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?!
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.
The Tripping Blog featured my post on the Top 5 Things to do on a Frigid Day in Seoul as part of their weekly Travel Tuesday posts. The Tripping Blog is connected to www.tripping.com, which is a “global network of travelers who believe cultural exchange makes the world a better place. [Their] members connect with each other for travel tips, shared cups of coffee and even home stays. Tripping is safe, free and good for the world.” For more information on Tripping, check out their FAQ page. Go read my post and if tripping suits you, then sign up!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
When I first visited Korea, a year and a half ago, I fell in love with a dish called dak galbi. The friends I was staying with were kind enough to let me drag them to eat it every few days. I was obsessed, and upon my return to Korea, the love I have for dak galbi has only gotten stronger. Dave is now equally as passionate about dak galbi as I am. I can’t imagine anyone not adoring it.
The restaurants that serve this dish are solely devoted to making dak galbi. The tables are equipped with a large round pan in the center and a gas burner underneath. The amount of table space you have is fairly limited and it is quite crowded if you go with more than three people, but certainly doable.
Basic dak galbi consists of marinated chicken, cabbage, green onions, potatoes, onions, ddeok, and the special red spicy chili sauce they marinate the chicken in. Ddeok are known as “rice cakes” in English, but they aren’t the crispy cracker-like rice cakes you are probably thinking of. They are solid, glutinous, penne pasta shaped, flavorless by themselves, and made from rice. We always order ramen and extra ddeok to go in our dak galbi. There are different things you can add to your dak galbi order, such as cheese, but Dave and I like our typical order so much that we haven’t tried to mix it up yet.
Dak galbi is spicy, in fact it’s probably just on the verge of being too spicy for me. Because of this, it is imperative that you drink beer while you eat this dish. Water doesn’t neutralize the spiciness as well as beer does. If I didn’t drink beer while eating dak galbi, I probably would never finish the meal.
If you are still hungry after you have finished the deliciousness in front of you, order some rice to soak up the yummy remnants stuck to the pan. The staff will scrape down the pan as they stir fry the rice with more spicy sauce. I’ve only been hungry enough at the end of dak galbi to do this once. Between the beer and the main course, I’m usually much too full to attempt to eat more. Dave and I haven’t been eating dak galbi every few days, but it’s definitely hard to get through the week without having it once. We’re addicted.
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.
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.