Don't say we are crazy. Because I've a feeling we are. Merely three weeks after our last Seoul trip, a pair of irresistibly-priced bargain tickets by Singapore Airlines at $570 a pop propelled us towards this lovely city... again.
"Is it still going to be cold?" asked Serene.
"Nah.. it's going to be quite warm. So forget about bringing too many thick winter clothes."
- We will see if we can make some progressive lenses for our Korean glasses. I've heard that 50% of all the optician outlets in South Korea are in Myeongdong and Namdaemun and they do plenty of wholesale so prices are very low compared to elsewhere. And it took only two days for a pair of progressive lenses to be fixed.
- We will do a day trip to Nami Island and Petite France, since these have been so publicized. And our Guesthouse manager Sarah could so easily book that trip for us. Thus this was planned for Friday.
- We will explore the GOTO Mall and Yeongdeungpo underground malls, since so much have been said about these two huge malls, in particular GOTO Mall at Gangnam Terminal Express, where prices are cheaper than Namdaemun and there are no bargaining needed.
- We need to buy winter gloves for ourselves and for the children, for our end of the year trekking trip. If possible, also to keep a look out for winter clothes for my parents, who will be making their first trip to Seoul in February next year during Chinese New Year.
- And of course, to eat. Again. Serene's favourite activity. Just that this time we will be more selective and we will go for the kill.
The 8:05am SQ flight was definitely more sane in terms of timing and in terms of following our circadian rhythm. Man, I haven't taken an SQ flight for the longest time, the cheapo that I am, and I have forgotten how spacious the seating arrangements are onboard the SQ A330 plane. The entertaininment system was nice, and the SQ service was top notch, even for coach class.
|The tent just outside Myeongdong station along the small lane of Toegye-Ro. One stick of Eulmuk for 1000W.|
|Serene very ngiao one. Said this one doesn't taste as nice as the Ajuma's tteokbokki.|
"Hey, we are hungry, aren't we?" I asked. And Serene was never one to say no to food. Especially when it came to her favourite Tteobokki and Eulmuk.
Literally two minutes walk from Myeongdong station was this most wonderful guesthouse.
|Serene having her eyes tested.|
|Even Serene made two pairs of progressives.|
|Walking to the subway station|
How to go about taking the Subway in Seoul?
Personally I found the App Seoul Subway by Mapway on my iPhone really helpful. It allowed me to exactly pin point which station I was at at any moment and helped me plan my route, and showed me the connection and the transfer stations between the different Lines. There are 9 Lines of different colours in the Seoul Subway network, but the system is well organised.
"Look for Exit 8-2, Dar," I instructed Serene.
"Chogiyo (Excuse me)! You have Large size? I... FAT!" She would go up to the store lady and laughingly show her bulging tummy to the salesgirl.
"I am hungry!" Complained the ever-hungry woman.
We found a delightful little Siktang (canteen, or small restaurant) at the end of the underground mall, run by a couple of Ajumas and ordered spicy Tofu soup for Serene and Beef noodle soup for myself and added a pork rib Gyoza as extra side.
The pork rib Gyoza was really one of the most aromatic and tastiest I had never had. And the price wasn't expensive, by Seoul standards - 6000W and 7000W for our pots of food, and 5000W for the Gyoza. The meal came up to 18000W (S$22). The Ajuma spoke perfect Mandarin, after realizing that my Korean was really CMI.
11pm. The temperature registered 4 degrees. We walked the streets of Myeongdong looking for fresh strawberries and found a street stall where a young man was selling them at 5000W (S$6) a box and we grabbed two. We have discovered the sweet and juicy strawberries of Korea on our last trip and they have served me well as a source of hydration, and Serene as a form of bowel regulator. But most of all, we enjoyed just popping them while watching TV in the Guesthouse (with the most funny note on the bed).
"Are you from Singapore?" I asked. And she smiled.
"Wah, if you never say, I also can't tell. She looks like a Korean girl," remarked Serene. I totally agree with her. "The way she speaks Korean it sounds like a real Korean like that."
