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40 Things to Do in Seoul, Korea

May 26, 2015
Since I spent three years living in Seoul, Korea, I thought it might be fun to compile a list of things to do there!  I did get a chance to do every single thing on this list besides go and hike up Bukhansan, which I hope to do one day if I ever make it back to Seoul. Oh, and I didn't take an art course at Jankura, but that's because it hadn't been started yet.  My friends and I did model for some of the artists there and got to see how others interpreted us!

1) Visit a palace. Seoul has a bunch of grand palaces to choose from, and I would highly recommend visiting one.  I've visited Gyeongbokgung Palace several times and also witnessed the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Deoksugung Palace.

2) Go to a market.  This is a must-do!  Dongdaemun Market was my personal favorite, but that's because I would go crazy buying clothes and accessories.  Namdaemun Market is better if you're looking for a wider variety of goods.  I found a gorgeous, traditional quilt there that I gave to my friend as a wedding present.  Be ready to haggle to get a few thousand won off the initial price!

3) Try Korean BBQ.  I'm not even a big meat-eater, but boy do I miss Korean barbecue! Korean BBQ consists thinly cut slices of beef or pork that can be marinated.  Many Koreans insist that bulgogi (rib-eye) is very popular with foreigners, but galbi (short ribs) seemed to be what my friends and I would go for out for more often, as there were plenty of inexpensive galbi restaurants very close to where we lived.  At restaurants, each table usually has its own grill and the raw meat is cooked right in front of you.  The best way to eat galbi is to place some meat in the lettuce that will be brought to you, then add in some garlic and a dollop of ssamjang sauce.  Wrap it all up and eat the whole thing at once and enjoy a low-carb taste explosion.  You can also add rice or kimchi into your lettuce wrap, but I liked to have those separately.  To each his own!

4) Stroll up and down Insa-Dong.  Go for a nice cup of tea at a traditional tea house such as The Flying Bird Tea Shop or shop for souvenirs like lacquered boxes, paper crafts, calligraphy materials, or celadon pottery.

5) Visit a temple.  If you can, I suggest going to one during Buddha's birthday, which is celebrated sometime in late April or May.  The date changes each year since it is based off of the Chinese lunar calendar. If you go during the time of Buddha's birthday, many temples are decorated with hundreds of colored lanterns, making it a fabulous sight.  If you're in Insa-Dong already, Jogyesa Temple is right there!

6) Sing at a noraebang. A noraebang is a karaoke room that you can rent with your friends at a reasonable rate.  I enjoyed going to these a few times because I would never want to get up and do karaoke alone at a bar full of people, but a noraebang is private, so I never felt too much pressure. The ones I went to had microphones, decent selections of English songs, and some even had musical instruments.  These are all over Seoul, but a pretty famous one is Luxury Noraebang in Hongdae.

7) See a traditional Korean performance.  I went to MISO at Chongdong Theater twice, and it was amazing!  In addition to the fan dance, you get to see the percussion quartet perform and also hear the Korean harp.

8) Shop for electronics at Yongsan Electronic Market.  There is a HUGE selection here!  I bought two cameras and an i-Pod at this particular market.

9) Go to an amusement park like Everland or Lotte World. I felt like it was practically a requirement to go to Everland since my students talked about it so frequently! The lines can get pretty long for rides, so go knowing that.

10) Walk along the Han River. There was a path about 10-15 minutes away from where I worked, but Hangang Park actually is located in 12 districts.  It was a nice place to unwind after work.  You might also be interested in taking a Han River Cruise.

11) Hike up Bukhansan.  There are different trails to choose from depending on your experience/what kind of hike you are looking for.  I've heard that there are plenty of gorges and rivers, but that it also offers good views of Seoul.

12) Check out Hongdae.  As Hongdae was just a short 15 minute bus ride away from where I lived, I headed here quite often.  Because it's right near Hongik University, there are lots of young college students in the area.  There's plenty to offer in terms of the nightlife.  One of my favorite bars was this weird, cave-like bar called OI, but if you're looking for clubs, Hongdae has those, too.  Hongdae is also worth visiting during the day.  There are coffee shops, places to shop, and great restaurants. Plus, it also has this cool free market every Saturday from March-November.

