Thursday, July 28, 2011

Treasure hunting

Back home, one way my fella and I like to spend a weekend afternoon is browsing through a flea market. I both love and hate flea markets. On the one hand there's the cool antique type items like phones and record players and piles of used books that look as though they've been nestled in an attic somewhere, gathering a little dust but in nice enough shape to move to a new home. And on the other hand there's the mounds of absolute junk that look as though they were finally chucked out of a smelly, dank basement and landed on a table five sizes too small to hold it all. I cringe away from the latter group but the former just keeps bringing me back.

So we decided to spend a Sunday checking out the Seoul Folk Flea Market and seeing what they had to offer. Unlike most flea markets which are open weekends only, the Seoul Folk Flea is open every day with the exception of two Tuesdays a month. The location is apparently fairly new which allows for tons of vendors so there is plenty to keep you occupied for a few hours. We made it there about mid-afternoon and surprisingly the crowd wasn't too bad so we took our time wandering for a while.
An antique Singer sewing machine! There's hope! Maybe this will be a flea market free of people's old shi-
... nevermind.
Though we do like to look through everything, we both have certain items in mind when searching through a flea market. He looks for video game related things- controllers, games, systems, etc.- while I hunt for old VHS tapes of Disney movies. And yes, my search actually is that specific. You know the ones I'm talking about, not just those tapes that come in the plain cardboard sleeves but the totally 90s Disney boxes that are big and plastic and white and awesome. Of course I already had a handful that we actually bought when I was growing up but after finding a few for cheap at this record/movie store by our college campus that we'd frequent, I got it into my head to track them all down.

So naturally, since we were at a flea market, I was hoping to find maybe a movie or two hidden among all the clocks and paintings and golf clubs but I didn't have high expectations... until we turned a corner and saw this:
A seriously amazing collection of VHS tapes in good if not great condition! They even had tapes of new movies that aren't even released on VHS in the US anymore. I couldn't even decide what I wanted. Sure I have almost all Disney movies in my collection now but these ones have Korean covers and the novelty of such small things never ever wears off for me. But of course I couldn't buy them all and I'd never have been able to choose so what we ended up buying instead was The Dark Knight. We love it because, well first because we are VHS nerds, but also because it's on two tapes and so you get the cover with Batman as well as the cover with the Joker and the title is written out in Korean and just looks badass. Plus it's not a bootleg or anything but in a legit Warner Brothers case and on Warner Brothers tapes. It came out to be about five bucks so it was a sweet deal too. I know I'll be back at this booth before I go home to bulk up my collection! 

Our only other purchase of the day was a lens protector cover thing for my new camera. It was way cheap and the seller was really helpful so I may return there as well to look for some other camera doodads. Though we didn't end up with much it was a pretty cool place and if you're on the look-out for something totally random it's worth checking the flea market for it. 

Afterwards we went to Cheonggyecheon, which is this area running through the city that was recently restored to be a sort of public recreation place. There's a long stream and walkways and so we sat for a bit with our feet in the water.
On our way back to Incheon we stopped off in Yongsan to check out a store in the I Park Mall that I knew Mike would appreciate. Except my attempts to make it a surprise were spoiled since there were signs for it everywhere but anyway:
Like a kid in a toy store. Literally ♥

After that we headed outside to the DVD booths and bought about 50,000 won worth of movies and TV shows. I didn't mean to get so many but the guy was really friendly and kept suggesting Korean movies and I just kept saying, "Okay, why not?". Plus he threw in an extra movie for free at the end and gave us vitamin drinks while we were waiting for them to bag it all. Those movies and shows kept us entertained for the past month so it was worth it. 

I'm pretty sure this day ended with pizza and a movie, which is always a good way to top things off. This was one of my favorite days from his visit because it felt just like the sort of way we would spend a day back home. I'm already looking forward to doing this again some Sunday next summer!

Trivia of the Day: Organized by the state owned Korea International Travel Company, Tourism in North Korea is highly controlled by the government, and as such it is not a frequently visited destination — roughly 1,500 Western tourists visit North Korea each year, along with thousands of Asians. Tourists must go on guided tours and must have their tour guides with them at all times. Photography is strictly controlled, as is interaction with the local population. Prior to 2010, tourists holding United States passports were not granted visas, except during the Arirang Festival mass games. U.S. citizens, journalists and citizens from other nations have also been given special permission to enter as members of the Korean Friendship Association and Choson Exchange. Citizens of South Korea require special permission from both governments to enter North Korea, and are typically not granted such permission for regular tourism except in special tourist areas designated for South Koreans. In April 2010, the first tourist trains from China brought visitors to North Korea for a 4-day tour. In June 2011, Chinese citizens were allowed on a self-drive tour in North Korea for the first time in history.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Now that I've had a chance to catch my breath (and my boyfriend's had a chance to share some stories from his trip before I could spoil them all), it seemed about time to rewind and post some of the things I've been up to for the past month or so.

