The day is here, the day that Alix Leaves us to wing back to the states. But that doesn’t mean her whirlwind tourism is over. HECK NO. As the clock ticks down, she’s leading us off to the royal palaces, but not to see some palaces, we’re on the hunt for some battling Kpop shops in order to bring back memories from their first trip to Korea, then, once she’s off, the rest of us stare at each other, and wonder what do we do next…before deciding to go eat something. SHOCKER.
On a side note, no, the last hour of Tuesday is not the new official date for these posts to come out. Life has thrown me a couple of curveballs the previous few weeks, but, hopefully, we’re getting back on track. Or at least I hope we are as mama needs a rest.
And a new place to live. But that’s another story.
After our night rollicking with Kpop groups and throwing punches at MNET, (allegedly) one would think a group of ladies in their forties would take a break, sleep in, rest those weary feet. But not us. Nope. One look at Alix’s remaining to-do list got us up and out of our beds, ready for the next adventure. This time, we’re back on the train, headed towards the legendary palaces. Those things you see in every single Saeguk ever made — because heaven forbid you have a Saeguk that’s not politically driven. These sites are a must-see on every Korean visitor’s list.
Well. Unless you’ve been there before.
If you’re interested, you should check out the podcast Alix and SaraG recorded with Cherry and me after their first trip to Korea. There is a part where they tell us all about these two dueling Kpop shop, Kpop shops who live across the street from each other, each run by competitive ahjummas. While they couldn’t remember exactly where these two shops were, in honor of their first visit there, Alix was determined to find them.
Competing kpop shops run by ahjummas straight out of a Kdrama? Let’s just say Alix really didn’t need to twist our arms to go.
Oddly enough, to get to where we needed to be to achieve this goal, we needed to go to the Palace subway stop. Which pops you directly next to the palaces! Not only that but the fastest way to get to the place we needed to get to? Crossing the courtyard of said palace. So yes, to end last week’s pun, we really did pass through the palace just to get to the other side.
For those of us who hadn’t seen it before? Majestic is one word that really works here. It’s almost as if it’s a thing that shouldn’t really exist at all like it’s something fiction created. Here in the western world, we grew up with the idea of royal palaces being height and stone, beautiful but stern. The South Korean palaces, yes, they are surrounded by stone, they are bright and colorful with carvings in wood and stone. Though we were there for just a few minutes, never fear, we definitely had plans to go back and explore. Possibly in hanboks.
Our trek across the grounds was halted by the ceremonial changing of the guards. Men garbed again in the costumes you’ve seen in this drama or that. Mustaches and beards attached to their faces as they reenacted the pomp and circumstance of years ago. It made me wonder who works this sort of thing. Is it a legit function that some guy’s mom brags about to her friends, or is this just someone’s part-time job? Either way, it allowed me to take the minutes I needed to absorb before we marched on.
Because march we did.
Across the street, we were able to peek into cutouts in a construction wall, which wasn’t construction at all but was an archeological excavation.
I was going to talk about this later, I might even steal some photos taken from when we went back for a full wander, but it’s fantastic the juxtaposition between old and new. These palaces, steeped in their history and wonder, are smack dab in the middle of one of the most bustling technologically advanced cities of our age. To lookout, and see past the walls and see the rise of skyscrapers, it bends your mind a little bit. Brings to mind the drama Faith, with both worlds taking place at the same time. When he comes to get her in the future?
Anyway. I recommend it.
I would have loved to learn more about the site and what they were doing there, what they were looking to achieve, as I’m a little bit of an archeology buff. Like in Gwangju, I’m sure this happens a lot. Try to build something, whoops, there is something old you have to discover. I’m sure it drives them crazy, but it just blows my creative mind up.
We’re marching back towards Insadong, this time not to catch some wondrous food tour, but to get our shop on. As this is considered a historical area, all of the signage for shops need to be in Korean, even if their names are in English, getting you shop fronts like this.
The streets are filled with shops, a mix of the standard corporate, the usual tourist traps that all have the same merchandise from shop to shop, 10000 won bag shops (still regret not getting that square backpack–dang it!), and small independently owned little shops. It was so much fun.
Our first stop, being us, was, of course, a bathroom. We found a teashop, where the ladies also took the time to load up on fancy, handcrafted teas. (I passed as, little known fact of me, I don’t really like tea. I don’t really like coffee either, I’ve just made myself become more accustomed to it than tea.) In a small shop, I not only found BTS notebooks for Jr McFeeley who, adorably, writes BTS fanfic with her friends. Despite my vows to be done shopping for her, how could I NOT get her a Jungkook notebook? I did manage somehow to resist the matching J-Hope one for myself. How? I still don’t know. It took me forever to check out, why? The old man who ran the shop had attached himself to SaraG, pulling out a map, and telling her all of the places she needed to go to while we were there, writing and circling areas carefully on the tourist map.
