Friday, February 3, 2017

Flying Home

BBQ at Piggy Bank in Hongdae

Tonkatsu and Coin Karaoke Place in Sinchon-Ewha Area

Basin Robbins' Ice cream Wafer Roll and Sulbing's Melon Bingsu

The entire study abroad experience for me was like a dream come true--getting to see Seoul in a new light and experience living like a local there. It was sad for it to finally come to an end. We finished our finals by Thursday and spent Friday hanging out with the new friends that I met there, and finally getting back to the dorm late at night to pack everything away and say goodbye to the place that became my second home half away around the country. The procedure to check out of dorms was relatively simple. Anything that could be left behind for others, we left in the dorm, such as hangers, the shower rug, etc. We cleared our desks and but all the bedding back into the plastic bag we got them in. After cleaning up the dorm and making sure everything was clean. Then you head downstairs to the lobby to let them know that you are ready to have the room inspected. One of the staff will go up with you and make sure nothing is broken in the room and then you are set to leave.

To get to the airport, we decided to take the airport limo (bus.) The bus stop was right by the campus, and cost us roughly 10,000 won or more. They accept both cash and T-money card. One of the hardest parts of a long stay anywhere is definitely the departure. I was amazed to see how much I grew to love staying at Yonsei's campus, and all the wonderful memories that I made, the amazing people that I encountered there. Honestly, I wouldn't be able to forget any of them, whether it was my roommate, the friends that I grew closest with, my classmates, even the strangers I met when all of us were just out and about in the city. There's something about leaving that makes one suddenly so sentimental--as I watched the plane ascend from my seat by the window, I definitely had a tear or two rolling down my cheeks, knowing that this chapter in my life had just come to its end.

So don't limit yourself to where you are now. Go out and explore. Apply for a Gilman Scholarship, and fill out that study abroad application. You won't regret it.
"Adventure is out there." --Up, Disney

Jeonju Day Trip

Even after another long week of classes, it didn't stop me from planning another trip out of the city--this time it was to Jeonju, the region in Korea well-known for its bibimbap. One of the dishes that is immediately recommended to foreigners in Korea is bibimbap, which is a mixed rice dish topped with assorted vegetables, occasionally meat and shredded eggs, and a spicy sauce. I wanted to eat at Gogung, which was a restaurant originating from Jeonju that specializes in traditional Korean food, especially bibimbap. We reserved the shuttle bus from Seoul to Jeonju that would leave in the day and return at night.

The bus dropped us off near the cultural village where there were many cafes and restaurants. It was common to see people passing by dressed in Hanboks, Korea's traditional clothing, because there were also many Hanbok rental shops, similar to ones in Insadong, Seoul. To get to Gogung, we had to take a bus after passing the cultural village. The restaurant was well decorated and had an oriental atmosphere. On the 2nd floor near the restrooms was a small area that was an museum in itself with displays of the ingredients used to make the rice dish along with the history of the dish. Overall, the meat was very good, and I would definitely recommend this restaurant for anyone who visits Jeonju and wants to try authentic Korean dishes. 

We also stopped by Duimo, which was a small restaurant in the midst of a mural village. This spot was featured on a Korean cooking show where the hosts invite chefs from local restaurants (hole-in-the-wall type of locations) to compete to see which dish is "better." At Duimo, they serve a twist on the classic bibimbap by turning it into something more modern--a bibimbap waffle. The waffle itself is made from the rice mixed with a bit of the spicy sauce, and the toppings on a bibimbap are wrapped in the waffle like a burrito. It was a very interesting fusion take on a traditional dish.

We only had a bit of time after to explore the mural village--there were many cartoon drawings such as ones of Ghibli Dtudios, that creates famous Japanese animation films such as Spirited Away, Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle, etc. Of course, I stopped to take a few pictures with the mural before moving on. We also found a stand that sold "Dragon's Breath," which was puffed cereal that was filled with nitrogen gas. When you chewed the snack, puffs of gas would also come out of your mouth. Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to explore Jeonju more because by the time we walked around and took the public buses to and from the restaurants and filled up our stomachs, it was already time to get back to the bus and head back to Seoul.

