Departures

I love airports. And it is not because of those ubiquitous Koreanovelas that feature at least ONE airport scene. I love the feel of the wide spaces, the bright lights … even the cold metal seats. There is something about aeroportos that make my heart skip. I always equate airports to going to some place unknown and going home.

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My Top 10: Myeong-dong, Seoul, South Korea

Whenever I am in a new place, my travel doesn’t end in having my photo taken at a well-know landmark. I do at least three other stuff : feel the culture, eat what the locals are having and shop (even it’s just window shopping). In Myeong-dong, I did those and more. Here are the few stuff one can do when you’re stuck in Seoul’s fashion street:

1. Watch the Nanta Cooking Musical show. An upbeat performance with drums, laughter and dancing.

2. Taste Lotteria’s burgers. The Korean fastfood counterpart of Jollibee and McDonalds.

3. Visit the beauty shops. These shops give freebies upon entrance and/or purchase any of their products. Freebies range from cotton balls to BB cream sample to toner and emulsion cream.

4. Purchase iced coffee in E-mart, 711 or Watsons. My favorite? Let’s Be  Mild Coffee.

5. Try out the sweet squid and twisted potatoes being sold in the side streets. It makes window shopping not a hungry experience.

6. Visit Forever 21 store. When I was there, they were having a sale. You can purchase a pair of sneakers at almost 300 pesos!

Forever21 in the motherland (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr)

7. Try samgyetang – their version of arroz caldo with Korean herbs.

8. Drink soju and eat ddukbokki in one of the tents.

9. Have your photo taken infront of Myeong-dong Theater, the home of the old National Theater of Korea. It stands out amidst the numerous shops in the area.

Infront of Myeong-dong Theater

10. Visit the Myeong-dong Cathedral. It is the main Catholic Church in Korea. One will never fail to notice it because of its imposing Gothic structure at the end of the street.

Getting holy in Myeong-dong (source: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr)

Seoul Redux

When I left Incheon on 13 October 2010, I didn’t imagine that I will be back to the same place a year and 2 weeks later. For me, it was that soon that I can still remember the route from the airport to Seoul.

Since this is an official trip (like the first one, albeit a very short one this time), I made a mental note to explore a bit of downtown Seoul every night after all the meetings and discussions. After all, I will be staying in fashion street a.k.a. Myeongdong.

I saw the sign

Upon arrival, we were welcomed by a representative of the Philippine consulate office and were brought to the VIP parking. VIP parking indeed since of all people I got to see up close in So. Korea —I saw Kim Yuna! The famous ice princess (she is actually treated like a princess in her country for the figure skating accolades she brought to So. Korea) in her really goodlooking Equus (a Hyundai luxury car). Even our driver commented that he had a picture taken with Yuna.

Since the trip to Incheon to Seoul is long, I had all the time to savor the scenes without taking photos. Who wants to see a shot of nudflats anyway? I ended up reminiscing bus trip I had a year ago sans the earth shattering “do you like me?”

It was autumn in South Korea and I was more prepared this time. Thicker jackets, check. Moisturizer, check. Body warming oil, check. Unfortunately, it was icy chilly that time of the year. And it wasn’t even snowing yet! Just imagine my real kilig to the bones moment when I stepped out of the car.

It was kinda late when we arrived but we had to eat something! Something Korean! We searched for 삼겁살 or samgyeopsal or thinly sliced pork grilled over coal and wrapped in lettuce or perilla then eaten with gochugang…in short, we ended up in a nonsmoking chicken restaurant. Yay for that. Alas, it was more of an all-poultry eatery. We had 삼겨당 or samgyetang, sweet and sour chicken and a duck dish. With all the banchans and these – it took us forever to eat half of what was served.

Poultry dish and banchans

The Daily Grind

Since we were billeted near our meeting venue, we had no choice but brave the super cold weather while walking in the underground street and across the main road occupied by Lotte. Dang, that Lotte! Ang laki-laki! Unlike in the Philippines that you’ll be perspiring within 5 minutes while threading your way to work, a morning walk in Seoul is trying to stay “cool” when your feeling cold. It sucks more when you meet some Seoulites drinking iced coffee. You got to be kidding me!

The same stuff is experienced after our meetings…but colder. One just can’t wait to get into the hotel room to layer up. Maybe I am not really built to stay in temperate countries. Let the sunshine in!

