Sunday, January 31, 2010

Jo Anna's Visit: Highlights of Korea in 6 Days!

Alright, this is going to be a loooooong entry, so hit the bathroom and grab yourself a drink before you sit down to read it!

This past week Jo Anna trekked halfway around the globe to visit me. In the six days she was here I would feel confident saying she saw more of Korea than some NSETs who have been here six months. It was a whirlwind tour, for sure, but I think that the going-going-going mode really helped with jet lag (she as a TROOPER) and helped make the 16+ hours it takes to get here and back worth it!

On Friday I left home around 4:00pm and headed out to Gildong Sagori (intersection) in order to catch the airport limousine bus out to Incheon. It took me just under two hours to get there. I found the flight information (after walking around like an idiot for a while and finally calling Natasha) and grabbed a seat near the D Gate to wait for her. Just after I sat down, a young Korean girl came up to me and said "Hello, I just returned from visiting my cousins in Canada for two days and I would like to check my English. Could I interview you?" Of course I said yes and she then asked if her sister could film it on her camera. Why not. She was probably around 13, she's headed to middle school in March. Her English was fantastic. She asked me about my time in Korea and my favorite foods and easy questions like that. It was pretty cute. After the interview she took a picture with the two of us and her mom and headed off. A few feet away her sister once again turned on the camera and filmed her talking about the interview. It was super random but pretty cute. Maybe it was my "Exciting English Camp" hoodie that made her willing to approach me, haha.

Around 7:15pm I got up and stood near the gate where Jo Anna was supposed to come out. I ended up talking to a woman who had been in first class with no checked luggage so she was out about 40 minutes before Jo Anna. I had seen her attempt to use multiple cell phones so I told her that she could use mine if needed (she ended up not having her co-workers number, so that wasn't helpful). We talked about me teaching here, etc. It was an airport trip full of new friends! After Jo Anna arrived we grabbed the bus back towards my house and talked most of the way. At the first stop the bus driver came up and yelled at us saying "shut your mouths!" and holding his fingers in his ears and complaining in Korean. Excellent welcome, ajosshi. Who cares. We got home and I let Jo Anna into the apartment to take a shower and ran downstairs to the jajamyeong place where it they apparently stop making their signature dish at a certain hour. I ended up getting a spicy shrimp thing for Jo Anna and a pork thing for me. We never did get to have jajamyeong. We ate and hit the sack soon after.

Saturday we woke up early and caught the train up to Jongno-3ga to get the bus out to Nami Island. Julia was running late and came DAMN close to missing the bus...again. However she made it so that was good. On the ride out Julia was in a seat next to a random since there were only three of us and the bus was full. At one point (probably more) he took a stealthy picture of them on his camera phone. CREEPER ALERT. We joked he would probably brag to his friends about the foreigner he took to Nami Island, haha. When we arrived at the island we discovered that in winter it is a GIANT SHEET OF ICE. Within literally minutes I had slipped and fallen down (while standing still). It was extra classy.

Jo Anna in front of giant ice tree.

The ground. Yeah. All ice.

Giant bruise on my hand. It looked worse later.

We basically spent all morning walking around being intrepid explorers and concentrating on not dying (at least that is what I was doing). They weren't renting out the tri-ways or bikes because of the slippery conditions and the couple wear was sadly less visible under coats, but it was still beautiful and a good time. They also got a new pair of Jindo dog puppies which were pretty cute. There were fires set up all over the island so you were never too far from a place to warm up (and they smelled awesome like campfires!). We had a pretty delicious lunch of dumpling soup, a giant seafood/green onion pancake and a thing of boraebap for lunch. It was soooo much food! During lunch I also overheard a pretty hilarious conversation the foreigners at the next table were having. Apparently the one really beefy guy had tried to do the bungee jumping thing and had paid and gotten all strapped in the harness before they decided he was too big to jump. Oh Korea.