Petite France 法国村
|The French Ajuma going for a stroll.|
|One of the most handsome French Commandos minam (handsome man) having a break.|
|My Americano, and Serene's Cappucino.|
|"Let's take a shot at the ticket booth here at Gapyeong Wharf before going over to Nami Island"|
|The ferry cometh|
|The French lady making her pilgrimage to pay her respect to the Korean General Nami.|
Our friend Alex Ortega commented that we could stay in the guesthouses in Nami island so that we could enjoy the peaceful surrounding without the crowds. That was quite true too. As Nami island did have a serenity that deserved gentle experiencing. But never when it was inundated with visitors from late morning onwards.
|Right at the landing wharf, when there was still not too many visitors.|
|Classic of everything Korean, there were many Kyopta little scultures.|
|The Nami-ans weren't shy of anything maternal... especially in the buff.|
|... and they display it will poise, with a dash of humour thrown in.|
|The Metasequoiae Lane where they shot the Winter Sonata. But alamak! All the trees were BOTAK!|
|They very clever. Recycled flattened soju bottles to make walls!|
|This Serene ah... She just loved to grab Kyopta little Korean children and carry them.|
|LUNCH at Nammun Korean restaurant.|
|The tofu was nice! Serene loved it.|
The weather was nice. It was a warm 14 degrees Celsius. Warm enough for us to have most of our layers off. But still cool enough for us to find the real fireplaces burning in the park at designated spots, a delight in warming up our hands. They really did set up wooden logs burning at the fireplaces. And not only ourselves, the local Koreans were also enjoying the fire. That was quite a new experience for both of us.
|It was 14 degrees. But the air was chilly enough for us to still need the outdoor fireplace to warm our hands.|
|Nami island, very much like Jeju island, had plenty of landscaping, and gardens and parks designed for picnics. The Koreans really love the outdoor.|
Strolling along. I saw landscapes with many trees and I could imagine the sight come autumn when the multi-coloured leaves were in full display. Perhaps that may be an impetus for an autumn visit.
Serene would say: "Wait, wait.. next week I tiok TOTO we will be here again in three weeks' time.". This girl... she was forever in dreamland.
This was a chilly Friday night. As the mercury went slightly southwards to 8 degrees.
"Dar, tonight I am going to bring you to a special traditional Korean barbecue restaurant called Ouga," I said. "We have had Wanbijib twice on our last visit. But this time round, let me bring you to this joint run by a team of Korean Ajumas. I read the reviews on Trip Advisor and they were good."
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|The signboard was so special - cannot be missed one.|
And it turned out that Ouga was two doors away from our Guesthouse. No wonder the photos of the entrance looked so familiar.
|Their Banchan (side dishes) got seaweed one leh!|
What I found exciting was, beside the seaweed banchan, the leaves they served as part of the wraps for the meat were of several types, and of different hues. I found that visually stimulating. And the different tastes of the leaves brought out the taste of the barbecued meat. The meal was cheaper than a similar one in Wangbijib (Main store). No wonder reviewers found it more affordable (here is the menu list).
"I'm always very happy when I see people of different races coming together in a family and enjoy the closeness of being together," said Serene. "That little girl is really obviously the parents, the grandparents and the uncles and aunties' bao-bei. See the way they all play with her?"
|This cosmetics salesgirl was quite cute. But she didn't allow me to take a shot of her. Sigh...|
Poor Serene had been eagerly looking forward to finding the Ajuma's stall in Myeongdong where she had a most delicious bowl of Tteobokki and a spicy tasty stick of Eulmuk. It was somewhere in the middle of Myeong, but we just couldn't find it this time. What we found was instead, plenty of lipsticks, serum, face cream, this lah that lah... all tasked by the respective departments in our lives. But gladly we complied because the prices in Myeongdong was definitely cheaper. What took us some time was some packets of Korean Macadamian snacks that somehow got seriously out of stock not only in Singapore, but even in Seoul here. Luckily the stars were on our side, and in one T-junction, we found a cart with a most handsome Korean boy selling it. The price was stiff (7000W a packet) but when compared with Singapore, this was still cheaper.
|With so many Indonesians and Malaysians and Singaporean Muslims visiting Seoul, this man is wise to take on the label.|
|There are many cats and dogs and cartoons figures in Myeongdong. Cos it isn't that hot there. Singapore? Surely cannot one.|
|"This boy acts in Goblin one!" said Serene.|
"Dar, there there! Here the strawberries are selling at 4000W a box leh!" Serene was happily pointing to an Ajuma's cart. Indeed. We grabbed two boxes, ready for the Korean TV tonight. But later back in the guesthouse we found that the cheaper ones tasted much less sweet than the bigger ones. In fact, one of the Thai guests in our Guesthouse shared with us that the 5000W ones were better and sweeter, and much more worth it.
|The Korean drama star who ended up selling Macadamian snacks in Myeongdong. Handsome like don't know what!|
"Dar, I haven't eaten my Hoettoek yet leh," I said. This Hoetteok thing was the ham-cheem-bang equivalent in Korea. A very popular snack in cold winter, it was a pancake with sweet bean and caramel paste inside and served steaming hot in a paper cup. Our memories served us well, and at one corner of Myeongdong the boy who was selling Hoetteok was still there, and we savoured our hot Korean ham-cheem-bang.