Touring Around

Being a lakwatsera has its advantages. For one – I am not afraid to get lost. Myeong-dong might be a tiny street but with all the alleys and people milling around, it can be overwhelming. Plus the fact that you can’t understand their language and it is night time, one can be wary to go places. Well, those don’t apply to me. I might not be a good map reader but I do remember landmarks (is this the Etude House we passed by earlier? or The Skin Food earlier was much bigger than this) and I am not afraid to ask. I know that my Korean is limited to ordering food and saying thank you but there is really no time for pride when you don’t know your way back to the hotel.

I might have a prob with my short term memory but when it comes to places, I do remember directions. It didn’t hurt that I’ve been to Namdaemun a year ago so going there wasn’t a problem since it was just a very long walk from Myeong-dong. My colleagues were amazed how I know the ins and outs of Shinshegae underground and the tiny alleys in Namdaemun-naku, kayo na ang mawala the first time! 

On our way to Namdaemun

The Goods

When you love beauty products, South Korea is the place to be. One alley can have more than 5 stores selling masks, nail polishes, B&B creams, etc. What is good about buying there is the freebies one can get. There are stores that even give you a box of cottons upon entering their stores. Just imagine what I got when I bought a pack of facial masks…I know, I got carried away with that stuff.

It might be a bit expensive to buy in department stores but one can get a quarter of the price in the night markets. And I am not talking about class AA types. I scoured the alleys to have my hands on a cool satchel for the Euro chic look. I even horded a few Bausch and Lomb contact lens solutions in travel bottles, thanks to 7-11!

In between kim (or nori) and green tea boxes, the ABC chocolate candy and Peppero sticks are must-haves. ABC is pure chocolate goodness at real cheap price and Peppero is of course–Peppero! Sticks covered with chocolate or almonds is heaven. My ultimate favorite, of course, is the iced canned coffee sold in 7-11, Family Mart and Watsons. Cheopo kaayo.

Hopefully, I can see all of Seoul leisurely one day with my chingus that are dying to practice their Hangeul. There are still a lot of places to see and I will definitely be their unofficial tour guide when they want to get lost in Seoul and beyond.

South Korea in my Mind

In the height of my K-pop addiction 4 years ago, I really wanted to set foot in South Korea. I actually prepped myself for it: started foodtripping with Shirl, April, Agnes and Rhiza; learned  Hangeul characters and read words; memorized basic phrases and the list goes on.

Then it waned. Just when I stopped watching Yunyega every Tuesday and visiting Soompi every other week and the only K-related activity I do is updating myself with Hyun Bin,  an opportunity for me to go to South Korea landed on my feet. I grabbed the chance to reimmerse myself with the Korean culture – in a grand fashion. In between lectures and field visits, I soaked up all the K experience I can absorb.

Laking Korea
Mace, one of my colleagues, told the group in our table one Saturday morning that I am laking Korea. One asked, “Totoo?” Which Mace immediately replied, “Dito sya lumaki sa Korea! Tayong lahat, lumaki talaga sa Korea.” Meaning, everyone gained an inch or two with all the banchans served to us every meal.

No doubt about it, Korean cuisine is not only good in taste, it is also very pleasing to the eyes. For someone who is into spicy food, kimchi is not a yucky taste and stews are meant to be enjoyed and not diluted with glass of water. Yet, my heart still goes for the pickled radish which comes in yellow or pink. I haven’t tried kalgooksu but jajangmyeon (they were wrong when they say it is an acquired taste – the real thing really taste sooooo gooood), samgyeopsal with soju, samgyetang (the real sarap to the bones with the uber tenderness of the chicken; think arroz caldo with the whole chicken and Korean herbs), octopus with gochujang (new favorite!) and odeng and ddukbokki in Chungang Market (for the street food experience) made me fall inlove with their cuisine all over again.

<<Street food experience with Mel, Jann and Mace

Koreans love their appetizers but everytime banchans are served, most of my colleagues would sigh and say “Can we have the main course already?” Dang, appetizer pa lang, ulam na.

For the sweet tooth, they actually don’t have desserts. Their pinaka-end of the meal beverage is coffee from a dispenser near the restaurant’s main entrance.

Fashion
Everyone looks fashionable. Not in the Western kind of way but in their own style. I think they have mastered the art of layering and walking in high heels like our K partner Hye Young  (we call her Ann) who can walk the green tea plantation with her 3 inch heels. And the men, they all look good in suits. And when they dress down, they still look good with the layers of clothes they have.

