Senior Project - Beyond Pacific
We were planning on waking up before 10 today but what a surprise; it was 12 when we finally woke up. We were starving and thought of having brunch at a place nearby, but we decided to eat lunch at Shinsegae Centum City, the biggest shopping complex in the world. It was only 2 stations away from where we stayed, so we were able to eat our meal soon after we woke up.
(Tall buildings around Haeundae)
Shinsegae department store was indeed humongous, and where ever we went, there was another way to advance even further. We tried a VR experience there and shopped for a while until we finally come back to our guesthouse again.
(Shinsegae Centum City)
(Lunch at the mall)
Originally, we were going to get out to Haeundae Beach to swim and play, but the weather was chillier than expected. Instead, we decided to swim at the swimming pool our apartment offered within the building complex. When we got there, there were a number of kids already swimming in the pool, but gradually they all got out. We didn’t really expect to have much fun there, but we really enjoyed swimming and splashing water like children for a long time.
After swimming, we also got to enjoy the apartment’s sauna to further relax ourselves. Our aunt then lead us to a popular restaurant in the apartment complex for our dinner. However, we really wanted to try Korean beef barbeque before we leave for China tomorrow, so after walking along the beach after the dinner, we had our second dinner at a restaurant nearby around 9 o’clock. We say it was worth it.
Next, we bought some snacks from a convenient store and returned to our house. Several Korean dramas were playing on TV, and the one we watched called Queen for Seven Days was actually really fascinating. Once the episode ended, we packed some of our luggage and went sleep.
(Night view of the city)
We left Seoul today. Dragging our luggage once again, we headed for Seoul Station for our bullet train ride to Busan, South Korea’s second biggest city, which also happens to be a beach city.
We were overwhelmed by the heat when we first arrived, and we were worried that the weather would continue to haunt us on our stay in Busan. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. We stayed in one of the guestroom in Kayla’s cousin’s apartment complex, which was only a few minutes’ walk from the beach. The ocean breeze cooled the heat down, and we enjoyed a relative cool and mild weather.
After settling down, we strolled to the beach for a bit of relaxing time. We were greeted by mounts of beautiful sand art. We then walked around the area for a bit, and we decided to experience a coin karaoke place. Instead of paying for the number of hours we stayed there, we paid for the number of songs we sang.
(Sand art at the beach)
(Kayla in the middle of performing a karaoke song)
For dinner, we went to a seafood restaurant Kayla’s aunt invited us to try. We were first eased in with side dishes: a couple plates of kimchi, shredded raw squid, oysters, and a large plate of sashimi. I’m not the biggest fan of seafood, so after the first couple bites of excitement, it started to become a little repetitive. After we finished the large plate of sashimi, I thought our dinner was done… but it wasn’t. The waitress came with more plates for seafood… a fish we can’t name, a bowl of fish soup… but our stomachs were already full! We tried to chow down as much as we could before we finally surrendered.
We were looking for a hair salon to do our hairs, and Korea is famous for its love of all things beauty! Luckily, last night, Young Jin recommended a hair salon she goes to and booked it for us at 11 AM the next morning. The salon was located in the Idae area, which is an abbreviated form of Ewha Women’s University. It is a popular place for many university students to shop, since there are so many restaurants and shopping malls.
(Ewha Women's University)
Amy got her perm done while I dyed my hair, and the whole process took about 3 hours. We went to have lunch straight from there at an Andong-Jjimdak restaurant that specializes in jjindak, which is made of chicken and various vegetables marinated in sauce originated in Andong, my mom’s hometown. We ordered a small size, and it was very delicious and filling.
After lunch, we went to Itaewon, where many foreigners in Seoul live. This culturally diverse district is one of the most popular tourist places in Seoul, and indeed, we saw way more foreign people here than any other places in Seoul. However, since we went there on a bright afternoon on a weekday, we didn't have the opportunity to explore the developed nightlife culture that the area is known for. We just went to some shops and decided to go to a hotel my family loves and uses for fitness and golf practice.
While I was talking to my mom on the phone at the hotel lobby, one of the most unexpected things happened: I saw a couple of men walking outside from the lobby. I quickly recognized one of them as Tablo, one of the most admired Korean rappers, and the rest as his band members. I was so stunned that I quickly hung up the phone with my mom and followed them to take a picture. It was worth the embarrassment.
(Picture of Tablo, me, and DJ Tukutz)
At the hotel, we practiced golf and did some workout until we left for dinner at Famille Station in Express Bus Terminal. Unfortunately, because we went there around 9 PM, a lot of the shops were closing, so we didn’t have many options to choose from. We, however, liked the restaurant that we eventually chose, and walked back to our house located about 10 minutes away, taking the time to enjoy our last day in Seoul.
