Saturday, February 28, 2009

Myeong-Dong 명동

Myeong-Dong is Korea's trendiest shopping district. Many of their stores sell brand name clothes (mid to high-end), cosmetics, shoes, handbags, and accessories. It's catered towards young people so the stores are open until very late and there's also a decent nightlife in the area. It's constantly busy.. and when I say busy, I mean move-a-metre-every-10-seconds-busy when you're actually in it. The variety of stores is absolutely mindblowing.. (not).. I counted 4 Skin Food shops, 4 The Face Shop stores, 3 Adidas, 6 or 7 Starbucks, 2 Etude Houses.. I'm sure there are so many more repeats! Ridiculous... butchea - pretty much anything made in the USA is very expensive. Like I mentioned before, they have the "Holt Renfrew" of Korea, too and 4 main department stores that sell high-end items.

Right when you walk up the stairs from the subway... which, by the way, you have to transfer 2 times to get to from KU!
I spent the day with Flo while most of the people went on a city tour -- it's so much easier shopping with just one other person or by myself than a group of 6. It was almost 3PM and neither of us have eaten a meal so we hit up a random, welcoming, and modest restaurant a few blocks away from the subway with the sign "English OK" on the front.
Funnily enough, this place has been a hot spot for Korean celebrities. Can you spot any?
DBSK, Rain, SNSD, Boa.. to name a few. Inside, the walls are totally covered with messages from celebrities and customers visiting from around the world.
Getting started with appies + really flavourful seaweed soup!
I felt like Bibimbap so we both had it. Bibimbap is white rice in a hot stone bowl (it was sizzling when it arrived on the table -- made the rice crispy) with a bunch of sauteed and seasoned vegetables on top. You mix it up with gochujang, a semi-sweet chile pepper paste. Usually, Koreans make this dish using leftover appetizers from their fridge so it's a "leftovers" dish. It's topped with a raw egg and seaweed.Mix mix mix!
Outdoor shoe vendor selling cheap $20 shoes. The largest shoe size is 250 which is approximately a size 8 women's. I'm having a hard time finding shoes because the 250 is almost always sold out and my feet are 8.5!
Fact: Myeong-dong is also the ninth most expensive street in the world in terms of floorspace rents.
Etude House is a low-end cosmetics shop aimed towards teens and is a sister company of Laneige. The packaging is really cute and girly (sort of Anna Sui-like), the products are very inexpensive, and apparently the quality is quite decent. It was too packed to actually shop. Interestingly, there are more male SAs than female in these cosmetic stores (and, poor things, they have to wear such an awful shade of pink)! There are always SAs out in the front, shouting at you, trying to get you to come in. Actually, because of the amount of Japanese tourists who shop in that area, a lot of the employees start shouting to you in Japanese when they know you're not Korean.
The one thing I don't like is how SAs follow you around the store! They literally stand 2 feet away from you, watching your every move. I had forgotten they did that and thought they wanted to keep a close eye on me in case I was stealing something (I was looking through my bag for my lip gloss while standing in front of small, 'easily-stealable' accessories)... they follow you around the store. haha I actually walked around this clothes rack twice to see if she'd actually follow (and she DID). It makes me feel uncomfortable and does not make me want to shop! If you speak Korean, though, it would be a bit better because they would be your personal shopper and recommend items related to your style.Even though there's mainly well-known brand-name stores, there are some less-known (though also celebrity-endorsed) stores like this one. This store is sooo cute -- the theme is white and pink, "cooking", food (desserts), and rabbits!
Very cutesy.
There are 2 popular Korean brands called Banc and Colonize, much coveted by Soompiers (people who use the popoular online Korean forum, Soompi). They sell casual sports-wear as in tees, sweatshirts, running shoes, caps, and bags. Quite a few Korean celebrities wear these two brands.
The Colonize store (well, not everything in it was Colonize) was much more narrow and dark. I tried on 2 sweatshirts. Don't remember which brand this is, but it's cute and it reminded me of my mommy.
The one I bought (for Bern.. but I love it)
A few other things I picked up yesterday:
$7CDN for contact solution @ Watsons.. is that cheap?
Missha BB Cream w/ SPF 42 (more about this when I do a cosmetics post)
Anna Sui mirror look-alike. Seller threw in a free comb =)
I bought this a couple days ago at Home Plus -- my $1 calorie mug! To go with the Googims calorie sweatshirt I didn't bring.
Laneige Eye Designer Cream to hydrate my eyes (does not prevent wrinkles). Laneige is a department-store-type Korean brand that seems comparable to Lancome. Came with samples.
All in all, Myeong-Dong has a lot to offer if you're 28 or younger and love crowds! Like Flo said, it's like Boxing Day every day.
Shillayhamnida (excuse me)!!