After lunch we walked around a little more and Julia stomped on a bunch of ice like a small child. I was fairly certain her last words would be "Now I'm going out to stomp on the river!" but somehow she survived. While Jo Anna and I were watching her, I hear my name and it happens to be one of my co-workers from Aju and her boyfriend. So we talked for a little while before they headed off. For dessert we found a stand selling hoddeoks, which are like chewy pancakes stuffed with nuts and brown sugar. Holy crap they are good. As we walked round there were also a herd of middle schoolers that made conversation with us for a while (I think Julia is a magnet for conversation...she and Laura both just give off that "talk to me" vibe) as we headed back towards the ferry. Just as we were about to board the ferry, we saw/heard a group of like four college aged guys doing rock-paper-scissors. Then one of them came over and asked to take his picture with us. We are still unsure whether it was the winner or loser, hahaha. So that was random.

Ice tiger. A little Zeta shout out.

Super icy path of death. Perhaps it was the road less travelled because it was the road more deadly.

Winter wonderland.

Chowing down on some fresh hoddeoks.

Delicious inside.

Julia stomping on the icy river, hahaha.

Quick, blend in with the snowmen!

After riding the bus back to Insadong (on which the woman across the aisle got super car sick and puked in a bag) we realized that we wouldn't have time to go home and change before the Donkey Show so we went straight to Hongdae and met up with Dana and Natasha. We hit a convenience store to pick up some Soju Cool (of course) and ended up getting to Club Cocoon about ten minutes after the show started. The guy up at the front desk just waved us down without paying the 40,000won per person. We were confused but didn't question it. While we were putting our stuff in the locker, another guy from the club came over and asked to see our bracelets. We said the guy upstairs had told us to just come down and he didn't know enough English to argue, so we got to see the show for FREE! Totally awesome. It was just as entertaining the second time.

In the middle of the show, Dana made eye contact with the Christian boy that we had talked to after the show last time and he unmistakably recognized her, which was crazy. At one point during the show, one of the guys ripped off his wife beater and threw it into the audience. We are still unsure how, but that ripped shirt found its way to Dana. Fake Jeremy draped it over her shoulders. Soooooo random. Before the end of the show, Dana went out to buy Christian boy some candy and left with the locker key. While we were waiting I went over and talked to the only other two foreingers in the room. The one girl said her friend had spotted the ad on the subway (just like Dana/Julia) and they had driven FOUR HOURS to come see the show. They also randomly got in free (it was like foreigner night at Club Cocoon). Dana thankfully came back just after the show ended and we headed outside to get signatures on Dana's shirt. She ended up getting almost all of the dancers' signatures, but since she didn't have a sharpie, they were in a mixture of pen, borrowed marker, eyeliner pencil and liquid eyeliner. Absurd and awesome. Not only did Christian boy remember Dana, he actually remembered her NAME! Ahhh! Jo Anna and Natasha joked that of course he remembered it from filing the restraining order, lol.

Getting one of the dancers to sign the shirt.

After Dana was done being a stalker, we headed over to the Dollhouse luxury noraebang (private karaoke rooms). It was AWSOME. Heated floors, plush seats, mirrored roof, huge selection. It was hilarious.

Jo Anna and I singing.

Natasha and I were unplanned opposites...right down to the peace signs!

Dana making use of the mirrored ceiling.

After an hour our time was up (sooo worth the 20,000won) so we headed out to find another noraebang. Natasha went home and we met up with Tina, a friend of Dana's, and Laura at the second, kind of ghetto noraebang. But it was still fun. After an hour there the other girls went out dancing and Jo Anna and I took a taxi home and crashed.

Such a random picture. I'm showing off the puffed rice beer snack, Jo Anna is singing, and Laura is...being Korean. Hahaha.

On Sunday we got up around nine and went across the street to have Sukbong Toast for breakfast. It was...interesting again. I really can't get into mashed sweet potatoes being squeezed onto my breakfast sandwich, haha. We headed up to Gwanghwamun where we shopped at the Haechi store and walked around the plaza for a bit. I definitely didn't know that if you go underneath the new King Sejong statue there is a huge interactive exhibit about the history of King Sejong and Korea itself. In that exhibit we learned...that Korea invented everything. Hahaha. Seriously...sometimes I think they really believe that they invented everything. The exhibit fueled many jokes for the rest of the week. After we finished there, we headed out in an attempt to find a bank with an international ATM for Jo Anna. Hana Bank was anti-social as always, but we found a Citibank to fill our needs. Then we walked down Cheonggye Stream for a bit before heading over to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

While standing in line to buy tickets at the palace, I looked up and saw Brigid and her visiting friend Amy right in front of us. Excellent timing! We spent the afternoon walking around the palace together. I made Brigid, Amy and Jo Anna dress up in the hanboks which was pretty sweet. They only had men's clothes available, but they got the feel of it, haha.
All dressed up, no where to go.
Amy, Brigid, Jo Anna

Hold on! There is an important phone call for you...FROM THE PAST!