13) View cherry blossoms in the spring.  Cherry blossoms in Korea aren't as big of a deal as they are in Japan, but going to Yeouido Park to see them was a memorable experience!  If you're looking for another alternative besides Yeouido, have a look at this list of other locations.

14) COEX Mall- If shopping is your thing, then the COEX underground mall is for you!  If you don't like shopping, the mall also has a kimchi museum, movie theater, and aquarium.

15) Stop for a drink at a quirky bar.  I spent my 27th birthday at Sub-Zero Ice Bar, and although it's now closed, there are plenty of other fun bars to visit!  Another favorite of mine was the Bungalow Tropical Lounge.  Another cool thing to watch was a bar show--the bartenders juggled bottles of booze and did tricks with fire.

16) Book a tour through Adventure Korea.  This is a Seoul-based company that I have gone on many tours with.  They offer adventures both in and out of Seoul.  If you're staying in Seoul, I would recommend booking a Demilitarized Zone tour with them, as it can be an interesting day trip.

17) Pick up some souvenirs.  Some suggestions as to what to buy would be beauty products, items made from Hanji (traditional paper), varnished boxes, calligraphy brushes, stationery, tea, hanboks (traditional Korean dress), fans, pottery, etc.

18) Walk around Gangnam and Apgujeong.  Gangnam has become quite famous around the world due to the song "Gangnam Style."  It's true that a lot of rich people live here and things can be pricier than in other parts of Seoul, but there are still affordable places to shop and dine as well.  If you're looking for some high-end shopping, Apgujeong has Rodeo Street, named after Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

19) Admire the Hanoks in Samcheong-dong.  Hanoks are traditional Korean houses.  I didn't even do this until my third year in Seoul, but it quickly became a favorite spot of mine. Besides the hanoks, Samcheong-dong is full of cafes, galleries, and shops.

20) Try an all vegetarian meal at Sanchon.  The restaurant is owned by a former monk and the food is completely vegan.  I went way back in 2004, and was blown away by the atmosphere and by number of dishes I got to try!  (There is a set menu, just as a heads up!) Fresh veggies from the mountains are used to create the dishes.

21) Go to Namsangol Village, which consists of restored houses from the Joseon Dynasty. The workers there are dressed in traditional outfits and put on performances.  There are wedding reenactments, taekwondo classes for foreigners, and plenty of old-fashioned games to try.

22) Enjoy one of Seoul's many parks.  There are hundreds of parks in Seoul, but some of the big ones are: Yeouido, World Cup Park, Olympic Park, and Seoul Forest.  Where I lived, there was a lot of pollution and not many trees, so to get out to a green area for a day was a real treat!

23) Chill by Cheonggyecheon Stream.  This stream was actually reconstructed in the early 2000's as a part of an urban renewal project.

24) Stop by Myeong-dong.  This has got to be one of the most famous places in Seoul.  It's always crowded and its neon lights at night are iconic.  There are a lot of name-brand stores here as well as tons of restaurants.

25) Seoul Tower- Go up the tower to visit an observatory for panoramic views of Seoul.

26) Stay out all night and experience some of Seoul's nightlife.  Seoul is a great city for night owls!

27) Relax at a jimjilbang.  A jimjilbang is a Korean spa or bathhouse, and they are all over the place.  Most of them are inexpensive and there are hot tubs, baths, saunas, and Korean massages available.  Just a warning, my Korean massage was kind of painful at times, but my skin was nicely exfoliated and never felt so soft. Also, I've heard of people going to a jimjilbangs instead of getting a hotel, as they are cheaper and some jimjilbangs have places to sleep.

28) Learn about Korean history at the National Folk Museum of Korea.  Here you'll learn all about ancient times in Korea and can view many artifacts from long ago.

29) Visit a dog or cat cafe.  After about a half of a year of living in Seoul, my good friend was really missing her dog back home in Canada.  She suggested going to a puppy cafe to cheer her up.  Both of us went and it was such a fun time!  Okay, it didn't smell the greatest, but I suggest it if you're an animal lover.

30) Learn about Korean military history at the War Memorial.

31) Swim at Hamilton Hotel's rooftop pool. This is a great place to cool off on one of Korea's sticky summer days.