From there, we wandered the streets, shopping, shopping, shopping. There was one food vendor who was very, very good at his job. We had walked by initially, not super interested in his candy; however, he caught our attention, and we watched him make Kkul-Tarae, otherwise known and King’s Candy. Here’s what Wikipedia says:
Kkul-tarae, also known as Korean court cake, is a Korean dessert and variation of Dragon’s beard candy. A hard dough of honey-maltose mixture is kneaded, twisted, and stretched into 16,384 skeins of silky threads, in which assorted candied nuts, chocolate, or other fillings are wrapped.
Sounds…yummy? But it was, and he was delightful, so we all bought a box. He almost had us convinced to buy more, he was that good at his job.
We found this one artist district area, which looked like an outside mall but was instead floors and floors of artist shops. We bought perfumes, pottery, prints, Leila bought a ring she has to regularly oil, I bought a bag with all the snacks of Korea. And this was us being restrained. Throughout exploring there, I was chatting with my friend Lisa, who, if you’ve been following, lives in Korea and we planned to meet up the next day. When we passed her the information that SaraG was without a phone, asking her opinion of what we should do, she announced she had an extra phone and was happy to let SaraG use it for her stay. This was the look on SaraG’s face when I told her the news.
Once we were done with the streets, we went off on our mission to find the dueling ahjummas. Coffee cup in hand — again because once you have a piece of garbage in Korea, be prepared to carry along for the rest of the day as there are no public garbages anywhere. Any-where. So I climbed up and down the hills of Seoul holding onto an empty Starbucks Americano cup.
We wandered for a while through the streets looking for these now-legendary places, until finally, we were there. Sat caddy-corner to each other on corners, were two aging Kpop stores. We went into the first one, where the same woman of SaraG and Alix’s stories was there, the older woman who kept calling you ‘Unni.’ Umm…we know what that means, and now we give you side-eye, ma’am. But whatevs, everyone has to have a schtick. The place was filled mostly with knock off kpop merch, items where you open up mugs and slip in a picture into the walls. Calendars, posters, etc. While there was a lot of BTS merch, a lot of the items were pretty out of date. The woman was excited for us to be there, so I was determined to find something to buy. SaraG had promised her daughter, Thing 2, a bear in a hanbok as payment for missing her birthday while we were on the trip, and she carefully negotiated the woman for it. Finally, I was the last one in the shop, and we tried to negotiate, but mostly her negotiating skills consisted of pushing stuff into my bag I didn’t actually want to buy. I didn’t want to be rude, but I also didn’t want to spend a butt-ton of money on stuff that I didn’t want or need. These were both. Though she was irritated with me, I managed to walk out with only the BTS calendar for Miss Jr McFeeley I’d chosen. When I tried to leave, she grabbed my arm and tried to make me promise not to go to the store across the street. It was a little awkward, but I managed to unleash myself with a laugh and escaped, picking up that empty Americano cup I’d left outside.
The ladies were already over at the other store, and I joined them, pretending I didn’t feel the lady’s eyes on my back. There was no Kpop Ahjumma here, no, she must have had the day off, leaving us with Kpop Husband. Their shop was a little smaller, was a little more up to date, and I found a 2-year J-Hope calendar (how could I leave that behind???), and when he saw the other calendar in my bag, he asked me how much I paid for it. (Note, his prices were better and he didn’t touch me. Fun note: Stephanie doesn’t like to be touched.)
When looking back, trying to decide why they’d had such a good time at these shops before, why it had been such a highlight to their trips, Alix came up with the idea that the Kpop fandom had been so new to her then that she hadn’t really had a chance to experience any of this. She hadn’t seen any of this stuff in stores. Now? Well, now she’s a regular kpop pro with concerts and tons of swag under her belt. She’s no longer as thirsty for it as she once was. To which I say, this completely makes sense, and I wholeheartedly understand. I felt that and have purchased things just because I can because it’s finally there in front of me.
I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there, done that.
But now we’re off! Time to explore more! We wander our way through the Hannok village, which was really cool, these old-style houses. You can tell that people take a lot of care in them. Because it just looked like a regular neighborhood, I have to be reminded we were actually there. Later on in the trip, I was bummed that we weren’t going to make it and SaraG was like….umm you already saw it.
We stopped off at a sidewalk display of prints and art, done by an artist, who actually popped out of his studio in order to sell Leila a set of prints. Then I couldn’t resist and purchased myself a set. I was postcard happy during this trip. I’m trying to figure out the best way to display them now that I’m home. Plus, they make great gifts!
We also stopped at this artisan chocolatier who studied in France and came back to make chocolate in his tiny little shop. (GAH! So many moments were straight out of a Kdrama, or, even better, straight out of fanfic.) Since the day before was White Day, he apologized for having such low stock, but I’m not certain how Alix would have been able to make any decisions if there had been a bigger selection. Each piece was really a work of art, and he gave me one as a sample. Amazing.
Now it’s later afternoon, and we’re STARVING. This might be the longest we’ve gone without eating since we were in Korea. Which, actually, makes it look like we at a ton. We didn’t. I had given myself allowance to get of WW and just enjoy the trip, but so much of it was so healthy and filling, it’s not like we ate to excess. It was just good food whenever we wanted it. We popped into a small restaurant that was filled with business people lunching.
