Monday, June 29, 2009

Busan's Orange Moon

We're in Busan! It's a city in the southernmost tip of South Korea and because it's next to the ocean, the climate is much cooler than in Seoul. Thank goodness because just this morning, we left the wettest and the most warm-humid morning in Seoul ever!

We took the KTX to Busan and it took around 2.5 hours.

We got the taxi driver in Busan to take us to Heundae Station because there were a lot of cheap places to stay. We ended up at an interesting motel called Nobelesse for 40,000won/night for 2 people (haha sounds so sketch). It's actually pretty decent with a large TV and even a computer with free internet for you to use! The shower is one of those full body massage showers, too. What's great about the motel is its location - it's only 2 blocks away from Heundae Beach which is the most well-known beach in Korea.

As one of the busiest seaports in the world, Busan is chock full of seafood restaurants. So, for dinner, we went to an outdoor restaurant that specialized in... dun dun dunnnnn eel! I love canned eel haha... but I don't think I've ever tried fresh eel.
This guy took a good 5 minutes picking out a small one for us. Slimey...
2 seconds later, it was on a cutting board...
Uhh.. this picture - viewer discretion is advised... I watched him cut up my eel.
(Detail: he held the eel down on the cutting board and jabbed a nail into its eye to kill it faster and then slit it open and de-boned it really quickly.)
Then one of the guys grilled it for us and coated it in this red sauce that wasn't very spicy.
Ah it was interesting! Kind of hard to explain - not dense and meaty like canned versions - it was soft and didn't really taste like seafood. I enjoyed it, though =)
There was this friendly guy who came around to talk to us. He told us to try one of the side-dishes I swore I would never eat because of how it looked. I remember seeing large buckets of these being sold on the side streets in Taiwan, too. The guy didn't know what it was called in English, but he urged us to try, saying that it's nationally popular street-food snack.
Talk about Fear Factor!
I ate one.................................................................
So did Melanie. It didn't really taste like anything, but Melanie said it was a bit salty. I ate it, thinking it was some sort of seafood. All I can remember was the feelig of its "guts" exploding in my mouth.... gah it was the nastiest thing! And then I needed to know what it was so I used the dictionary on my cell phone and showed it to the guy. We eventually found out that it was a BUG. yup.............. some sort of small beetle!!!! I don't recommend it at all!

Afterward, we strolled down to Heundae Beach and dipped out feet in the water! It's very nice. You could smell the salt water from our motel.
It was lined with higher end hotels and restaurants.On the way back, we passed a mini street stall market except it was very much unlike any one I've seen in Seoul!
These ones only sold seafood!You can see the live, fresh seafood in the tanks before you eat them (raw or cooked).Must go to bed -- we've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

'Old Tea Shop'

After almost 7 consecutive days of nonstop go-go-go, we finally took a day of rest (which happened to be a Sunday). Today, we planned on having a more cultural day, but our plans changed a bit because of the weather and we only ended up going to a traditional tea shop, packing and dropping our suitcases off at Tiff's apartment, and eating a highly-missed meal near KU.

One of the most relaxing things to do in Korea is to visit a traditional tea house. Insadong is known to house a few of these and each is unique in its own way. These are very charming, quaint rooms mainly lit by oil candles and lamps which gives the space a very intimate, harmonious, and warm feeling. The walls are filled with traditional Korean crafts and ornaments, Korean printed calligraphy on aged paper, and notes written by various visitors. They have a mini waterfall in the front and a few small caged birds set up around the shop that tweet cutely. I heard that in some of the shops, they allow the birds to fly around freely. Some establishments even have parrots that speak random Korean phrases! We visited 'Old Tea Shop' in a somewhat narrow alleyway in Insadong.
I ordered a jujube drink and Melanie ordered a Pear tea. I have no idea what mine is supposed to have in it, but it tasted a lot like one of my Grandma's soup except with a twist. We were also given a generous bowl of different traditional Korean treats. Sipping~
Some notes in the drawer --
It was lovely and relaxing, though, I can't say I'm a fan of the traditional rice treats. Next time, I want to try the Sujeonggwa which is a sort of delicious persimmon-cinnamon- ginger punch that is served cold at the end of many of my traditional Korean meals in Insadong.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dalgi Dalgi Dalgi!