(Golf practice range)
This afternoon, we walked Kayla’s adorable Yorkshire Terrier, Julie, to Banpo Hangang Park. Hangang Park surrounds the Gangnam River, from which you can see the view of the Gangbuk district across the river. Many people bring their tents and blankets to the park, along with their kites, bikes, scooters, etc. It is the ideal place to congregate with family, hang out with friends, and relax in the sun. At night, there are even colorful fountain shows if you wish to see.
(Walking Kayla's dog, Julie, on the way to Banpo Hangang Park)
(Banpo Hangang Park)
(A view of the Gangnam River and the Gangbuk district)
We hung out at Hangang Park for some time before returning to the apartment. From there, we took the subway to the Hongdae region in Seoul. Hongdae contains Hongik University, and it is often regarded as the center of urban arts, indie music, culture, and entertainment in Seoul. The streets were indeed lively, with stereo music, fashion stores, and street food on every corner. We even caught a couple of street performances on our way to our restaurant. These performers are often young dancers or singers, sometimes very well equipped and rehearsed. We joined the crowd by cheering them on, even if they weren’t exactly the best performances we’ve seen.
(A dance group performance on the streets of Hongdae)
Before dinner, we met up with Kayla’s sister Helen, Helen’s friend Young Jin, and Young Jin’s Dutch friend Teunia. Together, we went to Seollaim, where we experienced the REAL Korean BBQ (that specialized in pork belly.) I’ve never tried Korean BBQ back in the States, but from what I’ve heard, it’s nothing compared to the authentic version in the country of origin. Also, here's a trick if you aren't the biggest trick of kimchi: grill it! It's delicious!
(Korean BBQ at Seollaim)
After finishing all the pork belly, our stomachs still weren’t completely satisfied, so we ordered some pork skin. Yes, as reluctant as I was initially, it was worth the experience. None of us knew how to correctly cook pork skin, and while we waited, the pork skin pieces would occasionally make a loud “pop” sound and fling into the air.
After having the best dinner I’ve had in Seoul, we all flocked to Osulloc, a green tea dessert and drink café. We ordered some green tea roll cake, green tea Frappuccino, green tea ice cream, etc. We all sat around a table and shared our exciting and unusual travel adventures.
(Green tea dessert and drinks at Osulloc)
We slept in until pretty late today since we had nothing but one thing planned for the day: attending the Dream Station concert. The Dream Station concert, promoted by Pepsi, was held at Nanji Hangang Park, which was about 30 minutes away from our house. While the concert continued from 2 to 8, we only knew a few singers who were participating in the concert at a later time, so we went there around 5 o’ clock.
On our way, we bought some drinks and fried and roasted chicken to eat at the park, a common way to enjoy picnics in Korea. We could have ordered a chicken delivery instead, since almost every chicken store offers delivery service in Seoul, but we were concerned that it would be difficult to pick up from the delivery guy in such a crowded place. We had to abandon the bus we were waiting in line for, because it was filled up before our turn. Even in the taxi, there were so many cars on the road that it took us way longer to get to our destination than the usual time.
We could not bring our food into the concert, unfortunately, so we ate up our food before entering. It really felt like a usual picnic: we sat on the field in the shade and shared drinks and chicken peacefully. We had a great time, and we could even hear the music from the concert just meters away.
(Picnic at Nanji Hangang Park)
We finally entered the concert after 30 minutes. Although we didn’t know any songs the DJ was playing, we could still feel and absorb the excitement because so many people around us were shouting and dancing. And when those K-pop stars we knew finally came on stage, it was so much fun to see them performing the songs we could finally sing along with. The singers included Red Velvet, NCT 127, and Hyuna, all of whom are popular K-pop “idols" not only in Korea, but also in Asia and around the world.
The crowd actually became pretty dangerous when Hyuna’s turn came, because all the people in the back just pushed people in the front, and we almost fell on the ground and were stepped on multiple times. It was miraculous how we all stayed together the whole time. Hyuna, however, never disappoints the audience: her performance was so dazzling that I quickly forgot about all the pushing and shoving.
(View of Hangang from the bus ride to home)
After the concert, we headed back to our house in Banpo via subway and had dinner nearby at a local restaurant, known for its homemade tofu meals. The food was absolutely tasty. Then we went grocery shopping at Kim's Club, and despite it being 10 PM, the market was crowded with families. I've been to the market many times, but that was the busiest I've ever seen. As you can imagine, Seoul is very lively even at late night, and we enjoyed our shopping in such an environment.
(View of our apartment)
Today, we went on more of a cultural journey. Late this morning, we rented hanboks, traditional Korean clothing, for the afternoon. Compared to the kimono that we wore in Kyoto, the hanboks that we wore today were much easier on the waist and made the experience more comfortable. Hanboks usually feature vibrant colors and simple patterns. However, many hanboks today have adopted outside influences and thus would not have existed back in the days.
