Friday, March 23, 2018

Korea 2018: Haedong Yonggungsa + Gwangalli Beach (Day 9)

We got a late start, but still managed to have brunch and visit a temple before the sun went down. And then, I met royalty!

February 23rd (Friday)

We walked from the Airbnb to a UK-themed spot called Restaurant MINI for brunch, where Ande and I had eggs benedict and Sharon had pancakes. Then we walked a ways to take the metro from Haeundae eastward to Osiria station. A really nice woman at the information center helped Ande call a taxi, and that taxi took us to Haedong Yonggungsa.

Yonggungsa is a Buddhist temple that's right on the edge of the sea, and it has such beautiful scenery and views of the water that tourists flock to it nearly every day. But again, it's a temple, so while a lot of people come to snap photos, others come to pray or just to appreciate the surroundings. We decided to check it out because it seemed like a peaceful and culturally-relevant place to visit.

It's free to enter, though there are plenty of ways to dispense money if you're so inclined. The path that leads to the temple is lined with vendors selling food and souvenirs.

There's a long winding path and then tons of stairs you have to go down before you reach the temple, and multiple Buddha statues are placed along the way. Each Buddha or set of Buddhas has a donation box near it and offers a different type of good luck to people who pray in front of it and/or donate money. Ande's got a professional exam coming up, so as we left the temple later on she left money and said a little prayer in front of the Buddha for Academic Achievement. One of Buddhas at Yonggungsa has both a donation box and a discolored belly from all the people who've rubbed it. This Buddha promises the birth of a son and is also the first one that people pass on their way to the temple, so understandably it is quite popular.

So you walk past the vendors, then you go through an open set of doors, and the path widens and is lined with massive stone statues. On the left side are 12 statues representing each of the Chinese zodiac signs, and a fellow visitor took our picture as the three of us posed in front of the Monkey (we'd realized that all three of us are '92 babies).

Then you keep straight, turn left at the giant pagoda and go down some stairs, go through a tunnel, go down even more stairs, and then you can choose whether to continue your descent toward the temple, or turn left onto a path the leads to a giant golden Buddha and a view of both the sea and the temple at the same time. We went left first before returning to take the rest of the stairs down to the bridge that connected to the temple grounds. A couple of the buildings were closed or their function wasn't immediately clear to me, but the main prayer room was open, and monks chanted inside while people repeatedly knelt to pray.

There's another golden Buddha next to this building, and then there are two flights of stairs that lead to and from a hill on which stands the tallest statue of the entire temple grounds. There were mats and candles set out for people to pray in front of the statue, but most people went up there to look down on the sea and temple from up high.

We left the Yonggungsa not long after descending from the hill, and before hailing a taxi we stopped at the stall of an older woman who was frying hotteok (sweet fried pancake). Way back when we were discussing all the Korean street food that we wanted to try (but didn't actually end up trying), Ande couldn't say enough about how good hotteok was, so when we neared the stall Sharon and I bought one each. Hotteok's exterior is crispy like a hushpuppy or hotwater cornbread, but the interior is chewy and usually has some sort of sweet filling. Mine had brown sugar and nuts, and Sharon's was about the same. 

We took a taxi back to Osiria station and then the metro westward past Haeundae to Suyeong, where Gwangalli Beach is. While not as large or as popular as Haeundae, I personally liked Gwangalli more because there's a lot more activity going on around the beach, and the beach itself has more light installations and art pieces. Plus, there's the Diamond Bridge (Gwangandaegyo), which is illuminated in different colors at night and also appears in the film Black Panther.

And speaking of Black Panther! I met T'Challa, king of Wakanda while walking along Gwangalli Beach! It was dark and cold so we didn't feel like walking in the sand this time, so we walked on the sidewalk instead. At one point Ande and Sharon were ahead of me, and suddenly they started calling for me to hurry up so that I could see whatever it was they were looking at around the corner of some building. When I caught up to them I gasped so loudly that I startled a Korean man who'd been staring at the same thing. There, under a big ole spotlight, crouching in his fight stance, was a statue of THE Black Panther! Turns out that Disney had installed this piece to commemorate the filming that took place in Busan, and it was situated so that no matter what angle you took a picture of it from, the Diamond Bridge would always appear in the background. I almost cried.

