Three weeks ago, I left Tyler at home to watch the cats and jetted off to Seoul, South Korea to visit my friends Aya and Daniel. They moved to Seoul almost 2 years ago for Daniel’s job and Tyler and I had been talking about visiting them. We had wanted to go last April but with our move to Kalamazoo, he didn’t feel comfortable taking 2 weeks off work when he had only just started so our trip got delayed. Aya and Daniel’s time in Seoul is almost up so we were running out of time to go there. Then, a few months ago I got a message from Aya saying she was pregnant! Yay! Her and I talked about Tyler and I coming out to visit but the end of the year and start of a new year was coming up, and since we had people coming pretty much all of December to visit us, we couldn’t come then. Tyler didn’t want to use all of his years vacation at the very start of the new year so he and I decided that I would go visit Aya by myself. I felt bad that Tyler wouldn’t be joining me but with Aya being pregnant, we wouldn’t be doing a lot of touring around Korea or even eating out that much anyways.
I had never really had any interest in going to Korea, but Tyler wanted to go just to eat. Daniel eats Korean food every day for lunch at work and has no real interest in eating it for dinner and neither he or Aya like spicy food so we never really ate much Korean food anyway. Tyler didn’t really miss anything. I brought him back a couple different kimchi and a soup base that I made for him a couple days after I got back. It was super spicy, even for Tyler!
Having had no interest in visiting Korea, I didn’t do any research on what to do or see or places to eat or shop. I wasn’t there to see Korea, I was there to see my best friend. On the plane, however, I was regretting not learning how to say hello, or please and thank you or even any numbers so I could pay for things. But I decided that this wasn’t my first time going to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language so I would get by by speaking the language of not speaking the language. It’s quite a good skill to have, I must say.
My flight from the U.S. was on JAL, which I was really excited about. I love flying JAL. The food is actually edible and the seats are comfy and the flight attendants aren’t dicks. It was a really really long set of flights and by the last flight from Narita to Seoul, I had been traveling for about 20 hours or so. One of the pluses of being on JAL is that when I’m so tired my brain doesn’t function in English anymore (it does the same when I’m super drunk, just ask Tyler) I can switch to Japanese without any issues. That is another good skill to have only when I’m around people who speak Japanese. Doesn’t work so well when I’m trying to talk to Tyler and he has to keep telling me I’m speaking Japanese haha.
Anyway, I planned a stop in Narita for the sole purpose of getting canned coffee. Ridiculous I know but oh my god I love that damn coffee.
Aya and Daniel sent a car to come pick my up because they were worried about me taking the train by myself (a common theme, I soon found out). I said it was ridiculous and they didn’t need to but they insisted and I’ll admit that after such a long day or travel, it was nice to not have to think about where I was going or what I was doing. Once I got to Aya and Daniels’s, we chatted for a bit then went to bed. Pretty eventful I know!
The first few days I was there, we didn’t actually do much of anything. We stayed in, ate come cooked food and played card games (I beat Daniel every time we played Innovation that entire trip hah!).
The first dinner out was a couple days after I got there. We went for Thai food and I think it was some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had. I even ate the curry and didn’t hate it, it was that good!
Daniel wanted to try this dim sum place that apparently is really good so we went there. It wasn’t open yet so we went to a department and since Aya was pregnant, she was hungry so we had some delicious snacks. One was taiyaki but made with strudel pastry and the other was a hot dog wrapped in fish cake. They were both soooo good!
After we walked around a bit we went back to the dim sum place. It was really really good!
On the fourth day, we went to their grocery store. It was a Saturday so it was pretty busy but it was still fun wandering around. They showed me the store that always makes them think of me (awwe!) and of course I had to take a picture!
Lunch that day was ramen, which I was pretty excited about because I love ramen. It did not disappoint! I posted a picture of it on Facebook for Tyler and he commented that his 25 cent ramen almost was that good. Hah!
For dinner that night, Daniel and I got some sashimi and Aya made mabo tofu for herself. Haha sorry Aya!. The sashimi was good, but Koreans like their fish kind of chewy, which to me, feels like eating bad grade sashimi. It still tasted good and I was happy to be eating it since the sushi in Kalamazoo is not good.
Can you see a theme with our food?
A couple days later Aya and I ventured out to a book store and went to have some lunch. The book store had both Japanese and English book so of course I got some Japanese pattern books. Lunch that day was tonkatsu. Like pretty much everything else I had eaten there so far, it was delicious. But still not Korean.
While we were out, we saw the palace and a statue of…I forget his name but he was the person who created the Korean written language. The palace was closed that day so we didn’t go in and instead went to Starbucks.
The next day, I finally had my first Korean meal after being there for only a week. we had Kamja tang, which is potato soup with braised pork bones. It was really good. Not spicy at all and had really good flavours. It tasted like something I would happily make at home.
The place we ate at was this little cafe like place in Namdaemun Market. I had gone to this market on my own to look for some fabric because it is the place where you can find anything. I never did find the fabric place because this market is so freakin huge that I couldn’t find anything haha! Oh well.
