Korea Part II: When in Korea…

By: Maggie Butzen

Here we go, on to part II of my trip over winter break to Korea. I know I’m a little late with this blog, but better late than never, right?

While I was in Korea, I didn’t do what may be called the “traditional tourist” activities. I didn’t visit famous places, or museums. Instead I participated in everyday normal activities like; going to a movie, shopping and eating delicious food. Other activities, such as karaoke and cat cafés are not available in America, but are not rare in Korea and in Japan.

To Do List:

  • Shopping!
  • Food!
  • Military Base
  • Movie
  • Cat Café
  • Dog Café
  • Christmas Cake
  • New Year’s and Karaoke!
  • Ice Skating
  • Clubbing

First things first, shopping!! I can easily say that I spent way too much money shopping, but there were so many deals! Fashion in Korea, like in Japan, is important for both female and males; men also carry around “man purses” and wear brand names. Brand names are loved in Korea, also in Japan, but not as strongly as in Korea. One of the things I was warned about before going to Korea is that Korea is one of the most talented countries at making fakes. Therefore, if you see a Louis Vuitton bag and you think the price is crazy low, chances are the bag is indeed fake. However there are also a plethora of brand name shops with real product around the city. One of the outlet stores we went to was filled with brand name coats that, “on sale” were still over 1,000,000 won, ($1000). Fortunately, around my friend Tina’s college there were shops more within out range. Many of the shops had similar products and sales pitches, sweaters for 10,000 won ($10) and bags for the same, shoe shops with various sales, and any product that didn’t have a price label, you could haggle the price for. These shops are aimed at college students for they surround the colleges. Outside of these street shops, there were also department stores and malls with multiple shops, as well as American shops like Forever 21 and H&M. Though added up, I may have spent a tad too much; when you look at everything I was able to buy with that money it was well worth it.

Possibly the most important item on the list, even though it’s listed second, is food. Everything I ate in Korea was delicious!! Though one thing to note, if you ever go to Korea, the food is spicy, not just spicy, it’s spicy spicy. If a Korean person says something is “slightly” spicy, then that’s around my limit. If something is “spicy”, etc, I can’t eat it, and if something is “not spicy at all” then it still might have a kick to it. However, even spicy, the food is delicious, or perhaps the spiciness adds the extra touch. Of course, like Japan, they had American restaurants, such as TGI Friday’s, Dominoes, McDonalds, KFC, but Korea also had Taco Bell!! A restaurant I have yet to find in Japan. There were also multiple places with Chicago style hot dogs and other types of American food I have yet to find in Japan. One of the places my friend Tina took us to was a sandwich place that was absolutely delicious, I got a ham sandwich with apple slices and crushed peanuts inside. Another difference between Korea and Japan is that in Japan rarely will you find a place with free refills, while in Korea almost every place we went, soda was free refills. One of the “Korean” types of restaurants, I really wanted to go to at least once, and we ended up going on my last night. At a table of four, there is a grill, and you pick and grill your own meat and vegetables and side dishes. Every so often the owners come and change the grill for you so the burnt pieces don’t get attached to the food. One of the traditional ways of eating this type of meal in Korea is to take a leaf of lettuce, put in some meat, maybe some rise, some veggies, whatever you want, roll up and eat in one bite. The food was delicious eaten this way. Of course you eat this with your fingers, but in Korea chopsticks and spoons are normally used at almost every meal, while in Japan it’s essentially just chopsticks, except for curry. Chopsticks in Korea are also different from Japan. While most restaurants in Japan give you wooden or plastic chopsticks, in Korea it’s always metal chopsticks that are much longer, though also thinner, than Japanese chopsticks. I found these very difficult to use because they are much heavier compared to the chopsticks I’m used to using in Japan. In Japan, the bulk of the meat, outside of fish, is chicken and pork, you don’t find a ton of beef, though it is available. Korea is rather famous for beef and it’s delicious. In the mornings, Tina’s grandmother often made us lunch of a mix of beef with onion, or broccoli, or mushrooms, and I could have eaten that beef every morning and been completely happy. In Korea there are also many street stalls that have things like fried chicken (HUGELY popular in Korea), dukbokki (rice cakes in spicy sauce) and hotteok (pancake-like dough filled with cinnamon-sugar sauce). I’m not sure about the spelling above.

One of the first activities I did after arriving in Korea was to go to the nearby military camp. I have not been to a military camp in Japan, I’m fairly positive there are none near Tokyo, but I think there might be one in Okinawa. To be completely honest, we went on the military base in order to have “real” pizza, in other words, American style, deep dish greasy, cheese covered pizza. The majority of pizza in Japan is thin crust with little cheese and more seasoned, which is also delicious, but I missed American pizza. In Japan, and in Korea, there are American pizza places, such as Pizza Hut and Dominoes, but it still tastes different from what I’m used to. Tina’s cousin came with us to get the pizza and hang out with us, so altogether it was Tina, Maddy, myself, and Tina’s cousin. At one point Maddy and Tina went to check on the pizza, which was really rather mean considering this left me and Tina’s cousin at the table. I speak practically no Korean…her cousin speaks no English…it was a very silent wait for the two of us. The military base also has movie theatres and other activities one can participate in, but after eating our pizza we decided to go see a movie in town because the movies showing on base we had already seen.

