Subway – Eat Continuously!

 

The good news, is I think I am fully acclimated to the time change now. The bad news is, we head back to Portland on Sunday. Woke up at 6:30. We both have a mild cold but nothing we can’t vacation through.

Normally, and for the past 4 years, I have been gluten free.No,  I am not celiac. Yes, I have read the research about how people aren’t really sensitive to gluten unless they have celiac. But, I can tell you that my stomach doesn’t like it, and neither does my psoriasis and arthritis, nor my depression. But, being gluten free in a foreign country is pretty limiting – especially one that uses soy sauce in cooking. So, while in Korea I have just hung up my gluten free hat and crossed my fingers. And, for the past week I have had no noticeable issues. It turns out I have no sensitivity to Korean gluten!

After a slight argument about whether I should chance it, we rode the subway for about 35 minutes to an American breakfast house and I ordered a stack of poison pancakes. For the whole subway ride home I felt like I was going to die: with bad nausea, a sudden crashing headache and the spins. As it turns out, I am sensitive to Korean gluten when it’s in English.

We came home and napped it off.

I really like the apartment we are in, save for two things. The bed is slightly more firm than the floor (it seems like this is a running theme in Korea). I am not really sure why they go through the motions of having mattresses at all – it feels like false advertising.

The other issue with this apartment is the toilet, it’s not firmly mounted. I feel like I am in training to ride a bull in a bar that thinks peanut shells is floor decor. On the up side, I am getting a core workout even without going to CrossFit.

While Andrew has been sick, whenever I ask how he’s feeling he says “blugh.” Today however he upgraded that to “mlech.” So we went back to Myeong-dong for more foods on sticks and to buy cute socks.

Then this happened:

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Andrew really wanted this Shiba Inu’s attention, but the dog was a little snappy at him.

It’s a dog cafe. Like a cat cafe. Only with a lot more peeing on the floor.

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This little long haired dachshund came up to me and just curled onto my lap and took a nap – until my legs fell asleep and I had to kick him off.

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This is actual-Andrew petting an actual-dog. Like real petting too, not just the usual tentative finger prod Andrew usually calls dog-petting.

We hung out for a while then went to shop and eat some more.

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It probably seems like mostly what we are doing on this vacation is eating. That’s correct. But, I am pretty sure that I have not put on an ounce of weight and that is mostly because of the subway system. It’s the largest system (and most used) in the world. But it’s not just go downstairs and catch a train, it’s more go down several flights of stairs and walk for a quarter mile or three and then hop on a train and then walk back up those same amount of flights of stairs and also walk a quarter mile here and there to catch connections. Navigating the elaborate makeup of Seoul transit has helped me keep my girlish figure even as I stuff myself full of  “actual expenditure type of steak.”

So, we ate some more. And then this happened:

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “You guys went back to the cat cafe?” and you’d be wrong. Because this is a totally different cat cafe from the other one we went to. And now you’re probably thinking, “How many cat cafes can you go to?” And the answer is, “All of them.”

Korea’s Cold

Andrew’s sniffle got worse. Now I have one too. But we had a train to catch at noon and, of course, I was up with the birds (6:15 – it’s a small victory over 5:30).

I made some eggs for us because it was too early for the hostel community breakfast and we went for a walk along the water. As built up as this city is, there is some amazing architecture. Then there is also Trump World towers. They were pretty pedantic despite their illustrious name, undoubtedly emblematic.

We walked about 4 miles and returned during American breakfast time. I am really glad I’d made us our own version of breakfast and really regret failing to take a picture of the hot dogs, french fries and sliced up muffins the hostel was serving up.

As we checked out the attendant asked us where we were headed. I said “Seoul” and he looked at me as though he’d never heard of the place. Now I have been attempting to learn Hangul and the letters basically spell out S-schwa-uh-l/r (or SUH-ool). So I tried again with this pronunciation instead of the Americanized “soul” and got the facial equivalent of the blue screen of death. At this point I think he was just fucking with me so I just shrugged and smiled and handed him back the key.

The return trip to the KTX train station took us twice as long because we were both exhausted from our colds. Once at the train station we had about 40 minutes to kill and grabbed some soup and sushi to share. Andrew loved the sushi, so I am going to refrain from telling him that there was a bit of crab meat in it – if he doesn’t know in advance that it’s “ookie”, he really enjoys seafood. We napped a lot on the train and I worked a little more on my Hangul. My name in Korean (by my spelling- 하다수) means “enjoy a long life.” Thanks, Korean, I will – if I get over this cold.

