Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Seoul, South Korea: This Place Really Likes to Party

Next up on my "to tackle" list in Asia was China - though when browsing airfare, I noticed it would be relatively the same price to fly to China even if I stopped in Seoul a couple of days.  I've never been to Korea before. Why not?

What It's All About:
Seoul is the epicenter of Korea - think big Asian megacity full of shopping, bars, restaurants, nightlife, and beauty stores.  The beauty stores, in particular, were on every block and were kind of a major problem for me. Did you know that Koreans have a 10-step skincare process?!

I stayed in the Hongdae neighborhood of Seoul - it's a university town, so it's super vibrant and hectic - crammed with hundreds upon hundreds of cafes and bars and such.

Walking the streets of Hongdae

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • I spent three days in Seoul and stayed pretty low-key - I wasn't in a rush to go see all of Korea or anything (though if I was, I definitely would have checked out Busan or the DMZ or Jeju Island).  I just wanted to get a feel of the city, so I made no set plans and let things happen. Here is the photo summary of my couple days in Korea.

Grabbed Korean BBQ (a must!) with a hostel roomie at a very local place (i.e. no English menu. We had the people at our hostel write down names of dishes we should try and just showed them to the restaurant).  Also fun fact, this BBQ was all pork!  I was under the impression that all the KBBQ I've tried has mostly been beef, but maybe that's just in the States so that people who don't know what they're doing don't poison themselves.

  • I also failed to get a photo, but I managed to meet up with Laine - a friend I'd met in a rando bus station in Malacca, Malaysia (refer to said blog post if interested) - we'd spent a couple days hanging out, along with my friend Kat, in Malacca last October.  And I found out she'd recently moved to Seoul from the US, so I reached out to her and we managed to meet up for coffee/chatting.  It was so great getting to see her and catch up - old travel friends are the best!

Hongdae is very happening at night. Seriously, just neon lights everywhere.

And then I met a bunch of people at my hostel in separate groups of 1's and 2's, and we all came together and went out for a drink. Or all night. Such a prime example of hostel life.

Ben (US), Dave (US/Taiwan), and Ahmed (Switzerland)

Walked down to the Gyeongbokgung Palace with some hostel friends

There's a huge buildup with tons of increasingly important statues

And here's the palace!

I like all the details

Everything was destroyed by the Japanese, so everything was fairly recently reconstructed

Deets deets deets

This is some kind of throne chair. I can't say I knew exactly what was going on at this palace.

However, one familiar sight: Chinese tourists rent out the hanboks, the Korean traditional dress, to wear and pose for photos around the palace  #consistency

A pretty lake-filled corner

And there was a traditional Korean musical performance to top off our visit

After the palace, we headed over to Gwangjang market, a famous market that sells fun things like textiles and clothing - oh, and has an insane food section.

Bustling food hall with so many Korean eats

Happy Korean ladies hawking seafood and those weird seafood kimchi noodle soup things

Of course, I had a shaved ice (bingsoo) covered with condensed milk and red beans and other Asian goodies. Thank god Ahmed shared it with me.

And the grand finale - live octopus!  They let us hold our octopus and pose with it before we ate it.  That's kind of dark, now that I think about it.

Then the lady chopped it all up. #RIPoctopus

And the squirming, wiggling pile of tentacles were placed on a plate for us to eat.  The boys explained to me that the octopus is no longer alive, but the nerves or something keep the tentacles wiggling all freakishly. You have to shove it in your mouth, still squirming, and chomp away aggressively to make them stop moving - because otherwise, the suctions stick to the inside of your mouth and throat. Yummy.
Ahmed and I take our first squirmy bite

And then we looked very dubiously at the rest of it.  To be honest, it actually wasn't so bad - it tasted like very fresh octopus (which....in hindsight, I guess it was) - you put it with a cucumber and some spicy sauce, and it's pretty good. I'm not sure I loved the suction-y things sticking to the inside of my cheeks (it's the weirdest feeling ever!), but it's an experience I guess.

Later that evening, I met up with a friend of Jesse's (you know, Africa Jesse) named Jackie. Jess used to teach English in Korea, and Jackie is one of the guys he knew from back then. Jackie was kind enough to take me out to dinner in Hyongdae - a dinner of pigs' feet!

And the night ended with an apartment party celebrating the birthday of one of the guys I'd met in the hostel, Dave. He had rented out an apartment, invited all the new friends from our hostel, and stocked the place to the brim with booze, cake, and snacks. All downfalls of mine. I brought along Jackie and his friend as well, and I think they had fun

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Koreans drink a kind of flavored rice wine called soju - which comes in various delicious flavors. Also, Koreans drink the most hard liquor out of any country in the world.
  • Plastic surgery is huge here. Apparently, it's incredibly cheap too - I went to a section of Seoul where there was seriously a plastic surgery clinic every second storefront. 
  • WiFi EVERYwhere - seriously. You can usually find free WiFi anywhere you go. Except when you need it, of course.

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