Spring Has Sprung in Seoul

Our school has been going through quite a few changes lately, which has increased stress levels for everyone here. Just when we were all starting to crack, the most glorious part of spring in Seoul came out to restore our sanity. Dave and I visited Seonyudo Park on Saturday and Yeouido Park on Sunday to check out the stunning cherry blossoms. These trees are ornamental and won’t bear fruit. They also will only flower for a short window (about one week), after which the falling petals give off the appearance of snow. Walking hand in hand with Dave through the park under the cherry blossoms was exactly what we both needed. I was incredibly giddy, despite the swarms of people in Yeouido coming to take a gander at the trees. Spring is here and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time! Here are a few pictures from this weekend. Read more

Couples in Korea

A week and a half ago, Korea celebrated the Lunar New Year, so we had a five day weekend. Yay! Dave’s supervisor asked me what we were planning on doing and I replied that we weren’t sure since we had been told that most things would be closed for the holiday. After asking me what Dave and I liked to do in our spare time, to which I replied, rock climbing, yoga, reading, writing, art, and cooking, she came up with an ingenious idea. Why don’t we go to a couples spa?!

It's hard to find examples of couples dressing the same in the winter, but here is couple who are both wearing the same red scarves and he is carrying her red purse for her. Dave will tell you I ran down the street after them to get this picture, I like to say I speed walked.

I immediately said YES! because I didn’t even know couples spas existed. It probably shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did because Korea is filled with goods and services directed solely at couples. For example, if you are in need of showing the world, (while you are sitting on the subway playing games on your cell phone), that the man sitting next to you playing games on his phone is your boyfriend, then pick up some his and her cell phone charms. If you want to make an even louder statement, wear matching outfits or his and her t-shirts. Yes, it’s true, couples have been known to walk around in matching outfits in Korea. On a side note, Korean boyfriends also carry their girlfriends’ purses around for them! A fabulous trend that I really wish would take off in the US.

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Funny Picture Booths

Dave and I were walking around Insadong a couple weeks ago and stopped into a place where you can take silly pictures. We had never done it before, but it had been on my must do list for a while. For 6,000 won (about $5) you can put on some wigs, traditional korean dresses, or hats and take eight pictures in a green booth.

We were clueless as to how it all worked so the woman working there helped us quite a bit. First she handed me a headband with a big sparkly red bow on it and gave Dave huge orange glasses. She then explained that we had to choose the backdrops we wanted to take pictures with quickly because we were on a timer. After we selected eight backdrops, we took our pictures.

At the end, they make you quickly decide which four pictures you like best, which we weren’t completely aware of until we had fifteen seconds left on the clock and started choosing our pictures in a panic. Once we chose four pictures, we went out of the booth to the touch-screen computer kiosks and each added images, drawings, and frames to our pictures. We then got to decide what size pictures we wanted and the machine printed it out on sticker paper. Here’s what we ended up with:

Love Star
This is the final picture we chose in our mad rush to pick the four pictures we wanted to print. We wished we had chosen the winter themed one we had taken, but alas it was too late.
When we saw that you could take a picture with a rainbow poo background we had to do it. I mean how often are you presented that opportunity?

I’m officially obsessed. I want to do this a million times before I leave Korea! I dragged Dave into a different funny picture booth in Hongdae, but the choice of backgrounds and print quality wasn’t as good as the place in Insadong.

This is one of the pictures we took in Hongdae. Notice the poo Dave placed on one of the teddy bears. We are very mature and can't get over the poo obsession in Korea.
Can you spot the poo?
Dave and me on a rainbow. I think the white mustache really suits dave.

For more pictures visit Dave’s blog!

Charlie Brown Cafe

Upon hearing that Dave and I went to the Hello Kitty Cafe, one of our friends suggested that we go to the Charlie Brown Cafe as well. So yesterday, Dave and I looked up the directions to the cafe and got on a bus headed to Hongdae. The directions we had said to get out of exit 5 of the Hongik University subway station. We usually take the bus to exit 9, so we went down into the subway to find exit 5.

Outside of the Charlie Brown Cafe.

Unfortunately for us, the directions we had were a little outdated. In our defense, I looked at multiple websites to confirm we had the correct directions and none of them mentioned an exit different from exit 5. The Airport Railroad also stops at the Hongik University Station and appears to be a convenient new addition, unless you are looking for exit five which has moved in the exact opposite direction of the old exit 5.

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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.

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.