Ande and Sharon had been trying to let me take pictures of them every day of the trip and I refused, as I'm prone to do. But this time I nearly threw my camera at Ande and asked both her and Sharon to snap me standing next to T'Challa with my arms across my chest forming the Wakanda salute. Seeing a black figure featured in such a public way in Korea was one of the happiest moments of the trip. Of my life, even! And he was definitely black! I got an extremely close look of the statue's face to make sure Korea and/or Disney ain't try to play me, and it was visibly a black man's skin and brown eyes peeking out from that mask. Sadly, the Black Panther installation was randomly destroyed a week ago, and I haven't heard of any plans to repair and reinstall it. Which is disappointing, but it also makes me that much more grateful for that moment I had posing with T'Challa. Oh, what a moment it was!

We continued walking along the beach until we reached our dinner destination, a New York-style pizza restaurant called SOL Taphouse. All the staff were nice young Korean people who all spoke English exceptionally well, the slices were huge, the interior was dark but warmly lit, and the windows allowed for a pleasing view of the sea and the Diamond Bridge.

From the restaurant we walked through Suyeong to take the metro back to Haeundae, made our habitual snack stop at the convenience store, and then retreated to the Airbnb where we watched Korea beat Japan in women's curling before flipping through the other channels and going to sleep.

Saturday was our last day in Busan, but we made sure to visit a few more sites before boarding the train back to Suwon. More on that tomorrow!

Korea 2018 photos 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

What an Apology Is Not.

Advice for when you say or do something racist (or commit any other -ism) at work and want to know how NOT to apologize.

A little context: First, I work in language services recruiting, and out of the entire worldwide recruiting team, I am the only black person. Second, even though I'm in the States, I work on the Asia team, which means that with the exception of my supervisor, all of my immediate co-workers are in China. The co-worker I'm writing about today is a young Chinese woman who's my age. Third, this co-worker may or may not have known that I am black, not that it should matter but I figured it was worth mentioning. Now, to the matter at hand.

On Tuesday I was copied in an email in which my co-worker wrote something racist. I won't repeat exactly what she said. But basically a lot of students in certain Asian countries say they want "native English speakers" as tutors, when they really mean to say "white people", and this co-worker of mine was trying to confirm that the candidate that we were proposing for a certain group of students was not black, because students sometimes complain when the tutor we give them doesn't look a certain way.

A racist question disguised as good customer service. Fun.

Long story short, I asked my supervisor to set her straight, my supervisor talked to someone else, who talked to someone else, who spoke to said co-worker.

Cut to this morning, Thursday, and I find the below apology email in my inbox (verbatim):
Dear Danielle,

This email is very difficult for me to write, because I realize how insensitive the other day with my comments on my previous email. It was not my intention to upset you and I feel terrible that I may have hurt your feelings. I wish to offer my sincerest apology and want to assure you that I meant no harm. I have always valued our working relationship, I truly hope that we can put this unpleasantness behind us. 

This, while a gesture that I wasn't expecting and do appreciate to a certain degree, is a non-apology. I don't know this person well, have never communicated with her outside of email, and I'm not in her brain, so I can't definitively say if she IS genuinely sorry or not. What makes it a non-apology in my book is that it doesn't READ as genuine because it focuses on her feelings more than mine, and it doesn't fully acknowledge what she did wrong. I suppose it depends on what you think the purpose of an apology is, but generally if you want to tell someone you've wronged that you're sorry, you need give them precedence over yourself. In other words, don't make it about you!

Let's break this down, shall we?

1) This email is very difficult for me to write, because I realize how insensitive the other day with my comments on my previous email.

  • Critique: Coming right out the gate talking about how hard it is for YOU, is manipulative. You're trying to avoid feeling bad by making me feel sorry for you. Don't do that.
  • Critique: Call a thing for what it is. It wasn't merely insensitive; it was racist. Use your words.
  • Alternative: So-and-so told me that I upset you, and I wanted to come to you directly to apologize. I realize how racist my comments were.

2)  It was not my intention to upset you and I feel terrible that I may have hurt your feelings. 

  • Critique: "Not my intention" always sets off a tiny warning bell in my head, because too often this sort of deceptively polite statement conveys, "I didn't mean it that way, so shut up about it" rather than genuine remorse. But overall, this line wasn't bad at all. UNTIL...
  • Critique: "May have" implies that there is room for doubt that you did anything that requires apologizing. Don't play games. Be accountable for what you did.
  • Alternative: It was not my intention to upset you and I feel terrible that I hurt your feelings.

