My Dojang (Korean seal)

Saturday Dave and I were wandering around Insadong (a popular artsy part of town) and I spontaneously decided to get a dojang aka name chop. A dojang is a personal traditional stone or wood stamp used to sign your name. They have been used in Korea since the second century B.C. and are still frequently used today. From what I understand, most Koreans own a personal dojang for use in signing official documents.

I came up with the idea as we were walking buy an outdoor stall selling personalized name chops. I’ve always made cards and I am very passionate about doing art with paper materials, so I thought it might be a good souvenir for myself. I wasn’t thinking about getting one with my name on it though, I wanted it to say WAKE UP AND DANCE. If you haven’t noticed already, Wake up and Dance is not only the name of my blog, but also the name of my Twitter, Etsy, and Flickr accounts. It’s kind of my thing.

The prices of a dojang in the outdoor stall ranged from 30,000 won to 70,000 won, but they looked fairly tacky. The sides of the stones were carved with kitschy designs and colored in with metallic paints. The store was outdoors and had hoards of people looking to buy one. The scene didn’t feel right, I wasn’t interested in being part of the masses and freezing my butt off while I waited for my name chop. Then, I remembered seeing another shop that offered the same service and it just so happened to be a few doors down and inside.

We had been in that store during a previous visit to the area when we were looking at traditional paintbrushes. I’ve never been much of a painter, but something about the traditional oriental watercolor brushes really attracts me. I love to look at them even though I will never use them or buy them for myself.

Upon entering the store, I knew that I was going to get my name chop there…unless the price was out of my budget. Lucky for me, the prices were the same as the outdoor stall, the stones were much more traditional and sleek looking, and to top it all of, it was really warm inside.

Dave took this picture of the artist carving my name chop.

I wrote down what I wanted my seal to say, while one of the men working in the store sanded my stone in preparation for carving. After it was sanded he dipped the end of the stone in an orange paint that quickly dried, allowing the woman who was going to carve my stone to write the words on it with a pen. The orange paint made it easy for her to see where her carvings were being made.

Once the stone was ready for carving, she slid it into a wood vice and started engraving my seal with a metal tool. While I was waiting for my seal to be finished, a Korean teenager came in with her younger brother and mother. I think they were picking out her first dojang based on how excited she was. It’s nice to know that despite the rapid development South Korea has gone through, some beautiful traditions like using a stone seal still exist.

My seal!

When the artist was finished carving my name chop, she handed it back over to the man who was sanding the stone before. He cleaned it up and smacked it against red sticky ink that is used with a dojang. He then stamped it on some pieces of paper a few times and then on a certificate. The certificate had rabbits on it since it is the year of the rabbit and also had the word happiness in Korean written on the right hand side. The people in the store got a good laugh out of my name chop. They are probably used to people getting their name or initials written on it, not the phrase ‘wake up and dance.’ I explained that it was my blog name and it’s Thai origin, but I think they still thought I was a little silly. He then cleaned my dojang again and placed it in a lovely red velvet lined box.

This is the certificate they made for my dojang.
This is my stone name chop with its box.
This is the man who carved Dave's seal putting ink on the stone to stamp Dave's new dojang.

Upon seeing how awesome my stamp was, Dave went to the back of the store, grabbed a black stone he had been eyeing and decided to get himself one too. He wanted his initials on the stamp, so he drew two intertwining D’s for the artist to carve. His stamp is the opposite of mine. His letters are red and mine are white. Since Dave got one too, we decided to go halfsies on the red ink. My dojang cost 30,000 won, Dave’s cost 40,000 won, and the ink cost 15,000 won. The total came to about 76 bucks. Not bad for a souvenir we’ll get use out of for many years to come.

My certificate and our red ink.

Check out Dave’s photo blog for more pictures.

In case you are looking to have one made while visiting Seoul, the store we had our stamps made at is called Myung Sin Dang in Insadong and is apparently quite famous. We only found that out after leaving the store. It has been visited by many famous people such as Queen Elizabeth. I highly recommend going there!