Friday, February 27, 2009


Here's the much anticipated food post! Like pretty much all cultures, food is an extremely important aspect of life in Korea. What is unique to Korean food is their array of side dishes that accompany every meal. No matter what, the server brings around 6 or 7 all you can eat side dishes that vary depending on the restaurant but almost always feature kimchi (spicy cabbage). Back a home, I can tell prepackaged kimchi from fresh kimchi (I prefer the latter), but here, it seems like a mix of the two. I must say, we have it pretty darn good back in Vancouver when it comes to Korean food in terms of authenticity.

Every meal comes with rice (unless it's in your dish already). Rice is called pahp - this term is also used to describe a meal.

The first meal I had was in the school cafeteria for lunch on the first day of orientation. We got a meal coupon where we could pick as many dishes we wanted. Can you say Mooooo? Let's just say my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach as I couldn't finish even a quarter of this! My tray is on the right. My favourite was the pancake and the dukbokki. They have that purple bean rice here - a healthier version.
The KUBA buddy guys reminded us of how, if we happen to run out of money, we can whine to a Korean boy: "Oppa! Pahp-sa chuseyoooo!" (preferably to one we know... not a random guy), meaning, "Please give me food". Oppa is a term of endearment girls use towards an older guy. The KUBA guys claim they feel a sense of "wow, this girl called me Oppa, I should buy them food" when called Oppa and told us of how some girls have cleaned out their wallets from overuse of this phrase... they just can't say no!

Second day of orientation in a different cafeteria:
The kitchen staff were very friendly.They call the white soup on the right of my tray (bottom right) "cereal". It's a lot like watered down (and tasteless) jook even though it has shrimp in it.
During the Seoul City Tour, we got to eat at this restaurant in an alley in the Insadong district.
It was a very quaint, narrow, and cute restauant with three floors and cozy decor.
Table setting... You know what's funny? Koreans are so surprised at how well I use chopsticks and have even congratulated me for picking it up so fast! haha!! I love Korean chopsticks -- they're different from Japanese (pointed ends) and Chinese chopsticks (thick rounded ends) as they're flat and more rectangular. I pick up food so much easier with them.
For $6CDN, we got a spread like this. By far my favourite meal! The black pot contained Bulgogi (grilled marinated beef), and the orange dish in the middle was a spicy meat-based dish with a really long name I can't remember (even Koreans say that name is long).
The table beside us: (L-R) Natalya, Ji Yeon (KUBA buddy), Mami from Japan (can speak Japanese, Korean, and English (w/ hardly any accent) fluently!), and Ji Hee (KUBA buddy).
Koreans love side profiles... AK wearing my sunnies (looks good, no?)
What I've noticed is that Koreans hardly drink anything while they eat. With every meal, they only have small cups (usually metal in lower-end places) and a small pitcher of water. Maybe that's why they have so many coffee and tea shops everywhere!

This was my first experience eating out with only foreigners. We had the hardest time communicating because everything was in Korean + only I could read (though only a little and I didn't know what it meant)... so we somewhat randomly chose one and it happened to be this spicy octopus and beef hotpot/stew thing for $7.50CDN/person.The other 3 enjoyed this immensely -- so much, we came back with 5 others the next day for lunch.The next day @ the same restaurant:
A curry seafood hot pot/stew with spam slices + some sort of weiner.
We ended up switching pots w/ the table next to us because we had more people sharing.
Also came with a box of purple rice with egg slices on top. This pot was extremely spicy. We ordered ramen (instant noodles) to cook inside.
Right outside campus, they have this fast food chain called Isaac where they make these sandwiches with cabbage, pickles, sauce, egg, and meat in it. The toast is buttered on both sides (ihh) but it tastes really good for $2!
Sheena from Singapore helping me order.
Before the club, we stopped at this restaurant. People are allowed to smoke in restaurants as the 2 guys in front of me were.. but surprisingly, I didn't smell anything at all!
Soju here is $2-3CDN compared to $11-14 back in Vancouver. I learned that you never just order Soju by itself -- you order a meal with it or you look like an alcoholic haha

Koreans also have specific table manners but I'll post on that another day once I learn more about it.

