Another big day in Kdramaland! We’re counting down the last hours of Leila’s stay in Korea with a march through the city. We get all classy and cultural with tours of a few palaces, one we meant to and one on accident, get our Coffee Prince on while we chase away some hanger, then activate our idol hunting skills as we cross the river back into Gangnam on a hunt for JYP. The offices, not the man. All this before we hit the critical point of our day: Korean Pizza.
So, so, so many pictures ahead.
Unlike the leaving of Alix, we knew right from the start of planning the trip that Leila wasn’t going to be with us the entire time the three of us planned on staying. Leila knows precisely at what length journeys stop being fun for her and plans accordingly. It was part of the reason we chose to hit Busan first over Seoul as it would be easier for her to get back to her plane. I’m not certain I’m the person who can leave when I know that other people are still there, having fun without me, but I do admire her for her strength to say “Naw, Bishes, I’m done.” Especially now knowing that she was doing these last few days on a sprained toe.
As I mentioned in the last post, this day was going to be a Leila and I date, where we toured the palaces, possibly the Hannok Village, and any other old thing we wanted to see that SaraG and Alix had already seen before. It’s not that they don’t appreciate them, but as they’d seen them before, they thought they’d fill their time with new experiences instead. We were all, you do you boos, we’re gonna get our saeguk on.
Now with the change in our numbers, SaraG has decided to join us!
With a quick consult to the Naver Maps, we head back towards the palaces, thankfully, at the palaces subway stop. Throughout the station, as we headed above ground, I saw adverts for their palaces museum, which said it had some of the clothing and regalia in residence. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it there, and it’s probably one of my biggest niggling regrets. I’m sure if I’d just said, hey, I really want to go here, the ladies would have been fine with it, but at the time it didn’t seem important enough to make a fuss. That’s okay, it will give me something to go to next time!
You know, when I go visit the whole giant palace WE ACCIDENTALLY MISSED.
So we popped above ground and SaraG decided she wanted to hit up the coffee shop next to the palaces where she’d catch up on life now that she has a phone back and wait for us to do our thing.
As we approached Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main royal palace during the Joseon Dynasty, built 1395, the sun was bright and warmer than when we’d been there previously. So the hanboks were aplenty. Here I should probably mention, surrounding these historical areas are hanbok rental shops, where you go in and get dressed in period clothing, rented by the hour. If you do, not only do you have a fantastic experience, but your entry to the inner palace is free. As we wandered the grounds, this totally makes sense! Watching the people walk around in hanboks really adds to the atmosphere, helps you picture what it would have been like during the Joseon dynasty. Just with less slavery and more selfies.
There was a hot minute where Leila and I had talked about doing this, but as things had changed in the dynamic and, frankly, I wasn’t up for another ahjumma belly pat-down, we decided to pass. Maybe next time.
On our way in, we spotted a photoshoot going down to what we imagined is an up and coming girl group. You could tell between shots they were freezing in their outfits, their puffy coats tossed to the side, but they took it like troopers. I wonder how those shots turned out.
The outer courtyard was just as beautiful as before, but this time it was even more exciting as we got to go in! Well, after we purchased our very cheap tickets. I did have a moment of GAH when at the self-automated booth, my credit card was declined. There is nothing quite like that moment of panic when that happens.
Side note. When you’re in Korea, or, I guess, anyplace overseas, use your credit card, not your bank card. I actually went into my bank to talk about this with them about how best to pay for things. I ordered some won beforehand but had planned on just using my bank card while I was there. My bank said that there are actually more fees attached if you do it that way, however, there are no extra fees if you use your credit card. So that’s what I did. I just got cash a couple of times using my bank card, but primarily used the card, just transferring my savings right over to it once I got home.
We ended up having to go through the person manned line where, after hesitatingly giving my card over with crossed fingers, I had no problems getting our tickets.
