Seoul Tourists for a Weekend
[May 31, 2017: As you can see, I started writing this post way back in March…]
Last weekend my cousin PP and his wife QQ came to visit us. It was their first visit to Seoul. And, sadly, they will be our last visitors in Korea (this weekend, our last weekend in Seoul, we will be parting ways with our sofa, and next week, the movers come)!
So, despite the truly terrible air (five days in a row where the air quality index was above 150 — “unhealthy” level), Alex, Baby M, and I joined PP and QQ in playing tourists (we hope our lungs will forgive us…).
After they arrived Friday afternoon, we got a sitter so that the adults could go get some Korean BBQ (not baby friendly, especially with the hot grill right in front of you). In typical Korean fashion, we had our ‘first round’ at a BBQ place (I am telling you: pork and beef entrails are amazingly delicious!), and then our ‘second round’ at a fried chicken and beer place. (In Korea, fried chicken, chi-kin 치킨, and beer, maekju 맥주, is a thing, and it has its own name, chimaek 치맥.) Not in typical Korean fashion, we went home after only two rounds… (we’re parents, you know?)
Saturday, we explored the touristy area of Insadong 인사동. We had a traditional Korean lunch and walked around the streets of Insadong, before going to Jogyesa Temple 조계사. I always love going to Jogyesa Temple in the spring, because there are colorful lanterns decorating it, in honor of Buddha’s Birthday, a major holiday in May.
And, finally, after almost four years, Alex and I finally visited Bukchon Hanok Village 북촌한옥마을, a village with lots of well maintained traditional homes (hanok 한옥). Believe it or not, Alex and I set out to find Bukchon Hanok Village one of our first days in Seoul. After walking around in the sweltering heat, we gave up. And I’d tried, unsuccessfully, to visit with some other friends who were in town over the past three years! I’m so glad we finally stumbled upon it, because the streets and traditional doors are beautiful, and after the climb (pretty steep, especially with stroller!) to the top, you are afforded a great view of Seoul and the North Seoul (Namsan) Tower!
Before leaving the area, we tried to get a glimpse of the Blue House (the presidential residence), Cheong Wa Dae 청와대. (We couldn’t get very close, but did see the famous blue roof tiles.)
We stopped by Gangnam for some Korean cold noodles, naengmyeon 냉면. This is a very popular dish to eat in the summertime (our first summer in Seoul, I think Alex and I ate it for every other meal, because it was cold, but pretty spicy, and cheap — usually between 5,000 KRW to 6,500 KRW a bowl). Chinese people call this type of dish ‘North Korean cold noodle,’ because it originated from the North. PP and QQ, who’ve tried the Chinese version of this noodle, liked the taste, even though it was different from what they were used to.
On Sunday we visited the War Memorial of Korea 전쟁기념관. (I’d been there before, but it was Alex’s first time!) My cousin PP is such a Chinese history buff, it was really interesting to listen to him talk about the Joseon Dynasty and the history and conflict between China, Japan and Korea.
Parting ways, Alex, Baby M, and I enjoyed a dinner date at a pizza place near Noksapyeong Station (by the Yongsan U.S. Garrison). It was like a trip down memory lane, because when Alex and I first arrived in Seoul in 2013, we visited this area a lot (there’s a very affordable second-hand/used furniture place nearby, and we basically furnished our entire Seoul apartment with stuff from here!). Back then, it was hard to get up and down all the subway and street underpass steps with a badly sprained ankle; this time, it was hard to carry Baby M in stroller up and down these steps!
On PP and QQ’s last full day in Seoul, we did some shopping around Myeongdong 명동, a very commercial area with lots of small shops but also huge department stores (e.g. Lotte Department Store). There were lots of signs in Chinese, catering towards Chinese tourists, advertising tax incentives, etc.
QQ found a porridge (congee) shop called Bonjuk (a chain), made famous by the Korean drama (‘K-drama’) ‘Boys over Flowers’ 꽃보다 남자. The female lead in the show worked at a Bonjuk porridge shop. When I first arrived in Korea, I used to watch a lot of K-drama, since I was a). bored, b). trying to learn about the culture, c). trying to pick up some Korean, and d). in love with Lee Min-ho, the male lead in ‘Boys over Flowers.’ Another tidbit: back in college, my roommate Judy and I watched all the episodes of ‘Meteor Garden’ 流星花園, a Taiwanese drama that’s also based off of the same Japanese manga ‘Boys over Flowers’ (of course, it originated from Japan…).
If you’re into porridge, you’ll like this restaurant: there’s an assortment of sweet and savory porridge, all for under 10,000 KRW. My seafood porridge (served with a side of kimchi, of course) was actually pretty good. Baby M enjoyed it so much, she finished half of my meal!
Alex and I got a sitter Monday night so that we could join QQ and PP for some (more) Korean BBQ.
It was really nice having family visit us in Seoul, and it forced Alex and me to see Seoul again, as tourists.