Skating in Seoul

Haechi (Seoul's mascot) and me

Back in the day, when I was ice dancing six to seven days a week in Los Angeles, I was incredibly jealous of the people who lived in cold climates. I thought they would have tons of opportunities to skate outside on lakes and outdoor rinks. To this day, I get extremely giddy about the concept of skating outdoors. It seems so much more enchanting than skating in a building.

One of our Canadian co-workers had been telling us about an outdoor rink we could all go skating at in Seoul, and last Thursday we went to check it out with him. I was excited to go skating in Seoul, but a little nervous about being too cold and the crowds. I am a spoiled skater and chose to avoid skating in crowded sessions when I practiced. Seoul is a very crowded city, so I expected the ice rink to be miserably and possibly dangerously packed. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. We went after work and made it for the 7-8pm session. Skate rental and the skating ticket cost 1,000 won (about a buck). I brought my own skates, and Dave and our friend got rental skates. For those of you looking to rent figure skates, be forewarned plastic hockey skates are the only kind of skates available to rent.

To get to this rink, take the subway to City Hall and leave out of exit 5 if possible. Exit 5 was closed for construction when we went, so we had to walk out of exit 4 and turn around and walk in the direction of exit 5. You can’t miss it. Don’t go on weekends if you want to avoid the crowds.

Moving Day

Since I’ve lived in some kind of house for most of my life, I never really thought about how people in apartments move in or out. I can imagine that it’s challenging to fit a couch in an elevator or move it up ten flights of stairs. In Seoul, they have figured out an ingenious solution to this problem; just take out the windows.

As shown below, you can avoid the hassle of moving all of your belongings out of a huge apartment building by ordering a truck service. They will take out your window and send a large ladder to your room. They put everything on the platform attached to the ladder and it swiftly moves to the ground where it is then loaded into a truck. Somebody was moving out in the building across from my classroom, distracting my kindergarten students and leading to a discussion about moving. Most of them have already moved multiple times in their few years and know the moving process well.

There was a big red truck parked out front for a few hours removing things from the apartment and then after it left a big white truck came and moved the new folks in. Everybody was moved out and in within about six hours. Incredible.

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Hello Kitty Cafe

Saturday was a freakishly cold day and we were trying to come up with fun indoor activities that would keep us out of the icy wind. I suggested we grab a warm beverage at the Hello Kitty Cafe in Hongdae, which we had seen before, but had not spent time in yet, and my wonderful boyfriend said yes. How many boyfriends willingly agree to being dragged to a pink Hello Kitty Cafe?! I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

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I have always loved Hello Kitty. I can’t explain why, I just do. When I was little I could spend hours inside the Sanrio store eyeing all the goodies. Places like Korea are wonderful because it is perfectly normal for a grown woman like myself to adore Hello Kitty. I am currently sporting a Hello Kitty cell phone cover, which would probably be considered embarrassing at home, but is totally acceptable here.

When we first arrived at the cafe, I was a little bummed because it didn’t look like we would be able to find a seat. This seems to be a perpetual problem in Seoul, so we’ve learned to hover around seated people, eventually somebody is bound to get up. After a few minutes we snagged a table. I held down the fort while Dave got me a hot chocolate, a latte for himself, and a Hello Kitty waffle for us to share. The line to order was long, but he eventually came back with a Hello Kitty buzzer and said it would be about ten minutes.

In the meantime, I played the role of tourist taking pictures of everything. I usually feel awkward doing that, but everybody else was doing the same thing, so I didn’t feel like we were standing out too much. Dave was one of three other guys in the cafe the entire time we were there. The other two dudes fit in a little bit better, mostly because they didn’t look as manly as Dave. His furry beard and broad shoulders didn’t quite fit in with the pink, white, and red Hello Kitty decor.

We sipped our toasty drinks and munched on our waffle, as the girls around us took pictures and applied makeup with their compact mirrors. The waffle left much to be desired, but it definitely got style points. On our way out, I purchased a small Hello Kitty cell phone charm to go with my Hello Kitty cell phone case. I don’t think we’ll be going there every weekend, but I’m sure I’ll be back there again with my patient boyfriend.

See Dave’s perspective here. For directions to this glorious cafe, read my comment below.