This meal was like 8000 won.
Unfortunately, with lunch done, it was time for us to head back, as it was nearing time for Alix to leave. Somber, we headed back to our place in Hongdae. SaraG made a new friend, this guy who kept falling asleep on her shoulder. In Kdrama you watch and go, really? Does that really happen? When the hero or heroine bob and weave before landing perfectly on the others shoulder. Yes. Yes, it does happen.
While we were happy we were able to get so much in during these last few days, we were so sad that Alix had to leave us early. I couldn’t imagine what she was going through, and she held up like a champ. While I came into this trip hesitant about how we were all going to work together, such strong personalities on one trip, when my personality irritatingly sets to being a follower, or a pleaser, however we all worked out well while we were there, and I couldn’t imagine a better bunch of ladies to travel with and would do so again in less than a heartbeat.
Alix planned to take the subway to the airport, so SaraG and I walked down to the station with her, not wanting to let go of these last couple of minutes as a team. Goodbyes were said, Alix left, and we looked at each other with the wonder of… “what do we do now?”
We got snacks. What can I say, I feed my emotions. It’s a thing. Look it up. And Paris Baguette was right there.
Carbs in hand, we went back to the apartment where Leila was resting her feet. (Guys, when she got home, she went to her doctor and found out she’d sprained a toe! Traveling is not for the tender footed!)
The weather was cold and miserable, with actual flurries in the sky, matching our moods. When we asked each other what we wanted to do? The answer was: not much. We decided to simply hang out in the apartment, doing our own thing, until we got hungry and then we’d go get food.
What did I do? I looked at my loot. The ladies would laugh at me from that point on. Whenever I had spare time, I’d be going through what I bought, sorting by each person I’d bought for, making sure I had stuff for everyone, trying to keep myself on track and in check.
When we all decided we were now starving, we set out, down the maze of streets, thinking we’d head for the main drag, possibly to the streets of Hongdae where restaurants were plenty. Instead, we paused at one of the landmarks we used to mark our way through the streets, really looking at it this time. It was a tiny little restaurant with a simple sign outside:
Man Loves Market.
Though the place was tiny, and when I say tiny, it was tiny-tiny, perhaps allowing for maybe 15 people in there at a time. Generally, we avoided those as we didn’t want to take up space with our questions, but we decided to take a chance as it just looked so darling. The only space for us was along the bar, and we filed in. Sitting down on the stools, the tired that had plagued us, reaching our bones.
Man Loves Market run by one man, assumingly, the man who loves the market. He did all of the cooking, order taking, and serving. He was a one-man-band. This was truly an experience we were in for.
Peering at the menu, we realized it was one of the few places we’d been to where the menu was only in Korean.
It became an adventure for us. We whipped out our phones and googled certain words, trying to figure out what dishes were what, before just choosing based on the protein.
When he came to take our order, we attempted to pronounce what we wanted and the man, who we were all pretty much in love with at this point, who from then on we spun stories about as we walked past his place, was patient with us. He then turned to make the food, to order, right in front of us. It’s one of those experiences one would seek out, but here it was, just falling right into our laps.
He presented us with some amazing looking and completely surprising amuse bouches.
When we got our food, it was just as delicious we, by then, expected it to be.
I literally couldn’t stop eating mine. For the first time feeling really warm that day. And it was so inexpensive for what we got. If you go to Hongdae, please, go search out Man Loves Market, you won’t regret it.
In the end, when I gave him my card to pay for us (we used an app to keep track of this stuff, I’ll give you more information on these at the end of the series.) SaraG caught him putting a smiley face in lieu of a signature at the bottom. When he looked up to see her watching, he gave her a sheepish smile.
So. Fucking. Cute.
Now, stuffed, with yet another fantastic experience under our belts, we went back to the apartment to rest up for the next day where we planned on splitting up again, the ladies for a spa day and I get to hang out with Lisa, delivering her a much-needed package from the states. What does any former Coloridian desperately need from the States while they’re living full time in Korea? Find out next week!!
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY ONE: AIR PLANES, TIME TRAVELS, AND MULTIPLE SARAG(S)
- Korean Adventure Day Two: Sadly, No Zombies
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY THREE: THE SOLO JOB
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY FOUR: BY THE POWER OF STEVE!
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY FIVE: STAIRS, AND MEERKATS, AND POLICE…OH MY!
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY SIX: EMERGENCYS, BELLY RUBS, AND TIPSI TEXTS
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY SEVEN: THAT WEIRD SHAPED ARTY BUILDING IN GANGNAM
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY EIGHT: KPOP TAKES A VACATION
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY NINE: WE LOVE A MAN WHO LOVES A MARKET
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY TEN: STEPHANIE DOESN’T DO NAKED
- KOREAN ADVENTURE DAY ELEVEN: LET’S GET SAEGUKY
- KOREAN ADVENTURES DAY TWELVE: THAT TIME WE DIDN’T BREAKUP BY THE HAN