Tour de Seoul: April 2014

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In this blog I will take you on a tour de Seoul. Like Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, and many other mega metropolises in the USA, Seoul is a burgeoning, expansive city with many burrows and districts. The following blog will be a journey of my April 2014 activities divided into the areas that I frequently venture to and around. My major motivation for this blog is to capture the timing and space between my daily activities, as well as show you the city with maps. The above photo is courtesy of Jesse Knipling.

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Life on the 13th floor. Not a fancy building or hallway. Not many in Korea are unless one is super wealthy. Nevertheless, I feel very safe and secure here. Recently, I accidentally left my door wide open all day because one of my shoes secretly served as a day-long door stop. Not a thing in my apartment had been touched.

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I live in a business district, so the views from my building are cement as far as the eye can see. Other areas in Seoul are much more residential with luscious greenery; however, I do appreciate the rooftop gardens, regardless of how few and far in between they exist.

Flyers like the one below taped into the door hinge are a common occurrence. Some advertisements are magnets. Usually its best to just leave the flyer where it is because if you are like me and have no shot in hell of being able to make it through an ‘ordering delivery’ phone call in another language, the solicitors or companies will return later and pick up the leftover flyers to clean up and reuse the unwanted ones. Hey, at least they recycle, right?

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Attached to my building is a 24-hour Mini Stop- think Super America or 711. This is magnificently awesome if I am ever in the need of late night for snacks, gum, alcohol, cleaning supplies, etc. This place also happens to be the only location where I can witness Koreans dressed down.

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Unfortunately there is major construction going on beside my residence. This makes for ugly wake up calls and a vibrating ground. Fortunately, Seoul is known for it’s speedy turn around. Demolition took about a week. The new foundation is already laid and support beams are going up.

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Welcome to my neighborhood! I consider Seocho-gu and Kyodae parts of my neighborhood. Gangnam- from the infamously sung Gangnam Style- is a 20 minute walk from my place. The A icon on the map indicates the whereabouts of my neighborhood.

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First stop is the Shinhan bank. Take a number, sit, and wait- the usual in Seoul. The bank is located up the hill and around the corner (1 block away from my place).

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Second stop, the Post Office. Take a number, sit, and wait. (2 blocks from my place)

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Above right: one example of ubiquitous street side munchies in the back of a truck. This one displays legumes and nuts.

Below, third stop, Kyodae University track (2 blocks away). These pictures were taken at sunrise, so only older adjummas and adjoshis who ‘mean business’ were there with me. If one visits on a weekend afternoon, the track is so packed it’s hard to keep adequate time on laps from all of the required weaving around any and/or all of the following: hand-holding couples, individuals stopped in the middle of the track to take selfies, children riding their tricycles, men throwing frisbees, baseballs or kicking soccer balls back and forth across the lanes, and high school track practice.

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Forth stop, Home Plus, the grocery store across the street from my apartment.

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Above left: fruits- extremely expensive. A box of strawberries is $10. Above right: dok (rice cakes) and kimchi. Below left: immitation meat including crab, hot dogs, and anything you can imagine that is overly processed with animal parts. Below right: fish section.

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A quarter pound of ground pork is $5. A quarter pound of beef is $10.

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Final stop in my neighborhood is Noraebang. Below, about 16 of us are out celebrating Andra’s 30th birthday.

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Most activities do not take place in my area, so I take the subway a lot! Every station is uber modern, clean, and efficient. I may have gained weight here, but my legs are strong because of the endless amounts of stairs. The many flat screens show news and commercials, as well as indicate what stop the train is currently at, and exactly how long it will take before the next train arrives.