As it was early, the place wasn’t hugely packed, so we wandered around the buildings on our own, deciding to forgo a guided tour. BIG MISTAKE! Oh sure, we got along fine, had no troubles, but when we saw the cute little school-aged tour guides working on their English skills to other tourists? We were beyond jealous! (We also missed Steve.)
How epic is this?
You’d think by now the experience would be old. The same architecture, the same colors, the same carvings that we’d seen in Busan. But, there’s just something being around all that history, something that has survived, in one form or another, for all these years that’s just fascinating to me. You picture all the things that went on. How was this even created? Built? How did they choose these colors? The toppers at the corners of buildings I couldn’t’ stop looking at.
I also couldn’t stop talking in the formal saeguk accent, which I’m sure was annoying, but I couldn’t stop.
Check out this throne.
Now picture your favorite Kdrama saeguk hero perched upon it. Do you have a favorite? Share, please!
Not sure what this is, but it has flowers and faces on the knees. Who does that? It had to be something important. Unless it was just some arts and craft gift to some king of old and he stuck it there because his niece painted it and he’s a good uncle who simply made up some vital reasoning for it to be there. Who’s going to argue? He’s a king!
See how much fun I am to travel with? That’s the sort of brilliance I come up with.
We wandered the endless maze of rooms, of separate buildings, trying to make sure we got through everything we wanted to see. Seriously though? I could probably spend hours there just going through every nook and cranny. Taking each tour, finding out precisely what that thing with the face knees was.
Seriously, look at this ceiling!
Watching the young girls work industriously on their selfies, again I was reminded that a good selfie is hard work. You want to be all judgy, but they were having so much fun trying different, unique poses, giggling with their friends, all dressed up prettily in hanboks, and it just looked like fun. Plus, they are going to have some great photos later!
And the girls weren’t the only ones in on the game.
As I was saying in the previous post, the fact that this exists in the middle of ultra technologically advanced Seoul is pretty amazing. Seeing all of this history while on the edges you see high rises and electronic billboards, is the perfect blend of the past and the future. Which, in a nutshell, is the ideal description of South Korea itself.
Some areas were busier than others, a few school trips, but everyone was friendly and pretty respectful.
There was another lake in the middle of the grounds.
We were working our way towards a large pagoda in the background as we didn’t really have a map to go along. It’s like when I lived in New York City — just keep the Empire State Building in sight, and you’ll always know where you are. We tried to get to the pagoda but couldn’t seem to find our way, eventually giving up and turning back instead checking out the lake as it was on our way back and people were getting hungry.
As hanger is a very real thing, we decided to be along our way, to meet up with SaraG, but not before a quick stop off at the bathroom (yes, I have now peed in every single royal palace. Its a thing.) and the gift shop, before heading back to the front.
But not before one more selfie and one more…weird experience.
We stood in front of my camera… side note: Fun Stephanie Fact of the post? I have very long arms. While it’s a bitch to make sure shirts fit, on the upside? I’m brilliant with group selfies. It’s where I really carry my weight on trips, also why you see my smiling mug front and center on every group shot. I’m not an attention whore, just monkey-like.
So we’re standing there with my camera, and this guy comes up to us and asks if we’d like him to take our picture. Delighted, we said yes and handed him my phone. Posing, we smile in front of the first building where he begins to take photo after photo, crouching into the ground, bending himself in half, moving the camera around, like we’re shooting some sort of album cover. We’re just standing there, smiling, feeling more and more hilariously awkward as he slowly inches forward to us. Should we be moving? Should we be practicing our posing? Are we now disappointing Tyra Banks with our lack of Smizing? Is this guy going to steal my phone?
Finally, he hands me back my phone and with a smile and a bow, simply walks away as we shout thank yous out to him.
What a weird-fun experience.
From there, we met up with SaraG, and we decided to wander the neighborhood looking for food and the Changdeokgung Palace, which is known for being the one with the Secret Garden. However, finding food wasn’t as easy as we anticipated and we walked and walked, circling the edges of Gyeongbokgung. We were turning into a more residentially neighborhood and were despairing we’d never find food. Then we found a cute little coffee shop on the corner of an intersection, said good enough and tramped in. There was, in fact, bistro-style food, so we sat there, basking in the sunlight, recharging those batteries, taking a moment just to hang and chat. It was lovely.
