Korea Diary | Making the Most of It (Day 49)

5:31:00 PM mandy 0 Comments

Oh before I knew it, the last full day in Korea with my new friends awaited me. Some of us may have gotten back during the wee hours of the morning but it would have been a waste to sleep in and waste our limited & precious time left together.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Sincon Ewhadang 이화당 Chocopie Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Sinchon Ewhwadang 이화당 Chocopie cross section

My last To-Do item was ticked off with the pickup of the prescription glasses and sunglasses. For Bestie C and a few of our friends, their next goal was to get a fresh new haircut in Edae. They decided on a Juno Hair Salon and off we went. Juno was a pretty popular chain in Seoul with many locations throughout the city. The prices were pretty very affordable at around ₩20,000 for a wash, cut, and style. I believed my friends also received a discount for showing their Yonsei IDs as well. The service at the salon was impeccable. Customers received complimentary drinks during their visit and I believe they were able to voice their hairstyle wishes with the help of a digital photo album that the stylists had handy.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Edae Paris Creperie Chocolate Ice cream Soft service

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Edae Paris Creperie Ice Tea Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Edae band performers

Since I was trying to grow my hair out in order to donate it to charity, I decided to skip out on the haircutting experience. Another friend and I leisurely strolled along Edae and window shopped as we waited for everyone else to be pampered at the salon.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Edae Albab House rice bowl

Those who got haircuts finished just in time for lunch. We grabbed quick bites at Albab House in Edae. This place never disappoints: fast service, delicious food, and inexpensive price.

Now my memory starts to get really fuzzy about what happened after eating lunch. Bestie C mentioned going back to the dorms to grab things for the jjimjilbang or Korean spa, yet I don't have much memory of needing to bring much for our spa visit. What I do remember is our group splitting in order to divert attention so that a surprise birthday cake could be purchased.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Myeongdong Choissi Ahjussi Budaejjigae 최씨 아저씨 부대찌개 Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Myeongdong Choissi Ahjussi Budaejjigae 최씨 아저씨 부대찌개 ddeokkalbi 떡갈비

Anyways...! Once the surprise event had been settled, our group met up again to head to Myeongdong. A few friends had wanted to visit a Haunted House type of place there so why not make one last visit to the shopping haven. I wanted no part in the scary trip and luckily Bestie C was on the same page as me.

We ended up eating at a nearby budaejjigae 부대찌개 or army base stew @ Choissi Ahjussi Budaejjigae 최씨 아저씨 부대찌개. My favorite part was the ddeokgalbi 떡갈비 or minced short rib patty that came with the stew. Not that the budaejjigae was bad or anything but since we ordered a non-spicy version to accommodate for the non-spicy eaters at the group, our stew just didn't have the same flavor.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Myeongdong Turkish Ice cream
Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Myeongdong Twisted potato hot dog
Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Myeongdong Egg bread

Our last visit to Myeongdong wouldn't have been complete without a street food sweep. This time, we had the most mouths together which meant we could sample even more foods.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Dragon Hill Spa
Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Dragon Hill Spa key tags
Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014

There's no better time to visit the sauna and spa than after a full belly. We wound up at Dragon Hill Spa 드래곤힐스파 in Yongsan. Boy was it an interesting experience that I didn't even fully immerse myself into. (I'll explain more on what I mean later.)

We were greeted by the clerk who collected the admission fee of ₩13,000. In return, we were given a key along with a change of clothes. Once we crossed the turnstile there were rows and rows of small lockers for our shoes to be put into. The number on the keychain corresponds to the lockers number. But yes, be prepared to wander around the place barefoot.

The next stop was to the elevators which led to the locker rooms, changing area, bathing area, etc. This was when it began to get slightly uncomfortable for me. As the elevators were gender segregated and led to gender-specific floors, we were greeted by much nakedness the moment we stepped off the metal box. All the ladies walked around without a care in the world and only wanting to get cleaned and relaxed.

Lockers and changing rooms were on one side of the floor and the other had the snack bar, resting area, heat/sauna chamber, and bathing pool area. I stayed in the resting area most of the time we were there because I was pretty exhausted. Plus, I needed a little shuteye to help with my mission to pull an all-nighter packing, cleaning, and trying to adjust to jetlag before the flight. We did enter the heat chamber once or twice for a few minutes while we were there and it was HOT. I don't know how the older Korean ladies did it but I was sweating the moment I stepped into the contraption. Some point during the night we snacked on eggs and sikhye 식혜 (sweet rice drink) from the snack area. The cool thing about the keys was it doubled as a credit system. If we wanted to buy food or pay for anything while at the spa we could just tap it to keep a record. The bill was settled right before we left.