In the subway, they have so many of these dessert snacks. I tried this waffle yesterday ($1) where they slather either vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate in a fresh waffle and fold it in half.
My goodness it can be quite messy to eat in the subway.. especially since they don't have garbage cans anywhere!

The 2 high-end coffee places here are Starbucks and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. They're seriously expensive and are all 2-3 stories high. When you order from them, they give you a little electronic device that will beep when your drink is ready for pick-up. Yesterday, I paid $4CDN for a grande Tazo Tea (what usually costs only $2 at home for a Venti!). The Coffee Bean is even more expensive and they're everywhere like Starbucks. I paid $6.50CDN for a regular Chai latte!!!!! Never again.. but I was desperate and was in a time crunch.

Restaurants are almost always packed with people and it's a place where people gather to socialize. Funnily enough, they don't sit and chat after they finish eating -- they leave and head to a coffee shop! Yesterday, 4 of us + 2 local koreans (penpals of one of the exchange students) went to a sushi restaurant in Hongdae called Four Men where the sushi comes around on a conveyer belt and you pick whatever you want -- each plate was a little less than $1CDN. Because it was so busy, we had a time limit of 50 minutes! We waited 30 min to eat. Really fresh food.
2 tables away.. how many plates 2 guys ate.. the server is counting how many plates...

Street food will be another post on it's own. They sell some really interesting things.

Milkshake, Lemon Juice, Strawberry Ice Cream

I've got a cold... that's what I get for only getting 5-6 hours of sleep every night... and for freezing half the night away. I'm missing club night right now b/c of it. The last Friday of every month is club night where girls don't have to pay cover OR you pay $20 and you get this wrist tag and you can go club hopping around HongDae... not sure which.

Today I handed in my course registration sheet. I've signed up for 5 courses but I'm going to drop one history/culture course:
- Marketing Management
- Management Accounting
- Beginner's Korean Language 1
- Contemporary East Asian History (a 400 level course.. not too sure about this one)
- Korean Culture + History

I wanted to take a sports class like skating, yoga, badminton, or even water skiing but they all conflicted with my Korean Language course (that I really want to take). I wouldn't get credits for the sports classes but they'd be fun anyway!

Just came back from dinner in HongDae + half a day of shopping in Myeong-Dong. I'm most probably going back to Myeong-Dong tomorrow and/or Sunday. I didn't buy anything today! Myeong-Dong is absolutely HUGE. Now it really really reminds me of Taiwan's Ximen Ding with trendy brand-name stores and boutiques lining the sides (an outdoor mall) and tons of vendors that sell food or socks, leggings, or knock-off sweatshirts except WAAAY more crowded and filled with WAAAY more stores.. like they have 3 Adidas's, probably 5 or 6 Starbucks... I wonder if I'll ever finish it! People have sad they've gone there 17 times and still have not visited every part. They also have a more expensive side - a mall with LV, Gucci, and pretty much all brand luxury brand names available... but their prices are jacked up so high! We subway-d to HongDae which is full of restaurants and cafes and some clothing stores. It's also full of night clubs.

More pics from Wed night:
Julie (from Alaska - extr. entertaining story teller + is half Korean but you would never have guessed + can speak Korean), Yoko from Japan who I met that day, and the very outgoing Kayla from Rhode Island =)
Yea...... Yoko says that this "pose" is the latest "cool" pose in Japan... I learned today that it means love..?
I've uploaded 2 videos on YouTube from that night too. These are performances by the group House Rulez.
Captivating =)

Oh man I'm falling asleep at the laptop...... must continue this tomorrow.
To come: more campus/dorm pictures, food! of course, Seoul City Tour, and just more people =)

Thursday, February 26, 2009


I finally have time to set up a simple photoblog to share with you. A lot of people ask me why I've chosen Korea for my exchange from SFU. I always reply with the same answer: I find the culture and society fascinating. I hope that you will learn a little something from my pictures/commentary (and if you were one of the confused ones, that you can see what I see).