Frustrations on Failed Taiwan Trip + Jeju Island Weekend Trip

Gimpo Airport (Check-in located on upper floor)
My original plan of studying in Korea was to take advantage of my weekends and be able to travel to another country. The advantages of this is that flights are much cheaper considering you're practically neighbors with other foreign countries that you may want to visit. However, it turns out planning a weekend trip is much harder especially when there are unforeseen weather conditions when you are there. From experience, I had already booked my flight to Taiwan for the weekend (Friday--Sunday), but unfortunately, we never ended up going. The airline we booked with was China airlines because it was the cheapest option available to us at the time. Since 2 of my friends had later classes, we booked 2 separate flights departing on the same day. But since it is monsoon season in Asia in the summer, it was difficult to predict the weather--the weekend we booked our trip turned out to be the weekend a typhoon was passing through Taiwan. My friend's flight ended up being cancelled because their flight was booked under a subsidiary airline company owned my China Air, whereas my flight was not cancelled. The night before the departure day I found out my flight was delayed by an entire day, yet I received no notification at all.

Historical Displays at Gimpo Airport Lounge
This is where my frustrations began--we weren't sure whether to cancel our flight as well due to safety concerns of the weather conditions in Taiwan or to still leave without my other friends. As a college student, the cancellation fee was another concern since we were canceling so last minute. The day of our flight, we continuously reached out to the airline only after my other friend received an email regarding how to get a refund for their flight. On the other hand, I still received no news at all whether the flight was going to take off or not. Being fed up with the lack of response, I contacted the same person that sent my friend the refund form to see what was wrong. She was definitely trying her best to contact the headquarters and find answers for me, and it was something I appreciated in comparison to the airlines lack of responsiveness. Luckily for us, we were all able to get our refunds, and it took a while, but the cancellation fee was also resolved. But ultimately, the disappointment remained since we weren't able to visit even though we had the entire itinerary planned.

Pork Noodle Soup (Gogi Guksu from Manse Guksu)

On a brighter note, I decided to continue with my plan to leave Seoul each weekend, the next trip being Jeju Island, infamous for being the "Hawaii" of Korea. To get to Jeju, we booked a domestic flight. Thankfully, the airports in Korea are separated so that domestic flights are mostly flown out of Gimpo airport, which was much closer to the Yonsei campus than Incheon airport. The flight itself was short and I arrived in the evening. My friend and I booked a guesthouse for the duration of our stay, closer to the airport so it would be easier for us to get back to Seoul.

Places we visited:
Teddy Bear Museum
Jungmun Beach
O'sulloc Tea Museum
Innisfree Jeju House Cafe
Glass Castle
Jeju Citrus Museum
Ilho Tewoo Beach (Cute Red and White Horse-shaped lighthouses)
Noodle Street (Guksu Alley)
Raw Fish Street
Nolman Cafe (Best seafood ramen!!)
Monsant Cafe (for K-pop fans, this is the cafe owned by G-Dragon from Big Bang)

Entrance of the Teddy Bear Museum

It was interesting to see the history of teddy bears and to see displays of historical moments and famous figures depicted as bears. One thing I noticed a lot about Korea is how they have many "concept" stores where there is a theme going on throughout the place.

Jungmun Beach is one of the many beaches in Jeju Island. We decided to go to this one because it was supposedly scenic and known for its mixed sand. However, I was slightly disappointed because the mixed sand felt rough against my bare feet and it wasn't as scenic as I expected. Seeing darker sand colors across the shore was a new experience for me because I was used to expected tan sand or the iconic white sand beaches from the tropical areas.