"Dar, let's go and eat the Bingsul at Ediya coffee," urged Serene. She had been eyeing the Ediya coffee's bingsul from the night before and as a last stop for the night, she just wanted to cool down her throat before she called it a day.
"Hmmm... that Sulbing one tastes better," concluded Serene.
Well, I guessed that was true too. Ediya was a coffee joint mah, while Sulbing was a pure Korean dessert joint. "Ok, we will have Sulbing bingsul tomorrow," I promised her.
"Dar," I announced to Serene during breakfast. "This day I have totally totally no plans. Later when I am in the toilet let me see what my brain comes up with, and we will just go, ok?" I really loved free and easy. It was never always easy. But one was free to do whatever what one wanted.
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It was about 10:20am by the time we dressed up and left the guesthouse. Talk about taking it easy. Being a Saturday morning, the whole Myeongdong was already crowded. Our first stop - Deoksugong, the palace opposite the famous Seoul Plaza.
|As we neared Deoksugong, we saw many police.|
"Why does it sounds so good when the Koreans speak Korean ah?" asked Serene of me as we walked.
"Well, if I leave you here in Korea for one year, by the end of it, you will be fee-lee-feh-leh speaking nice sounding Korean like any of them liao lor," I told Serene.
10:53am. We were surprised (or maybe we were not) to see the whole area being patrolled by a mustering of police officers in their lime-green vests. And a distance away, a loud hauler was being tested. Several Ajumas were setting up stalls selling the Korean flag and badges.
"What's happening? Is there going to be another protest like the last time?" asked Serene. It WAS Saturday and weekends were famous for the political activists to hold their gatherings and activities all across Seoul, with Seoul Plaza and areas around Myeongdong being popular venues.
"Wow, this is the Emperor's throne leh," I pointed out to Serene as we entered the hall. "Would you love to sit in the throne and spend your whole life watching the ceremonies past you?" Serene looked around the dark musty hall and shook her head. Yeah I guessed as much. She'd much rather be out there eating her Tteokbokki.
"Here hor, in this palace, there are no rare Pokemons, not like when we were in Namsangol Hanok village that time," the complains started. "There were so many rare Pokémons there I caught until I siao. Here nothing one. So boring one." Also good lah, for once can just use her handphone to take photos mah.
|The presence of all the South Korean flag heralds a political gathering of a significant size.|
|made more tense by the presence of police.|
"But Papa, the Koreans are well known to be very stressed at work and in their studies," Ah Li mentioned in one of her texts.
Another speech on the stage brought me out of my reverie as I caught sight of both Korean and American flags being waved in the crowd. The recent spat between China and South Korea, as a result of South Korea's collaboration with the USA in the THAAD defence system had brought the constantly simmering relationship up one notch, and China had recently clamped down on the number of PRC visitors to South Korea. That perhaps explained why during this visit, we found so much lesser PRC tourists, and in contrast to our previous visits, we saw more Ang Mohs, and many were Americans. The drop in PRC tourists to Korea would definitely have an impact on their hospitality industry as for example, 85% of the tourists to Jeju were from China. But for us, it was a great relief to have a breath of fresh air.
|I love the oldness of Noryangjin|
Noriangjin Fish Market
Of course. Where else but the Traditional Noriangjin Fish Market for a taste of fresh seafood, the Korean way. I had read so much about seafood in Seoul and every search pointed to Noriangjin Seafood Market. I got addicted to eating Sanakji, the live squid sashimi. And after my last attempt in Gwangjang Market, I knew I had to have another go this round. But little did I know that I would actually come to the mecca of seafood market- Noriangjin.
And we were so happy to be brought into one of the many traditional tents with the transparent plastic flaps that protected the diners from the harsh weather outside. Inside was a whole cacophony of Korean spoken in loud voices as happy Korean men and women of all ages sat happily enjoying their seafood. Again, I thought to myself - if the locals come here to eat, then we are safe. And were we safe! The food turned out to be fantastic.
"That's 100% black current juice," called out a Korean man seated diagonally across our table in English. "We mix it with soju and it enhances the taste."