3)  I wish to offer my sincerest apology and want to assure you that I meant no harm.

  • Personal note: This reveals something about your mindset, because it really never occurred to you that expressing a preference for white tutors over black tutors would have a negative impact on anyone included in the conversation. Lack of awareness (or concern?) about both your audience and the implication of your message. Very telling. 
  • Critique: Again, it's better to emphasize that you acknowledge the impact of your words rather than to rely solely on "I didn't mean it" as a justification, but overall this line is fine.
  • Alternative: None.

4)  I have always valued our working relationship, I truly hope that we can put this unpleasantness behind us. 

  • Personal note: I doubt this is true, since we've never had a real conversation in the whole time that we've worked together. Other than very brief email exchanges, there's really no work relationship to speak of. If you don't really know or interact with me, then there's no need to overexert yourself saying how much you value a relationship that barely exists.
  • Critique: "I truly hope that we can put this unpleasantness behind us" is incredibly dismissive if the other party never got to have their say. You're basically moving to unilaterally end the conversation before it's even started. And I never had my say, so who is "we"? Someone told you that I didn't appreciate your comments, but you didn't actually hear from me about how I felt or thought about it. You haven't asked. "We" neither discussed the issue nor came to a conclusion about it. It's unpleasant for you to have been reprimanded by your supervisor for what you wrote, it's unpleasant to be told to apologize to someone you hardly know, and it's unpleasant for you to have to consider that your words "may have" been were "insensitive" racist. That's why you want to put it behind you so quickly. And that's just way too easy.
  • Critique:  In addition to not acknowledging the racism expressed through your initial email, you made no commitment to actively not saying racist things in the future. I am not led to believe that you've learned anything from this, other than not to say certain things around certain people, or at least not to put it in writing. Again, this makes the entire apology read as insincere.
  • Alternative: I really enjoy working with you, and if you feel comfortable talking about it then I would like to hear what you have to say. I want to be better at communicating with people from different cultures, and I will do more to educate myself on how to do this. I will also try harder to convince students to consider English teachers who are not white.

With all that said, I hope that this has been helpful to anyone who's reading this. No matter what it is you have to apologize for, whether it's work-related or not, and whether you're apologizing of your own initiative or not. Let's all try to be more mindful of others and use our words well.

To anyone who's curious, I am still offended but no longer upset, if that makes sense. I'm more amused than anything, because this week I've basically had the opportunity to watch supposedly well-meaning non-black people flail around when something anti-black has been said in the open, and that is never not funny to me. Plus I've got screenshots just in case, so I'm good. Hey, you either laugh or you cry, right? And I feel like laughing this week.

To anyone who wants to dispute whether this woman was racist or not, note that I said her words were racist; I never said that she herself was so. For more examples of unintentional(?) but still racist things that people have said to me in the past, and an explanation of how you can believe yourself to be non-racist but still manage to say racist things, read here.

And lastly! I actually have yet to respond to this person, not because I want to be passive aggressive but because I can't decide what to say. I don't want to let her off too easy, but I also know that lecturing her will be a waste of my time. What say you?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Korea 2018: Train to Busan! (Day 8)

On Thursday we left Suwon for a weekend excursion to Busan! Again, no concrete plan in mind, just another place to explore.

February 22nd (Thursday)

In the months leading up to this trip, we'd passively mentioned visiting Busan since it's right on the ocean and is South Korea's second-largest city after Seoul. But it wasn't until a month or two before I left that I said to the girls, "Okay, I think we could actually do this. Do y'all want to or not?". We were all open to it, so Ande bought the KTX (high-speed train) tickets and booked an Airbnb that we all liked and just had us reimburse her later. Cut to Thursday morning, we each threw a few belongings in our backpack and took the bus to Suwon Station.

We'd opted for the KTX as opposed to flying or taking a slower train because ideally we could see the Korean countryside while still making it to Busan in about three hours. But the seats are made in such a way that you naturally lay back slightly, and the ride is so smooth that I was lulled to sleep despite myself. So I saw a little bit of the countryside at the beginning and in between naps, but didn't actually see that much in the end. Same goes for the ride back to Suwon a couple days later.