They love their violets.

When we were in Myeong-dong in downtown Seoul, it seemed the street was a big catwalk, the place being the fashion district. Even the street where our hotel is located is full of trendy people —day in and day out, you can see guys dressed like some k-pop idols and girls looking like they stepped out of a magazine.

Englishee
Language is still a bit of a challenge especially when one goes outside the city. Our lectures most of the time took double the time since we have an interpreter. And with the penchant of Pinoys to ask a lot of questions – a 30 minute open forum would actually be an hour of Q and A.

Good thing that our counterparts do know how to speak English. Some are functional, some got the North American accent. You just need to simplify your sentences though, high falluting words not included.

How we love to exchange Filipino/Hangul lessons! From “annhyeong haseyo” to “hana-dul-set-net” to “alis na tayo” to “matulog na tayo.” Every bus ride to the field site became a Language 101 session.

Two phrases I learned : Chanangniya!(Just kidding) and Mashita! (It’s delicious!)

Getting Cultured

Korea is not only known for its Hallyu stars that swept across Asia. For a change, we forgot that we are in the land of Bi, Wonder Girls, Jang Dong Gun and Boys over Flowers. We were able to watch 2 different performing arts : Nanta Cooking (a musical slash skit) and the Legend of Flower (cultural presentation ala the Bayanihan Dancers). Nanta Cooking was performed in Myeong Dong – a story about chefs racing against time for a 6PM wedding dinner. They played with water bottles, laddles, knives, pots and pans. Energizing performance with abs all over the place (added bonus) while hitting the drums with colored water on top. Legend of the Flower, on the other hand, is performed at an exclusive area in a chi-chi neighborhood in Seoul. It was too traditional (except for the breakdancing in one part of the performance) with a tight rope exhibition to boot! Everyone was dressed in the traditional garb and the music emanating was reminiscent of  Korean Air’s TVC.

Before that start of the performance

History Buffs and Traditions

Koreans love their history so much. Their history actually is well documented that you can’t help but wonder, how did they do that? Palaces are over the place, even in downtown Seoul; there are lots of tangible monuments (as what they call them) scattered in every city/province/county; and traditional houses are ubiquitous. As we experienced in Boseong, sleeping in a traditional room with the heated floor is one for the books. Eating in a low table and sharing a big pot of stew (di uso ang serving spoon) are common. Being served with soju by someone older with your two hand holding your shot glass used to be just part of the scene in a Korean drama but actually doing it is really cool. Nagkakabistuhan sa seniority.

Doing the Korean way is unforgettable.

Hot Stuff and Coffee

Aside from spicy dishes, they love their coffee as much as they love their green tea. In Anyang2-ro alone, there are at least 5 coffee shops – Starbucks not included. And their coffee shops are not the cafes you usually see. They actually have theme cafes! One has frilly pink-princess type; one reminiscent of the Coffee Prince, and; dreaming cafe that looks like a teen’s bedroom.

When they are not drinking in the cafe, iced canned coffee is the way to go. We were always served iced coffee that I actually crave for it every night. You drink it while in a session, inside the bus and walking along Seoul. Dang those iced coffee!

Speaking of coffee, don’t expect the overflowing being served as “may sipa” as kapeng barako. Unless you go to Starbucks or the real coffee shops I mentioned above, their brewed coffee looks like black tea with just a hint of caffeine.

Kimchi-smile

I think they now realized that Pinoys love to take photos. And love to pose for wacky shots. At first,  they were wondering what is a wacky shot…which they eventually got the hang of it.  It goes beyond the usual peace sign, they learned.

Group hug with Hummer/Hyun Moo

If our group love wacky shots, they are so into a squeeze or akbay shots. Just get a picture taken with anyone of them and they either put their faces so close to your face or they’ll put their hand on your shoulders or when you are between two guys, actually sandwich you na tipong di kayo nagkakasya sa frame. They are really touchy-feely when it comes to photo-ops. This goes for the Korean ladies too.

 

With Sung Wan and Mace at Boseong Green Tea Plantation

With ka-chikang Hyun-woong/Ares

Sung Jae, Mr. Lee and Mace plus me

K experience like no other. With the two weeks I stayed there with the MIC and Saman people, it is indeed an unforgettable training.

I’ll definitely go back (budget and time permit) and probably meet some of ’em.

Oh yeah, some will be coming over this November. Pinas’ turn to extend big time hospitality.