(Me and Kayla wearing hanboks)
We sported our hanbok to Gyeongbokgung, the primary royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea. The palace was built in 1395 and was the home of many kings. Government functions were housed there as well. After having been burned down and destroyed, the palace was rebuilt to today’s form. In my experiences, Korean and Chinese palaces are more similar than Japanese ones. While many Japanese castles are tall, Korean and Chinese palaces have fewer levels and take more land horizontally. In addition, Korean and Chinese palaces love to show off the color red.
After touring Gyeongbokgung, we visited Namsangol Hanok Village, taking a walk through history and viewing traditional Korean houses, pavilions, gardens, etc. There is a sense of tranquility through taking strolls in the past in our traditional hanbok.
We had to return our hanbok at 4:30 (and we barely made it). After returning to our modern clothes, we walked through Insa-dong, with streets and alleys of food and tea shops, art galleries, and more. It harbors both a cultural and modern environment, and it sure is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
For dinner, we ate Gopchang, or small intestines of cattle (or sometimes pig), served in hot pot style. The intestines are well cleaned, marinated, seasoned, and cooked before consuming. Supposedly, gopchang was a nutritious and inexpensive dish for the common people back in the days. It was my first experience with gopchang, and it was sure tasty! I would definitely recommend it those who enjoy a little bit of food adventure!
In the evening, we headed to Hanyang University to attend their college festival and experience a Korean university’s social culture. This once-in-a-year event was the soul of every student’s university experience. Since students hardly have the opportunity to have this much fun other times during the year, this festival gives students a chance to cherish their youth. The festival included an intense singing competition among the students (judged by the teachers and peers), small performances, and multiple booths hosted by students in each individual major. Loud music was blasting on stereo speakers every couple steps. Everyone was having a blast.
(Singing competition at Hanyang University college festival)
Yesterday, while Amy was meeting her friend she met at summer camp, I met my middle school friend who now goes to college in Korea. I got a chance to eat lunch at their cafeteria and visit some of the classrooms in their building. The price of their lunch varies from three to seven dollars depending on their menu. The one I tried was called sogeum-gui, delicious grilled pork with rice. Their classroom reminded me of Kousen’s: it was a large room with aligned tables and chairs, and students take rather passive roles while the professor lectures.
(Sejong University's student cafeteria)
Today, Amy and I had lunch with my mom and my aunt at an Italian restaurant. Their T-bone steak and aglio olio spaghetti tasted amazing.
(Lunch at Bu-ohk)
From there, we went to a Korean water park called Caribbean Bay, located about 50 minutes away from our house. Since our trip to Disney Water Park last winter in Florida was rather disappointing, we wanted to experience a different waterpark that is known to have many fun rides. They didn’t let us down. Their ride ‘Mega Storm’ was the most fun water ride I’ve ever ridden. The best part was that because it was a weekday and before the start of summer break, the water park was pretty much empty. We were able to ride Mega Strom three times before its closed at 4:30 (we arrived there around 3:00). We also rode some indoor water slides, which were also delightful with their fast speed and constant splashes.
We finished our day at the water park by dipping in their indoor hot tubs and saunas, then headed off to Famille Station, where a collection of restaurants are located underground near the Express Bus Terminal. For dinner, we had mandu, which resembles dumpling, and kimbab, a traditional Korean dish made from rice and other ingredients rolled in gim.
In the morning, we ate some left over Bossam from last night in addition to some delicious Bulgogi prepared by Kayla’s mom.
After breakfast, Kayla left to apply for a Chinese visa for our trip to Shanghai and Beijing. Meanwhile, I planned to meet a friend I met from a summer camp a year before. It was my first time navigating a foreign country by myself, even though I barely knew any Korean. I left the house with the Subway app on my iPhone for the city of Seoul to help me navigate the underground commuting system. Compared to the Japanese subway system, the Korean subway system is unquestionably more convenient and easier to navigate. In Japan, the subway metro is run by local governments as well as private companies, and the subway lines are indicated by specific names. In Korea, however, the metro system is more unified and simplified. Also, the subway lines are easily identified by numbers, making underground commuting a more straightforward task.
I met my friend at Garosu-gil, a popular shopping area in the Gangnam district in Seoul. The place is lined with fashion boutiques and Korean cosmetic stores. Korean cosmetics are immensely popular among East Asian countries, so Garosu-gil is an ideal spot for foreigners to do their shopping. I, myself, bought a couple of products to try out.
(A healthy salad at Bat Farmers in Garosul-Gil)
(The Line Friend Store, dedicated to the Korean brand Line and its cartoon characters)
Meanwhile, Kayla met up with her old friend and experienced a bit of Korean university, which she will talk about more in her next blog post.