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At the subway stations, one sees many advertisements, often times for cosmetic surgery, which is an epidemic here. The endorsement below is not for plastic surgery but I must assume that it states the following: “Why look different, when you could look indistinguishably like everyone else?” Now just imagine, millions of other similar promotions in the city with women all looking identical to one another. These are the not-so-subliminal messages that women get about what is acceptable in looks: one boy body type coming right up along with long brown hair, eye lid surgery, nose surgery, similar clothing accompanied by heels, of course. Obviously these women are part of a company and that is why they are dressed similarly (many employers require uniforms here), but in general, being unique is abhorrent in Korea. John, Andra, Brandon and I stood in front of this add for 5 minutes trying to determine if the girls were actually 6 individuals or just 1 person replicated 6 times. Upon very close inspection, there were enough minute differences to determine that they were ‘most likely’ separate individuals.

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I am now taking you north of the Han river to Itaewon-dong (a 20 minute cab ride or 35 minute subway ride with one transfer). The total  commute time is 45- minutes, including walking between stations. Itaewon is the foreigner district (where Chris worked) and the locale of my favorite English book store, What the Book? On the map, my home is in the southeast corner of the map, marked with the orange balloon figure. The letter A represents the location of Itaewon.

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A hop, skip and a jump over to Kyongnidong (a 15 minute walk from Itaewon) and I am able to visit my favorite kitties in Asia- Bri and Ben’s babes: Max and Kiomi. I like to call them Maxy pooh and Kikkers. I try to visit them once a month.

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In the far northwest section of the city (a 45-minute subway ride away with no transfer, 60-minute total commute) is Sinchon and Hongdae, the venue of my hair salon and one of my favorite bakeries in all of Seoul. My apartment is marked on the map with a purple bubble. The letter A denotes the Hongdae area. This area is known to be filled with college students, trendy restaurants, an artist and musician community, ‘safer’ havens for GLBT individuals, and galleries.

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Above, my hair dresser Lucy and I. She keeps me sane, blonde, and experimental with my hair cuts. By the way, Lucy is considered pleasantly plump here. If this is so, imagine what I am!?! Below, October Boulangerie. The selection of the day: lemon tarts and tomato basil focaccia bread.

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Hongdae is known for their pop up concerts featured below (I see one every time I visit), funny interpretations of English (Above: Nice to Meat U- A BBQ restaurant), and the somewhat scandalous. Condomania is the only sex store that I know of in Seoul. Trust me, I have asked around. Ellie refused to be seen with me when I asked the red, uniform-clad tour guides waving white flags in Hongdae (a free service) the location of Condomania. The store itself is ridiculously basic…all except the duck-in-bondage vibrator. NEVER ever have I seen something like that. I have been to 3 sex museums in different parts of the world and plenty of sex shops over the years to see the trends. This was unique to say the least.

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One Monday morning before work, Yuni, Andra and I went to Yeuido (a 25-minute subway ride with one transfer, a-35 minute total commute) to walk amongst the cherry blossoms. My apartment is located at the green icon. The letter A shows the Yeuido loop.

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Off to work we go. On the above map, my apartment is marked by the green symbol. My work is a 9-minute subway ride (20-minute total commute), or a 50-minute walk away. I usually walk home from work 2-3 times a week with my coworker John. I enjoy our conversations about life, learning, and social justice.

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Almost every morning, this is me, fitfully waking against all human desires to cling to my bed forever and ever like a blood sucking leech. I am NOT a morning person. I am not even an early afternoon person. Basically, I really hate the process of waking up, always have and always will. I am an overachiever academically, but I almost flunked out of one class in high school and a couple in college, purely from being late or absent, despite getting my work done and performing well on exams.

Chris used to go almost insane living with me because on average I press snooze about 10 times every morning. That is an average! “It’s my process,” I exclaimed! Anyways, Chris learned that putting a latte with a straw in my mouth actually did the trick! I can still be in bed while my mind gets radically ramped up. Once I am up, I am a positive penny ready to take on the world.