Before we even arrived I was already adamant I wouldn't take part in the cleaning part of the jjimjilbang experience. My body was and still is not something I am 100% comfortable with, even if everyone else there doesn't give a damn there. While I don't regret missing out on this part of the spa, I won't rule out the idea of trying it later.

We ended up leaving Dragonhill around 2AM. Apparently there was a co-ed arcade area in the spa but we realized it too late. The guys ended up having their bro-time and us girls had our gal-time. It was definitely much needed relaxing nap time to ready ourselves for the checkout process at SK Global the following morning.


Korea Diary | Getting New Specs (Day 48)

6:21:00 PM mandy 0 Comments

I was really excited for the day's plans. It was something I had wanted to do the moment I landed and got situated in Seoul. I read somewhere on the interwebs about the inexpensive glasses available from Namdaemun and my goal was set, prescription sunglasses shall be mine at last!

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Edae Tayo bus

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Dolsot Bibimbap 돌솥 비빔밥

A late night meant most of us ended up waking up around noon. After grabbing a quick meal in Edae, our group took the subway to Namdaemun Market to scout for some new specs.

Since Bestie C wasn't too interested in glasses shopping with me, I was really excited to hear that our Californian friends were. I was most afraid of my haggling skills and welcomed the extra support of going with a group of people. It was definitely reassuring to know that those friends had superior price negotiating tactics than me.

I probably mentioned it in one of my first Korea Diary posts, but Namdaemun Market had way too many eyeglass shops to choose from. What originally began as going into one to just price gauge became staying at one to price haggle. Our first and only visit ended up at Good Morning Eyeglass 굿모닝 안경원. It was one of the bigger places that could accommodate our large group.

One side of their store housed mainly the designer brands like the Ray Bans, Chanel, etc. The other side had the Korean brands, which were, of course, the more affordable options. Regular clear glasses from the domestic Korean brands could cost around ₩20,000. The price went up with additional things such as the thickness of the lens. Sunglasses frames were also priced a little higher as well.

If my eyesight wasn't as terrible and I was a stronger haggler, perhaps I could have gotten a pair of new specs for less than ₩20,000. Alas, that's not me. I was prepared to pay more for the thinnest lenses possible. These things practically live on my face so that I am able to navigate the world. I needed them to feel as if they weren't there. To no surprise, the prices the salesman gave was much higher for my requests. It wasn't as expensive as what it would cost back in NYC but a big difference from a no-frills version in Seoul.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Namdaemun Market 남대문 시장 - Good Morning Eyeglass 굿모닌 안경원

(For comparison, I had my eyes checked before going to Korea and was quoted for a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses with thinner lenses and I believe anti-scratch. A sales person at a popular eyeglass chain in NYC told me it would cost $600+ for the sunglasses. The typical cost of my previous glasses with thinner lenses and anti-scratch was around $400-500.)

It took me a very long time to finally decide the frames that I wanted to buy. There were just so many choices to choose from. While I went in knowing 100% that I was going to walk out with a pair of sunglasses, I also tacked on a pair of normal glasses as well. Being in an Asian eyeglass shop meant most of the frames had nose support that suited small Asian nose bridges. This was an opportunity too good to pass up on. Plus, I thought it would help with the price haggling. Saying 2 for $xxx is easier than going 1 for $xxx.

If my memory is correct, I think the salesman originally told me that the prices of both frames together would be around ₩500,000. If I was back at home, this would have been a great deal. But I was hoping to get a steal.

I made the "ehh I don't know" and "it still seems pretty pricey" faces while staring at my choices.

Mr. Sales saw and shot back with a lower price saying that it was because I was buying two & he was giving a special discount.

Again, I gave him my unsure face. Until some time later he asked me how much I was thinking.

Bingo! Without looking too excited, I gestured 2 fingers, pointed at my picks, and then replied with ₩200,000.

Of course, Mr. Sales didn't give in that easily. After a bit of insistence and more back and forth, he finally gave in. YES!

In just an hour's time, the new spectacles would be mine. I say I definitely won the lottery at ₩100,000 a piece. I couldn't even have bought 1/6 pair of a sunglass in NYC at that price.