Our new apartment is in a quieter part of town than the first one was. It is also right off the airport line of the subway. The airport line is deep underground. We had to take 4 escalators and 2 flights of stairs and check in with Beelzebub to get on the train. Climbing back out was also exhausting. I feel like we did as much walking down and up as we would have done just walking directly from Seoul (SUH-ool) Station.

Most of the rest of the day we spent juggling some games of Words With Friends, napping, checking in with each other about our colds, and Facebooking. Being sick in a foreign country is pretty much the same as being sick at home in that way. But it feels different. I think part of it is the pressure I am putting on myself to do things touristy and partially it’s that I don’t have my own sofa. Or kitchen. Or cats.

It’s possible I’m Korea sick and homesick.

 

When it Rains it Pours

5:15AM is a bullshit time to wake up on a vacation day. And to top it off it’s raining. No. Not raining. Pouring.

Being from Portland, I am pretty sanctimonious when it comes to handling some precipitation. So, when eventually it was daylight and I looked outside and saw people carrying umbrellas I at first guffawed and smirked, at the same time – such is my self-satisfaction. But then I went down to the convenience store in our building to grab my morning cold brew, looked outside and saw that there was real rain. Not the Portland constant drizzle I am used to, but real – like taking a shower without a water conservation regulator – rain.

I scurried back upstairs and started whining. I had definitely woken up on the wrong side of the bed and the rain was only trumping my mood.

Andrew, in his delightfully supportive way, put on his best game face and prepared us for an outing despite the rain. We would take the Metro to Namsan and  then ride the aerial car to Seoul Tower on Namsan mountain followed by sitting in a cafe and blogging. I was excited. Even though I live in a city with an aerial car, I have yet to ever ride in one. We packed our computers, we grabbed jackets, we toted umbrellas provided by our AirBnB hosts and went to brave the great outdoors.

We made it one block.

Then we turned tail and headed to the chocolate cafe across the street from our apartment and buried ourselves in our pouting and computers (I did most of the pouting).

After some success with blogging and hot chocolate we braved the weather to return to our room. Because we were leaving the next day to Busan we took advantage of the extra time we had due to the weather ruining everything (this is just a taste of my attitude) and did some laundry in the super high-tech combo washer-dryer in the apartment.

The cycle after spin is dry! When the wash was done the dryer, well, didn’t. Our clothes were still wet. So we ran a cycle with just the dryer. An hour and a half later our clothes were mostly damp.

We gave up and hung our clothes on the drying rack we’d found – because room temperature air was going to do a faster job at drying our clothes. In fact, every once in a while we’d pass by the drying rack and just blow on our clothes and that was more efficient than the actual “dryer.”

I lay down for a half an hour because whining is exhausting and woke up almost two hours later to no rain and slight wind.

At this point my mood was taking up most of the space in our apartment and both of us were a bit antsy, we again prepared ourselves for some outdoor time. This time no umbrellas and no computers but also no rain. We got to Namsan and started the uphill climb to the aerial car.

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At the metro exit at Namsan there was a tribute to Zaemiro Seoul Comics – which Andrew, obviously, takes very seriously!

The walk to the aerial car itself was about 600 meters uphill. Once there the sign on the door informed us that because of high winds the car was not running. Neither of us was surprised by this turn of events and it only took us about one minute of hemming (we didn’t even get to hawing) before tackling this defeat with good-natured gusto. We were going to climb this mountain – metaphorically and literally.

Not unlike Hawaii, we started up a 1200m stair climb in the not-best-weather-or-mood.

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1200m looks farther than it really is.

We walked up the first 300m or so and came upon this:

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That man is not dead, he is just resting between sets. I waited to make sure before moving on. I’m not a monster – even when in a shitty mood.

If it hadn’t been sopping wet we’d probably have had a go at it.

We turned the corner to go the rest of the way and came upon this:

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Now, I am not one to want to cause a stir, much less an international incident. But on this day, I wasn’t going to let a little bit of caution tape stop me. I looked up in Google Translator how to say, “I thought the tape was for decoration” in Korean, and we headed up.