32) See Nanta, one of the most famous shows in Korea.  It has been compared to Stomp but with cooking!  There's no talking in it, so don't worry about not understanding anything.  Just sit back and enjoy!

33) Catch a flick at a DVD Bang. It's a private room where you can watch a DVD on a big screen.  Okay, it's rumored that this is where many Koreans go to "hook up," but my friends and I would go every Sunday night as a way to relax and unwind before the next week of school started up again. Every DVD Bang I've been to has a large selection of original version American movies.  I've also watched Korean movies in these rooms and have just asked to have the subtitles turned on.  Some of my favorite Korean movies are: Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall...and Spring, My Sassy Girl, and Old Boy.

34) Try a cold bowl of patbingsu.  Korea is not known for its delicious desserts, but one Korean dessert that I did LOVE was patbingsu.  It is shaved ice, milk, fruit, and sweet red beans. Some versions of patbigsu are also served with ice cream.  If you're looking for a good place to get patbingsu in Seoul, read this post.  I remember getting this dessert at local places and also at a chain called Ice Berry.

35) Learn about Korean patriots and witness a darker side of history at Seodaemun Prison History Hall.

36) Shop til you drop near Ehwa Women's University.  This spot is also known as Edae. There are bargains to be had.

37) Try some delicious street food!  I've eaten Korean street food a countless number of times, but some of my favorite items to try are: tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), mandu (dumplings), hotteok (pancakes filled with cinnamon and sugar), and bungeoppang (fish shaped cakes filled with red bean paste.) There are also plenty of things that I never tried and never had any desire to try like beondegi (boiled silkworm pupae.)

38) Take a class at Jankura Artspace. This artist share studio is owned and operated by my friend Mike.  There are lots of drawing classes as well as printmaking and photography workshops.  The classes are taught in English, so it's a great place to meet other expats as well as English-speaking Koreans (potential friends!) Obviously, this would be more ideal for someone who was on an extended stay in Seoul.

39) Watch a B-Boy show in Hongdae. The one that I saw was called Ballerina Who Loved a B-Boy and it was incredible!  It's like a dance movie coming to life in front of your eyes. I'm not sure if the one I saw is still running, but there are other B-Boy shows in Hongdae that I'm sure would be awesome, too.

40) Go to Itaewon.  Like many of the expat teachers living in Korea, I had a love/hate relationship with Itaewon. Some areas are sketchy and there are some creepy people there, but then then there are also normal people.  Because of the U.S. Army base nearby, there are many military members who hang out in the area.  Many English-speaking foreign teachers also visit Itaewon.  I visited Itaewon when I craved the comforts of home...Not going to lie, sometimes going to Gecko's for a Western-style breakfast was just what I needed. I also would frequent Itaewon to get international phone cards, to visit the Foreign Food Mart, to go to an English-speaking doctor or travel agent, or just eat a juicy burger. Sometimes it was fun going there, but too much was overkill for me.

Have you ever been to Seoul?  What am I missing from this list??

Life Lately: Bluffton, Beaches, Books

May 25, 2015
It's crazy that I'm finally wrapping up my first year teaching in America!  We have less than three weeks left, and I'm relieved to say that I think I'll survive it.  That is, if an alligator doesn't bite off my arm.  (Being dramatic.)  No, seriously, though, we just had Career Day with the students, and our school nurse works as a surgical nurse over the weekends sewing people up.  She said that her longest surgery was a 17 hour one involving a man who got his arm bitten off by an alligator.  Then a substitute teacher chimed in about this alligator that used to "hang out" at her local golf course that grew to be 12 feet long.  It got so big because people kept feeding it, and then it associated people with food and started getting aggressive, so it had to be put down.  Okay, my nightmares are now fueled for weeks--apparently I have an irrational fear (is it that irrational considering those two anecdotes, though??) of gators!