We arrived at the train part of Busan Station and then had to leave that building and walk a couple minutes to the subway part of the station in order to take the metro eastward to Haeundae, where our Airbnb was. Haundae is one of the more popular areas in Busan due to Haeundae Beach, which is the most well-known of the city's multiple beaches. We had some time to kill before we could check into our Airbnb, so we stopped at a Japanese restaurant where we each got a set that gave us a little bit of everything: curry rice, tonkatsu, zaru soba, miso soup, plus kimchi and radish, because we were still in Korea after all. We'd originally though to go to a Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant, but they were closed until dinner time and this Japanese restaurant was just a few doors down from it so there we went.

From there we followed Ande as she located our Airbnb, which was in an apartment building across the street from a hospital and surrounded by a bunch of hotels. We didn't have a view of the ocean (just a lot of tall buildings and a glimpse of the mountains in the distance), but we were still really close to Haeundae Beach! Our Airbnb was modest but clean, just the right amount of space for three people, had floor-to-ceiling windows and a loft with two beds (Ande's and Sharon's), a really nice bathroom, and an open sitting area with a couch/futon (my bed).

The only downside was that there was no silverware. We didn't plan on cooking, but I'd gotten used to drinking ginger tea every morning by this point, so not having spoons was slightly annoying but no big deal. Considering we'd only be using the place for sleeping and showering, and neither I nor Sharon had used an Airbnb before, the place was perfect as far as I was concerned. Shoutout to Sangmee.

After inspecting the place and resting for a bit, we went to Haeundae Beach with just enough time to explore as the sun was setting. All we really did was walk on the sand (with our shoes on), take pictures of the beach and each other, stare out at the water, and do some people-watching, but I had such a great time! Seeing the ocean reminded me of how much I love being in and near bodies of water, even though I don't give myself opportunities to swim very often. Water gives me a great feeling of contentment and peace, so the cold and the sand in my shoes hardly bothered me at all.

We stayed at the beach until after the sun went down, and then we took the metro to the BEXCO/Centum City area where we ate shabu-shabu. Then we took the metro back to our neighborhood, stopped at CU for snacks, and then returned to the Airbnb and called it a night.

Friday would be our first and only full day in Busan and by the end of it I'd meet the king of Wakanda! More on that tomorrow!

Korea 2018 photos 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Korea 2018: Myeongdong + Insadong + Reunion (Day 7)

Our first day in Seoul as a trio, and our first (only) day having to find our way through Seoul and back to Suwon without Ande acting as navigator!

February 21st (Wednesday)

Other than food, Sharon's main priority for her time in Korea was buying skincare products, so our first destination in Seoul was the popular shopping district of Myeongdong. We stopped to have samgyetang (chicken stew with ginseng) which was the only disappointment that I ate while in Korea. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be bland, or if it was the restaurant, or if it was the variation that I ordered, but it was just okay. I left full but not satisfied.

From there we walked to Myeongdong shopping street, a pedestrians-only street that's full of high-end brands, especially beauty and skincare stores. I stood outside people-watching while Ande and Sharon explored a beauty store called Missha. Then we spent some time in a cafe eating honey bread (brick toast) and bingsoo (shaved ice) topped with mango. From the late afternoon through the night, you can also find food stands on the shopping street as well. Unfortunately we ended up leaving too early to indulge; older men and women were just beginning to park, uncover, and set up their stands when we were on our way out.

I was able to reconnect with a Korean friend of mine from college who was living and working in Seoul, and she wanted to meet for dinner that evening. We didn't have a strong plan for what to do until then, so we randomly decided to see what Insadong was about. Another shopping area (though not completely free of car traffic), Insadong is known for its amply supply of souvenirs, antiques, and art galleries. But Ande had to head back to Suwon early due to some other commitments, so she parted ways with us in Myeongdong. Which meant that Sharon and I were responsible for navigating the Seoul metro system, Insadong, the metro system again, and then eventually the bus trip back to Suwon all on our own. The metro system I wasn't too concerned about thanks to the Subway Korea app, but it'd be dark by the time we caught the bus to Suwon, and those particular buses didn't (as most in Korea don't, I assume) announce the stops in English. So we were in for a little adventure. No worries, right?

We made our way to Insadong with no problems at all. I can't remember if Ande told us this or if I read it online, but Insadong is basically where you go to buy souvenirs if you want to avoid large crowds. There are tons of stalls and brick-and-mortar shops selling similar Korea or Seoul-related wares. And it has enough people passing through to make the area lively, but not so many as to make it congested.