I went in knowing my eyesight so that I could avoid any potential language dilemmas surrounding an examination. But for those who aren't sure of their prescription, I believe shops do basic exams free of charge.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Namdaemun Market 남대문 시장 hanbok 한복

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Namdaemun Market 남대문 시장 steamed bread jjinBbang 찐빵
Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Namdaemun Market 남대문 시장 steamed bread jjinBbang 찐빵 japchae 잡채 Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Namdaemun Market 남대문 시장 steamed bread jjinBbang 찐빵 red bean 팥

Everyone had souvenir gifts they needed to purchase and there were so many snacks to try. An hour at the Namdaemun Market went by really quickly. Same day glasses service is the best. Everything from start to finish only took less than 4 hours of the day. If you're not as indecisive as me it could even take only take 2 hours before new glasses reach your hands.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Myeongdong School Food Blooming Mari
Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Myeongdong School Food Blooming Mari fruity cidar mocktails
Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Myeongdong School Food Blooming Mari Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Myeongdong School Food Blooming Mari
Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Myeongdong School Food Blooming Mari fried rice

By the time we settled our glasses To-Do, dinner time was greeting us. Our big group found our way to nearby Myeongdong for dinner at School Food Blooming Mari. I don't have much memory of this place except for their colorful cidar/Sprite fruit drinks.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Hongdae 1st Island Bar Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Hongdae 1st Island Bar
Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Hongdae 1st Island Bar alligator

The only bar my friends and I went to in Korea was Bar Pro and that was for their unlimited drinks for an inexpensive price. It definitely wasn't the strongest cocktails but none of us went to Bar Pro for the drink quality.

After introducing our Korean friend (the one who studied full time in America) to Bar Pro, he told us he could show us a better place, alcohol-wise. That's how we ended up in Hongdae's 1st Island that night. 1st Island was definitely interesting. The first thing we were greeted with as we walked inside was a little inflatable pool with a turtle and then a small alligator inside a tank. I think the fee was around ₩25,000 for unlimited drinks, which is considerably higher than at Bar Pro but the cocktails were much much stronger and of bigger quantities.

A few friends left early because they didn't feel well. Being a little curious as to what bar culture was like, I decided to stick around. The more experienced friends in the group led the drinking games and that's how we entertained ourselves for the next couple of hours as we slowly drank/sipped on the vodka cocktails.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Hongdae Sinsung Seollongtang 신성 선농탕

The last thing I wanted was to be utterly hammered. I had no idea what my limit was but I kept myself in check with how much I sipped since we had no pressure from each other to chug anything. While I left 1st Island conscious and aware, the same cannot be said about a couple of my friends. None were had the point of throwing up but their imaginations sure ran wild. It was probably in the AMs, we were all walking along to get towards a busier area and someone had mistaken a dog to be paper or vice versa. That sure was a good laugh!

I am not sure what the hangover eats are in Korea but a seollongtang 설렁탕 (ox-bone soup) shop was open at the insane hour we were still out. We needed a place to sit and clear our heads anyways.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Late night taxi home

By the time we were all okay enough to head back, the only options we had were either a taxi or on foot. Most of us were more than glad to hail a cab the short distance from Hongdae to SK Global. A few wanted to journey back via a stroll, so we ended up splitting up and saying goodbye for the night. It was already past 3AM by the time I arrived in my dorm room and Bestie C had probably been asleep for a few hours already. The hard mattress in my dorm room never looked so comfy.


Korea Diary | Last Day of Classes (Day 47)

5:27:00 PM mandy 0 Comments

At this point, I wasn't sure if I was a happy student who was finishing her last day of school or a sad friend who needed to part ways with everyone soon. Whichever it was...we made the most of our last few days together the moment our exams were completed.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Sinchon The Jingook 진국 mochi mandoo Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Sinchon The Jingook 진국 mochi mandoo

The Korean language exams were held on the second to last day of classes so that students could receive their results on the last day. This meant I was left with only one final on my last day of school for the East Asian Art History course. Afterwards, Bestie and I grabbed lunch in Sinchon before heading to the 4D CGV theatre to buy movie tickets for that night's plans.

I forgot what the name of these dumplings was but it had a very unique wrapper. It didn't taste like a typical flour one did. I want to say it was made with some kind of sticky rice flour because of the chewiness.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Last day of KLI group photo polaroids

Korean class was quick that day, full of mixed feelings as we entered and left the KLI building one last time. Everyone was sad that we had to say goodbye to our teachers and our classmates. Yet we were all pretty happy with our exam results.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - KLI classmate's final written exam doodles

A few of us gather before dinner to watch How to Train Your Dragon 2 in 4D. Luckily I had seen this particular movie with my brother before leaving for Korea because I actually dozed off at the theatre. While I am all for watching 4D movies, I think it is best to save it for more action-packed genres because How to Train Your Dragon had very soothing and relaxing swaying to simulate flying.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Sinchon samgyetang 삼계탕
Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Sinchon salt and pepper for samgyetang 삼계탕 Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Sinchon samgyetang 삼계탕 insides