And what more, they were open all through Seollal (Korean Lunar New Year!). So the stage was set. This was one of the most enjoyable meals Serene and I had, not only because of the food, but also because of the company, more so from the warmth of a company that was so unexpected. Sometimes for a traveler, all it took was an unforgettable experience experience like this, to leave a deep impression of the county and its people.
"Dar, bo let's go to GOTO Mall again leh, can?" asked Serene. "I want to see the clothes shops there some more."
A semi-drunk man would hardly say no. So three stops away from Noriangjin, after finding the right sixtection we exited Exit 8-2, and entered the doors of GOTO Mall.
So towards the end of GOTO Mall where the cafeterias were we walked. An empty table at the corner of Agreat Cafe invited us. One Mixed Berry yogurt and an Coffee yogurt plus one more cappucino was what needed to jolt me out of my semi-slumber state. And what jolted me awake was a most cute little Sean year old Korean girl who came up to me and asked if my coffee was an americano. Her mother was sitting at one side smiling and keeping an eye on her.
This little girl pointed to my yogurt and asked: "맛있어요? (Masisseoyo- delicious?)"
My surprised gradually melted into a feeling of tenderness. I had hardly ever had a young child come up to me outside, as a perfect stranger, and asked me such an innocent little question.
|48 hours, and our transition progressive spectacles were done and collected! That's fast!|
Back to Myeongdong finally after gallivanting outside. I really enjoyed the fact that we could still pop back into our room and take a quick shower before going out again.
We walked passed a restaurant called Yookssam Naengmyeon. The photos attracted me. I hadn't had Naengmyeon on this trip yet, and I longed for one. So we went up to the second floor and ordered:
- Duenjang Jigae 大酱汤 + 숯불고기 Suchbul golgi 碳烤肉 - for Serene
- Dulsot Bibimbap 돌솥비빔밥 + 슻불고기 Suchbul golgi - for myself
- 물냉면 Ul Naengmyeon + 숯불고기 suchbul golgi - to share.
8:30pm, we turned into another small lane and Serene suddenly called out: "Hey this is where my Tteokbokki Ajuma is!"
"Wah this Sulbing dessert cafe is full of 小妹妹 hor.." remarked Serene as we looked around and saw many young and pretty girls having Bingsul with their friends, all their faces dolled up with white foundations.What I found intriguing about the ladies both young and old in Korea was they all take very good care of their already genetically well-endowed complexion. None would be caught dead without their Snow White foundations and lip sticks. Even they men I often suspect that they apply some skin products to lighten their skin. It kind of made me a little self-conscious of my tan, whenever I was in a crowd of saccharine-looking men with the typical left slanting fringes hanging from their thick head of curly hairs.
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I didn't really use my neck cover this round, nor my beanie. These two would come in useful if the wind was strong. Another thing I discovered was, despite what some people criticized about the decathlon heat packs, these relatively cheap heat pack were really hot and when placed inside my gloved palms they helped a lot and when adhered to my iPhone the heat kept the battery from draining too fast in the cold.
|Our wefie outside Myeongdong Cathedral|
Claiming Tax Refund at Incheon Airport
The counters just diagonally across Check in Row H at the Departure have several staff assisting in scanning the receipts and the passports. If the purchased items are less than US$100 per item, this will be the way - meaning the items need not be inspected and can be checked in first and the receipt brought to these counters for scanning.
|The first stage scanning counters diagonally across Check in row H.|
|Opposite Gate 28 AFTER the immigration.|
What a trip!
With every passing trip to Seoul, it just gets better and better. Our familiarity with the place grows. And we begin to explore various parts of Seoul, and learn to mingle with more and more of the locals.
So what are our plans for our future trips? Not sure. No plan is the best plan. Hahaha.. But definitely I will love to explore Itaewon to try that famous 24 hour Korean restaurant with the best bachan called Sigol Bapsang. And I will love to take a long walk along Hangang. And span out to the peripheries of Seoul, and get closer to Incheon, and even further up north towards Gimpo. One of my young 26 year old female patients who spent 6 months studying the Korean language in Seoul ever told me, the further away from Seoul, the cheaper things are. But the less exciting the surrounding will be, as it becomes more residential.
It will not be easy, as I believe less people will be able to speak English as well as those in Seoul.. But that will definitely be more fun, more authentic, and more exciting.
|My biggest pair of Korean glasses EVER.|
What else are in the pipeline? Possible a Paragliding experience in Seoul, and perhaps a tandem Sky diving adventure. But these will have to come much later. Until our next Seoul trip!