows where dead bodies where collected (reconstruction)

Pictures of victims


After walking through the prison cells, the torture rooms, and all the facility buildings, I left the museum. I happened to see a map as we left and I’m glad I looked at it because there was a 3.10 memorial and the Independence Gate just a couple blocks away. There was no information online about those so I got lucky that I looked at the map. After looking at those too, I went home.

3.10 Memorial

Way to Independence Gate

Monday, I skyped my parents in the morning. After lunch, I went to see the new bears on K-star road. I actually went to K-star road during my second semester but, hey, I didn’t blog then so I’ll put those pictures here as well. I went back because they added new ones after I left. I like these because they look like giant Mustoy dolls and they’re adorable. I was surprised; while I was taking pictures of the bears, I passed like 10 other groups doing the same thing. I didn’t realize they were so popular so good job Seoul government, I guess. There’s even a tiny gift shop now where you can buy miniature versions of the bears.

2015 (feat. friends Brandon, Emily, and Yubi)




Super Junior

FT Island


Miss A






Poster of Halo while on my way. I will never forget one of the boys running over to me with a poster of himself from his fan club and saying "This me!" It was so freaking adorable; I will always support them just for that.


The new ones were very clearly less planned out than the first 10. The original ones are all very close together and actually have a pink and blue path painted along them. The new ones were much more scattered and had random intervals between them. They just fit the bears where they could. So one might be by a bus stop and then you don't see another for like 500 feet until there are two in front of a shop. Luckily, they have this little tile on the path so you knew you were still going the right way and it hadn't ended.


Infinite. I don't really like Infinite but I really like this design. It was probably my favorite.


Block B


The bears are by Apgujeong Rodeo street in Gangnam. If anyone tries to tell you that Apgujeong is a popular area, they’re lying. Apgujeong has some cool things, especially K-pop related, but it certainly isn’t filled with people or activities like Hongdae, Sinchon, Myeongdong, or Gangnam would be. The station itself is K-pop themed, though. They always have some sort of exhibit going on with lots of posters. Last time I was there, it was AOMG (Jay Park, Simon D, etc) and this time it was GOT7. Many companies have buildings in the area so it’s good marketing for them.

You could take pictures behind GOT7.

Or with each member individually. I thought about taking one just because but I was kinda embarrassed and I don't actually like GOT7 anyway.

List of the exhibits.

List of sponsors. 

It was actually a bit sad looking at the dolls, though. Of the original 10, 4Minute and MissA have disbanded and many of the others are nearing the end (Super Junior, FT Island, SNSD, and 2PM for example). Even in the new ones they just installed in 2016, Kara has disbanded and AOA is in crisis. Infinite is also in contract talks so we’ll see what’s happening there. There’s been a big shift in K-pop this last year or two and it’s not over yet. For someone who’s been a fan since 2009, it’s sad and it’s taking some getting used to.

Tuesday and Thursday, I tutored Sunny and didn’t do much else. She lives an hour away by subway from my place so it’s an event going to tutor her. We continued working on prepositions, spelling, expanding her vocabulary, and essay writing this week. We worked on the on/in/at prepositions this week and she had a little more trouble with them so I’m glad we went over which one to use in which situation. She needs more help writing essays, from brainstorming on, than I expected so I might do an essay a week with her; we’ll see, that might be too much.

Wednesday, I met up with Jinseong, who I did the escape the room with last week. Joohee wasn’t there this time because she started her job in Wonju this week! I’m proud of her but it also sucks because she’ll barely get to hang out now. Jinseong and I were going to meet for lunch but we switched it to dinner because there were heat warnings out (there should be heat warnings every goddamn day). We went to a samgyetang place because it’s on my list of food to try. Samgyetang is like a healthy soup with Chinese herbs, a whole chicken, jujubes, and garlic. I was actually disappointed in the samgyetang. It looks so healthy and interesting that I expected the taste to match the visual but it was actually bland. It tasted like chicken noodle soup but without the MSG or the noodles. We drank ginsaeng shots with it, which are also supposed to be healthy, but that tasted disgusting.


After dinner, Jinseong wanted to go to some bar that he heard was really good so we walked there. He said it was kind of far, which I assumed meant like 15 minutes, but actually meant like three stations away and more like 45 minutes. We got there eventually, after walking through a sketchy factory neighborhood. Even if I remembered the name, I wouldn’t tell you because it was pretty unimpressive. The interior design was nice and all but the beer wasn’t that good. I don’t drink much, actually. A) it’s expensive B) I don’t like the taste and C) I’m not a fun drunk; I just get tired. So if Jinseong was looking to get turnt up, it didn’t happen lol. We just talked over some beers. Jinseong is having a bit of a hard time in his life right now but he’s one of the few guys I understand and have fun talking to so I was glad we met up. He left Thursday to go to Busan to get a surgery.

Once I finished Jinseong’s second beer (it tasted like coffee and he didn’t like the bitterness), we went to get ice cream. Jinseong wanted to get Baskin Robbins but, like, is Baskin Robbins ever good? I vetoed that and then we couldn’t find a different ice cream place so we went to get bingsoo at Solbing. At Konkuk, there are two Solbings right across the street from each other but they were both completely packed. We managed to get a spot at the slightly less popular one. Jinseong wanted to get the melon bingsoo but I hate melon so I asked for anything else. (I’m realizing a trend here). He eventually ordered the injeolmi (bean powder?) bingsoo, which I was fine with because I like that one lots. We eat bingsoo in the same way – yes, there are different methods – and I was glad to find someone else who uses all the condensed milk. We talked some more but his girlfriend was starting to text him constantly about why he was still out (it was like 11) so we left right after we finished our bingsoo. He offered to walk me home but I’m a big girl so I told him to go home before his girlfriend tries to track him down. She wants us all to hang out sometime, I think to check me out, so I’m hoping we become friends. But that won’t be for like three weeks because Jinseong has to go to his hometown. Another one of my friends is leaving me~! *dramatic wailing and self-pity* On an unselfish note, I hope his surgery goes well.

Friday is today and I mostly did chores and adult-y things. I went to the market, did my laundry, applied for three jobs, and wrote this blog. So it’s been a pretty productive day. I was originally supposed to meet up with Byul today but she has her license test tomorrow so she wanted to go to bed early. We’re going to meet on Monday instead. That’s okay because I needed a day to do my laundry. It was also extremely hot and humid today so I was happy I didn’t need to go outside much. The humidity added more than 10 degrees to the Real Feel temperature. Nasty. Anyway, it’s been a pretty good couple of weeks and I’m adapting much better. I feel really good. Tomorrow, Soojung and I are going to an interactive art exhibit put on by TeamLab and we’re going to a restaurant where you eat in the dark. I’m also hoping to pick up some Korean novels translated in English in Jamsil. Oh, and I have to go to a concert area to pick up some goods for a friend’s friend. What an awesome person I am. 

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