We hung around Hongdae all day today! Hongdae is still one of my favourite places in Korea because of the diversity of people and especially its Indie scene. It's young and hip.. much unlike Insadong's traditional and aged crowd.

The main reason why I wanted to go to Hongdae today was because of their Free Market near Hongik University that's only open on Saturday. I believe there's a Hope Market on Sundays. It's the tiniest flea market where students sell their handmade crafts and goods!
I think Hongdae and Apgujeong are the 2 best places to people watch. There are a few cafes that have giant floor to ceiling windows. We escaped the heat (I believe it was around 30 degrees today) at one of them. The one we went into was quite nice -- everything was ivory coloured and we got to sit on roomy, long couches that had bolsters and pillows. Unfortunately, you pay for your atmosphere when you order - their drink menu was quite expensive at approxiately 7,000won each.
There are tons of restaurants in Hongdae to fit any sort of budget. You can get some typical Korean food such as bibimbap for only $3CAD or pay over $45CAD for a plate of sashimi. We decided on having samgeopsal (pork belly) + dweji galbi (marinated pork w/ bone) BBQ for dinner. BBQ here is quite a bit cheaper than in Vancouver so we "stock up" haha These lower end BBQ restaurants use coal to cook the food. When we sit down, a metal bucket of hot coal passes our shoulders (just inches away!) and is plopped into the table and then this grate/strainer is placed on top. I love eating BBQ outside!
There's a good donkatsu restaurant just half a block away from our hostel! My cold soba noodle set - very refreshing.
We went to a DVD bang for the first time! Just like how you go to a noraebang to sing karaoke or a PC bang to use super fast internet and play games, you go to a DVD bang to rent DVDs and watch them on a large screen. Bang is Korean for "room". What is so special about a DVD bang is that you can watch them privately in a room that's equipped with a "couch", a TV, and a roll of toilet paper (you know, in case the movie is a tear jerker).
You can find DVD bangs by just looking out for the neon signs on the 2nd or 3rd floor of a building. The way up the flights of stairs can be a bit sketchy looking at first, but it surprisingly turns out to be a very decent place. There are a great variety of movies to choose from - both Western and Korean (and some Japanese). The room was very small and intimate - we sat on comfortable leather sofa-bed type things and had to look up to watch the movie. There's apparently a certain connotation that goes with these rooms, but I might save that for another day.
So, for 13,000won (price depends on length of movie), we watched a funny semi-romantic comedy Korean movie with English subtitles. The movie was great! I'll definitely be returning to a DVD bang soon!

Yesterday, we walked around Edae (Ewha Women's University) and stumbled upon this cute waffle place.
For less than $3CAD, you can get some mini waffle desserts! There are quite a few waffle places around universities. Kim Yuna (world champion figure skater) now has her own drink at Smoothie King.
be white. YUNA SMOOTHIE. (what?!)
She even has her own cup if you should select her drink that has her autograph on it!
I dub Haagen-Dazs as the best ice cream brand in the world.
Hyori Lee for Ocean Park (ad in subway).
At night in Hongdae, a couple of carnival games are set up for boyfriends to "win" huge stuffed animals for their girlfriends. This girlfriend pouted and made her boyfriend win her a Hello Kitty.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

So Hot

Yesterday, we went to Seoul Station to buy KTX (train) tickets for next week. On Monday, we're going down to Busan for 4 days and then we're going to Daejeon to visit my friend for a couple days. It was pretty hot so we decided to spend the hottest time of the day indoors at a jjimjilbang (sauna)!