When I was in my teens I used to sprain my ankle all the time. I remember once in New York City, on my 13th birthday, I stepped off a sidewalk and just came crashing down on the side of my foot. I was in crutches for about 2 weeks. Shortly thereafter, I met a distant-ish cousin who was finishing college for Physical Therapy and who off-handedly diagnosed me (it’s a family characteristic) with misproprioception, which loosely translates to the inability for my brain to quickly and easily judge variances in height without special attention – aka bad coordination, ergo sum “klutz in my pants.”

I was very cautious going up these steps. Not a single one was a uniform height with another step and there were varying steepnesses (it’s a word now). I was so cautious, looking at every step as I took it that I almost ran into a tree growing out of the middle of the stairs.

Twice.

Who plants trees in the middle of stairs?

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One of the two trees I almost impaled myself on.

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Part of the 1200m climb. These steps are all a different steepitude.

We made it to the top unscathed. The view was lovely. The top was a tourist trap. Apparently people go to the top of this tower and place love-locks all around the platforms. The love-locks are like bike locks, only they symbolize a love that is unbreakable (except with bolt cutters, or a hairpin, or just plain old-fashioned time and growing apart. Or they get rusty and everyone is like, “ew, that’s gross, you should probably get rid of that,” but the people who put it there are just stubborn a-holes and say things like “forever means something.”). We wandered for about 3 minutes and headed back down.

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Seoul Tower

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Andrew dropping my phone while trying to take a picture of us.

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Picture success! See how big Seoul is. This doesn’t even really capture it. It’s quite overwhelming.

We stopped for a quick bite, then headed to the cafe. Basically, across the street from the metro exit we came from was Myeong-dong – a busy shopping area. And I knew exactly which cafe I wanted to visit. I followed my Google maps to where Lily cafe used to be before it closed and was sorely disappointed again.

It’s like Tuesday was just out to get me.

Yet, Andrew and I are resilient. After a quick search of all the interwebs I found a similar cafe only three blocks away, and not (hopefully) closed. We walked swiftly towards it – like in Amazing Race when a couple is in the lead but don’t want to be too brassy about it so they do a little butt clenched walk-jog dodging around busy crowds; that was us.

We climbed the two flights of stairs, changed from our shoes to slippers, entered and were immediately instructed to wash our hands – which we did. Then we ordered our drinks and were let loose amongst the felines. We were at Cat Cafe about to cheat on our kitties – what happens in Myeong-dong stays in Myeong-dong.

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Look at all the kitties!!!

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Neither of us could stop smiling the entire time we were here.

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I may have forced this cat onto my lap, but then he slept there – so, he wanted it.

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Andrew playing WWF while petting a kitty who doesn’t like people but came up to sleep near him.

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Okay, I’m going to be honest here. These cats have always freaked me out a bit. But now that I have had the opportunity to pet one (it’s kind of like petting a leather jacket), I am all in. This guy was a bit of a chunky monkey – but so adorable.

We probably spent about 2 to 2 and a half hours sitting and playing Words With Friends and getting up and petting cats and sitting some more.

The world wide web says these cafes were set up for Koreans because not many of them have the means or space to take care of pets, but it seemed mostly tourists were coming and going. Our time here was only spoiled for about 20 minutes when a family with 5 children and one on the way came in to apparently show themselves what level of asshole they are willing to allow their kids to get to before providing any discipline.

Otherwise, in the words of my friend Aubry, to whom I have already sent these pictures, “Are you texting me from Heaven?”

Yes.

Also, fuck you Tuesday. I win!

I’m So Buff

I am doomed to not be able to sleep past 5AM while on this vacation. The problem that arises is that nothing here opens until 8AM at the earliest. Unless it’s open 24hours. Which, thankfully, the jjimjilbang are.

Ever since my first experience at Sauvie Island’s nude beach I have become a huge proponent of public nudity. It is the great equalizer. You think our current culture is into body shaming? Go to a nude beach. No one there is perfect – with stomach pooches, or skin flaws or saggy bits and bobs – yet everyone there is perfect. I have never felt so comfortable in my own skin. As such, I don’t mind the World Naked Bike Ride (if it’s not too cold), I love going to Sauvie on a warm day, and I often frequent Common Ground for a soak in NE Portland.

The jjimjilbang are community hot tubs (gender separated). Depending on which one you go to they may offer other amenities as well. Some people when traveling here use the jjimjilbang as a well priced hostel. Andrew and I went to Siloam, a five story jjimjilbang and fomentation center it was 10,000₩ ($8.80) per person.