My boyfriend's first weekend here we spent checking out various places around the city. Our first stop was Insadong. I really love going there and poking down all the little back streets. It's a much bigger area than just that main drag with all the tourist shops and art galleries and worth spending some time wandering around.
One little gem that the main street does have to offer though is the Toto Museum, which is as random as its name suggests and looks like this:
Essentially, you pay a dollar to look around someone's old basement. Except it's not actually a basement and there aren't any abandoned exercise machines or tool boxes stuffed in the corner. Just lots of toys and board games and action figures and politically incorrect dolls, all sporting a coating of dust. Apparently it's supposed to showcase items that were popular in Korea back in the 60s and 70s (an idea that might have worked) but there is plenty of stuff from every other decade too so really it just looks like a storage space for random junk. I think it's amusing though so we went inside for a look.
 hahaha my favorite!
And obviously they have post cards you can buy so that you can tell all of your friends about the awesome twelve-minutes you spent at the Toto Museum! They also sell valentines with Peter Falk or Farrah Faccett on the front. You know, just in case the years old ramen packets and Spider-Man action figure rocking gym socks and a leotard didn't sway you already.

After Toto we headed to Changdeokgung Palace, a spot I'd yet to visit.
Aw I love this picture haha. Those poor kids and that poor chaperon. Just that look of boredom on every single one of their faces. It was hot and it was a Saturday and they had zero interest in being on this field trip but she's trucking away anyway.
Since basically all the palaces and old structures have these similar designs I've become used to seeing them and the bright colors. Changdeokgung was the first place though that I saw the original paint job that has yet to be updated (or is being preserved). Makes quite the difference.
Trivia of the Day: The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty (also known as The True Record of the Joseon Dynasty) are the annual records of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, which were kept from 1413 to 1865. The annals, or sillok, comprise 1,893 volumes and are thought to cover the longest continual period of a single dynasty in the world. During the reign of a king, professional historiographers maintained extensive records on national affairs and the activities of the state. They collected documents and wrote daily accounts that included state affairs as well as diplomatic affairs, the economy, religion, meteorological phenomena, the arts, and daily life, among other things. These daily accounts became the Sacho ("Draft History"). Great care was taken to ensure the neutrality of the historiographers, who were also officials with legal guarantees of independence.

Nobody was allowed to read the Sacho, not even the king, and any historiographer who disclosed its contents or changed the content could be punished with beheading. These strict regulations lend great credibility to these records. Yet at least one king, tyranical Yeonsangun looked into the Annals, and this led to the First Literati Purge of 1498, in which one recorder and five others were cruelly executed because of what was written in "Sacho." This incident led to greater scrutiny to prevent the king from seeing the Annals. In Later Joseon period when there was intense conflict between different political factions, revision or rewriting of "Sillok" by rival factions took place, but they were identified as such, and the original version was preserved.

The original recorders recorded every words and acts of the king in "Sacho" although not all details were included in the final version. For instance, King Taejong fell from a horse one day and immediately told those around him not to let a recorder know about his fall. A recorder wrote both Taejong's fall and his words not to record it. In another instance, Taejong was recorded to complain about a recorder who eavesdroped on him behind a screen and followed him to a hunt behind a disguise.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

People, take my advice, if you love someone, don't think twice

This past weekend was my fella's last in Korea. On Saturday we braved the torrential rain with a few of my co-workers and went to catch a movie at the Puchon International Film Festival. Battle Royale was playing at 2pm in newly released 3D and the pop-out blood splatters made it even more ridiculous than I'd remembered. They showed it with both English (on the bottom) and Korean subtitles (on the side) which was kind of cool. I'm pretty sure the festival runs through this Friday so try to catch something if you're in the area. I recommend Om Shanti Om which I know is playing a few times this week, it's so much fun.

Then on Saturday night we went into Hongdae, which I pretty much consider a Korean cultural experience in and of itself. For one, we were able to bear witness to the fact that Koreans are the best dancers because they absolutely dance like goobers and don't care what anyone thinks (which is awesome). Also, that pesky language barrier brought on amusing results when Mike tried to order a glass of Glenfiddich whisky and ended up with a turquoise cocktail that tasted like Gushers (he didn't drink it). His second attempt was successful since he actually pointed it out on the drink menu but didn't realize why the bartender gave him a funny look when he said "no ice" until his expected glass of whisky was presented in a shot glass. This is why I stick to rum and cokes.