This one is known as one of the best in Seoul - called
Dragon Hill Spa located next to I'Park mall at Yongsan.
It's really well known - quite a few popular Korean variety shows were hosted there.Locker rooms
It was huge -- 7 floors of gender-separated saunas, restaurants, wet saunas, outdoor salt pools, an arcade, and spa services such as full face threading, eyelash extensions, body scrubs, massages, skin cupping etc. The unisex sauna was on the 1st floor. The facilities at this jjimjilbang were a lot nicer than the one I went to at Anam. The 39 degree had a decent-sized flat screen that played Starking (love that show) but the temperature was so comfortable, I ended up taking a nap on the marble floor. The 69 degree pyramid was too hot to stay in for long because the floors burned every part of me that touched it. The 57 degree was pretty like the one at Anam with pink hued pebbled floors. Of course, I loved the "penguin" room as I dubbed it. It was 9 degrees but the sides of the wall were frosted over with snow and there was even a couple snowmen in it! And then there were 2 actual kilns that had doors so small you had to crouch down to get in. Those were intense and everyone was dripping by the time they went out. Can't wait to go again.. I love jjimjilbangs~

Then at night, we met up for some drinks with some exchange students + locals -- a really fun night ^^ we went to sing at a norebang after and were totally blown away by the voice of In-Young!
Coex -- so cute!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Week After

It's almost 2AM and I finally have time to blog - sorry for the hiatus! Melanie came on Saturday and we've been out and about ever since.

My new residence is at Banana Backpacker's Hostel in Insadong. Right now, I'm sharing a room with 5 other girls - 3 of which are from Japan. The room contains 6 "lockers" and 3 sets of bunk beds. The whole hostel is quite quirky and is extremely colourful and there are a ton of free amenities such as free irons, laundry, luggage storage, breakfast, tea and coffee, and wi-fi in the lobby area. There's also a TV and 3 public computers for you to use, too. Considering how it looks, it's actually pretty clean. An ajumma comes in every morning and scrubs our bathroom, wipes down the floors, empties our garbage and windex-es the mirrors. And there's always someone at the front desk until 12AM which is helpful -- they play some catchy music all day long~

Anyway, I've so far shown Melanie to Myeong Dong, Insadong, a bit of Dongdaemun, a bit of Anam, Coex, Cheonggyecheon, Kyobo bookstore, and Apgujeong. Yesterday, we visited the Leeum Samsung Museum in Itaewon!

Leeum Samsung Museum (actually, it's much closer if you get off at the station before: Hangangjin Station - exit 6, I believe. It's only a 5 minute walk to the museum from there).
The museum consists of 2 different buildings - they both have a different feel to them but they're designed by the same architect. Museum 1 is the "traditional" side and Museum 2 is the "modern" side. We rented audio headphone devices that automatically told us about the piece we were standing in front of~
This is a pillow (for royalty) made out of Celadon pottery in the 15th Century.
This sort of painted pottery is extremely rare. The "rich cobalt blue ink" is imported from somewhere in Persia via China so it was so expensive, you would only find these pieces in the royal households.
A mini pagoda~
The modern side didn't have as many pieces on display, but there were quite a few outstanding ones I wish I could have taken a picture of!
This is probably the most distinctive part of the museum... giant spiders.
Then, across the street from the museum, we totally indulged on the most decadent chocolates + pasteries at Passion5!
We weren't allowed to take any pictures inside, but the whole interior was so chic and had a boutique/exclusive feel to it. The chocolate shop had it's own air conditioned room and housed the heavenly-ist chocolate I've ever tasted. We tried green tea, basil, rose, dark, and cheese chocolate.
I liked their motto:
I was very inspired to open something like this at home! I'm actually pretty surprised this cafe/bakery/chocolate shop is in/around Itaewon - it seems like something that would fit right in in Kangnam.

We also visited a couple random museums in subway stations and along Insadong:
Apple cores (picture)
In front of It's Skin in Myeong Dong~
--- Korean kids are cute! They pose for pictures really well.
Around Insadong:
Apgujeong - window of the Hyundai Gallery
Hanging out at De Chocolate Coffee on Rodeo where chocolate isn't the only sweetest thing..
We're going to spend half the day at a jjimjilbang (Korean sauna) tomorrow~

A mini shout out: I'm a bit late, but Happy Father's Day + Happy Birthday to my mom (and Kyle)!