Thursday, February 26, 2015

Last Few Days in Seoul

Since we got back from Japan, Jessica and I have been seriously enjoying the freedom to do as much (or as little) as we want on vacation. Since these days have been filled with a lot of relaxing, I figured I'd do one blog on the last 4 days or so.

Thursday after we got into Incheon, we decided to wait to change our Japanese Yen to Korean Won until we got into the city to the bank. The exchange rate at the airport wasn't very favorable, so we headed to the airport bus instead. We each had reserved enough won in our wallets to get us a ride home, but the rest was in yen. We caught the bus home without issue. However, when we got off the bus, we walked by Diaso and realized that it was closed. After a moment of confusion, we realized that Thursday was Seollal (Lunar New Year) day. Thursday, as well as Friday right after, are both "red days" in Korea. Basically government holidays where nearly everything is closed. Banks included. We realized that we would not be able to exchange our yen until Monday at the earliest. Oops!! Thankfully most places take my Chase Visa credit card (no foreign transaction fees! woohoo!) so while not ideal, it would be okay.

We headed to her apartment and spent most of the day just relaxing. We couldn't be bothered to make food, and since 99% of restaurants were closed we decided to order McDonald's for delivery. I always thought this was super interesting that they do this in Korea, but never experienced it when I lived here. Jessica's coworkers helped her set up her account a few months ago, and we decided to take advantage of it. After all, girls' gotta eat!

That evening, we met up with Alana, the other foreign teacher in Jessica's school that we had met for Butterfinger's last week, and another girl, Gretchen, for a 4D movie! Jessica hadn't been to a 4D movie yet, and I wanted to see Kingsman, so we got tickets before Japan and went to the theatre Thursday night. We got some butter popcorn and a coke and headed in. We went into the theatre and realized there were some Koreans in our seats. After attempting to tell them to move, we realized we were in the wrong theatre. The four of us all squawking about in the theatre was kind of hilarious. We managed to make it into the correct theatre and got our seats.

The movie itself was... interesting. I actually liked the style of it and it was pretty good until the end. I won't go into a lot of detail here, but, ultimately it could have been a lot better. The 4D effects were cool, though. When there was gun fire, you could feel pokes in your back and even on your ankles/feet. There was whooshes of air, and even a little water mist when there was a splash in the movie. It was a fun experience!

When we left the movie, we decided to get some food. We considered going to my old neighborhood for BBQ, but realized that it would probably be closed for New Years. We went to a couple of restaurants in the area and everything was closing/closed. We decided Itaewon would be our best bet for open food, so we took the subway there. We had Turkish gyros which were delicious! Then we went to a bar with way too expensive drinks and hung out for a while. We took a cab home and that was Thursday.

Friday was a shopping day. I don't shop a lot in the states; I don't particularly enjoy it, and I'm pretty frugal. But when you've been saving for a trip and know that you've got money set aside, and there are things you can buy here that you can't back home, well, you let loose a little! We went to Gangnam Station and after having lunch with my former coworker (& soon to be roomie in Austin), we hit up the shops! Mostly I wanted to get some makeup, but I ended up with so many goodies. I got some cute cheap home decor things from Daiso, a pale yellow handbag, 5 pairs of socks (so cute!), another ring to replace mine lost in Japan (this one being 5,000W instead of 25,000), makeup, more makeup, and probably plenty of other things I can't think of right now. But I got a lot of good deals and definitely finished up happy! Jessica is a great shopping partner.

We walked home in the beautiful sunshine, enjoying the weather. That night, we got cute and decided to go out. We wanted to get some American food, so we headed to HBC to get Bonny's Pizza. Unfortunately, we took a little too long to get ready and their kitchen was closed by the time we got there. We went to Phillie's for a burger, but they didn't have any fries (you can't have a burger without fries!), so finally we ended up at Brooklyn Burger. It was delicious!