Jo Anna looks like a movie star.

The palace was SUPER MUDDY since snow removal here reaches surprising levels of terrible. I had mud squeezing in the sides of my mesh shoes. It was awesome. It was also quite cold, so after a while we headed over to Insadong where we did some shopping (even though we temporarily misplaced my favorite store...and took forever to find it!) and watched the dragon's beard candy makers for a while. I got a name stamp with my name engraved in Hangul, which is what the use for official signatures here (for instance, my vice principal uses it instead of signing all of the official paperwork at school). We also bought an absurd amount of hilarious Korean socks, a pair of which I am wearing as I write this post. Then we went to Sanchon, a temple food restaurant for dinner. We had about 30 different dishes made of various mountain shoots and leaves. Some were delicious, some were horrifying, but overall it was a fun experience. The restaurant was really beautiful and had great presentation of the food.

Restaurant interior.

Brigid and Amy with our spread.

Odd dessert that somehow didn't taste as good after Amy compared them to spider egg sacs, hahahaha.

After dinner we booked it over to the Chongdong Theater were we met Natasha and Dana for Miso. Miso is a dance/music performance about a couple and how their relationship changes during the course of a year. It is split up into scenes representing Korea's four distinct seasons! The traditional music was beautiful, the costumes were absolutely stunning, and the drumming was fantastic. It was a really excellent show. Definitely the best traditional Korean performance I have seen here. GO SEE IT! After the show we came home to sleep, which was needed at that point.

The whole crew at Miso.
Brigid, Amy, Jo Anna, me, Natasha, Dana
Posing with some of the performers from Miso.
(Thanks for the pics, Dana!)

Monday was kind of a lazy day (well, the laziest we had, haha). We slept in until around 11:00am and then headed up to Gwanghwamun to meet Brigid and Amy for lunch at Cafe Sobahn, our favorite bibimbap place up there. I tried something new (spicy pork bibimba in a hot stone bowl) and it was AWESOME! So good. After lunch we went down to the corner where you pick up the Seoul City Bus tour, my plan for the day. Except they don't run on Mondays. Which Brigid apparently knew, and subsequently forgot. The crazy part is that I had actually looked at the individual attractions where it stops and seen if they were open, but never thought to check the tour itself. We went into a nearby Holly's Cafe (ps- black tea lattes are my new drink of choice here) and warmed up for a while before going back to Insadong to pick up a few things and getting on the metro. (While in Insadong, a woman took pictures of Jo Anna with a telephoto lens from...oh...maybe 5 feet away. I think she's going to be a foreigner spokes model for some Korean product, so keep your eyes peeled!)

We took the metro down to Chungmuro where we caught a bus up the mountain to the Seoul Namsan Tower. We got to the top of the mountain just as the sun was finishing setting and it was really beautiful. We got to the top of the tower as all of the lights in Seoul were turning on. Stunning views even at night.

Tower looking lovely.

Love locks with sunset in the background.

We look like we're dressed in couple was unintentional.
Amy, me, Jo Anna, Brigid

Home sweet Seoul.

While we were walking around upstairs in the tower, we spotted this wall of tiles that people had decorated and glued up. There were pictures, messages, etc, and Jo Anna and I decided we wanted to leave a little piece of Zeta Phi Delta up there. So we began the ordeal of buying a tile. First, the woman at the shop said that if we wanted a small tile to hang up, we had to go downstairs and buy it. So we abandoned Brigid and Amy and went down to the ground level to purchase a tile. We wrote on it, then boarded the elevator to go back up (at this point the alarm went off because I had already used my ticket and I had to explain why we were going back up...annoying!) to the top. When we got there, we waited in line at the register for like 10 minutes to get the glue to hang it up. Then the girl tells us that we can't hang the small ones up there because it is "done." UGH! So we had to go back downstairs and hang it up down there. So as you come off the elevator and walk towards the gift shop, look for our tile on your left!

