My second full day in Seoul, I packed up my things and, with the help of Monica, moved into my hostel in Myeongdong. We were smart and made two trips with the luggage this time. The goal was to spend the day wandering downtown Seoul, exploring what the city has to offer.
My First Time in a Hostel!
First of all, Seoul Myeongdong House is the cutest hostel ever! Secondly, it is impossible to find. Thank god I had Monica there because I would have never found it. Our cab driver dropped us off on the main street and left us to find our own way down the super steep alleys with all my luggage. Korean addresses literally make no sense and a lot of streets don’t even have names. It’s a system based off Japan where there are districts and neighborhoods and then the address is just a number in that district. So basically if you tell someone your address, unless they have a gps or you give them directions they won’t be able to find it.
Eventually we finally found the hostel and I checked into my room. Seoul Myeongdong House is a small hostel in a large 2 story house. I booked a single room but they actually gave me a room with a bunk bed- that works?
Tonkatsu Fried Pork
After checking in, we trekked back up the hill to the main road to eat lunch at a famous Tonkatsu fried pork restaurant. It was 3:00 and there was a line out the door and down the block! Right inside the door (when we eventually got inside) there were signatures of famous Koreans who had been in the restaurant. I understand why the place was so famous, the food was so good. Monica joked that I may have been the only non-Korean to ever eat there. Maybe they should’ve put my picture on the wall.
One thing that really stood out to me the entire time I was in Korea was not only how few non-Asians are in the country but also how quiet everyone is. I rarely saw any non-Asian expats or tourists. Actually, the only tourists I ever saw anywhere were Chinese! Koreans are also very quiet people, they cover their mouths when they laugh and talk in hushed voices. The entire time I was in Korea I felt like I had to watch my voice volume and stifle how loud I laughed so people wouldn’t stare at me more than they already were. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Korea, but it was something that really stood out to me, and I really had to make a strong effort not to be too loud.
On the way to visit the Imperial palace Monica and I stopped for bubble tea! It was very different than the kind I’ve tried in the US, which I wasn’t fond of. The kind I tried in the US was like a smoothie with huge tapioca balls whereas the bubble tea I had in Korea tasted like thai iced tea with medium-sized tapioca balls. It was great! Seriously, I could drink this stuff every day.
Exploring the Gyeongbokgung Palace
After lunch Monica and I went to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. Apparently they close at 5:00 in the winter so they were no longer selling tickets to see the entire palace, but we did get to see a decent amount just by walking around the outside. The architecture was very beautiful and it was nice having my own personal local tour guide. The thing I found most interesting was the juxtaposition of old and new. The old palace was completely surrounded by high rises and a bustling city!
So, confession: I’m kind of obsessed with Asian babies- and by babies I mean 0-6 years old. I think they are the cutest of all babies so I pretty much die whenever I see them, especially if they have chubby little faces. At the palace this little two year old ran by me and I said “anyong!” (hi!) and he scream/laughed and ran away. His parents yelled “say bye, say bye!”- I guess they start teaching English pretty young in Korea. I wish I started learning Chinese at 2. Not fair.
Wandering Downtown Seoul
After the palace we walked around a main street with the statue of King Sejong, the Korean emperor who created the Korean alphabet, thus, fully distinguishing Koreans from the Chinese. He’s a kind of a big deal. We also walked by the US embassy, which had a 2 story barb-wire fence and about 20 guards outside. Way to look approachable USA.
Monica then showed me a little man-made river that runs though the center of the street between lanes called Cheonggyecheon Stream. During the summer they have little canals that run along the sidewalk that children can splash around in. The river was like a piece of art with waterfalls and stepping stones. I only wish it wasn’t so cold so I could splash around too!
Strange Korean Food Edition: Pink Soup?
For dinner we met up with Monica’s friend Hyona, who goes to the Korean version of MIT. We went to a traditional Korean restaurant with many different dishes in the middle with your own little bowl of rice. First we were served bright pink soup with some sort of pickled vegetables floating in it.
“What is this?!” I asked- neither of them knew. Well, that’s a good sign. The different items served were very interesting, especially the oysters fried in egg. It was my first time ever eating oysters and they were surprisingly good! Also, our dinner was only about $10 each. Jealous??
Fancy Cocktails at Top Cloud
After dinner the 3 of us went to the Samsung tower to a bar called Top Cloud (Pronounced Top Cu-lou-da by Koreans). It was on the 33rd floor! Top Cloud was the swankiest bar I’ve literally ever seen. On the 33rd floor overlooking the city, Top Cloud was a black-tie kind of bar. Thank god I didn’t wear jeans that day!
We were seated near the window overlooking the city and I ordered my first apple martini! The most entertaining portion of the evening was the song selection of the beautiful, elegantly dressed singer. The first song of choice was “stick wit’ you” by the Pussicat Dolls, followed by “Part of Your World” from the Little Mermaid! I was obsessed, that’s my childhood right there. I started “quietly” singing along which apparently embarrassed Monica and Hyona but I didn’t care. I guess I’m not all that mature after all?
The singer flubbed a bunch of words in English which was pretty funny, but I’m sure I’m the only one who noticed.
When I went back to my hostel I was looking forward to a long night’s sleep. I was exhausted and it was freezing outside. However, when I arrived I saw something completely unexpected: white people. What?! They were the first non-Asians I had seen in Korea. I paused for a second- do they speak English? I decided to go for it. Apparently they were high school students studying abroad in a small town in central South Korea. There was a guy from small-town Michigan taking a gap year before college, a 17 year old from Germany, a guy from Taiwan and a boy and a girl from Mexico. I mostly spoke to the guys from Michigan and Germany but I did test out some Chinese on Mr. Taiwan.
We had a great time talking about Korean language and culture. They told me all about their homestays and their classes in a middle school! The first semester they spent learning Korean and this next semester they would be thrown into a middle school classroom. They explained to me how the Korean language works and how there are different “tenses” for the level of respectfulness you are speaking- so confusing! At least they have an alphabet. I had so much fun talking to everyone that I didn’t go to bed until after 1am. So much for getting a lot of sleep!
Want to hear the full story from the beginning? Check out my first day in Seoul!