Side note. Sitting at a ShareTea drinking bubble tea writing this. It’s post-move, I’m exhausted from a solid week of non-stop, my house is in disarray, so while this post will be late, it’s for a good reason and taking the time to write it is actually giving me a much-needed rest. What makes me think of this is my previous statement: It was lovely, which comes straight from what I hear from the song playing over the shops loudspeakers.
But now back to it because it really is driving me crazy my house is such a mess.
Where were we? Ah, a random neighborhood in Seoul. Batteries charged enough to move, we got to our feet and continued onto where we thought the second palace was. Spoiler alert? It was not where we thought it was. We may have done a little shopping in some boutiques as we passed, nothing serious, just some meandering. Looking up, we realized we were right outside the Hannok village, which was straight uphill, up a butt-ton of stairs. Leila noped it and while I was initially disappointed, it was pointed out we had actually been there a few days ago when Alix marched us through on the Kpop shop lookout. We consulted Naver maps again and realized we’d actually walked out of the palace in completely the wrong direction. Feet being what they were, we couldn’t face walking all the way back and then onto the palace. Luckily we were right by a bus stop which appeared to be able to take us right to where we wanted to go and was even more luckily enough to be placed right next to a Churro shop.
Churro in hand, or, more realistically, churro in mouth, we boarded the bus on our way to the next palace.
We passed Gyeongbokgung, which, great news, meant we were at least headed in the correct direction, we passed Gwanghwamun Plaza with its giant statues of Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun-sin . I looked longingly out the window at them. I hadn’t realized we were so close! Visions of Faith popped into my mind, and I itched to explore. Naver announced our stop was upon us, and we piled out of the bus, realizing, uhoh, we should have probably recognized that there were more palaces in the area than just the main two and I probably should have been more specific when I looked at it in the map.
Whatevs. It was a palace, and we were there! So we paid the fee and piled in. It was fun to explore with the three of us. Deoksugung palace was actually a later palace, used for ceremonies and visits of state when the actual people lived in a more modern building. It was interesting to see the two together. New meets old. We continued our long-held tradition of going to the bathroom on royal grounds before we heard it, the drums in the distance. Turns out we were at the wrong palace at the right time, the ceremonial changing of the guards. We watched the procession march by us, the bright colors of their regalia, the bouncing feathers of their hats.
We headed back towards the front gates, following them along, where they waited for the actual ceremony to begin. It was fun to see these people, not at attention, just hanging out, bored. A reminder they are real people, not fixtures of the past.
Once we had our fill of palaces for the day, it was time to begin the real task, heading over the river to try and hunt ourselves down some idols, it was time to go visit the JYP offices. After a wrong start, or a wrong stop, hopping off a stop too soon, we were ready for it, prepared to see the legendary building where the likes of 2PM, Got7, Stray Kids came from. Though not yet. Turns out, he’s cleverly not anywhere near the subway stop, so we hoofed it there, stopping for more, much-needed caffeine. On the way there we passed the location of the Seoul Olympic Games which we saw the empty buildings from our position on the street. Sure, we didn’t actually go to them, but we saw the buildings, so I get to count that on the list of places I’ve been on this trip.
Don’t agree? Go ahead, fight me.
Finally, we were there!
It’s an office. Dude. Get yourself a gift shop. Something. Other fans were milling about. We’d buy stuff. Mr. and Mrs. McFeeley are huge Stray Kids fans, I would have gotten something for them, and the ladies would have encouraged me, despite my DON’T LET ME BUY ANYTHING MORE. But I’d simply be able to get around that by saying, “I said I wasn’t allowed to buy anything else for RYAN. This would be for Sean. Totally different person”. But, since they didn’t have a gift shop, the point was moot. Across the street was a coffee shop, and you could see, the way people were positioned, a lot of them were just waiting for someone to come in or out so they could take a photo, be it for dispatch or just a fan site. Not wanting to be one of those people, we simply circled the block, and when we passed a snazzily dressed and perfectly coifed man, we crafted stories about who he was and what he did for the company.