Zeta tile.

Zeta love.

Then we walked back down the super steep hill to catch the bus and the metro back home. When we arrived back in my dong, we went to go Gimbab Sarang, the gimbab place on the corner. We sat there for a while translating menu items on my phone before one of the guys who works there and speaks English took pity on us and came over and asked what we wanted. We had a couple rolls of chamchi gimbab (tuna, and by far my favorite), a hot stone bowl of bibimbap (awesome) and a really weird ice noodle soup. We had asked specifically whether the soup was hot or not, and were assured that it was. However, when it arrived, there were ice cubes floating in it. It was basically like ramen floating in cold soy milk with sesame seeds sprinkled on top. So strange.

Crazy ice noodles.

After dinner we did a quick run to Daiso for Jo Anna to pick up some cheap flat chopsticks and Family Mart for our beverage needs. Then we came back to write in our journals and translate hilarious Korean socks on Google Translate. Seriously, we spent about 45 minutes translating various socks, and came up with some awesome phrases. We also became bilingual detectives and found the location of the Seoul office of Corn Products International, the company Jo Anna works for. It was a job involving the Korean Corn Products site, Korean Google Maps, and many skills of deduction, haha. Then we crashed.

Tuesday we woke up around 6:30am and hit Dunkin Donuts before boarding the train for the long trip down to Suwon. Quite honestly, I didn't even know the subway ran that far south. Suwon is about an hour and a half by car (and about an hour and a half by subway including the three transfers we had to make). It is waaaay down at the bottom Line 1 (one of my least favorite lines). At one point we hit a terminating station and had to get off and wait for another train. But we arrived. When we got there, we followed the giant exit sign out and ended up trapped in a place where you could only go out exits 4, 5, and 6. This would not have been a problem except for the fact that we were meeting Laura and exit 1. We walked around downstairs for a while, and then went above ground to try and find it. Unsuccessful. We ended up having to swipe back into the station, go back to the platform and follow the teensie tiny signs to exit 1. Annoying! Once we got Laura we caught the bus and headed over to Hwaseong Fortress. It was a beautiful, albeit FREEZING day. After we arrived we walked around inside for a while before asking the women at the information booth where to catch the trolley.

Jo Anna and I posing in front of the fortress.

Awesome uniforms on display.

I love his jaded/concerned look.

The women at the information booth gave us directions, but forgot to mention that there were roughly 200 steps between us and the trolley station. That was fun....PSYCH. We rode the trolley over to the other side of the fortress which was a lovely but very cold ride.

Parts of the fortress wall from the trolley.


Once we arrived at our destination, we decided that we needed to warm up. We found a little tea house and after reading some truly hilarious Konglish descriptions of different teas, I got some awesome raspberry tea. We also got a big mungbean pancake which was quite tasty.

So good and the cups/saucers were really beautiful.

We had some time to kill before the next archery session started, so we went down to the gift shop for a while and Laura almost got converted by some Mormon missionary, hahah. At three o'clock we went into the archery shop and were redirected out to the ticket booth. For 1,000won (roughly 80 cents) you got 10 arrows to shoot. We arrived at the ticket booth at 3:02pm and the woman told us that we couldn't do it because the time was over. We would have to wait another 30 minutes (even though we had trolley tickets on the 3:25pm rain back). So we hemmed and hawed and said I guess we couldn't do it then, until another woman said we could go if we rushed. We got a quick lesson (different from archery I've done before) and got to shoot. We were shooting at targets that were 30m away. There was a group of old Korean guys in a shooting club that were shooting at the 120m targets and TOTALLY SHOWING US UP!

Shooting range.

Don't mess with us!

