Seoul Lovely : Getting There & Day 0.5


Seoul is, to me, a city of palaces, ancient gates and skyscrapers, street-food tents, neon signs and the smoke of barbecue, subway trains and permed ajummas, helpful ajussis, kimchi and T-money. And let's not forget the sparkling, round-eyed celebrities, cozy coffee shops and the sea of striped shirts, thick black frames and chic army jackets.

The family decided to go somewhere special this semester break, due to the fact that we all now have a week to spare in October. Ab, Mom and Pat had their two weeks off, Dad took a leave, and I, the unemployed one, never felt so good about being unemployed.

Three countries were up for initial consideration: Thailand, Korea, and Australia. Monsoon rains took Bangkok off the list, and both my parents felt just a week in Australia wouldn't do it justice, given the number of friends and relatives we have over there (and the places to visit). So, Seoul it was!

Like last time, I took care of looking for a place to stay. Because we wanted to spend more on shopping, food and sightseeing, I looked into guesthouses and BnBs instead of hotels. We booked a six-night stay at Studio 41st, a guesthouse in the residential area of Yeonnam-dong, in the Hongdae area. And it was the best.

We booked 2 family rooms, each good for up to three people. The rooms were clean, well-equipped and cozy. There was a PC that doubled as a TV, a washing machine, hair dryer, a sink, a table and chair, and a small couch. 

Abby was constantly on the TV, watching un-subtitled dramas (which she couldn't understand anyway). Pat took advantage of the crazy fast internet, and so began downloading anime using my laptop. As for me, I got the first episode of Samurai Flamenco, and the second of Kill La Kill (decided to drop it after). 

But let me tell you about our first evening there.

We arrived at Incheon Airport at around 8, all bundled up and ready for the cold (or so I thought). The air was pleasantly cool, and it was a little warmer than Washington in the first throes of summer. Dad booked a pick-up van through Studio 41st, and so we piled in there. It took us around an hour and a half to get to the guesthouse, where we checked in, dumped our bags in the rooms, and eyed the resident cats. 

The manager for that evening was Adrian, clad in all black, with a knitted beanie and a pair of those hipster frames, the accessory of choice for a lot of people in Seoul. We were hungry. He took out a map of the Hongdae area, and pointed us to one of the best barbecue places we'd ever go to, called ChungKiWa SaengGoGi. It was a ten to fifteen minute walk from Studio 41st, so out we strolled. Along the way, we passed a lot of small cafes, restaurants and convenience stories.

Confession time: We had no idea what to do once we got to the bbq place. Dad wasn't even sure it was the one the map was talking about, so we stood in front for a few minutes looking very much like disoriented foreigners before one of the staff approached us and sat us down at a table out on the sidewalk. We ordered samgyupsal, and thin slices of beef, a beer for Dad and a bottle of soju for extra warmth. The charcoal grill was right in the middle of the table. The place was full, even if it was past 9 pm. Another lady came and served up two bowls of soy bean paste soup, various side dishes, two baskets of lettuce, and our drinks. We stared at each other blankly, wondering where the individual plates were. And this is when we learned our first lesson about eating in Seoul: everything is communal.

When the meat was brought over, we still weren't sure what to do. The lady took things into her own hands and cut up the pork belly with a pair of scissors, grilling it with the kimchi. Once that was cooked, she told us to wrap the meat in the lettuce after dipping it into some sauce. It was good. And it went well with the soju, which Mom kept drinking to keep warm. I guess her tolerance is pretty good (unsurprising, because Beyer genes.)

We walked back to Studio 41st, a tad wobblier than before, and a lot colder. Never underestimate the night winds! Pat and I watched Kill La Kill, I did a bit of planning, and then we all fell asleep.

Things I learned:

- The people of Seoul are generally friendly and helpful to tourists
- We look Indonesian
- Soju isn't so horrible, but isn't as strong as sake
- Ladies put their bags into plastic bins / boxes under the table.
- Sitting out on the sidewalk stuffing your face with grilled meat is the best thing ever. But take off your jacket when eating samgyupsal this way if you don't want it smelling like meat.

(All photos were taken by the illustrious and semi-respectable Abigail Portugal).

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