While at work this week I was reading Alia's blog from El Salvador and I randomly clicked on one of the blogs she follows called "Postcards From the World" that chronicles the life of one of her friends from DC living and teaching in...you guessed it...SEOUL. Sadly I didn't find this blog until after she moved back to DC at the end of September. However I have loved reading it backwards and I have found a bunch of interesting things to do. I am all about stealing other people's trips and activity ideas! Last week I read about 6 months worth of entries and found quite a few places that I wanted to scope out. One of the most pressing field trips, however, was to a real-life-honest-to-god PANCAKE HOUSE in Seoul. Butterfinger Pancakes was a gift from above. Korea really doesn't do western breakfast so much, and I really can't get into rice wrapped in seaweed for breakfast, so I was pretty pumped to have breakfast. Brigid and I decided to meet there on Saturday afternoon and check it out. On Saturday morning (after sleeping in and before I had to go meet Brigid) I Googled Butterfinger Pancakes to find directions from the subway station and I was greeted with pages upon pages of expat blogs. Apparently every foreigner who has ever lived in Seoul has visited this fine establishment and gone home to blog about it. I am proud to join the tradition.
There are 3 (possibly 4) Butterfinger Pancake locations in Seoul: Apgujeong was the first one, then they were opened in Bundang and Gangnam. I think there is a fourth location in an area starting with a "c" but I am not positive. Gangnam appeared to be the easiest access to metro, so Brigid and I decided to meet there. It actually could not be easier to find unless it was IN the metro station. Exit the Gangnam Station (Line 2-Green) at Exit 6. Walk straight until you see the Body Shop and turn left. Walk about 2 minutes and Butterfinger Pancakes is easily visible on your left.
The restaurant itself is pretty adorable with a small downstairs area and large upstairs area that are decorated mostly in whites and oranges. We had to wait about 15 minutes for the table, but during that time we were able to pour over their extensive menu (and get even MORE pumped about the food that was to come). Brigid and I both ended up getting the Butterfinger's Favorites meal with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, and pancakes with honey-vanilla butter and maple syrup. HOLY CRAP it was delicious. Brigid got an awesome looking smoothie and I indulged in a giant, delicious Dr. Pepper with a refill. God it was great. We also had a side of gingerbread walnut pancakes since I had read a bunch of blog entries about how awesome they were. (While they were pretty good, next time I probably won't order them.) The food took a while to come out (and we were starving) so that probably amped up how good it was as well. It was expensive for Seoul food, but that is because it was Western food...so I am okay with paying more Western prices. And really, it was only like $18 a person and I was STUFFED with AMAZING food. So worth it.
After getting full of goodness, we hopped on the train and headed over to the Mongchontoseong (Seriously? Four syllables in one metro stop name is a little much, Seoul.) Stop on Line 8 to walk around Olympic Park for a little while. You come out of the metro station and up the steps to the beautiful World Peace Gate that was created for the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. The sun was just starting to head down in the sky so we got the full benefit of all of the gate's colors. It was stunning. There were a ton of people out rollerblading and riding their bikes and scooters. Olympic Park is one of the many places where you can rent bikes (and more hilarious- group bikes) and ride around. The park is also one of the few places in Seoul that has huge expanses of green grass and trees. Some places in the park are supposed to not feel like the city at all- no sounds of cars, no views of buildings, only nature surrounding you. We spent a little time walking around and taking pictures of the flags on display. They have flags from the nations that participated in the '88 games. This is the first time I had ever seen the flag of Mozambique which is EASILY the most violent flag I've ever seen. Who has ever heard of a flag featuring a machine gun and axe as the two symbols? Crazy!
World Peace Gate
Crazy totem pole things
Participating countries' flags
That is crazy!
As we were walking around, we heard some random strains from Phantom of the Opera carried on the breeze, so we went to investigate. We ended up parking ourselves beside the stage for a free "Happy Concert" that was being held. The performance was good, the weather was stunning, and the people watching was second to none. Brigid and I scoped a bunch of children we wanted to steal. The adorable pigtails! The chubby, chubby cheeks! Too cute!
Tell me you don't want to squeeze his cheeks, and I will tell you that you're lying.
After the concert concluded (and we spent some times laughing at the Korean families snapping up the free goodie bags being handed out) we headed over to walk around the lake a little and check out the wall that had all of the medal information from the games engraved in it. Suddenly, the clicking heels of someone running behind us. It was a woman and a man with a video camera who asked if they could interview us about the concert. Ha! Did I mention that we were (literally) the only white people there? Of course we agreed and talked about how great it was. Then the woman giggled with her friend as she struggled to find the words she needed for her next question. While we are still not sure what she meant, what came out was: "And if you know that the people did not have all of their...abilities? What you think about concert then?" It is difficult to answer a question you don't understand, haha. Our first instinct was that she was telling us they had disabilities...however none of them seemed to be physically or mentally disabled in any outwardly visible way. And their playing was great. So we stumbled through some vague answer like "Really? Oh wow. It was wonderful." (Later my mom told me that she thinks the woman meant they weren't professionals, which makes so much more sense...) Anyways, the obvious moral of this story is that Brigid and I are famous. It was kind of cool to look at the wall/medal standings and see countries that don't exist anymore. The USSR and German Democratic Republic lead in the medal count.