Our aim was not fantastic. In fact, I did not get a single one in a target, and all together we only got 3/30 in the target. SAD!
After we were done shooting, we had to go out on the range and collect our arrows. While we were on our way back, the old shooting club guys were all waving and gesturing for us to hurry. We thought they were just impatient, but then found out they were trying to tell us to hurry up because the train was leaving. Only it wasn't for another 10 minutes, so we rushed around for nothing. Oh well. We rode the trolley back and decided to go up to the Bell of Filial Piety...which happened to be 300+ (they were labeled) steps up the mountain.

These effectively turn your legs into noodles.

The reward for making it to the top without dying was absolutely stunning views of Suwon and a bell that you could pay 1,000won to ring three times. The first toll shows gratitude to/respect for your parents. The second toll is a wish for your family's health and harmony. The third toll is to wish for the realization of your dreams. It was pretty cool.

Surveying Suwon.

We are intrepid explorers.


Tolling the bell: action shot.

After demonstrating our filial piety, we headed back down the mountain to visit with a giant gold Buddha before heading back to Seoul.

Steps down.

Showing my SAS pride. We happened to be here on Wave Day and there was something really cool about climbing a mountain in one of the ports that got taken from us by that stupid wave.

We did a little shopping and the caught a taxi to the train station where we said our goodbyes to Laura and headed towards Gangnam to get the coveted Corn Products International picture. Jo Anna got to experience the joys of a rush hour commute around the bottom of the green line (ugh) and we found the building with little difficulty. We even went inside and got a picture of her posing with the sign.

Direct romanization: kkon puhrodukchuh kkoriah (Corn Products Korea)

Since we were already running VERY late, we took a taxi over to Lotte World where we watched the ice skaters (there were these tiny, awesome speed skaters in training practicing) for a minute or two before meeting up with Dana, Julia and Boram. The we went downstairs to the LOTTE WORLD SHOOTING RANGE! It was everyone's first time shooting a handgun and I picked out a Glock. I was totally beast and shot with 88% accuracy. FEAR ME! I definitely want to go again and I'll probably take Mike there when he comes to visit.

Skating rink all lit up.

Easily one of the best pictures of the night. Love.

Me shooting. I am a professional.

LOVE Jo Anna's face.

Seriously, check that out. All in the black!

Love these girls.

Zeta diamonds and guns. Best.

After the shooting we were all flushed and adrenaline filled. In order to calm down, we went over and got some dinner at an omurice place in Lotte World. Omurice is a Japanese food where they basically wrap fried rice in an egg pancake and put a sauce on top. I got a crabmeat one and it was quite tasty. After dinner we figured we better come home and rest up since we were waking up early on Wednesday, so we hit the sheets relatively early.

Wednesday morning arrived ENTIRELY too quickly. We dragged ourselves out of bed and grabbed some of the meager early morning offerings at Paris Baguette before taking the train up to Euljiro-1ga to meet Amy for the Hotel Lotte DMZ/Panmunjom combined tour. I would have taken the USO tour again, but their tour office was closed for some reason so we had to go with this. It was more expensive (120,000won) but it also covered more places. Overall I was really pleased with it. Our bus left at 8:30am and we had both a Japanese speaking and English speaking tour guide. We later learned that you need 15 people of one language to book a tour, and since there weren't that many English speakers we were actually on a Japanese tour that they just added another guide on. We started out at Imjak Park where Freedom Bridge is located. Freedom Bridge is called that because it was used to exchange POWs when the armistice was reached.

Peace bell at Imjak Park.

Freedom Bridge.

Then we got back on the bus and hit up Dorasan Station, the last train station in South Korea. Mom, it was tempting to hop aboard a train to Pyeongyang, but I resisted.

So close!

I like this sign. They are very hopeful that one day they'll be able to connect the train through North Korea to China. This would lead to a connection with the Trans-Siberian Railroad that would open MAJOR commercial routes across Europe. As it stands now, South Korea is basically an island and has to transport all goods by ship.

Then we went to Dorasan Observatory and looked out over the DMZ. Once again you had to stand behind the photo line, but this time I actually saw someone take a picture in front of the line and a soldier came over and made them erase it. Good to know. I also saw a guy climb on his friend's shoulders to take a picture, which looked both dangerous and hilarious.
Jo Anna and Amy looking north.