The Hongdae night ended as a night in Hongdae always should, with a sunrise and McDonald's. We slept until the early afternoon, packed up a bit, then went to do some last minute present shopping. After ice cream cones and a movie (The Chaser, oh my god, I am still mad at that ajumma shop keeper) we went to have galbi for dinner.
Galbi is probably my favorite favorite favorite thing about Korea. And there are a lot of things that I love here. In particular there is one galbi restaurant right around the corner from my apartment and their galbi is the best ever. I swear I could eat their spicy marinated pork every day and never grow sick of it. They also serve awesome banchan (side dishes). This was where Mike wanted to eat dinner on his last night so I'm pretty sure he's in love too.

After dinner we spoiled ourselves with more ice cream and watched another movie (well half, it wasn't very good). I'd really just wanted us to have a relaxing day at home because when I left in November things were really rushed and I feel like we didn't have time to say goodbye. So Sunday was quiet but in a good way.

Monday morning we were up early to catch the bus to the airport. The lines were long but after he was all checked-in he still had about two and a half hours so we went to find breakfast. We ended up at Bennigan's (they have a few in Korea) and split a delicious Monte Cristo sandwich before heading down to security to say goodbye. One of us might have been a mess.

The security at Incheon has automatic doors that you walk through once they've checked your passport and boarding pass but as long as they're open you can see through to the other side. So I waited until he was all the way through before leaving. The line took about 10 minutes so I had to keep waiting for another passenger to come along for the doors to slide open so I could see where he was in line. In retrospect it must have looked pretty silly, my standing there sniffling, staring at doors that kept opening and closing. Luckily when he actually went through the metal detector a huge group of passengers were just coming up to security so I was able to catch his eye and get a wave. He made it safely back home last night with no problems.

Living by myself I've gotten into a familiar routine. I know exactly where everything is, not just in my "bedroom" but in the kitchen, bathroom, fridge, drawers, closet, etc. When I do laundry, exactly the things that I want washed get washed. I wake up when I want and go to bed when I want. I don't have to be quiet or turn down lights because someone else is sleeping and I don't have to knock on the bathroom door to make sure it's empty.

Having someone else here for a month threw all of that out the window. I was all mixed up and wouldn't realize that we'd run out of butter because I wasn't the one who cooked last or that a certain shirt hadn't been washed because someone else had pressed the start button on the laundry. It was confusing and strange and after seven months alone, very abrupt.

When I came home last night, it was the first time in recent weeks that I had to use my key when returning from work. Things were back to the way they were. I walked into a dark, empty apartment like I always do.

But something- that something that makes all those mix-ups and confusions so wonderfully and completely worth it- was missing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


So it seemed about time I take a breather and check in. We've been keeping real busy these past two weeks and it hasn't left much time for blogging. I'm actually not sure how long it typically takes most people to put an entry together but I've always been slow about it. I like to mull over what I'm writing and I take awhile picking out pictures to post and I'm easily distracted so more often than not my blogging sessions are interrupted with side trips to Oh No They Didn't! and Facebook. And when I sit down to write I want to get it all out in one go, none of that saving-to-finish-later business. That means usually I'm sitting at the computer for let's say about 3-5 hours when I'm assembling a typical entry. Also I like to write at night.

Since we've been doing a lot of early days to get the most out of a trip into the city and since my new schedule means I'm not home until 11 o'clock every night I really haven't had a chance to sit down and work on anything. Work has been a bit stressful and I have a lot weighing on my mind in regards to what my plans will be when I'm back home in the US. On the plus side though we've been up to some great stuff lately so eventually (I promise!) there will be lots of new pictures and stories. Plus that full Vietnam recap! I know those entries will pretty much take me twice as long as usual so I'm waiting for a long, do-nothing-day to get going on those.

In the meantime, here is a random list of goings-on on my end recently:

- Rain. Torrential rain. Drizzly rain. Plain rain. Just-enough-drops-to-warrant-opening-that-umbrella-rain (the most annoying kind, to be honest). My introduction to the Monsoon season began in Vietnam and is continuing in Korea. It is an extremely damp experience, I have to say.

- My Friday afternoon class (my five girls who I absolutely love) met my boyfriend when he came in to see the school and they went crazy. One of them started bringing in her friends who are in other classes so she could point at him and say "Boyfriend!" before they all started screeching. They were discussing us in the hallway and I heard both "handsome" and "beautiful couple". Also when we came back from Vietnam a few of them asked "How was your vacation?" but one of them asked "How was your date?" haha.

- I have not gone grocery shopping in three weeks. A few needed items have been scooped up at the downstairs convenience store but mostly this is just a testament to how much we have been eating out/grabbing breakfast on the way out the door. Oh well, Lotte Mart and I needed a serious break from each other. $13 for a box of strawberries? Girl, please.

