Korean Adventure Day Thirteen: Milk Tea Coffee Prince 

Posted by Stephanie on September 18, 2019

General

Surprising lack of images to go along with this post. Turns out, when one is shopping, one forgets to document for posterity. Don’t you worry, I’m similarly irritated with myself. That being said, we have an interesting and different day in Korea. There’s a moment when you’re getting to the end of your trip, you’ve hit your highlights and are like…what else is there to do? Don’t get me wrong, we knew there was tons of stuff left to do, even now there are things on our to-do list we kick ourselves for not getting to either due to distance, forgetfulness, or simple ignorance. So…we wing it. And end up having a really great day…including meeting future Mr. Stephanie, my very own Milk Tea Coffee Prince.

First off, let me say, you’re going to wander around these posts and say, “Why didn’t you go here, or you forgot to go there.” Undeniably true. One of the places of note that’s on a lot of people’s list and was on ours as it looks incredible was Ihwa Mural Village. Let’s just say it now, we didn’t go. We planned on it, things happened, I did more research and found out the people who live there? Turns out a good portion of them actually hate what they are known for. Hate the fact that these murals have turned where they live into a tourist attraction. To the point where some of the murals have been painted over in an attempt to stop the buzz. 

It made me feel really off about going. So we right or wrong, we didn’t go. But we still got our mural on. In my research, I found another, lesser-known mural village known as Ant Villiage who put up their own murals once upon a time in an attempt to do what Ihwa is fighting against. It wasn’t as successful as they wanted it to be, and in the end, the murals have fallen into age and disrepair.

Which for SaraG and I, made it that much more of a lure. 

No, for real! On our date we were going to go to the remains of an abandoned amusement park where you can wander the property, viewing the broken relics of the past. Sounds amazing. Unfortunately, it also seems like it was far away and hard to get to and by then? I hate to say it, my super adventurous spirit was weary. Yes, this remains high on the list of things I kick myself about now. Heads up whoever goes with me next. We’re going. Get over it, it’s happening. 

So all these things we didn’t do, perhaps I should, I don’t know, tell you what we did do? Because it was a lot. 

Remember SaraG and her pink hair? Well, fun SaraG fact? Hair color will not stay in her hair. At all. Throughout our stay, her hair turned from vibrant shocking pink to a soft pastel. It was fun to see the change. We woke up this morning, and SaraG decided she wanted to go and get a haircut and I decided it would be hilarious to watch her get a haircut in Korea. Spoiler alert? It was a lot of fun. This, of course, means we needed to find a place to get this done. Not only did we have to find a hairdresser, but we had to find one that was open, which in the morning hours of South Korea? Not as easy as one would think. 

We had a plan! Coffee! (For me, SaraG doesn’t do coffee.) Breakfast! Hair! Ant Villiage! …….something else TBD! 

Getting dressed in our newest finery, purchased from the streets of South Korea itself, we hit the streets after the usual, Egg, Passport, Wallet, Phone, Key check. All in place? Yes? Let’s go! We hit the streets, eyes to the second floors of buildings where the non-shopping, non-coffee shop businesses all seemed to live, looking for anything that looked like a place that might cut hair. 

Towards the end of our street, before we hit the main fairway, we made the fateful decision to stop into a particular coffee shop we passed by every day on our way to…everything. One we’d never been in before (another thing I will always regret). We’ve been here for a week now. A WEEK. And we’ve only ever chosen to go to the slow coffee ahjussi up the street. Why am I so worked up over a coffee shop? Well, this was when I walked in and I found him. Future Mr. Stephanie. My Milk Tea Coffee Prince. 

He worked the small shop by himself, with a helpful, awkward, and yet inviting smile. He wore a white button-up shirt with his dark hair. He was lovely. I know I said this a lot, but it was literally a fanfic or drama moment come to life. Its almost as if he had a glow filter shining above him.

We ordered our coffee and tea while I tried to take a picture without appearing creepy, knowing later I would need photographic evidence. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything without appearing creepy and awkward, so the photo was pretty much a fail. But the coffees were terrific.

Le Sigh, my beautiful coffee prince. 