I'll come back from my tangent and continue talking about what I've been up to lately.  I recently spent some time in Bluffton, South Carolina enjoying an art and food festival.  One of my acquaintances was there who is from the area, and she suggested that we try some lobster rolls from the Joe Loves Lobster Rolls stall.  Oh my goodness...AMAZING!  I've only had lobster a few times in life, but I've got to take advantage of this restaurant being so close to me and go there again soon.  The event was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed browsing the booths full of locally made artwork.  A Low Country souvenir that I haven't bought myself yet, but that I still really want is a handmade Gullah basket.  There were some for sale, but I held off because there is a larger selection in Charleston. Bluffton is an extremely cute historic town that is well-worth a visit!

I had my students make this Mother's Day candle craft a few weeks back.  I thought it was a gift that my students' mothers might actually enjoy because my former cooperating teacher used to make them with her students, and they seemed to be a hit.  I went out and bought the supplies we needed: white candles, wax paper, and tissues.  I had my students start to decorate the tissues with magic markers like the example, and then used a hair dryer to have the tissues "melt into" the candle.  The only problem was that it seemed to be taking forever to stick to the candle and some of them wouldn't fully blend in.  After I pulled up the website and re-read the instructions, I noticed that it said to use tissue PAPER and I used actual tissues, ha ha.  I felt like the biggest ditz after reading that and then got paranoid that they would catch on fire if parents tried to actually light them.  The art teacher assured me that it was okay, and even though I used the wrong kind of paper they still turned out all right. #Blondemoment

I've also been to Savannah quite a few times lately.  Strolling through the city always makes for a pleasant day in my book, and I get some exercise in.  Trust me, burning calories is a good thing because I always end up indulging on something delectable in Savannah. I convinced my pal Ev to stop at Leopold's Ice Cream and we got mint chocolate chip sundaes.  After having one of those, it was so good that I don't think I'll be able to ever try anything else from there!  Also, the last time I went to Savannah, I visited The Flying Monk Noodle Bar on Broughton with a friend.  He said his food was just average, but my spicy red Korean noodle dish was just what I had been craving.

Other stuff that I've done recently is to finally try a S'Mores Frappuccino from Starbucks.  For me, it was a win, especially because I paid the 95 cents and got a cookie straw with it!  On another note, I got a library card, finally!  I checked out Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and The Goldfinch.  I've already finished Midnight... and am reading The Art of Racing in the Rain now.  Very rarely do I ever put a book down, but The Goldfinch was just NOT holding my attention and I found it a bit tedious, so I quit reading it.  Maybe that was a mistake and it would have gotten better (??)

This year, I've made it out to the beach three times already!  A major plus of living here and dealing with this high cost of living is the proximity to the beach.  Of the three times I've gone, I've been to Coligny Beach twice on Hilton Head Island.  That is a popular choice for most people because of the free parking.  It can be kind of a pain to find a spot, though.  You have to go early or get lucky most days if you go on the weekend because it can get really crowded.  This weekend, my friend Ev asked me if I wanted to go to the beach with one of his friends who knew of a more laid-back spot called Driessen Beach.  Ev and I both really liked Driessen a whole lot and would definitely go back there.  The drawback is that you do have to pay $3 for parking, but it is nice that it is less crowded than Coligny. I'm not saying that I dislike Coligny, but it is nice to change it up!

Even though I've been working hard, I try to make the most of my weekends, at least on Saturday's!

What's your favorite beach?

Four Things

May 19, 2015
Way back in April, Lora tagged me in her Four Things post. Since I have some extra time this weekend (pre-writing this post), I thought I'd go ahead and add my answers in. :)

Four Names People Call You

1) Ms. K- All of my students!
2) La La- My sister couldn't say my name when she was little, and that is what she called me.  My family members still call me that.
3) Claudia- I liked to tease my other younger sister growing up and called her Natasha one day after the villainess from Rocky and Bullwinkle, which she did not appreciate. To get me back, she decided to call me Claudia because she thought it was a really ugly name.  I didn't mind because Claudia was my favorite character in The Babysitter's Club series, ha ha!
4) Mona- People always think that they're so original when they call me this because of The Mona Lisa...I've heard this A LOT.