- In September I'm going with four of the girls from work to Shanghai for Chuseok! Chuseok is roughly the equivalent of Thanksgiving and we'll have at least a four-day weekend. Our flights are booked and now we're working on getting visas. I'm thrilled about all the traveling I've been able to squeeze in during my time here and this trip falls nicely in between my summer vacation and possible departure in December. I know when I go home it will most likely be some time before I can plan any more big trips so I'm happy to be getting my fill now.

- A new pizza place just opened downstairs so we tried it out on Sunday night. It wasn't bad and the wheat crust was pretty good, albeit a legit shade of purple. They even gave us a few freebies to assure we'll come back and I was excited because next to the bottle of Coke in the bag looked like three of those mini containers of Parmesan cheese but of course it was actually three containers of sweet pickles. Ugh, I'm always fooled by the sweet pickles here.

- I recently walked past a girl wearing a shirt with Karl Lagerfeld's face on it and it was the best shirt ever. I know she bought it here because the markets are overrun with weird clothing designs and celebrity faces (hello, there was one featuring a collage of Sponge-Bob, Michael and Janet Jackson and someone who may have been Taylor Swift) and I have made it my mission to track it down. Don't fail me now, Korea.

- Tomorrow night Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 debuts here and so ends my childhood (actually I will never let this happen, who wants to grow up and admit they're never getting that letter from Hogwarts? Life's more fun this way). I'm especially excited because the past few HP movies came out later in Korea than the US and it would be a bummer to have to wait when so many people have already seen it. So after work we're going to catch one of the late shows and I already know it will be amazing. I haven't missed an opening night since Goblet of Fire (or maybe it was Prisoner of Azkaban, though these days opening night means "midnight") and I'm so so excited to have one last Harry Potter premiere to watch with awesome people :)

Also, I am assigning "Go see the new Harry Potter movie" as homework for all my classes this week. If only our school took field trips...

Trivia of the Day: Dokkaebi (도깨비) is a common word for a type of spirit in Korean folklore or fairy tales. Although usually frightening, it could also represent a humorous, grotesque-looking sprite or goblin. These creatures loved mischief and playing mean tricks on bad people and they rewarded good people with wealth and blessings. Dokkaebi are described as the transformed spirits of inanimate objects. The most common objects said to become Dokkaebi are usually useful everyday implements that have been abandoned by their owners or left in perpetual disuse, and include such wide-ranging objects as brooms, fireplace pokers, pestles, flails, and sometimes even trees smeared with maiden's blood. They are different from ghosts (귀신) in that they are not formed by the death of a human being, but rather by the transformation of an inanimate object.

Most Korean legends have Dokkaebi in the stories. They are about Dokkaebi pranking on mortals or punishing them because of their evil deeds. One of them goes like this:
An old man lived alone in a mountain when a Dokkaebi visited his house. With surprise, the kind old man gave the Dokkaebi an alcoholic beverage and they become friends. The Dokkaebi visited the old man often and they had long conversations together, but one day, the man took a walk by himself in the woods near the river and discovered that his reflection looked like the Dokkaebi. With fear, he realized that he was gradually becoming that creature. The man made a plan to prevent himself from becoming a Dokkaebi and invited the creature to his house. He asked, "What are you most afraid of?" and the Dokkaebi answered, "I'm afraid of blood. What are you afraid of?". The man pretended to be frightened and said, "I'm afraid of money. That's why I live in the mountains by myself." The next day, the old man killed a cow and poured its blood all over his house. The Dokkaebi, with shock and great anger, ran away and said, "I'll be back with your greatest fear!" The next day, the Dokkaebi brought bags of money and threw it to the old man. After that, Dokkaebi never came back and the old man became the richest person in the town.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It's ninety degrees! Have mercy, John, please! It's hot as hell in Philadephia!

Happy Fourth of July!

We're back from Vietnam and it was great. Hot as blue bloody blazes but we saw some very cool places and I would definitely recommend it (in the fall or winter though). I took approximately 2,000 pictures so when I find some way to narrow those down expect a full trip recap. Here's a glimpse of our adventures in Vietnam:
Stay tuned for stories about pizzas, old lady kisses, non-toilets, and vampire coffin bathtubs. Plus lots of pretty pretty pictures for the tl;dr crowd.

Hope everyone at home in the US of A (and expats around the world) is having an amazing July 4th weekend and celebrating with sparklers and barbecues and fireworks. This is one holiday that I love but have never had a consistent routine for so I'm okay with being out of the country for it. My fella made us a classic July 4th dinner of burgers and corn on the cob and now we're settling down for a showing of Jaws (this is fine because I don't plan on being near the ocean any time soon!). 

Enjoy your long weekend everyone! Celebrate safely :)