Realizing we weren’t going to get to have the idol meet-cute we’d desperately dreamed of, we decided it was time to move on, back across the river.
Oh! I think it was here, but if not, it’s the perfect time to talk about it. Remember the whole thing that was happening while we were there, with Seungri and his band of ugh? All about secret cams and chats and douchebaggery? Well, it’s no lie to say that this is rampant across the country. Did you hear about the member of staff who put a camera in one of the girl’s rooms on a variety show? Or there was a sting that happened at a hotel where people were recording women? It happens all of the time. While we were on the subway, we were separated, which happened when we wanted to snag an actual seat. This particular time, it was Leila and me on one side and SaraG on the other. Next to her was a man on his phone, who we joked looked just like a police detective from a drama. See? I just had to say that, and you know EXACTLY what he looked like. Turns out?
Not so police-y.
We got off the train, laughingly told SaraG our ideas, and she was like, “Ummmmm…yeah, he was watching pervy hidden video footage.” Apparently, there are Instagrams out there dedicated to this shit, and this guy is just, sitting on the subway, casual as can be, watching it. Ew.
Shaking it off, we decided first on our list was to cross something off Miss Leila’s list, stopping off at the mall by our subway station and picking her up a foundation she’d seen online, but had yet to see it anywhere in Seoul except for this mall. And I was on a mission too! Find the Flying Tiger, a Copenhagen store, take a picture and show it to my friend Thea who is a big fan of their New York store. It was a huge shocker to see that they were in Korea!
We wandered around the food court, looking for something to eat, but it was pricy and not what we were looking for (we’ve been spoiled eating beautiful and delicious food for under 10000 won.). Despite how tired we were, we decided we wanted to skip the food court, instead planned to hit Hongdae in order to find something better. Added plus? This would get Leila her last night in Hongdae with some buskers. Where did we end up? Korean Pizza! After seeing some Eat Your Kimchi posts on the weirdness that could be Korean Pizza back in the day, I’ve always wanted to try it. There was a Mr. Pizza in LA that every time I went to KCon I’d say, this was the time I was going to go there, but as one of our group was a vegan, it always managed to be pushed to the side. (We felt bad enough dragging her to Korean BBQ.) In Haeundae, our apartment was right above a Pizza School where we would pass by and look at the poster proclaiming all of their weirdo pizza flavors and planned on hitting up that one, but we just never had the chance. Tonight was the night!
I wish I’d taken pictures of the menu to tell you exactly what we had eaten, but I can tell you, one of them had mashed sweet potatoes, and the other one had galbi. Both were actually pretty yummy. We’d chosen this particular restaurant in the din of all the others as 1) was something we could all get behind with all of the other choices, and 2) was an upper floor establishment, overlooking all of the buskers. Dinner and a show!
As we ate, Leila and I investigated one last thing stop on our phones, the Han river. We knew it was close, had crossed it several times via subway, but had yet to go and find it in person. Had yet to find out which pairing of us were going to officially breakup on its shores as Korean dramas tell us is the norm. It was a must on all of our lists, and we couldn’t believe we hadn’t been there yet. It was a little difficult for us to pinpoint the best place to go to as you couldn’t really put Han River into the map, sure we’d find a shore but what else would we find when we got there? We found a park that seemed promising, but, honestly, at that time of day, after all, we’ve done, and now knowing about Leila’s poor toe, we decided to pass.
But don’t worry Han River fans. There are still two of us who have days left and hours to fill….
With this, we close out another chapter of our trip. Another day passed. Another person packing up to go home. Which leaves SaraG and I. All by ourselves for three days. Will we make it? Will our friendship survive? Or is it going to be the relationship that crashes by the shores of the Han? Stay tuned to find out!
- 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