Sharon and I were initially just exploring the area, but we both happened upon items that we liked. She bought a deep yellow skirt from a boutique, and I ended up buying souvenirs earlier than I'd anticipated. Souvenir shopping is one of the last things I do before the end of an international trip. But I managed to find a lapel pin for myself, and shot glasses for the three people back home who explicitly asked me to get them something, and since neither of those items were as easy to find at other shops as I thought they would be, I sprang for them. Then Sharon spotted a cat cafe called 2Cats that she wanted to check out, so we spent about 15 minutes there. She petted the few cats that wanted to be bothered while I drank ginger tea and watched; I didn't remember until after we'd entered that I'm mildly allergic to cats (whoops!), so I didn't get to love on the kitties like she could. It was a really cute cafe, though! 

In Insadong there's also a shopping center called Ssamziegil where you can get poop bread (taiyaki-style pastry that's shaped like poop, no actual feces included of course), eat dishes out of toilet-shaped bowls, buy any number of trinkets/art/home goods, and get a comprehensive view of the surrounding area. I'd originally wanted to try the poop bread there, but I didn't have an appetite so instead we went to the top of the mall just for kicks. As you go up, the floors become slanted so that you don't have to take the stairs or exert a lot of energy as you go. We puttered around at the top of the mall for a bit before heading back down and returning to the metro. 

Our next and last stop for the night was Yeouido, which is where my college friend Eunbong wanted to meet us. Yeouido is a little island in the Han River, and Eunbong told us that it's basically Seoul's version of Wall Street, where most of the investment banking and finance entities are. After waiting in the cold at the wrong exit of the station (my fault), Eunbong found us and led us to Skyfarm, a fancy restaurant at the top of an office building (50th floor!). She hadn't been able to get us a reservation beforehand, but lucky for us there was an open table right in front of the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows. It was dark by the time we got there, so we got a magnificent view of the National Assembly building, Yeouido Park, the Han River, and other parts of Yeouido all lit up.

And the food was excellent! The restaurant served western food, so I had croque madame while Eunbong had pasta and Sharon had a hanwoo beef sandwich. I had such a great time catching up with Eunbong and listening to her talk about her plans, the Korean education system, and Korean work culture, but I got the feeling that it got boring for Sharon pretty quickly. Or maybe she was just tired. I brought her along so that we could stay together the whole day and wouldn't each have to find our way back to Ande's place alone, but then again I did drag her with me to have dinner with a stranger, so. Eh well.

Eunbong was kind enough to walk us back to the station, and we took the metro back to Sadang station, where we caught the usual bus. Sharon kept an eye out to make sure that we got off at the right stop in Suwon (it was pretty much at the end of the line and was right next to a field, so fortunately it wasn't too hard to discern) and then it was a short walk to Ande's apartment, where Ande was already waiting for us. 

On Thursday we would head south toward a completely different city. More on that tomorrow! 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Korea 2018: Itaewon + Incheon Airport + More KBBQ (Day 6)

Tuesday might not have been very eventful, but I still got to experience new places and eat delicious food. So all's well that ends well!

February 20th (Tuesday)

On Monday morning Ande and I both were randomly craving eggs benedict, and after some quick research we found a brunch cafe that we were both interested in. But that cafe is closed on Mondays, so on Tuesday afternoon our first stop of the day was Summer Lane Cafe in Itaewon.

Itaewon is where the US military base and other government-owned facilities are, so there are lots of foreigners of innumerable nationalities who live in and/or frequent this area. As such, you can find all types of foreign food, including brunch fare. Even before we picked a cafe to go to, Ande predicted correctly that Itaewon would be the place to go to find eggs benedict. From our usual bus to Seoul, we took the metro to Nolsapyeong station whose exit opens onto a street that gave us an even more excellent view of Namsan Tower than the night before.

After walking through some slightly hilly neighborhood streets, we arrived at Summer Lane. It's supposedly an Australian-style cafe (I guess the owner spent some time in Australia and that was her inspiration?), and the owner is a Korean woman who speaks English beautifully. It was small but bright, the color scheme was white and navy blue, there were plenty of windows, the lighting was warm, and the food was exactly what we wanted.

Ande ordered the eggs benedict with bacon and I ordered the one with salmon, and both of our dishes included layered waffles (instead of English muffins) and a flower on top for decoration. The entire experience was perfect! Plus there were two other black girls in there, and I was able to exchange a smile-nod with one of them, so I was over the moon!

