So here is an overall report of my 10 days in South Korea!
This was my second time in the country, and I hadn’t been back in 2 years, so I was excited. The first time I went, I stayed with a friend (who actually lived in my house for two weeks in America during her year abroad) but her house was a little far from Seoul, so the trip exhausted me. I was determined to fall in love with the country and not be worn out by it for a second time.
I made my way from Fukuoka to Busan by ferry since it’s cheap and fairly quick. I had trouble getting through customs because the lady in Japan thought I was a tourist and gave me the wrong form to fill out. So I had to fill out another one but when I got to Korea, I couldn’t find it, so they made me step out of line and do it yet again. I was humiliated being the last one out of customs, but when the doors opened, my boyfriend was standing there waiting for me. I felt so stupid for making him wait and knew he had been wondering if something was wrong. I ran over to him and told him how stupid I was but he was just happy I was safe.
We ran to catch a bus to Busan station and despite standing up in a cramped bus, we were grinning from ear to ear, reunited after two months. We got to Busan and shared a cheap but delicious bowl of stew before heading upstairs to take our train. One thing I noticed about the KTX is that, unlike in Japan where you swipe your card or ticket in a machine on the way to the platform, there is nothing keeping you from walking on the train without having paid. However, the staff walk up and down the train after every stop checking if seats that haven’t been paid for are filled. It’s an interesting system, but maybe I’m just so used to the rigid rules of Japan.
In Busan station, we saw my love Kim Soo Hyun, which you will know if you’ve seen My Love from the Star (famous drama – go watch it now!) and my boyfriend instructed me to take a picture with him. It was the first of many Kim Soo Hyun run-ins.
Our train took about 3 hours to reach Daejeon, but with the high-speed, never-failing internet of Korea, we just watched Korean variety shows on his phone to pass the time. In Daejeon, we ate spicy chicken before hitting the hay. My boyfriend couldn’t believe it when I told him we don’t have chicken delivery in Japan or America like they do in Korea. I agree it’s something we need to implement. In Korea, you can pretty much get anything delivered.
So we had planned a day in Seoul for our second day, but it was the weekend and some of our plans went through, so we called his friends and ended up going to Gapyeong instead. We went to a fireworks festival that was more of a dance performance, and we ate street food. I even got Smoothie King! It was nice getting American food in Korea because McDonald’s and KFC are about the only things you can get in Japan.
One night we played Go Stop (traditional Korean card game) and I won! And we ate spicy chicken once again.
The next day we took an awning and some camping gear to the mountains. We picked a spot near the creek and waded around, swam, and fished. We even watched a movie on a tablet (thanks again, Korean internet!) and made ramen.
For dinner we had samgyeopsal, which I will never get tired of. I gained some weight in Korea because I tried all the dishes. In Japan, I usually skip the fish courses and pickled vegetables in a Japanese dinner, but there wasn’t anything in Korea I really disliked. In Korea, I ate an abundance of meat, tofu soup, veggies, and noodles. They kept commenting on how we don’t eat family style in America and asked if most American’s find it unsanitary. I agreed that it’s not as common in restaurants, but that in my big Southern family, every event is a buffet and our table dinners are shared meals. In Korea, though, no one has a big plate to themselves, and everyone grabs what they can fit in their mouth. It really breeds friendship to eat this way and I enjoyed it since I sometimes eat like a bird. When I’m eating family style, no one can tell how much I’ve eaten, so there’s less embarrassment.
We made our way to famous places in Gapyeong such as The Garden of Morning Calm (아침고요수목원) and Petite France (쁘띠프랑스) which are both drama/TV locations. Most recently, Petite France was one of the filming sites for My Love From the Star and The Garden of Morning Calm was used for You are Beautiful. Both were gorgeous, and despite the rain we got most of the time, it was a really nice escape. I noticed there were a lot more couples in Korea than I usually see in Japan. PDA isn’t a big thing in Japan, but Koreans like to hold hands and wear couple clothes, which I find really endearing.
Eventually my boyfriend and I bought couple shirts, couple socks, and matching phone straps. It’s a really nice way to go out in public and show off the fact that the two of you are together. Especially because we are a mixed couple, some people asked my boyfriend if I was his friend. Koreans aren’t used to seeing foreigners as much, and as in Japan, there is a stigma that all foreigners are just students or will eventually go back to their home countries.
We went to a cafe nearby, which was next to the MOAI Pension houses. They each had a swimming pool attached and there was a larger horizon pool as well.
Petite France was really cute and had a lot of museum-type stuff to look at. They also looped videos of My Love from the Star.
We ended up in Seoul for a few hours, but the traffic was bad, parking was expensive, and there were so many people, so my boyfriend wanted us to go back to his hometown. I really like crowds, and if you take the subway, Seoul is easy to get around. But I will have many more opportunities to explore the city, so we chose to stick with grabbing a bite to eat and making our way to the You Are Here cafe.
We ate at Myeongdong Gyoza which was packed with people. The food was pretty good and we were definitely full when we left. I heard a lot of Japanese and Chinese being spoken when we were there, and I heard English as we walked the streets as well.
The You Are Here cafe was the main thing I wanted to see in Seoul. It’s a cafe built by the Talk to Me in Korean team and Eat Your Kimchi. The cafe was in a quiet little area and there weren’t too many people there. Since we went on a Tuesday, we were able to sit in the Self-study room, where Kyunghwa was helping out a few students translate their sentences. We got milkshakes and sat by the window to relax. There were quotes along the staircase and toys to play with at the tables.
They sold merchandise such as books and hats, but I didn’t buy anything. Maybe next time.
Back in Daejeon, we did noraebang (karaoke) and I met a lot of my boyfriend’s friends. Everyone was so kind and hospitable, and it was really refreshing to dive into a new culture where not many people hold back their feelings (like in Japan). Koreans really value honesty, and many people complain that Koreans are too blunt. However, since I’m blunt myself, I felt more comfortable than I do in Japan at times, where I’m expected to keep my feelings to myself and protect the “harmony”.
We met up with my best friend from high school and took a trip to a little oasis within Daejeon. It had a garden and restaurants and we even went to an indoor foot bath cafe where we were pampered and got to relax.
We went to Outback for lunch on my last full day in Korea, something that I haven’t seen since leaving America a year ago. It was really nice to have that familiar bread, real pasta and good steak again. That night, we hiked up a mountain to see the view of the city lights.
Before I knew it, it was time to go back to Japan. I was really sad to go, but I will be back in Korea for Christmas, so I don’t have to wait too long! I took the train to Busan and stopped in a Paris Baguette before heading off to the ferry terminal.
And thus, my vacation was over, but Korea definitely moved up a few places in my heart. I can’t wait to go back, but until then, I will be studying Korean every day!