When you enter the locker room, you put your shoes in a locker and bring that key to the attendant who gives you a locker key for your clothes, a couple of towels, and a pair of shorts and a shirt for the community areas. I stripped down, took a shower and went to the baths. There were four different types: Jade, wormwood, charcoal and ice – after all four dips you eat an eye of newt and you are transported into a Shakespearean drama.

I soaked a bit and then took an ice shower then soaked a bit more. I was feeling pretty calm and was about to wander the fomentation center when I saw there was a corner where a sign said something along the lines of “We’ll pamper you more and more.” I went in and learned that the word for massage in Korean is massaji. I decided to go for the VIP treatment which includes a skin buff and a massage.

The woman taking care of me cleaned off the vinyl covered table, told me to lay on it and then put on her bra and undies. She then donned a pair of gloves that can best be described as “40-grit” and started planing me like I was the SS Minnow. There were no worries about any language barrier because she was moving me around like a marionette – I may have smacked myself a few times during this process. She started me on my back then on each side and finally my stomach – and she didn’t miss an inch, twice. At one point I noticed what looked like pumice bits all around my body, then I realized that it was the skin she had sanded off of me.

Fully skinned, it was time for the massaji – it was a healthy mix of massage, chiroprachty and child abuse – slap, knead knead, adjust, knead, slap, slap, knead.  All of this was mixed with moments of pausing to get the towel that was draped over me scalding hot again. This massage was very thorough and included a facial massage the likes of which I have never experienced. It was like my face was a piano and she Franz Liszt. The facial massage ended with a strawberry yogurt and cucumber wrap – I was a summer salad.

While my face macerated, it was baby oil time for my new skin. In my life I have probably used baby oil 4 or 5 times for a total usage amount of one tablespoon – a little goes a long way. Yesterday an entire bottle of baby oil was used on me – again, not a spot was missed. At this point I would like to remind you that I was on a vinyl table with a thorough masseuse – it was an odd combination of slip-and-slide meets tug-of-war with my main concern being not to get cucumber-yogurt juice in my ear.

By the end of this I was exhausted and completely blissed out. I met Andrew on the second floor (after another shower to remove the baby oil that would make walking and sitting dangerous), we wandered around the five floors of the complex, sat in a freezer and then ate some lunch.

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I have never been so happy to sit in cold. Also, look at how new and milky (literally) my skin looks!

That evening we enjoyed a cooking class with Jomin Jun at CooKoreanclass.com. She taught us how to make kimchi stew, glass noodles with pork, and pork and cabbage stir fry. Andrew impressed us all with his knife skills and we had a lovely time learning about Korean culture and food and walking through Mangwon Market.

We learned that Koreans eat live octopus and that they like feeling it moving in their mouth as they eat it. And we learned that eel soup can rejuvenate your power after having a baby. Combined, we mostly learned that Andrew and I have our limits in willingness to experiment. I, for example, will never be able to bring myself to eating a live octopus, and Andrew will never have a baby.

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Our third and final dish of the night. Everything was so delicious and simple to make.

 

Heart and Seoul

It’s a little daunting to leave a country on Thursday and when you wake up the next morning is Saturday. And even worse it’s Saturday at 4:30 AM local time – because you forced yourself to sleep in until a “reasonable” time.

Being on vacation, to some extent, alleviates that.

The 11 hour flight into Seoul wasn’t that bad. I read a little bit, watched 5 movies and did some knitting. I saw a horrible Bradley Cooper movie called Burnt. It’s a movie mostly about Cooper’s beautiful brooding blue eyes and how that can get you a career in Hollywood without really needing any acting skills. I will probably watch it on the flight home as well. It got a solid 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. I also watched Joy which is a really good movie starring Jennifer Lawrence with a few small moments of Bradley Cooper’s eyes as a delicious seasoning – you know, like how you really like fish sauce in food for flavoring but you wouldn’t make it what you wrap the entire flavor profile of a dish around – mmm those eyes. Also, Jennifer Lawrence is so amazing and riveting. I would watch her do taxes.

The seemingly 11 hour customs line into Korea was that bad.

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This line is a lot longer than it looks

It took us an actual 2.5 hour to get through customs and onto the bus to Seoul. This was marred even further by the bloviations of the probably-a-salesman behind me and by the lack of Bradley Cooper eyes.