We walked back the way we came to take the metro from Nolsapyeong station, eventually transferring to line 1 which goes all the way to Incheon International Airport. Sharon's arrival from Detroit was scheduled for that evening, so we were there to pick her up. We stood waiting with a sizable crowd of other people for a little over an hour (or was it two hours)?, straining to look over and between bodies to get a first glimpse of Sharon walking through. And then she finally appeared!

Now a trio, we took the same bus back to Suwon that Ande and I took when I first arrived. And just like I did, Sharon got to choose what we ate for dinner since it was her first night in Korea. She wanted Korean BBQ (samgyeopsal), so after dropping off her stuff at Ande's apartment we took the bus to the Suwon Station area to scope out a restaurant. Directly across the street from Suwon Station is a wide, brightly-lit street that's full of food and shopping and is notably frequented by young people, and this street was packed that night. We picked a certain restaurant having no expectations, but we thoroughly enjoyed the food (way better quality and more flavor than Ungteori, though Ungteori certainly wasn't bad)!

Then we trailed Sharon as she browsed through an Innisfree beauty store on that same street before taking the bus back to Ande's place. Wednesday would be our first time going to Seoul as a trio, and for the second half of the day Sharon and I had to navigate Seoul on our own! More on that tomorrow!

Korea 2018 photos   

Friday, March 9, 2018

Korea 2018: Dongdaemun + Ihwa Mural Village (Day 5)

Our only real goal for the day was going to Ihwa Mural Village, where a neighborhood on a hill is full of street art that's painted or installed on walls, staircases, and roofs. You can also get some pretty stunning views of Seoul from up there, though as one shopowner told us, the view's probably  more impressive at night.

February 19th (Monday)

After alighting from our usual bus into Seoul we took the metro to Dongdaemun, one of numerous major shopping areas, where we ate gimbap (similar to a maki roll), tempura udon, and bokkeumbap. From there we walked down a major street for a long stretch before turning down a neighborhood street that took us up a steeeeeep hill that led us to Ihwa Mural Village.

There's art all along the way, but you have to climb a multitude of stairs and reach the top in order to see everything. As soon as we got up there a rack of colorful bookmarks sitting in front of a shop with blue walls caught my eye, and the owner came out to talk to us and invited us in. The shop was full of little cutesy handmade trinkets, most of which the owner had made herself.

Cutesy isn't really my thing, so I wasn't going to buy anything at first. But I appreciated so much how she wasn't too scared to invite two foreigners into her shop, show us her items, tell us about her travels, and not be pushy in any way (she even gave us slight discounts!), that I bought an amigurumi-style giraffe keychain. She told us to take an alternate route through the neighborhood to see as much of the view as possible, and then off we went exploring.

I must mention that even if you do get to the top, you still might miss some things, as the art in this neighborhood periodically changes. While there are many cafes and restaurants that welcome the increased foot traffic, other residents are not so happy to have multitudes of potentially loud and messy tourists taking up space in their neighborhood everyday. Before we went to Ihwa, I read that some residents have even destroyed or obscured some murals in protest.

For example, there once was a large staircase with koi fish painted on a blue background, and it was one of the most popular sights in the neighborhood. As Ande and I were going down a set of stairs to leave Ihwa, a guy who was coming up from the opposite way asked us where to find said koi staircase. We hadn't seen it, so we told him were most of the other art pieces where and wished him good luck.

It wasn't until we got to the foot of the stairs and turned around for one last look at the neighborhood, that we realized that the brusquely-painted grey stairs had faded blues and oranges peeking out from under the grey. We'd been on the koi staircase the whole time, but it had been painted over by a disgruntled resident! So that guy was looking for something that didn't exist anymore. And I can't blame whoever painted over the stairs, it is what it is. I'm just saying, if you put together a list of art pieces that you want to see from searching Instagram and Google Images, don't be surprised if they look different are aren't even there by the time you actually visit Ihwa.

After moving further downhill and through other parts of that district, we stopped for rest and tea/coffee at a toast cafe owned by a woman whose son is a student in the University of Texas system. I only mention that because I remember reading a sticker saying as much on her refrigerator, and she was a woman who spoke kindly to us and appeared to run the entire place by herself (except for a young man who was cutting and prepping ingredients with her in the kitchen).