For dinner, Kayla and I reunited at a restaurant at Kobe Gyukatsu, where they specifically serve Kobe-style beef cutlets. Ironically, Gyukatsu is a Japanese dish that we were supposed to try out in Japan, but we never got a chance to. Instead, we decided to make up with for it in Korea. Although it was a Japanese dish, the taste was certainly influenced by Korean taste buds. Despite that the dish was more of a fusion between the two cuisines, it was delicious nonetheless.
We strolled around Gangnam Station and enjoyed the night view of the city streets after dinner. It sure is a lively city at night, with the shops and stores blazing with electronic nights and billboards flashing with advertisements. We stopped by a store for Bingsu, Korean shaved ice with sweet topping. It is a popular dessert in Korea, and it was my first time trying out the dessert in the country of its origin. Traditionally, the sweet topping was red bean paste. Today, however, the varieties are endless. We chose a strawberry and cheesecake topping, as neither Kayla nor I enjoyed red bean paste very much. It was the perfect way to end the night!
(Gangnam at night)
Today was our first day in Seoul, Korea. It was definitely more of an easy transition to move in since we actually had a house in Seoul, my hometown. We arrived in Incheon Airport around 2:30 and bought some snacks from a convenient store and Daewang Castella store at the airport to eat in the bus on our way home. It was my first time coming back home since last summer and first time ever for Amy to visit South Korea, so we were both excited.
(View from the Incheon Airport, Korea)
When we arrived near our home, my mom greeted us and took us to our house. I haven’t seen our new house yet (they moved to the new house last winter so I haven’t got a chance to visit before) and it was really nice to finally settle in where I will stay for a long time.
Both my sister and dad were working until 7-8 pm, so we had dinner on our own at home. My mom prepared bossam, a Korean pork dish, with various side dishes, which we absolutely loved. In Korea, it is common to have rice as staple and other food as side dishes, or banchan, and eat the banchan along with rice for all three meals per day. Unlike Western meals, it is also not uncommon to have a full breakfast that you would normally have for dinner in America, such as barbecue and ramyeon.
(Homemade bossam and side dishes)
After dinner, we realized the charger voltage of our electronic devices don't match that of the power outlets in Korea; Korea uses 220V while all our devices from America use 110V. We had to go through an underground market to buy an outlet converter to charge our laptop and phone at night. Although it wasn’t planned, the short trip to the underground market showed how lively and clean the place was, even in the evening, and we knew that we would return there to buy quality stuff at reasonable prices.
We didn’t do much things today due to the flight, but it was a great day to transition from a country to another.
We spent our last day in Japan touring around modern commercial districts in Tokyo. We arrived at our first stop in the popular shopping district of Shibuya around late morning. Unlike Ginza, Shibuya is more focused at targeting young people, so the streets were lined with more affordable fashion stores, food shops, and cafés. We particularly visited a cat café, Mocha. A cat café is exactly what it sounds like: a themed café with cats that visitors can play with. While cat cafés are now more common in places, they are especially popular in Japan, because many residents live in small apartments that do not make room for pets. Instead, they often come to cat cafés to experience some furry companions.
(Cat Cafe in Shibuya)
We took a subway ride to Harajuku, another popular shopping district that are regarded as the center of youth fashion and culture in Japan. As the weather was hot outside, we spent more time inside a large department store than out visiting the small boutiques Harajuku is known for. For lunch, we grabbed some delicious pancakes. Yes, Japanese pancakes are different from the ones in America. Japanese-style pancakes are fluffier in texture and has a stronger egg taste.
(Tokyu Plaza in Harajuku District)
(Japanese-style fluffy pancakes)
(Kiddy Land's Rilakkuma Store in Harajuku)
Next, we visited the Shinjuku district, an administrative center as well as a commercial hub. In my limited experience, I felt it was quite similar to Harajuku and Shibuya. However, in Shinjuku, we decided to try one of our boldest ideas on the list yet: maid café.
(Maidreamin, a Maid Cafe in Shinjuku)
Maid café is another type of themed eatery: it is a type of cosplay restaurant where waitresses (no waiters) dress up as maids and serve the visitors as they were masters or mistresses. The waitresses were overenthusiastic, embodying the very definition of the Japanese “kawaii” or cuteness. At first, I felt quite uncomfortable in the presence of such intense in-character performance and exuberant environment, but I slowly eased in. I even grooved a bit to the upbeat music they played over the speakers. At the end of the day, it was all about the hospitality.
(We were not allowed to take pictures of the maids or the cafe, so I took a picture of my meal instead)
(Shinjuku at night)
Choose groups to clone to: