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.”

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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!

Seoul – Day 2: Food, Fun, Fashion

One of the things I am having to retrain my brain about is to not automatically associate Hangul with “restaurant.” I am almost there.

Last night we went and saw a live comedy show called Nanta. We had decided to go in the evening in order to have something to do that would keep us up and rejigger our sleeping clocks. The show was like Stomp – the Comedy/Cooking Show. It made me realize that laughter is truly universal, as is the usefulness of loud drumming and shouting to keep me awake.

After the show we walked along the street outside where there were a bunch of food vendors with meats on sticks – Andrew’s Native American name. We partook of some bulgogi, pork on a stick, meatballs on stick and freshly squeezed orange juice on a stick.

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Meat on stick, meet “Meats-on-Sticks”

While wandering, a busker said “45 minute foot massage for 18000 ₩.” If 45 minutes of foot massaging seems like a long time fear not, you are in good company, because the masseurs seemed to feel the same. We each got a 5 minute foot soak and about a 7 minute foot massage followed by a lot of pounding on our legs for about 15 minutes. I was then asked to lift my hips. I did and was suddenly wrapped up like an ass enchilada. The masseurs left the room and the enchilada wrap started massaging my pelivical region to the dulcet sounds of tango-styled piano versions of Escape (the Piña Colada song) and Hotel California. At this point the blog was just writing itself so I relaxed and enjoyed. I have since tried looking up the massage device that was used, but when I put in “automated ass massage device” into Google I only get NSFW results.

On our way home Andrew stranded me at a subway station.

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Stranded at the subway station.

Our goal last night was to stay up (read: pass out) until 10 (at 9:15), which I managed beautifully, allowing us to wake up at a reasonable hour (5:30AM) this morning.

We ran along the river walk that we’d walked along yesterday. The river used to be really dirty during the 1970’s so they covered it by building a highway over it until the mayor in 2008(ish) decided to uncover the river and make it a beautiful and clean city sanctuary.  Along the river there is a lot of art. At one point there are three columns where the highway used to be – I believe to commemorate the fact that they changed the river back. There was also a neat little “lovers” area with a heart mosaic on one wall and a carriage you can sit in and watch the fountain show they have at night. It was really beautiful along the river with a lot of runners saying hi and waving as they passed us going the other direction. We finished our run prior to reaching the point we had started and so we walked up to the city and wandered around.

It is a point of pride for Andrew that his girlfriend hates camping and museums. We managed alright at Pearl Harbor though eventually I had to sit and play Words With Friends while he wandered and read plaques next to old uniforms or whatever it was the museum was showing. Today was some kind of stroke of luck when we ended up at Dongdaemun Design Plaza – a museum for design – about 2 hours before it opened. We wandered around the outside which had a few art installations. It was the perfect amount actually – as I’d reached my limit of looking at things, there was nothing left to look at.

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What a treasure!

We grabbed some fried rice for second breakfast and headed home for second sleep.

South Korea is quickly becoming well known for its fashion. In fact the Dondaemun Design Plaza opened in 2014 with Seoul’s fashion show, and there is an underground mall there that is famous. The ladies here seem very fashion conscious sporting a million styles. And, the clothes here are well made and fairly cheap. Often you can find items for 10000₩ (about $8.75) or less. Andrew and I went shopping in the afternoon but found nothing really fun in the Dongdaemun area – that was probably mostly due to it being Sunday, when only the wedding and home goods stalls are open. We got back to the apartment where I left him to recuperate from having an extrovert girlfriend and went shopping on my own near the Ewha Women’s University.

This area was delightful, less crowded, more stylish. It was like Forever 21 meets the Pearl District and K-Pop. I found so many cute outfits that I couldn’t buy. Korean clothes are made one-size fits all. Unfortunately for me, that size is small. And by small I mean size 2 American. Most of the stores don’t even carry mediums, much less large (I believe size 6 is considered large here – not a joke). I managed to find a few shirts I liked and a skirt that I can squeeze into, but it turns out I will have to appreciate Korean fashion from a distance. That distance is the Vancouver Target.