As much as I would have liked to have whipped out my computer and sat there to work the rest of the day, i.e., sat there writing moody fanfic with him as my lead, we had a mission and a plan. Coffees at the ready, a reluctant goodbye to Future Mr. Stephanie, and we were off. 

Following the route Leila, Alix and I had taken the previous day, we walked through the quiet streets of Hongdae, on the hunt for a hair place. And then, across the street from this weird pirate boat-shaped building, we found it. Not only were they open, but they had an appointment right then! So, SaraG filed her things into a locker, I found a seat within eyeshot of my friend and the people coming at her with scissors and sat to FB chat with Thea who was very excited about the whole experience. A guy was sitting next to me, who was apparently with the guy who was getting his hair cut in the chair across from Sara’s, kept smiling at me and telling me it wouldn’t be too much longer and I could have a turn. Dude. I have curly hair. One does not trust randos with curly hair. It’s just not done. SaraG will tell you she had two ladies working on her, one who was doing the cut and another, we guessed an apprentice, who watched, periodically gently brushing the hair away from SaraG’s face with a broad brush.

Interesting. Before too much longer, she was done! Come on everyone, doesn’t this hair look great?

Not only did SaraG come out with a great new haircut, but she also managed to find us a bathroom. Winners all around.

Once we were done, we decided it was time to show her haircut off to the world, and when I mean the world, I mean Ant Villiage. But first? Some sustenance! My new favorite food in Korea turns out was tonkatsu. I was there for two weeks, I ate it three times. Although, if we’re counting, I ate triangle kimbap like 13, so maybe that’s the food winner of the trip.

We hopped a bus and rode our way to the base of the mountain before following the road up, up, up, realizing we took a wrong turn, went down, down down, took the left that took us through a building (yes, this was on the map) and then headed up, up, up again. Man! Our butts had better look fantastic after all of these stairs we’ve done.

Of course, we’d probably have to stop eating hoteok and street waffles for that to happen, so probably not. One time, as we were trudging upwards, we were lapped by a bus, which made us realize there WAS a bus service up this vertical climb to death and kicked ourselves. 

BURN.

Finally, we reached a village, that was hit hard by age and poverty. There were murals on the wall, you could see where someone had once cared, some places still tried to care, but it had a tired age to it. Somehow, this is not the Korea you see in Kdrama, not even with our saddest attic cat heroines. But it’s a reality that exists everywhere, and it was good to see it. We wandered the streets, looking at the paintings. Looking at the buildings patched together with bits of other buildings. Even here we were able to find a clean public bathroom and people who smiled and nodded to us.

The bus that passed us came back as we were getting ready to leave and we considered catching it but decided no, we’d come this far, by fudge we were going to walk back down. Stephanie and SaraG are no quitters! 

Walking back down to the subway, we decided to catch a train towards another shopping area that the guidebooks had mentioned. We’d decided we had so much fun the day before poking and wandering, that we wanted to give it another go. This time we were in the large buildings of the fashion district, which was actually stall upon stall, floor upon floor of clothing sellers. Or, actually, sellers of everything you could think of. Knowing we’d already purchased more than would fit into our bags, we’d been on the lookout for a new bag to take home with us. We found it here in matching overnight bags, sold to us by an old man with rows and piles of various bags. While I believe on sight, Ms. Alix dubbed it a grandma bag, I love it and use it to this day. 

The number of stalls just piled high with clothing was both amazing and overwhelming. The ahjummas who ran them mostly sat in bunches, eating or chatting to one another. Some of them talking to their friends/competitors across the piles. Many of them crouched in front of tiny TVs as they watched whatever drama was on. Some stalls were neatly organized, with sizes and a small variety of neatly cared for inventory, but for the most part? It was like a clothing free for all. Think your bed on laundry day. We had a fun time wandering through digging our way through piles, some of the saleswomen engaging, trying to get us to purchase, but most of them? They pretty much ignored us, we were tourists and not really welcome. This sounds like it’s a bad deal, but it’s not. We couldn’t communicate with them. A lot of the ladies were older, and to them, yeah, we probably were nuisances who were there just to look and not buy. We watched them as they went about their own lives, and we were not part of it. It was reality. 

It was also overwhelming, and after about 2 buildings, I burnt out pretty fast. Luckily SaraG was good to go too, and we headed out.