Baby tiger mascot
I love the Olympics.
After the park we headed up to Brigid's northern neck of the woods to meet Natasha (who thanks to a miscommunication had been waiting there for an hour and twenty minutes!) for a fantastic galbi dinner. This galbi (grilled marinated beef) was even better than the 30,000won per person stuff I had with Angie and Tom back in Insadong, and it was only 6,000won per person! Crazy town! The restaurant is on the ground floor of Brigid's building, and I would be tempted to eat there EVERY NIGHT. Cheap and delicious is an awesome combination. I also got to see Brigid's apartment, which is definitely bigger than mine, and has GIGANTIC windows covering most of one wall. I would love her apartment in my building/neighborhood. It took be about 50 minutes to get home from Brigid's so that wasn't bad. I went to sleep soon after since I knew I needed to wake up early on Sunday.
Let me start at the beginning of the planning for our Sunday trip. Last week I asked So Young to think of somewhere that I could go on a day trip from Seoul that would get me OUT of the city. She said she would think about it and while she was thinking I did some Google searching. She sent me a message on Cool Messenger that popped up saying "You should go to Nami Island" just as I was scrolling down the welcome screen for Nami Island. Fate? I was hooked.
This place is a GEM. They had me at "Nami Island declared its cultural independence on March 1, 2006." I'm sorry...what? Oh yes. This little island in the middle of a river in the middle of Korea decided to become its own "country." Nami Island became Naminara Republic. According to the website, "Like other independent republics, Naminara Republic has its own national flag, anthem, passport, postage stamps, telephone cards, written characters, papers, and currency. One of the most important national policies of Naminara Republic is the preservation of it unique natural setting and the promotion of a wide variety of cultural and arts programs with popular appeal." Unlike other independent republics, Nami Island is not recognized by anyone but themselves as far as we can tell. They make you pay for a visa (entrance ticket) and go through Immigration (the people who tear your ticket before you get on the ferry) before you get to stand on Naminarian (yes, that's what they call themselves) soil.
Map of the Republic
The ferry sign says "On Nami Island We Are All Naminarans." Say that 3 times fast...
Finally starting to look (and feel) like fall!
After walking down one of the tree avenues, we decided to grab some lunch at one of the restaurants. We had a fantastic meal of dumpling soup and a huge green onion/seafood pancake. Soooo good. We were on our way to the bike rental place when we saw the Sky-Car. It is basically a little two person bike thing that you pay 2,000won to ride around a track through the trees that is about 15 feet in the air. Brigid and I got on ours and she took off before I could get my second foot up on the pedals. Since it was my inside foot and I was terrified to lean to the left (these things were precariously teetering on this rail and I am positive I would have fallen to my death) I was useless and Brigid had to pedal the whole way. Luckily, the track was not that long. It was pretty hilarious, and we got to do some quality people watching from above.
I could be a spokesperson for Korean Coke.
Tasty dumpling soup.
Seafood and green onion pancake.
Posing with my caterpillar friends.
Checking out the Sky Car.
While on the Sky Car.
After the Sky Car, we headed over to sign up to use the electric tri-way bikes that you can rent for 30-minutes or an hour to tool around the island. When we arrived at the booth, all of the batteries were charging, so we were told to come back in an hour. We spent the hour walking around and looking at the wildlife- crazy Asian squirrels (with black fur and little fur horns on their ears), ostriches (that we had to get away from because the horrible tourists were mistreating them by pulling on their feathers, getting in their faces, etc...we were just praying for one of them to take an ostrich foot to the face) and chickens/roosters (I was left behind to witness the gang rape of a chicken by two roosters...terrifying). We also walked down the ginko trail (which smells TERRIBLE a this time of year as all the ginko fruits fall to the ground, get smashed into the dirt, and rot) and checked out some of the art studios. AND we worked on my Couple Wear project.
All recycled, of course.
In Korea it is popular for couples to wear matching outfits to display their togetherness for everyone. It is HILARIOUS and sooooo bizarre to me. Apparently it is a uniquely Korean thing. According to So Young, she said even her friends from other Asian countries think it is odd. She also said that if you ever see a matching couple in an airport, it is almost certain that they are going on their honeymoon, where they will dress in matching clothes for the duration. I love it. I had heard about this phenomenon, but I had yet to witness it for myself. Oh. My. God. Nami Island was CRAWLING with matching couples. Like everywhere you looked! We were there for about 4.5 hours and I saw at least 25 matching couples. And I took pictures of as many as I could without looking like a TOTAL creeper. This involved some fancy camera work, as you may have suspected.