Eventually, Andrew and I were greeted by Peter who helped us get comfortable in our AirBnB by giving us a tour of every nook and cranny. He showed us how to use the bidet (by pointing at the buttons, not demonstrating) and showed us what was in every cabinet (as though we weren’t going to look in every cabinet as soon as he left anyway). He even explained the remote control to us. This is when I realized the perception was,  US:Korea = Kentuckian:New Yorker. His perception may have been due to Andrew and me gawking at the keyless entry pad on the door which is much fancier than the one on our front door at home, in that it works.

I explained to Peter that we didn’t believe in using technology and asked him to hide or burn the device and thanked him with a poorly pronounced kams’hahamnida and he left us.

Andrew and I dropped our bags, made sure we took what we grabbed the information on how to get back into the apartment and went to find some food. We walked around the neighborhood a bit and stumbled upon a very well attended restaurant. “Let’s eat here!” I said excitedly to Andrew’s ashen face as he looked at a picture in the window of a soup with clearly defined tentacles in it. “Um, how will we know what we are ordering?” (gulp). I gently coaxed Andrew into the restaurant with promises of removing tentacles from his food should that be what we accidentally ordered. We ended up with delicious pork soup. I love Korean food.  I love the flavors, I love the spiciness, I love that everything is served with banchan (little side dishes of kimchi and rice and seaweed, etc.). The kimchi was a bit too spicy for Andrew, which just meant more for me. There was nary a tentacle in sight.

We wandered around the city a little more attempting to stay awake long enough so that we went to bed at a reasonable-for-being-in-Korea-not-Portland hour. That turned out to be 8PM – it was a long day.

After 1:30AM I was mostly forcing myself back into sleep for the next 3 hours. I finally gave up on that when I realized Andrew was also awake. We got up and puttered around our apartment for a a couple of hours trying to plan our day.

The apartment we are in has a Starbucks in it and I went downstairs around 7 to grab some coffee. It was closed. I walked almost to the restaurant we had eaten at the previous night – nothing was open at all. I got back to the apartment and settled for instant Nescafe and unpacked mine and Andrew’s clothes while he internetted to figure out our activities for the day.

Something I really love about my relationship with Andrew is that even though we have been together going on 7 years (yes, it’s really been that long), and even though we know each other really really well, we still learn new things about each other. For example, this morning I learned that Andrew really doesn’t want me to unpack his things for him – unfortunately I didn’t learn that until after I’d finished. The thing about Andrew is he won’t outwardly be upset about a thing, just kind of broody and a little passive-aggressive. So as soon as he recognized that I’d unpacked his things without his permission he immediately needed to find everything and started asking me where it was. “Where are my pants?” “In the top drawer.” He opens the drawer. “Where are my underwear?” “Same drawer you are looking in.” “Where are my shirts?” “Right next to the underwear.” (He packs light).

For about a minute I contemplated packing his things back up and then letting him unpack them – but I realized that would probably put us into a loop. We eventually got through this and ended up on the happy end of me never helping him with luggage related issues again.

Then we went to self-guide a tour of Seoul. We are staying near Gyeonbokgung palace – our fist stop. We got to the palace and left immediately, because it was only 8AM and the palace didn’t open until 9. We instead headed to a river walk in the middle of the city followed by a visit to Namdaemun market. The river walk was beautiful with cranes and fish and waterfalls a weird serenity juxtaposed against skyscrapers. We rode the metro to the market – there is something oddly satisfying in figuring out a foreign subway system. It’s very grounding. The market was an overwhelming mish-mash of things made in Korea. We found a row of restaurants featuring menus with pictures on it and enjoyed a delightful brunch of fried rice and glass noodles with a side of banchan. I even ordered mul ju-sey-o (water please) and nabken ju-sey-o (napkin please) without feeling too scared. And, even better, I was understood!

By 10:30 Andrew and I were exhausted. I guess that’s to be expected when you time jump a Friday.

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Seoul – random statue near Gyeongbokgung Palace. Note, no pictures of actual palace. Blame jet lag.

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River walk – I love the contrast of the peaceful water against the backdrop of a busy, large city.

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This crane was very camera shy and kept flying slightly away every time I took it’s picture. This one turned out nice though. We also later saw a blue heron stalk and catch a morning fish breakfast. So cool!