It was dark by the time we left that cafe, and I followed Ande's lead as we walked toward Cheonggyecheon stream, which we'd orginally passed by when we walked briefly through Dongdaemun earlier in the day. We walked along the stream until we got to an area with a lot of tall buildings and a direct view of Namsan Tower. I believe this was the night that jet lag finally hit me, and even though it was only about 8pm, I was so tired that I felt like I couldn't go on, haha!* So we made our way back to Suwon.

Ande had some personal business to take care of in the morning, plus she wanted to spend time with her boo and his parents, so we stopped to get carry-out (wings from KyoChon Chicken) and she dropped me off at her place before going to spend the night at her boo's parent's place. I spent the night solo in her apartment, and this was the only night where I slept on Ande's bed just to see how it felt. Still preferred the heated floors, though!

On Tuesday, we made a brief excursion into an area known for its abundance of foreign people and cuisine before going to the airport to pick up Sharon. More on that tomorrow!

*(Correction: The jet lag thing actually happened on Sunday, after being in Hongdae. For Monday night, I think we decided to head back after seeing Namsan tower because it was cold and my feet and thighs ached. A funny thing, memory is.)

Korea 2018 photos  

Monday, March 5, 2018

Korea 2018: Gyeongbokgung Palace + Hongdae (Day 4)

As I mentioned, we didn't have much planned for our first of numerous sojourns into Seoul. There was one place from our lengthy Google doc "list" that I wanted to visit, but everything else we just decided on as we went.

February 18th (Sunday)

Our first and only goal for the day was to visit Gyeongbokung, an ancient palace in northern Seoul that is a must-do for any visitor to the city. From Ande's neighborhood we took the bus from Suwon to Seoul, which usually takes anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour. Then we took the metro to Gyeongbokung, exiting the station right outside the National Palace Museum of Korea (though Gyeongbokgung is the main attraction, the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea are in the same compound as the palace).

I was a tad hungry by the time we got there, so  we took a stroll down Sejong-ro, which is the major street that leads south straight from Gyeongbokgung. Ande told me that a lot of protests are held on this street, and true enough a few demonstrators had booths pitched along the sidewalk. But Sejong-ro was full of other activity this day, including a traditional Korean drum ensemble and various Olympics-related activities adding to the usual flow of auto and foot traffic. 

Sejong-ro is also where you can find statues of Sejong the Great (Korean king who's credited with the creation of hangul, the Korean alphabet) and Admiral Yi Sun-shin (navy commander who's renowned for winning battles against the Japanese navy in the late 1500s). Along Sejong-ro you can also find the US embassy and Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. We spent some time munching, chatting, and taking in the view from the second floor of an Angel-in-us Coffee before heading back to the palace.

Imagine you're royalty, and centuries after your death, millions of common people get to traipse around your sprawling home every year, for decades to come. That's Gyeongbokgung. I wasn't as impressed by it as I was by the overall experience at Hwaseong fortress, and Ande even admitted that it's probably better to go in the summer when fewer areas of the palace are closed and more events/performances are going on. Nonetheless, it is quite beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing young men and women walking around the buildings and living quarters dressed in hanbok (Korean traditional clothing). The flowy, high-waisted skirts and vibrant colors invite both awe and respect.

From Gyeongbokgung we took the metro to Hongdae to find somewhere to eat. No particular reason for coming here as opposed to elsewhere, other than that I heard that it's a university area where college students and other young'uns often gather to hang out and crowd around buskers. I guess I was just curious to see what the busking musicians were up to. 

When we were there it was mostly dancers who were attracting attention, and not so many singers were out yet. The main popular street we went down was packed even before sundown, so you had to squeeze through to get anywhere. And being around so many youthful, stylish and energetic people reminded me of how young I no longer am. But for me it was satisfying enough just to have seen a bit of Hongdae for myself. After being turned away at one restaurant (perks of being foreigners), we at samgyeopsal (Korean BBQ with pork belly) at Ungteori before heading back to Suwon. 

Most often we would take the metro back to Sadang station and then catch the bus from there. This night at Sadang happened to be my lucky night, since as we were headed toward the exit where the buses stops were, I spotted a rack of earmuffs out of the corner of my eye. I finally found a new pair of earmuffs that I liked enough to replace the ones I lost in Seattle! And I'll have you know, they're sitting on the table next to me as I write this, so my habit of losing things hasn't reared its ugly head just yet.

So that's Sunday for you. Monday would turn out to be full of street art, city views, and even more walking and climbing than before. More on that tomorrow!