The past few days have been nonstop and fantastically fun so beware -- this post contains an overwhelming amount of pictures!

The Flight

On the 11.5 hour flight to Seoul from YVR on Air Canada, I sat next to a very thin 11 year old Korean girl (or so she seemed) who kept jabbing and kicking me accidentally and "secretly" picking her nose [ta gachi (all together) -- ewwww] hahaha Thank goodness for the mini interactive TV in front of me. I watched 3 movies, 3 sitcoms, and listened to Beyonce, Britney Spears, Ne-Yo, and Il Divo for a couple hours. Only slept 10-30 minutes the whole trip.
The Campus
Korea University's campus is huge, spacious, clean and beautiful and almost all their buildings have that old, semi-distinguished look to them. This building houses the International Office (where I will need to visit a lot within the next few weeks to hand in documents), and the Women's Centre.Korea University is considered one the best universities in Korea (along side Yonsei University). When a student is accepted to this school, they pretty much have their careers set out for them. You can tell just by walking around that KU students have a lot of school pride and that the campus stands the way it does because of hard work and dedication.KU is mainly funded privately. Major companies donated buildings to the university that cost up to $60 million USD each. I believe the LG building is the newest. It's the Business building so I'll be lucky enough to spend a lot of time there. The Samsung building is just as impressive.
They have these funnily pruned trees everywhere.
And these statues:
Three of the main buildings are connected underground by study halls. I haven't been there yet, but it's pretty amazing considering how much space these buildings cover! This way, you don't have to get wet to enter another building.The tiger is their mascot. They even have the tiger logo sewn into every auditorium seat cover!
Crimson is their school colour.
Right when you step outside the main gates of the university, all the buildings look grimey and crowded. It reminds me a LOT of Taiwan. Every second shop is either a convenience store, a coffee shop, or a copy/fax store... seriously. Competition is high.
I met my KUBA (Korea University Buddy Assistance) buddy the next day at orientation! KUBA is a prestigeous volunteer program where they interview and train every single buddy to help exchange students become comfortable with their surroundings. For the Spring, 2009 term, 400 KU students applied but only 38 were chosen. I'm so impressed with KUBA's skills in matching buddies. When I applied, I had to answer some questions about myself to help KUBA decide who to pair me with. Yejin is great as she's lively, socialable, and enjoys and knows as much fashion as I do so we became fast friends!

On the 2nd day of orientation, 16 of us went bowling in the Girl's University area (that looks a LOT like Taiwan's Ximen Ding shopping district) which was a lot of fun.
Since none of my team members have played in a long time (if ever), Kyung Su showed us "proper" bowling form... he ended up getting as many gutter balls as Ji Hee who has never bowled before...
Always supporting and cheering each other on =D
Even when their balls go into the gutters... haha
I happened to have a very lucky streak despite having a bloody finger after ripping off half my thumb nail in the middle of the game, (unable to play the 2nd game), so meet the winning team =) Koreans apparently like to bet so the 2 losing teams had to pay for the 2 winning teams.Eating deep fried chicken + drinking Korean beer the first night right outside campus with Group 8. Hilarious night.
This is Florence from Montreal (woot Canadian!)-- she's the first person I met in Korea while waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to our dorm =)
I'm not too much of a fan of the Hite Korean beer so I only had half a glass (turned red anyway)... tastes pretty good initially, but has a strange aftertaste. KUMBAE!!!
Yesterday, my wonderful group leader invited a few of us foreigners to go clubbing at a KU event at what is considered the "best" club in Korea called Club Answer. This club is located in the richest area of Seoul. Cover is usually around $30CDN/person. Drinks at bars around this area cost $20CDN for a cocktail and $10 for a small beer. This club was a house/techno type and was pretty nice with white lounge booths in the back, an upstairs VIP area, and a sleek bar and stage. That night, a really famous Korean actor was DJing. It was packed. We didn't end up getting in until a bit after 12 b/c we stopped next door to eat and drink Soju.
Yejin (KUBA buddy) + I:
3 (out of 5) of my favourite KU Koreans: KS, AK, and Yejin.
More pictures from the club + the other social events to be posted soon once I get them off other ppl's cameras. I hope to be a bit more organized once I figure out how to really photoblog!