After dinner, we headed to Itaewon to get some drinks. We ended up at a place called Thursday Party. I have no idea if this place existed when I lived there, but I'd never heard of it. It reminded me SO MUCH of a college bar. It was packed, kind of gross, but cheap and guaranteed to meet people. Within 30 seconds we were hit on, and within a minute of that, got hit on again. Everyone was pretty drunk, it seemed. A British guy and his friend approached us, but I was totally NOT feeling that. Eventually, we chatted with a couple of Korean guys. Around 3am, we headed to a Noraebang, one of the things on my bucket list to do while in Korea again. That lasted a while then we got back to Jessica's place around 6am. Staying out til the sun (almost) comes up - check.

When we finally woke up around noon on Saturday, it was super rainy. Like, disgustingly rainy and so COLD. We agreed that snuggled up in bed with Netflix was in order. While our time back in Korea (since Japan) has been LESS crazy than while in Japan, we were definitely due for a completely chill day. We tried to figure out how to order pizza for delivery, but ultimately decided to just walk down the road to Pizza Etang (my favorite of the Korean pizza places).

I ordered a large pizza (which, to be fair, is actually like an American medium...) and a Coke. I paid, and they kind of wandered away. Jessica waved her arms and was like "Hello! I need to order, too!" The guys literally gawked. I think they were so shocked that we BOTH ordered a pizza. We waited for our pizzas and laughed at how much we get judged by Koreans. We looked up how to say "fat" in Korean (gee-bang) and giggled as we left, each with a pizza box and bottle of Coke.

It was 100% worth the stares and whispers when we got in and got to taste the deliciousness. Also, in our defense, this was both lunch and dinner. Does that make it better, or worse....? We laid in bed, ate pizza, and watched The Heirs (the K-Drama I've been into while in Korea). It was a perfect day for laziness!

Sunday, we woke up "early" (by our recent standards) and decided to hit the jjimjilbang (spa); another thing to check off my list! Jessica is lucky and lives within walking distance to a really nice one. I had read about this place - called Spa Lei - while I was living here, but I always liked Dragon Hill and it was more convenient for me. But, this didn't require any transportation, and it's female only, so we went there instead.

I've always liked jjimjilbangs (after getting over my initial hesitation!) and this was Jessica's first ever time to go! We splurged for body scrubs (an additional 30,000W on top of the 14,000W entrance fee), but so worth it. We went in and tried out some of the baths before getting our scrub. It has been about 2 years since I got a scrub, but the memory came back to me quickly after it began. Certain parts were super ticklish, some were just awkward, but damn they really remove several layers of your poor epidermis!

We enjoyed the jjimjilbang for a couple hours; it was a very relaxing experience! We headed home and decided to go for makgeolli (rice wine), another thing on my list. We found a place within walking distance of her apartment (seriously, she has the best location!). It was called Better than Beef. We got cute, wearing our new shoes we found for 19,000W on Friday, and a good thing too because the restaurant was super nice. Probably the nicest restaurant I'd been to in Korea!

I had read about this place online, so I knew the price range. Thankfully, the information I read was correct. We ordered Samgyopsal (pork belly) for two for 19,000W and a bottle of makgeolli for 12,000W. While we didn't leave super full, the meat was great quality and we really enjoyed the meal. We also got some homemade ricotta that they make in-house (I am given to understand). The meal was great!

When we finished, we decided that we looked too good to just go home! We wandered around a bit until we found a bar and got a drink. This was certainly less chaotic than Friday night, but we still had a great time. I had somek - soju and beer - and it was great! I seriously think that soju makes Korean beer (which kind of sucks by itself) so much better! We got home fairly early - around midnight.

My last full day in Korea!! I woke up both sad and anxious to make the most of the day. After another episode of The Heirs (if you can't lay in bed and watch TV on vacation, when can you?!), and went to Myeongdong around noon. Somehow, we managed to spend 5 hours there. I seriously do not know how we did that.

I ended up getting some makeup, a cute top, and (uhhh) some other stuff? I really wanted to find a potato tornado, and I thought for SURE I could find one there, but no luck! This ended up being the only food item I didn't get to eat in Korea that I'd wanted to. We got a snack and then headed back to Jessica's to get ready for my last night in Korea.