Couple Wear from Meaghan Shanahan on Vimeo.
When the hour was up, we headed back over to the tri-way station where we were handed our bikes, given a few directions and sent on our way. Suspiciously, we were not given a helmet like every other person. Oh well. As we headed out, my tri-way seemed to be struggling a little, and by the time we got back down to the path it was barely moving. I figured it was just the fact that it was used to carrying 81 pound Korean girls and just couldn't handle how heavy I was. So 92 pound Natasha switched with me and we zoomed off. After driving for about 15 minutes (including a terrifying trip down a brick hill leading to the water...) the tri-way started to even have an attitude about Natasha riding it. So, obviously, there was something wrong with it. She ended up kind of riding it like a skateboard by pushing off with her one leg. This continued for a little while as we dodged lovers walking hand in hand, children darting across our path, and crazed tourists on bikes. We ended up going back up to the stand and switching batteries before we headed down to take a ride along the water and pose for some pictures. It was SO much fun (and worth the like $12 it cost for an hour rental). We hopped off and took our tired legs over to the shop to try and find some Nami Island souvenirs. (While riding, Brigid was like "Man, I wish these were SEATED electric bikes." To which Natasha responded "So...you want to ride around on an electric wheelchair, basically." Pretty much.)
Brigid, Me, Natasha, and Laura on our bikes.
Am I not one of the coolest people you know?
I bought a cool ostrich picture made out of rolled up strips of paper and a pair of earrings before grabbing some post cards and sending them off to the States. Then we had to BOOK IT down to the pier so that we could catch the boat back and get tickets to go home on the 4pm shuttle. So far so good...until we get to the bus and the man tells us they are sold out. We dejectedly go over to wait in the taxi line that will take us to the bus terminal and Natasha, convinced that one of the tour buses lined up MUST be going back to Seoul, goes to see if she can finagle us some seats.
Now, I must put in here for the benefit of my Mom's sanity, that had I been alone, or even if there had just been 2 of us, I never would have considered getting on a bus of strangers. But I figure that the four of us could take on any creepers should the situation arise. As Brigid, Laura and I are waiting in line, the shuttle starts to pull out of the gate at the parking lot. The driver sees us and starts to wave at us. Note: I did not say wave us over. He was just waving in kind of a "shoo" motion. This left us (I think understandably) confused. But we ran over and he said we could get on the bus. But...Natasha wasn't here! So as a traffic cop starts gesturing wildly and buses behind the shuttle honk noisily, Brigid calls Natasha who says she has found us a bus. That is willing to take us back to Seoul. For free. We wave off the shuttle and make our way back to the other buses where Natasha waits for us.
To make a long story short, we had the most bizarre and unexpected ride back to the city. Natasha had found a bus full of doctors from a medical association who had done a day trip of the island. We were adopted by a sweet dermatologist and a crazy gynecologist. The dermatologist started jokingly talking about our various dermatological issues and how he could give us free consultations and then the topic quickly veered into sketchy territory when the gynecologist asked if we had any issues HE could help with. Fear! I think the craziest part was the copious amounts of alcohol we were served on the bus. It started with home made raspberry wine served from a giant water bottle (and made by another OB/GYN, one of the only women on the bus), then progressed to beer and soju (which came in JUICE BOXES!). I can honestly say that never, ever in my life have I been concerned about spilling wine on me as we went over speed bumps in a moving vehicle. It was a PARTY BUS. We also had dried squid, cashews, almonds, tangerines, Cokes, and pineapple juice. INSANITY. After about 20 minutes in, when I was finally able to stop laughing about how BIZARRE the whole situation was, I was finally able to marvel at how kind these people were. We could have been anyone. Can you imagine a bus full of doctors in the US giving a free 2 hour ride to a group of Korean tourists? No freaking way. They were super hospitable and friendly. Our gynecologist friend didn't speak a whole lot of English (in fact I want to make shirts that say his catchphrase: I AM BROKEN ENGLISH!) but he was super inquisitive about us and our families and what we were doing here and what we thought about Korea. He was quiiite toasted and he liked to hold our hands, and be a close talker as he professed his LOVE of soju. So funny. They dropped us right at a metro station (and not a minute too soon as I had to pee SO BAD from all the drinks on the ride home) and it was even on my line, so it was no time before I was on my way home.
Brigid double fisting a Cass beer and a cup of homemade raspberry wine on the bus ride home.
In all, it was a fantastically unexpected and wonderful weekend. I loved every second. Next weekend we're going to a design exhibit and heading out to a soccer game on Saturday. Hopefully I can talk some people into going to the dog cafe with me on Sunday so I can get some lovin'!