From here we were not sure as to where to go next. We walked the Cheonggyecheon stream for a short time, the sounds of the stream and the people chilling beside it a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the buildings below. After some discussion, we decided to head back to Insadong and found our way back to the subway station. But not before a stop off at another one of the National Treasures. You know, popping by as one does. This is Heunginjimun Gate, the east gate of the Seoul City Wall. Just as impressive as it’s sister gate and it’s not at all irritated it has to share the top National Treasure spot with it. (Come on, I think these are probably worthy of their own, separate entries.)

Moving onwards, the path to Insadong was not quite as successful as other ones I’d lead us on, and we missed our stop by…a bunch and ended up coming back above ground at the Sejongno, Gwanghwamun Plaza. Which, for me, was perfect! Previously, I’d regretted that I hadn’t had a chance to see the two iconic statues up close, not through a dirty bus window. Luckily, SaraG was a trooper, and at my “Can we, please?” Was totally cool heading up there. 

Interesting, as we walked up, we passed a Trump protest, or a shaming the Korean government for working with Trump protest. It was an interesting thing to experience as an American. 

The statues were incredibly impressive as we looked at them in person. Your tv screen can’t really do them justice, especially with the background of modern technology, the places. It had an old meets new feel — which was fitting for this particular king.

One thing I do have to say is there was a large structure in front of the King Sejong statue, so you couldn’t really get a great straight-on shot. First, we thought it was for a certain event, but realized, nope, that shit was permanent. Hmmm… Seems like someone should have thought that stuff out in advance.

Once we got to the statue, we realized that there was actually a museum down beneath it. Sure, why not?

Underneath, we were pretty much the only ones there. We looked around, got a chance to sit on a throne replica, and learned about all the things King Sejong The Great did during his reign.

Spoiler alert? A lot! He was definitely one of those famed renaissance men, with varied skills and interests, or knew how to get the best from the skilled and interested people around him. Total Sungkyungkwan Scandal feels.

Heading back above ground, we continued our hunt for Insadong, which we knew was between the two palaces, but noting our luck finding the right palaces, this wasn’t as much of a slam dunk as you would think. We meandered the streets, dodging people who were busy about their day, just poking around….until we had the second most amazing moment of the day. (Remember our Milk Tea Coffee Prince?)

We’re wandering the streets, then suddenly looked up and, in the middle of this big city found a temple celebrating the lantern festival. It was actually a famous temple which was heavily listed on a lot of to-do lists, but here we are, whoops, there it is. It felt as if all of the temples we’d seen so far, in their various states of readiness had all been building up to this point. This quiet little nook in the big city, covered in lights. Respectful as there was a service going on, we ducked inside and took it all in. There was the main temple with a gate and a few outbuildings. A tree, it’s branches hidden by lanterns, covering it all.

It was beautiful. It was again one of those moments where it seemed like time just slowed down. A reward for our day. Amazing what a wrong subway stop, a wrong turn after a long day will get you.

After soaking in our fill, we continued on our way, even more, determined to find Insadong. And we did! We meandered the streets, finding some cute shops where, surprisingly, not only did SaraG find clothing to purchase, so did I! And on sale too! 

Our stomachs told us it was time to find some food and we put our adventurer shoes on again, headed down the tiny alleyways, knowing we were doing our previous tour guide, Gloria proud, we found the more traditional section, peered into a restaurant, and jumped in. We chose a ‘set’ and some makkoli and waited. I loved the idea of a set (a pre-chosen menu) as I’d seen it in dramas several times. Ours was a small set, but you wouldn’t know it from the table full of food they placed before us.

We took turns trying everything, tiny dabs of all sorts of different foods, some we’d had before and some unfamiliar. It was a pretty great experience and, after that and much makkoli… Stephanie was a little tipsi. 

Just a little. 

Turns out, SaraG doesn’t love makkoli and who am I to let a bottle we paid for go to waste? The New Englander in me couldn’t let that stand.

Once we were done, we continued about our way on the streets, watching a non-Hongdae busker playing the violin. It was lovely. Tipsi Stephanie was very appreciative. 

Deciding we’d had enough adventure for the day, we decided to head home. Though not before another trip to Hongdae for some chocolaty patbingsu. 

Mmmmmm Tipsi Stephanie Likes. 

 

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