Four Jobs I've Had

1) English as a Second Language teacher
2) Nanny
3) Assistant manager at a movie theater
4) 1st grade teacher

Four Movies I've Watched More Than Once

1) Amelie
2) Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
3) 500 Days of Summer
4) Garden State

Four Books I Would Recommend

1) Gone With the Wind
2) Shantaram
3) Any Gillian Flynn book (Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects)
4) A Thousand Splendid Suns

Four Places I've Lived

1) Pennsylvania
2) Ohio
3) South Korea
4) France

Four Places I'd Rather Be

1) In North Carolina with my two sisters and niece.  I'm a little devastated that I'm unable to meet them this week.   
2) On my Iceland trip with Rachael!
3) in Savannah
4) At the beach

Four of My Favorite Foods

Okay, I'm way into desserts, so probably my four faves are sweets, but for this list I decided to go with "real" foods.

1) pizza
2) spinach salad with some type of sweet vinaigrette dressing
3) Korean foods like kimchi bokkeumbap or dolsot bibimbap
4) sweet potatoes

Four TV Shows I Watch

1) Game of Thrones
2) New Girl
3) The Vampire Diaries and The Originals (Should I not admit this?  They're GOOD!!)
4) The Walking Dead

Four Things I'm Looking Forward to in 2015

1) Finishing up my first year of teaching in the USA
2) Exploring the Low Country this summer
3) Going to NYC, Iceland, and Boston with Rachael
4) Staying with my sister in North Carolina

Four Things I'm Always Saying

1) "You're trifilin'."  My bestie was yelling at his dog and said this to him, and I thought it was hilarious.  It has become a part of my regular vocabulary.
2) Ratchet.  This is because of Rachael!  I used to use the word "raunchy," a lot, but I have to keep up with the times.  I think it's hilarious to say because I'm sure I'm not in the demographic that probably says this frequently, which only makes me want to use it more.  My co-workers didn't know what it meant.
3) Whatever.  A personal fave since like 1995.
4) Oh my goodness or just Oh my God!  I'm trying not to say OMG because I live in the Bible Belt and I'm sure my students would tell me that's not nice, so I don't want to slip and say it in front of them. 

You're supposed to tag four people to do this, but I'm not going to do that.  :)  Feel free to do this if you want, and let me know in the comments section if you do it so that I can visit your blog and see your post.

Fun Facts About Savannah

May 18, 2015
My knowledge of Savannah was limited until I visited the city for my first time about four years ago. Luckily, the friend who invited me to go to Savannah grew up one county away from Chatham county (where Savannah is located), so he was able to fill me in on a lot of the history.  Since then, I've enjoyed learning little tidbits about Savannah here and there. Learning quirky or historical facts about different places will never cease to amuse me, so I thought I'd share some of what I learned so far.

**I'll start with this one because even though I've been in the Low Country for almost a year now, I'm STILL learning. About two weeks ago, my friend and I went to Rocks on the Roof at The Bohemian Hotel on River Street.  We took a look at the drink menu, and I saw a drink called Chatham Artillery Punch.  I was informed that this is a rather famous drink in Savannah and that it was originally made in horse buckets in the 1800's.  Chatham Artillery Punch is a combination of rum, brandy or cognac, bourbon, champagne, lemons, sugar, and sometimes nutmeg is added.  Something funny is that it's considered to be a great party drink around here, so when I searched for recipes, many of them yielded 25 servings or more!  Eventually, I did find a recipe for a single serving if you want to try and make it.

** General James Oglethorpe came up with the layout of Savannah in the Colonial Period. Because it was a planned city, today Savannah boasts 22 beautiful squares in the midst of historic homes, churches, and businesses.  There were originally 24 squares, but Liberty and Elbert squares are lost because both of them got paved over.  Oglethorpe is a pretty famous name in Savannah and you'll see it in many places.  Of course the general has a square named after him, but there's also Oglethorpe Mall, Oglethorpe Avenue, and even a trolley tour company called Oglethorpe Tours, to name a few places.

** In the Antebellum period, Savannah's rich soil produced a significant amount of cotton.  In fact, Eli Whitney's cotton gin was invented right outside Savannah.

** The book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil takes place in Savannah--I'll be reviewing this true crime story sometime soon!

** Plenty of movies have been filmed in Savannah including Forrest Gump, The Gift (the one starring Katie Holmes), The Last Song, Now and Then, and of course Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

** Because Savannah is a port city, there has never been a shortage of guests to entertain.  Perhaps that's why Savannah is nicknamed "The Hostess City of the South."

