This was an action-packed weekend, but I’ll do my best to recap the awesomeness!
After a quiet morning of resting and web work on Friday, Jaclyn finished school at 1:30pm and we saddled up to head into Seoul.
But before we could head into Seoul, we needed lunch. We ended up going to Jaclyn’s favorite Shabu Shabu restaurant (called Mushroom World apparently, because of the several varieties of mushrooms they serve).
Let me tell you, if I could bring one thing back home to the US, this would be it. If you’ve never had Shabu before, basically you are brought a giant cauldron of broth that sits on a stovetop in the center of the table. You are given all kinds of ingredients – sliced beef, mushrooms, veggies, etc. and you dump them into the broth, where it all cooks together.
What I love about Shabu (and about most Korean eating) is the communal eating aspect. Everyone shares food and eats from the same big dish. You have your own smaller plates so that you can add certain spices or toppings to your preference, but the whole process is centered around one big shared meal. It’s tons of fun and isn’t something you really see in the US, which is a shame.
We packed our stomachs with Shabu, and I felt that life might be perfect. We somehow managed to roll ourselves out of the restaurant Willy Wonka style and towards the train station. Before that though, we got to grab a self-serve ice cream cone that comes with the shabu meal package – um, is this place heaven or what!?
We headed into Seoul and wandered along Insadong, which was a long pedestrian street packed with stalls and stores selling traditional Korean wares. There were beautiful prints, woven bags, ink brushes, and lots more.
As Jaclyn and I have discussed, it’s pretty funny to see the chains that end up appearing in Korea. Starbucks isn’t a huge surprise since it’s so ubiquitous, but I never would have guessed to see a Dunkin Donuts! Jaclyn said that Dunkin is one of the few chains that seems to offer local specialities – like a kimchi breakfast sandwich. Also making surprising appearances were Baskin Robins and Quiznos (but no Subway).
Jogyesa Temple: Buddhist Wonder Nestled in City
While traversing around the area, we got to stop at the gorgeous Jogyesa Buddhist temple, full of flowers and beautifully lit. It was quite entrancing, especially with the soft drums and chanting of worshipers in the temple attending to their evening prayers.
Jogyesa is especially unique because it’s situated smack in the middle of a noisy, bustling area of the city. Yet on the temple grounds, the mood is peaceful and serene. The temple may look out of place against the bright city buildings, but maybe it really is the perfect location, offering a convenient refuge for city dwellers.
Seoul Lantern Festival
Next we hit up the Seoul Lantern Festival! While I was expecting traditional lanterns, this festival was different than I had imagined, with great float-like structures of wire and cloth, lit by lights within them.
The giant lanterns ranged from commemorations of historic Korean figures (King Sejong, creator of the Korean hangul alphabet, is a huge deal here) to popular cartoon characters.
Then we headed back to Ansan, where we met up with some of Jaclyn’s friends at a nearby bar (the “beer with wings” bar), where Jaclyn introduced me to dried squid! It was tough to eat, with the consistency and chewiness of jerky, but it was pretty darn tasty. We agreed though, definitely not a date food.
This bar was one of many “self serve bars” in the area. What that means is that you go up to a cooler, pick out your beers, and sit down to drink them. Then at the end, you bring your bottles to the counter and the workers calculate how much you owe. Pretty chill and easy, I like it!
Noraebang: Singing Our Hearts Out at Korean Karaoke
After Jaclyn and I kicked butt at darts, defeating our disappointed adversaries and probably damaging their fragile egos, we headed over to noraebang, Korean karaoke! Apparently this is a very popular thing to do here. Jaclyn says that many of her nights out end with noraebang. At noraebang, your group is given their own private room, where you can then select your songs and sing your heart out against a giant television screen. They even have tambourines so that friends can provide backup!
I’m kind of in love with karaoke and wish it was a more common activity back in the US – how can you not be happy when belting out your personal rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody? We were so caught up in the music, I didn’t realize how late it was! We didn’t make it home until 4am!
Saturday: Off to Ansan Station
On Saturday Jaclyn took me to Ansan station, where we walked along the streets and checked out the street vendors. It was especially interesting to see all the unusual food that was being sold – one stand bragged dozens of kimchi varieties! Others featured buckets of live fish, as well as some mysterious looking innards I didn’t try to examine too closely.
For lunch we went to a fantastic Russian Uzbek restaurant which is a favorite of Jaclyn’s. We ordered delicious meat-stuffed lettuce wraps and peppers, along with a rice and meat dish with toasty warm bread. It was very mashita (delicious)!
Sinchon: Pajeon, Makgeolli, and Dancing!
After lunch we headed home and prepared for an evening in Seoul. We went out and met up with Jaclyn’s friend Sue in Sinchon.
We sat down at a restaurant where we ordered pajeon (a kind of Korean savory pancake).
We tried a lot of different varieties, but my favorite was the kimchi pajeon! Along with our main meal of pajeon, we were given all kinds of free appetizer plates/sides, consisting of salad, dumplings, meats, and eggs. I thought it was pretty cool they served so much additional food for free!
We ended up indulging in a TON of makgeolli (Korean rice wine). They had a deal there where you could order unlimited makgeolli rice wine for just 6,000 wan (aka $6). I couldn’t believe it! Korea is too cool!
After drinking one too many bottles of makgeolli, we headed over to Somos, a favorite spanish club of Jaclyn and Sue’s. Jaclyn especially enjoys it there because it gives her a chance to make use of her Spanish and reminisce with Spaniards about her fun times in La Coruna. After dancing and waiting impatiently as a moody bartender struggled to make three Sex on the Beach cocktails, we headed out and continued the night.
Sue headed home while Jaclyn and I visited Mike’s Tavern, another packed international hangout, where I caught the sound of Irish, French, and other tongues!
We headed to another bar for a final drink, but along the way I stopped to take my chances at a street game. Banking on my previous night’s luck with darts, I chose the dart ballon popping game. Sure enough I won, and I got to take home an adorable Totoro stuffed animal I had my eyes on!
Jaclyn and I went to our final bar, where we drank, watched K-Pop stars strut their stuff on a giant projection screen, and philosophized about life. As we were leaving, I realized that I couldn’t find my wallet! I wasn’t too upset knowing that I didn’t have a ton of cash in it, but I was annoyed at the thought of canceling cards and ordering a new driver’s license. We backtracked a bit and decided it was worth trying to ask the game stand if they had seen my wallet. Sure enough, they had found it and had been holding on to it for me! I was pretty amazed – Koreans are awesome like that!
We took a taxi cab back, and the driver was kind enough to insist on driving us to Jaclyn’s house, rather than the convenient landmark destination of the train station. It was another late night – we didn’t get home to 6am! Pretty crazy since I feel like a grandma these days, but something about Seoul keeps me awake and up for fun!