Korea Day 1

I’ve decided to keep a diary of my trip to Korea.  Firstly, RMIT want us to share photos, videos and blogs with them and other students.  Secondly, it’s a pretty amazing opportunity and I’d like to remember it in more detail.  Lastly, it seems like a good way to stay in touch with family and friends.

So background context –  I’ve been studying part time for 4 years, and I was going to be finishing 2015 with 2 subjects to finish before graduating (one elective and one core subject).  Then, like serendipity, I got an email listing a number of subjects available to study overseas for students with good grades, which would include partial funding (the courses, accommodation and sightseeing would be included for a few students).  In the list of subjects, was my final core subject.  So with barely any hesitation, I applied and got accepted.

Leaving my husband for a month is a pretty big deal, so I convinced him to have a week’s holiday with me in Seoul beforehand… so here we are.

We didn’t know much about the hotel before we booked it, except that it kind of looks like an art installation.  Small House, Big Door (SHBD) has rooms that are stark white and minimalist in design.  There’s not too much to say about the room, but the great thing about this place is the benefits it offers that even some of the best hotels in Seoul don’t have.

  1. Airconditioning – unfortunately, decent airconditioning isn’t guaranteed in Korea, and guests at even the 5 star hotels have regularly complained on Trip Advisor that their hotels don’t turn it on.  Thankfully we have our own aircon at SHBD that we can tweak as we like.
  2. English speaking people at reception – lots of the complaints for the best hotels have mentioned that majority of people at reception can’t speak English.  And from what I’ve seen around Seoul in general, there really aren’t that many people around who are fluent in English.  However, the staff at SHBD so far have been fantastic.
  3. The Location – we really didn’t know much about Myeongdong before we came here, but it seems like it’s packed full of shops and great places to eat.  SHBD is also extremely close (2 mins walk) from a train station, so it’s extremely convenient.
  4. No extra charge for early check in – Travellers to Korea have made it clear that if you expect to check into your room early, you’ll get charged for half a day extra.  SHBD did not do that.  We arrived crazy early, 9am compared to the 2pm check in time, and desperately needed to crash.  They gave us the room immediately with no fuss.  Thank you thank you thank you.  After 14+ hours travelling, a shower and bed was worth more than any money but the lack of hassle was priceless
  5. Food and coffee – SHBD have a cute little bistro downstairs where they serve some great coffee (all flavours can be turned into iced varieties – the iced green latte was amazing), plus they have free pumpkin porridge in the mornings that I’m keen to try, and they gave us a package of cute homemade gingerbread men when we arrived.  People say the way to a man’s heart is through his tummy.  Wrong.  The way to everyone’s heart is through their tummy’s and they’ve won mine.

Day 1

Highlights: Checking in, exploring Myeongdong and a food tour.

Day 1 got off to a great start.  We navigated the public transport – caught a train from the airport, changed once, and made it to SHBD.  We partially got caught in peak hour and found that locals are really polite, quiet and very occupied with their electronics.  Not unlike home, however with our large luggage and lack of familiarity, when we got in people’s way there was no annoyance or frustration.  People simply carried on.  In Melbourne I would expect a few annoyed looks, but there were none.

If Parisians are on one end of the scale of how foreigners are treated, South Koreans are on the opposite end.

We arrived early to SHBD and just kind of turned into zombies in the room.  Shower, clean clothes, bed.  At about midday we decided it was time to eat and explore.

We started off with a coffee from downstairs to unzombify (cinnamon cappuccinos – delicious) and then spoke to the front counter for advice.  The lady at the front desk (who had checked us in earlier) was really lovely.  She gave us great directions to the nearest telephone shop, made sure we went there instead of just a reseller/booth.

We meandered to the shop, stopping at the Lotte Department store nearby for some food court lunch.

The thing with food here is that it’s pretty much all delicious but looks scary and has strange hard to pronounce names.  So I’ve been trying to familiarise myself and Pete with the different dishes to make it easier, and starting off in a food court was a nice non-threatening way to do that.  We both had smallish portions of some freshly cooked meat with rice.

The phone shop weren’t able to help us as they didn’t speak English, but they handed us a card with directions to someone who sold travel sims.  Following these directions was fun – it took us right through Myeongdong and it finally hit us how big, busy and touristy this area is.  Lots of fun to explore.

Finding this next phone shop was tricky, it was randomly located in a warren of individual stalls in a shopping centre.  But luckily Pete’s good at navigating and we found it easily and were able to get sim cards sorted out.

Back to the hotel for more sleep before the evening’s food tour.  Plus some work from Pete, and we watched the Bethesda presentation from E3 (omgomgomg).

I am a big fan of doing food tours in new countries, because it takes the fear out of trying new things, gets you out and about, and gives you the opportunity to ask a local random questions.  It’s also lovely to socialise with other travellers and get tips and ideas from them too.

We went with O’ngo Food and the guide Sun took us through Insadong which is famous for having shops with Korean signage, and only the secondary signs are in English (this is a government requirement).  See the Starbucks signage.  It’s also known for lots of laneways packed full of food, and a mixture of traditional places plus lots of modern shops.

 Our first stop was to eat Korean BBQ like a local.

Condiments for Korean BBQ: bean powder, sesame powder, salt and pepper, garlic and chilli, chilli bean paste.  There was also kimchi and mustard leaves.

Sun and the restaurant owners cooked for us. It was hard to sit patiently when we were so hungry and the food smelled fantastic.

Time to eat! Construction with the condiments and lettuce leaves was demonstrated by Sun.

On the left, the 1st drink of the night – a combo of beer, soju and coke.  Called ‘sweet after bitter’, it was drunk in one quick go and was surprisingly delicious.  Definitely nicer than it sounds.

On the right, the1st drinking game of the night… ‘titanic’, the goal…take turns filling up a shot glass with soju, that’s sitting in a glass of beer without tipping it over.  Loser has to drink the whole lot in one go.  Guess who lost? 😦
This dish was one of my favourites – rice cakes in a black bean broth with dumplings, fish cakes, squid and potato, also known as  jajung topoki.  
There were no drinking games at this venue, but there was plum wine. 🙂

Next venue had 3 dishes, rice wine and 2 drinking games.  We ate at a ‘tent’ restaurant, a pop-up restaurant that catered to late night groups of people drinking.

Dish 1 – spring onion pancake, it was so nice that Pete even liked it (he hates onion)
Dish 2 – fluffy omelette, sliced up with ketchup
Dish 3 – mackerel, very tasty but too many bones to enjoy easily

The alcohol was rice wine aka farmer’s wine.  Only 7% alcohol but very easy to drink.  It was drunk out of small bowls.

Drinking game 1 – call out a number between 1 and 8,  (the total number of people in the group), with  each person calling it out in order. If you call out the same number as someone else, drink.  If you end up calling out the last number, drink.

Drinking game 2 – first person chooses a number between 1 and 20.  Then everyone quickly points to someone.  First person calls out 1, the person they’re pointing to calls out 2, and so on.  The last person being pointed at based on the number selected has to drink.

Then onto our final stop.  Walking in a straight line was getting difficult at this point.
The tea museum, where we expected to drink tea, instead we were served shaved tea with nuts, sticky sweet beans and condensed milk.  There was a black tea dish and a green tea dish.  

The highlight of my night – these were black bean rice cakes.  Super squishy and delicious.

With that much food and alcohol in me, I slept like a baby that night. 🙂


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