We ended up going to see The Hobbit! The experience was super cool because the theatre we went to had rows of special seats so one could “feel” the movie, which essentially met you could hear the sound, like the base beats and such, and pounding feet, etc, through the seat. The movie was in English with Korean subtitles. Another interesting aspect of the theatre was the popcorn selection. There was of course original, butter flavored, but they also had caramel corn, cheesy popcorn, and onion flavored popcorn, we stuck with original and cheesy. Plus there were free refills. After the movie the four of us ran to the train station, along with many other theatre goers, to catch the last train. As I mentioned earlier, the last train in Korea is around midnight. Before the movie started, we had about an hour and a half to kill, luckily there was an arcade within the theatre. We played shooting and driving games, took pictures in a photo booth (popular in Korea and Japan), and had a ton of fun. One of the more interesting games we played was a version of Dance Dance Revolution, but instead of the arrows one has to press being in front, behind, and to the left and right, the arrows were in the corners. It was a completely different feel from what Maddy and I are used to, but we got to dance to some of our favorite kpop (Korean Pop) songs and had a blast.

The Cat Café and the Dog Café were two of my favorite places that we went. Both worked the same way, just one had a ton of cats walking around and the other had a ton of puppies running around. When you walk in to this type of establishment, you take off your shoes and put on the slippers the place gives you. You also rub hand sanitizer on your hands. After you enter you buy a drink for 7000-9000 won ($7-9). This drink includes your entrance fee, therefore any drinks after that are cheaper. After that you take turns consuming your drink and playing with the animals. At the cat café there were various toys to use, but you couldn’t pick up the cats, possibly because the cats we not declawed, though I don’t know the real reason. At the dog café you could pick up the dogs. Many pictures and videos were taken at these two places. They are great places to spend an hour or two, especially if you miss your own animals while you’re abroad. I’ve seen advertisements for cat cafés in Japan, but I have yet to go to one, and no mention of puppy cafés anywhere, though they could exist I suppose.

Christmas in Korea is similar to Christmas in Japan in that Christmas is a couple’s holiday or a holiday to spend with your friends. One of the popular activities in Japan and in Korea is to buy a Christmas cake from a bakery and to eat it together, which was what we did in Korea. We stopped at a bakery and picked up a chocolate cake that had a bus on it…which was really weird, but this was the only cake that was actually cake cake, and not cheesecake or fruitcake, etc. We also picked up some Christmas cupcakes from another place because they looked so cute! There was a snowman, a snowflake, a Santa Clause, a reindeer, a Christmas tree and a ginger bread man. We also were able to skype with our families over Christmas time, which was a huge event for me. Christmas for me shouts and echoes family, so not having my family with me during Christmas was a challenge, however being able to skype everyone helped if only a little.

On the holiday theme, I was also in Korea for New Years!! On New Year’s Eve we went to the above mentioned puppy café and then we did karaoke for 2 hours!!! Karaoke in Japan, or in Korea, is soo much fun. Essential you go into a room that has a couch(es) and table(s) with a TV on the wall and a karaoke machine that has two mikes. There are often tambourines that you can also bring into the room for extra fun! There’s a book to search for songs in manually and then select them by their number, or you can search electronically on the search box thingy by artist, song, etc. Fear not if you don’t know any Japanese or Korean songs, because there are a ton of American songs, including Disney, that can be sung as well. Some karaoke also have drinks and food that you can buy as you sing too! After karaoke we went to Taco Bell, I know, great place to spend New Year’s Eve, am I right? As it got close to midnight we hopped outside and joined a random group to countdown the new year, that’s right, I counted down in Korean…which is “oh” (5) “sah” (4) “sam” (3) “ee” (2) “eel” (1). After that we went to catch the train back home. As I have already mentioned, the last train is around midnight, so you may wonder why we thought we could catch the train. Well, there was a New Year’s celebration somewhere in inner Tokyo, so the train times were extended especially for New Years. Unfortunately for us, that only included some of the train lines…in other words it didn’t include our train line. So after riding the train to and from the transfer point what else was there to do but continue karaoke! As a result we went to another karaoke place for 3 ½ hours more! Future advice, 5 ½ hours of karaoke in one night is not a smart idea. After that we arrived home around 7:30a the next morning (remember it’s a 2 hour train ride from inner Seoul to where we were staying). It was a super fun night, but we collapsed after we got home.

Another fun activity was ice skating! I had gone ice skating twice before, but both Maddy and Tina had never been. We went with Tina’s cousin to a nearby ice rink, rented skates and had a blast. It’s very similar to skating in America at an ice rink. While we were skating, there were also some lessons going on for younger kids, some in figure skating and some in speed skating. I’d say the kids were maybe around age 10, and many of them were levels above my friends and I in skating abilities. Let’s just say my friends and I stuck to the wall most of the time. After this we went back to the station where we were staying and walked to the “downtown” area to eat. Afterwards we picked up some hotteok at stand, and man was it delicious, so tasty. If my taste buds could sing opera, they would have.

The last reason for leaving our house was to go clubbing. I’m not sure if I touched on this, but if you decide to go to a club, it’s not like in America where you can leave at 2:00a if you’re not having fun. You have to commit to be out until 5-6:00a because that’s when the next train starts. We met up with some of Tina’s friends who are also exchange students and we all had a fun time dancing. But boy were we tired after we got home!

The rest of the time we just hung out at Tina’s grandparents’ house. The room we had to ourselves has a TV with a ton of channels and we had a great time watching concerts and dramas. At this moment I would like to correct something I believe I said in my last post about TV in Korea being so much more awesome than Japan. The fact is that Japan does have just as many channels and interesting shows, it’s just that the TV that I have used only has basic cable.  There was nearby grocery store where we would buy snacks and ramen and soda and such. Something that I do like better in Korea is that Pepsi is much more available in Korea while in Japan Coca-Cola is more available, though that’s my personal preference.

Well, that about wraps up my time in Korea. The entire trip was a blast and I was so happy to be able to see my friends my Madison that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Right now is my spring break, I don’t start up classes again until April 12, so I plan on having many adventures to write about!

Until next time.