The next day, Aya and I went to, in my opinion, the best thing Seoul has to offer. A cat cafe. You go in, Pay like 8 bucks, and get to have a coffee while cats roam around you. You can pet them and give them treats (you buy those separately which of course we did) and enjoy their company. Daniel doesn’t like the cat cafe because he says they are snobs, which they were. A little. But only because they are used to people coming in and feeding them treats. The cats weren’t really snobs to us because we had lots of treats for them. I decided that if Tyler and I ever visit Seoul or for whatever had to move there, I would be there every day. Every. Day.
I am aware that was a lot of photos. Deal with it.
To celebrate the cat cafe, we went out for okonomiyaki. I love okonomiyaki and was really excited about it. Again, I was not disappointed! We had 2 different okonomoyakis and yakisoba.
The one and only tour I did was a tour to the DMZ, which is the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. I had been mulling over doing it for a couple day because it seemed really interesting but there was a lot of security involved so what if something happened. I decided that the chance of something happening was pretty slim so I signed up. You had to sign up at least 2 days in advanced and give your passport number so they can give it to the U.N. You know, just in case the North goes bat shit crazy. Yeesh. There were also a lot of rules to follow.
The first stop on the tour was the War Memorial of Korea. I had wanted to go to this anyway and was happy to see it included in the tour. It was a really well done place and had very interesting displays. There were a number of things I didn’t take pictures of, such as graves and bones of soldiers. It felt disrespectful.
There was a lot to see but I focused my pictures on Canada’s contribution to the war because reasons. I also took some video but I can’t upload it here. It is on my Facebook though.
I met some friends on the tour because I don’t have a very effective resting bitch face. The two guys sitting beside me were American and one of them did grad school in Michigan. They were nice and one of the first things they asked me when I said I was Canadian was “So Trailer Park Boys…” I said that I fucking love Trailer Park Boys and having lived on the east coast, it’s not that much of an exaggeration. He thought that was the best thing ever and we spent the 45 minute bus ride to the lunch place talking about the show. The place we stopped for lunch was…gross. It tasted like Americanised Korean food. It was sweeter than it should have been and just not very good at all. I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t feel it deserved to be remembered in photo form. Talking to my new pals (one of which has lived in Seoul for 6 years) agreed with me that it was not good. The place we stopped had a convenience store, and, of all places, a Popeye’s restaurant (an American fried chicken place).
It also had a creepy run down amusement park.
The next stop was Camp Bonifas, where we had a briefing on the DMZ. We got more (the same) history on the Korean war. More stories about how the North is crazy and more info about how the South wishes to unite with the North. No, not wishes. How they will unite with the North. It was a little weird. We all signed our lives away to be in the hands of the U.N. and made our way to the Joint Security Area on the border of the North and South.
The reason there are no pictures except for the paper where I signed my own possible death certificate is because pictures were not allowed. Once we got into the Joint Security Area, we had 3 minutes where we were allowed to take pictures of the guard (South only) and the cement slab that represents the border between the North and South. While in the Joint Security Area, we were allowed to wander around the entire building (for 3 minutes), which means stepping over the cement slab, technically placing us in North Korea. So, I am allowed to say that I have officially been to North Korea and have a could be death certificate and pictures to prove it. I thought that was pretty cool! And scary. But mostly cool.
We did see a North Korean guard but he was in the tan building behind the Joint Security area, peeking out every so often. There was also another guard in the guard tower to the right but we weren’t allowed to take pictures and the tour guide wasn’t allowed to point him out because pointing can be taken as an act of aggression. No joke.
Once we had our 3 minutes inside and another 3 minutes outside, it was time to go. We drove by the Bridge of No Return and were allowed to take pictures of it. This is the bridge that, after the war, prisoners of war were exchanged. They were allowed to decide which side they wanted to go to (but weren’t allowed to know which sides their families were on) but they weren’t allowed to cross back over.
After this, we went back to Camp Bonifas where they had a gift shop (I was tempted to buy some North Korean money) then we went back home. It was a long day but I really enjoyed the tour and was happy I decided to do it.
The next few days we just lounged about. I did some shopping (by this time Aya and Daniel were confident I could travel alone by myself) and found a Japanese fabric store in a mall that I got lost in trying to find a new charging cable. The next day we went back to that mall to go to the e-sports stadium where they broadcast League of Legends and Starcraft games. These are games that Tyler plays and I like watching the broadcasts because they are done in a way that sounds like sports (Seoul has 2 TV channels dedicated to e-sports). Unfortunately, there was some sort of special even that you had to have a ticket to get into so I never got to watch a game, which I was disappointed with but what can you do!
I went back to that mall the next day to buy some Gundam!
The next day we went out for Korean BBQ. I think this is the meal Tyler was most sad about missing, for good reason. It was really really good!
For my last day in Seoul, Aya and I went to a grocery store so I could get some kinchi for Tyler and we had lunch at McDonald’s because they had curly fries.
She showed me where I get the train to the airport the following morning and then we just went back to hang out and play games. It was a great end to a wonderful trip!
On the way home, I got another canned coffee in Narita because why not!
When I was finally back in Kalamazoo, Noklop ran away from me after sniffing me. Usually, he is the one that is really excited to have us home and doesn’t leave me along for like 3 days. Apparently, my smell changed while I was in Seoul. Noklop noticed it, Tyler noticed it and even after showering a couple times, my friend Megan noticed it. She walked by me when I was at her house and said “You smell different!” I hadn’t yet told her that Noklop sniffed me and ran away or that Tyler thought I smelled different. Crazy.