Of course, our celebratory meal wasn't just delivery food. The actual event was having samgyetang 삼계탕. Recharging and nourishing our systems was much needed. Believe it or not, this was our first time going out for the chicken soup dish by ourselves. The first and only time I had samgyetang in Korea was on the YISS Jeju trip. I was a little surprised by the cost of the dish, ₩13,000, but I guess ginseng is a treat.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Sinchon LGA Cafe melon bingsoo

If highlight #1 was my exam score, #2 the 4D movie, and #3 the samgyetang dinner, then highlight #4 was this melon bingsoo from Cafe LGA in Sinchon. At ₩14,500, it was the priciest shaved ice we have had the whole summer, yes. But this was definitely the largest shaved ice we had all summer. Cafe LGA filled half a honeydew melon with a mountain of shaved milky ice, stuck balled melon all around, and finally topped it with a scoop of ice cream and almond slivers. Doesn't it look heavenly?

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Sinchon LGA Cafe menu

We had walked past Cafe LGA a ton of times going from Sinchon to Edae, and vice versa but never went in until it was too late. I would have wanted to try all their bingsoo varieties had I known how good it was earlier. Definitely, do not attempt going and eating one of these alone.

While you may think the cherry on top was having bingsoo for dessert, a few friends and I went for a girls' night and found ourselves at karaoke. There were plenty of noraebangs in Shinchon. Every time we went to sing our hearts out, we always somehow end up in a new place. (Even if we thought we were walking into a familiar one.) It was interesting to see the different ways each place was set up. The one we went to this night required us to be shoeless and seated on floor cushions.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Ending near - Checkout procedure at SK Global House

So that we wouldn't forget that the end was near, SK Global and Yonsei had a sign strategically placed near the entrance where students card in and out. Seeing it was bittersweet.


Korea Diary | Crunch Time (Day 43-46)

8:36:00 PM mandy 0 Comments

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Typical study abroad breakfast

Before we knew it, the last week of classes at YISS was staring at us in the face. Four more days of walking those hills from SK Global house near East Gate towards the center of campus where classes were held. Two more days of studying our butts off to memorize and drill facts and vocabulary into our brains.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Rainy monsoon season days

I guess the weather was helping us be more studious during the crunch period as mother nature decided to downpour most of the week, finally.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Edae Food Cafe fried mandoo Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Edae Food Cafe naengmyeon

On a rare occasion that week, my friends and I made it out for either lunch or dinner. It wasn't the most extravagant meal. Naengmyeon 냉면 and goonmandoo 군만두 were both quick and affordable eats.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Edae Kaya Kaya Ramen

Another night a full-time foreign Yonsei student, who was one of our friend's roommate, took us to his hidden Japanese ramen spot in Edae. Boy was it one of those secret finds! Kayaa Kayaa 가야 가야 was located in one of the very narrow alleyways in Edae. The inside looked like a typical ramen shop with counter seating facing the kitchen and regular tables. While I remember it being a nice bowl of ramen, it doesn't hold the strongest spot in my food memory from Korea.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - KLI teacher's ice cream treat

While I am used to chilly rain in New York, the storms in Seoul came with high humidity. One of our Korean language teachers helped us cool down with some refreshing ice cream, her treat!

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - KLI final exam components

But in reality, we were also in dire need of a break from studying for the 4-part language exam that was awaiting us in a couple days. Students at KLI have to be tested on all four aspects of the Korean language exam: listening, writing, reading, and speaking. I was pretty nervous for all parts of the test but speaking (i.e. one-on-one interview) was probably the most nerve-wracking.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - KLI final exam diction interview signup sheet

Everyone had to sign up for an 8-minute time slot. Not wanting to be too scared out of my wits being the first few students, nor drag out my nervousness being the last few, I luckily secured my spot in the middle of the pack. The thing I feared the most was having a brain fart in the middle of the interview. We were already assured that the interviewer would be our own teacher, so my fears of not understanding what the examiner was saying were relieved. The biggest potential hurdle was being so nervous that I would forget everything we had studied and read everyday for the past few weeks.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Boneless fried chicken 순살 치킨 delivery cheese flavored

Studying nights meant ordering in for our meals. The further along we got into the program, the more friends we all made. The more friends we made, the more food we were able to order and share at our dinner gatherings at the dorm lounge. Going out eating was fun and all but having the bonding time with friends was the most important aspect.

P.S. Boneless chicken, soonsal chicken 순살치킨, is love.

Seoul, Korea - Summer Study Abroad 2014 - Big Korean Chinese delivery night

None of us had the energy or desire to go out after an exhausting afternoon of Korean language exams on that last Wednesday. Everyone settled for ordering Korean-Chinese as our celebratory meal.