The world that I engage in 4 days a week is with my kiddos at Epsirit:

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Below left: An example for students to beware before entering my class. The lower paper says “Don’t write like this!” One of my messy student’s work has been attached to the door as an learning lesson for him and a warning for others. Below right: My Star Student Wall. Every two weeks, new students get added to the achievement wall. This wall can be for high scores, demonstrating excellent leadership qualities or for achieving personal bests.

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My two favorite students below: Stephanie, who drew me this adorable cat picture, and naughty, naughty, naughty Theo Puff.

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After work, every Thursday, my coworkers and I go out. We work in the very posh district of Apgujeong so we have plenty of trendy places and cuisines (Korean, American, European, Japanese, etc.) to select from. The only problem is that we get off of work at 9:30 pm and most kitchens close at 10 pm, so we have to scurry to pick a place. We have been in the habit of visiting a new place every Thursday since Brandon arrived. Before Brandon, we went to the same places for a year. lol. Seoga & Cook  is featured below. We ordered a salmon salad, mushroom pasta, and chicken bokum bap (stir fry).

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Below: Public House, Garosu-gil, Sinsa.

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I will take you farrrr north of the river this time to my FAVORITE area in all of Seoul: Insadong and Jogaesa Buddhist temple. Insadong is a 25-minute subway ride with no transfers, a 40- minute total commute, or a 25 minute $12 taxi ride from my apartment. April and May in Korea are the best months of the year because of the weather and plethora of festivals. The humidity is down, even though rainy season is knocking on the door. People are excited to be outside and the flora and fauna are blossoming swimmingly. The sweet scent of seasonal street food fills the air and heavy layers are replaced by sundresses paired with gossamery scarves. I love love love this area because is a a cultural and physical representation of how I personally experience Korea: the epic battle between tradition & modernity, structure vs. function, past and future. It is a place where all ages effortlessly commingle and where history is maintained.

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Buddha’s birthday is a nationally celebrated holiday in Korea and occurs every year around the 1st of May. In preparation for this spectacular event, lanterns adorn every temple and hang between light posts on almost every street. About 1/3 of Koreans ascribe to Buddhism. Another 1/3 practice Christianity and the final third do not partake in any religious activities.

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Below left: the view from the sky of the temple. Below right: lanterns collected for people to come and decorate with family and friends to later carry in the ginormous Lantern Festival parade.

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Above right: My favorite picture of the day- the juxtaposition of the precious, aged temple against the backdrop of the ever encroaching contemporaneity.

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Below left: The entrance of Insadong is marked by a monstrous calligraphy brush. Although Korea has its own language, the art of writing in Chinese characters is still a very beloved tradition. Many people have signature stamps engraved with their Korean and/or Chinese symbols made in this area. Insadong is the best place to find authentic Korean made goods, Korean food, street food, political protests, youth performances, hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), Korean Celadon pottery, jewelry stores, and of course cliche souvenirs.

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Above: A very popular Korean unique treat- twisted double sided ice cream cones and Korean nut-filled pasteries. Below: The inescapable Starbucks… even in the ‘traditional’ part of the city!

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Below: Some handmade, gorgeously-decorated cards. You may be getting one soon! Wink.

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Last stop, Gangnam for sushi and rooftop tea. I love this rosemary, lemon sprizter.

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You may wonder if I ever stay home? Actually, yes, most of the time. I love cooking, watching Frasier, reading, and having skype dates with friends and family back home. I was very proud of the first time I made tacos here. Now I can’t get enough and make them all the time, even though they cost a pretty penny in fresh produce! As you can see, I’m not a fan of cleaning dishes (those pictures are three separate occasions). In fact, it is the only chore that I truly hate doing. Why is it so awful? I hate touching potentially slimy remains and I don’t like hot water. Period. I don’t even like washing my hands or body in hot water. I will drink hot tea occasionally at work (because of my chronic sinus infection here due to the smog) or in the dead of winter, but I mostly prefer iced tea.

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The following are my most recent reads. The first three were for Espirit. All were decent, but none to rave about. Womp womp.

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