** Some famous Savannahians include the songwriter Johnny Mercer, Flannery O'Connor, and Juliette Gordon Low.  Savannah is currently home to Paula Deen, and who owns The Lady and Sons restaurant on Congress Street.

** Savannah is Georgia's first city.

** Each spring beautiful azaleas bloom all over the city.  This year, the azaleas were in bloom in the middle of March.

** Savannah is known for its live oak trees draped with Spanish moss.

** There is free parking on the weekends in the historic district at the parking meters.

** Savannah and Charleston have always been rival cities.

** The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has an impact on the city.  The students definitely help the local economy and many of them work in local restaurants or shops.

** Savannah is a "wet" city, meaning you can carry your drinks around with you as long as they are in a plastic cup. :)

** The book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil takes place in Savannah--it's a true crime story, and I'll be reviewing it sometime soon.

** USA Today (and many other sources) consider Savannah to be one of America's most haunted cities.  There are several companies in Savannah offering ghost tours, but I recommend Blue Orb.

** During the Civil War, Savannah surrendered so General Sherman didn't destroy it. He "gave" it to Abe Lincoln as a Christmas gift.

** Savannah hosts the 2nd largest St. Patrick's Day celebration in the United States after NYC.  I went this year, and yes, it is a big deal!  The even water in several of the city's fountains is dyed green, and a green light is cast over City Hall.

Did you learn anything about Savannah?  Have anything to add? What are some fun facts about the city you live in?

Five Favorites

May 11, 2015
Happy Monday!  It has been awhile since I've posted about my favorites, so I figured now was as good a time as any to share.  

1) Queen Helene Mint Julep Facial Masque- This mask is pretty amazing for oily or combination skin!!  If you've ever tried the Glamglow Mud Mask you know that it pulls oil and gunk from your pores so much so that you can see the results when the mask has dried.  The Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque did the same thing for me, and since this mask is just a fraction of the price of what I would pay for Glamglow, I'd say it's a better alternative for me. I've been using it once a week and my skin feels (and looks) better after each use.

2) Black Keds- Before now, I hadn't worn a pair of Keds since about the 5th grade when I had a pair that I decorated with puffy paint. Recently my sister Melissa sent me some black Keds for my birthday.  They look great with pants and with casual dresses, and I've worn them twice teaching so far.  I had been wearing Sanuk sandals a lot, but the drawback to those is that the kids step on my feet left and right, which can be pretty painful.  Sometimes a closed toe shoe just makes more sense for work.  I know that I'm going to get a lot of use out of them--sometimes you can't go wrong with the classics!

3) Shelia G's Chocolate Chip Brownie Brittle- This snack is pretty delicious and tastes just like the crispy brownies on the edge of the pan that may have been cooked just a smidge too long.  Although I do love a gooey brownie, I don't always feel like making brownies, so I turn to these bite-sized snacks satisfy my sweet tooth.
4) Eleanor & Park-This young adult book by Rainbow Rowell was a great read.  It's the unlikely love story of two teenagers in the 80's who end up falling for each other, despite logic and all the obstacles in their way.  What I liked the most about this book is that the characters were well-developed and "real."  I found myself really rooting for these characters and couldn't put the book down because I wanted to see if Eleanor and Park would get their happily ever after or not.  There's nothing quite like falling in love for the first time, and this book will take you back!

5) Perfect Fit Tank Top by Grace & Lace- This tank top is seriously wonderful for layering. As a tall girl, I like to wear a tank top under some of my other tops for extra coverage.  The Perfect Fit tank is great for that because it's long and it stays put.  It really doesn't move out of place when I bend or stand up, which probably makes it the best tank top I've ever owned.  I bought this tank top from Oakleigh Rose and was lucky enough to snag one in black, which is currently sold out.  They do still have the white and teal available, and I'm thinking I'm going to buy the teal one, too.  There are other colors available on the Grace & Lace site, but I prefer to shop at Oakleigh Rose because of the free shipping. 

Image via Oakleigh Rose

Have you tried any of these items?  Are you with me?  I'd love to hear what your current faves are in the comments section!
* There are some affiliate links in this post for which I will receive a small amount of compensation, but all opinions are my own.