We decided to go back to my favorite BBQ restaurant again for my last dinner. Jessica had really enjoyed it, we all know that I LOVE it, and Jessica's friend/coworker Alana wanted to try it. We headed there around 8pm, and thoroughly enjoyed our feast!

When we first got into the restaurant, I'd noticed a table of three middle-aged Korean men looking at us. This in itself isn't strange; I generally just ignore it. One of the guys was REALLY obvious though, so I said Hello to him. He waved and was very happy to talk to me. He told us that he wanted to buy us a drink. I looked at the girls and we all shrugged our shoulders - why not? He called over the guys working at the restaurant and there was some conversation. Ultimately, beer did not appear on our table.

I can't remember who said it, but it was suggested that perhaps the men thought we were... "women of the night". The thought was so preposterous to me, but the next interaction kind of confirmed these suspicions. The man came over to our table and asked if he could sit. We didn't really know what to say, so let him sit at our table. The guys working came over and caught my eye and asked if I wanted them to get him to leave (a prime example of language not actually being necessary to communicate effectively; I knew exactly what he was asking but not a word of English was spoken). I shrugged my shoulders; most of the time when Koreans want to chat with us, its about 5 minutes and they leave. I don't mind satisfying their need to practice their English, or show off to their buddies.

After about 10 minutes, though, I could tell this guy wasn't going to go away. He proceeded to RANK US according to our attractiveness. He even told Alana she looked "strange"! I told him he was mean and we were all most beautiful. He tried to explain himself but we were all kind of over it. I got up to get more sides and told the guys to have him leave now. They came over and said something to him in Korean. A conversation commenced and the guy looked back at me and asked "You told him to tell me to leave?" Ratted out!!! I smiled and said "We need to eat our dinner!" He left as graciously as could be managed when he just got removed from our table.

He definitely went back to his table and talked about us to his friends. I heard "meegook" which is Korean for "American". Also, other tables were watching them and glancing at us intermittently. Greeeeaaaaaat.... We decided to just forget about it and have another drink! After MUCH food and drink, we paid (15,000W EACH!! So cheap!) and headed for our next destination: Dongdaemun Night Market!

Neither of the other girls had been to the market, and I was excited to show them. We took a taxi over from the restaurant. I was disappointed that the tents that usually litter the sidewalks were not there. However, we definitely found plenty of stuff inside the huge buildings full of stalls.

I was looking for two things on this shopping trip: an olive green jacket, and a maroon chunky knit scarf. I found a cute jacket at a stall and asked to try it on. The lady in the stall was nice but definitely a saleswoman. She had the jacket listed at 180,000W. I knew I couldn’t pay anywhere near that price. In my head, I thought I would maybe pay 70,000W for it. I told her sorry, no. I wanted to get Jessica and Alana’s opinions on it, but I also wanted to see other jackets. I did linger a bit, and the women kept lowering her price. She even bagged the jacket up for me and put it in my hands. Literally, she had no shame. At one point (I lingered for probably 15 minutes), she tried to reach into my bag and get my wallet. I smacked her hands and laughed and told her No! 

After much back and forth, Jessica and Alana finally showed back up and I got their opinions. They loved it. By this time, the lady had gone down to 60,000W!! BUT that was her cash price. I needed to pay with a card. We finally agreed to 60,000W on the card, plus 10,000W cash. Less than half the price. I think that once I try the jacket on with the appropriate outfit (not jeans and tennis shoes like I wore to the market), I’ll love it even more. It’s very unique and fun. 

Now I had one last item - the scarf. I wanted this scarf because I had gotten one when I lived in Korea before, worn it to China and all around Korea, LOVED IT, and then lost it at a club. I have never forgotten how much I loved it, so it was the perfect opportunity to get another. The last stall, on the last floor, I finally found one! It was originally 18,000W cash, but I got him to 14,000W card. Could have saved 1,000W if I’d cash, but I needed to save cash to take the bus to the airport the next day. We got home around 2:30am, and went to sleep shortly thereafter. 

What a successful the last night, and indeed the whole last week, in Korea! 



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