After the observatory, we went back to the Third Tunnel. This time we got to take the tram, so I actually went down. It was STILL claustrophobic. In the tunnel you had to walk all hunched over with your hard hats. There were a bunch of people even though its the low season and I cannot imagine it crammed with people in the high season. I think I don't ever need to do that again. After the tunnel our whole group boarded the bus and the three of us and two other English speakers who had booked the full day tour were dropped off back at Imjak Park to eat lunch. The vegetarians got bibimbap and I had a tasty frying pan full of bulgogi. When we were done we did a little shopping before meeting up with our next bus driver/English translator and getting on bus number 2.

Jo Anna is the pinnacle of Korean fashion.

This English guide was...a little over the top. When we got to Camp Bonifas she basically told us we were all going to die and made things waaaaay more dramatic sounding than the USO did. We sat there for a while in the bus before having our briefing (this time given by a guide instead of a US soldier, which was sad but understandable since most of the group was listening to the Japanese translator) and boarding the bus out to the JSA. This time we also got to go up to the top of this little pagoda look out thing so that was cool. It started to snow while we were there, giving it a very strange winter wonderland feel. Then we walked over into the MAC conference room and took some pictures standing in North Korea once again. On the way out we got our picture taken with an adorable MP in the gift shop for Boram (his dad was an MP and he requested that we get a picture with one).

Jo Anna was scared she'd ge pulled into North Korea (one of the threats our tour guide made in order to make us listen).

Cute MP.

The bus ride home was uneventful except that on the drive the snow changed to rain. Overall, Jo Anna had great weather, so I was impressed the rain held out til the last night. When we got back we dropped our stuff off and headed out to Home Plus to get some CDs so I could burn Jo Anna a copy of my pictures. Then we stopped at Pizza School to get the traditional Korean dinner of Cheese Pizza (with corn of course) with a cheese crust and a bottle of Chilsung Cider. We came back to my apartment and ate the pizza while watching the movie PostGrad (cute) before packing and going to sleep.

Thursday morning we left the house around 7:00am and took the bus back to the airport. I slept the entire way. We ate breakfast at Paris Croissant and said our goodbyes before I headed home on the bus. I did a little reading and a little napping on the way home too. Once I got home I saw an e-mail from the woman at Dasi Hamkke. Julia and I are volunteering at a center for women who have been victims of sex trafficking in Korea. We are working with them to edit/republish a case study and the first meeting was during the time I had to pick up Jo Anna from the airport. The woman hadn't had an extra copy of the case study to send home with Julia so I had to go pick one up on Thursday. It took me an hour and twenty minutes to get there and we only talked for about twenty minutes before I was right back on the train. I'm glad to have my own copy now though, so I can make notes, etc in it. I was feeling a little blah and homesick since Jo Anna was gone, so I went to bed early and basically just took it easy.

Friday I had to go back to work. Thankfully we got to sleep in a little since we didn't need to be there until around 10:00am. I didn't do much at work. Eun Kyung is back (haven't seen her in nearly 3 months) and I got to hear all kinds of crazy superstitions/traditions regarding pregnancy and childbirth in Korea. The most crazy: you aren't allowed to shower for up to 3 weeks after giving birth because you might catch a chill? Also no fans/air conditioning (she's due in July) and no cold water. While pregnant no spicy foods, no caffeine, no fried foods, no wheat products. She said she can basically eat fresh fruits and vegetables and rice. I would die. Apparently if you crave beef and pork you're pregnant with a boy, so her husband thinks she's having a boy. Interesting. We went out to lunch at a shabu shabu (hot pot) place in Lotte Mart and then got to leave work around 3:00pm. It was not the most productive day, haha.

This weekend I've not done much except sleeping, writing this huge entry, and watching a few movies. Its good to relax! It was so beyond wonderful to have Jo Anna here. You should all come visit!


  1. Hey Meaghan, nice blog and nice pictures. I'm officially a "follower" of your blog now haha

  2. HKF -- love beard candy
    My favourite Chinese New Year food (though you sometimes find it all year round) is the Dragon Beard Candy, an ancient Chinese Emperor’s Dessert. It’s made into very sweet thin strands and sometimes filled with peanuts.
    If you’ve never tried it, you simply have to! The only place I know to find this online is .