The Osulloc Tea Museum and Innis free cafe are both nice spots to grab a quick snack or light meal in the midst of exploring. O'sulloc is a well known franchise with aromatic teas and wonderful desserts whereas innisfree is a famous road-shop brand of cosmetics. But in the Innisfree cafe in Jeju, they actually serve food as well as having a station where you can customize your own soap bar.

The Glass Castle Museum stood out to me the most due to the beauty of the massive art pieces. Everything in the museum was made of glass fragments, from huge arches, fake lakes, smaller displays, mirrored light rooms, to the gigantic spider web. It was fascinating to see the creations made all from glass.

Unfortunately, the citrus fruit wasn't in season when we visited the Jeju Citrus Museum. It was pretty empty on the day we went, and the cooking classes weren't available. Though we were disappointed at the lack of things to see inside, we did get to try the citrus ice cream and bring back some souvenirs from the store there!

Jeju Island is known for their fresh seafood and specialty noodle dishes. As a country that consumes the most ramen, it was an obvious choice to go to the famous seafood ramen restaurant in Jeju, Nolman Cafe. I first discovered this restaurant from watching a Korean television show (Superman Returns), where a celebrity family ate there during their vacation to Jeju. You have to take a ticket from the machine and give in your order. Once your number is called, the order is ready for pickup. The broth itself was extremely flavorful from the abundant amounts of seafood--there was crab, mussels, shrimp, etc. It was easily a fan favorite over famous ramen shops back in NYC such as Ippudo, and definitely better than the iconic red Shin ramen packages. Nearby is the Monsant Cafe--the building exterior is a perfect place to watch the sunset since the walls are glass and quite reflective.

On our way back to the airport, we stopped by Ilho Tewoo Beach. The beach was very family friendly compared to other beaches in Korea that I visited. Near the beach was a mini campsite where many families had tents and brought food to grill. We wondered past the camp area to the lighthouses. There were two lighthouses, each quite a distance away from the other. We opted to walk towards the red lighthouse instead.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Airplane Massage Cafe - "First Class Healing Cafe"

Preparing for my travels to Korea entails lots of research on places to eat, unique local spots, and activities to do. I found that the best way for me was to watch vlogs on Youtube of those who reside in Korea.

Youtubers in Korea:
Megan (ChoNunMigookSaram)
Joan Kim
Edward Avila
Simon and Martina (EYK)

I found out about the airplane cafe, called First Class Healing Cafe, by watching ChoNunMigookSaram. It was tricky finding the exact location of the cafe since she didn't have an address in the video. Of course, I immediately looked it up on google to see if that would help narrow down my search. Unfortunately, it was fruitless because in Korea, shops are constantly changing (closing or getting replaced by a different shop). And it seems like this massage cafe was newly opened since not that many people seemed to be aware of it on social media. Luckily for me, I was familiar with the Hongdae Area and was able to figure out the location based on the nearby stores in the video.
Once you enter, you can choose the length of the session and the "country" you want to fly to. There are 30 minute sessions or 15 minute sessions. Since we were the last customers for the night, we opted for the 15 minute session and took the complimentary drinks and waffles to go instead of eating it there.
After getting seated in the massage chairs, you take off your shoes and put on a "sock." You are also given eyewear that warms up and plays soothing music. You also get to choose specific areas where you want the massage to focus on--such as your head, shoulders, back, waist, etc. I opted for my shoulders since I'm usually stiff there. As someone who is extremely ticklish and not a fan of massages, it was unsettling at first to have the massage chair ripple through my nerves in a wave like motion. Instead of feeling more relaxed, my body tensed up when the machine began to dig into my pressure points. However, after the session was over, I did feel as if some of my joints were less stiff than when I walked in. Will I sign up for this again though? Probably not. But for people who love massages, this cafe is worth visiting for sure! I can see my parents enjoying this if it were to open up in the U.S. as well.
Address: 서울시 마포구 서교동 345-2 천마빌딩 5층 퍼스트클래스 홍대점
Official Cafe Website