Another week has gone by here in Dongducheon, South Korea. There were a few days of sunshine this week but the humidity was still ridiculous. My walk to school is about 10 minutes, about two minutes into my walk and I am practically drenched in sweat. As I walk I see people walking around with open umbrellas or little hand held fans (note to self: I need to get me one of those).
I have found a favorite coffee place that I frequent on my way to work. It is a little kiosk that sells coffee, slushies, and a traditional sweet rice drink called sikhye. Just about every day on my way to school I stop and order a large iced americano. It is pretty cheap, only 2,500 won, or about $2.20 according to the most current currency exchange. The coffee helps perk me up from the humidity haze and the caffeine sustains me throughout the rest of my day.
As mentioned earlier, usually by the time I get to school I am sweating like nobody’s business. I am pretty sure I leave puddles of sweat at any points in my journey that I have to stand still. I must look a wreck when I get to work because one of the directors usually ushers me into a room and sits me in front of an air conditioner, meanwhile waving her hands frantically and saying “so hot” in her Korean accented English. I really lucked out in finding the school that I am in. I love the people I work for, they are so sweet and kind.
Anyhow, this is my second full weekend in SK and Saturday I decided to meet my friend Norma in Seoul. We made plans to go to the Poop Cafe, then walk around and grab some food. She sent me the train stop for us to meet and our day was set. Of course, after having the sunshine for the past three days, on Saturday, the day that I wanted to explore Seoul, the weather chose not to cooperate, and instead of glorious sunshine, we have torrential rain. Doesn’t matter, I still went.
It was my first time on the train here. The trains in Korea are a bit larger than the trains in Chicago. I guess it allows for more standing room. I stood for a good portion of the hour ride and looked at the scenery as it passed by. Between the cities, there were rice fields and farms. There were also junk piles and such. Not unlike the U.S but definitely different in its own way.
As I was standing, I noticed an elderly Korean gentleman, probably in his mid to upper 80’s. Every now and then he would glance over at me and anytime we made eye contact I would smile and slightly bow my head. I did that with pretty much any of the elderly people who got on the train and passed by me. When the seat next to him came available he motioned for me to sit next to him. At first, I motioned no that I was fine but he was insistent, so I sat. It is possible he thought I was pregnant or something but I choose to think he was just being kind. I thought he wanted to make conversation but he just sat quietly next to me. About 15 minutes later an older lady got on the train and she had some large packages she was carrying so I offered up my seat to her since there were none available. The older man smiled at me as I gave up my seat and gave me a slight nod and a wink. A little later when he was ready to get off he tugged at my arm and had me take his seat. This was one of the most heartwarming experiences I have had here in Korea. The area I live is close to the military base and occasionally the way some of our young military conduct themselves here is less than stellar and some Koreans, especially older ones are not too fond of us Americans. That being said, in general, I have been treated very well here, and in most cases, the people I pass will smile back at me if I smile at them.
Once I got to the station I thought we were supposed to meet, I was pretty much lost. It is a decent sized station with multiple connections and exits. I wandered around for a good half hour looking for my friends. Come to find out, there was a mix up on the directions and they had to come and get me. Unfortunately, that took time out of our day, but I was very thankful to them for coming to fetch me 🙂
Off we went to the Poop Cafe where the mugs and bowls are tiny toilets, and old fashioned urinals are used as planters and plates. IT WAS PACKED! The Poop Cafe, located in the Insadong area, apparently is a popular destination not just for tourists like myself, but for Koreans as well. We managed to find a table and ordered. It was too damned hot for hot coffee, which is a bit sad because I wanted a little toilet mug. We settled for a chocolate waffle, and to drink I had this amazing, refreshing, best drink I ever had, mango-ade. It was like a mango juice soda. Amazing, I completely recommend it. The waffle was made out of buckwheat and I was hoping for Nutella as topping but it was plain old Hershey’s chocolate. It was meh. The drink was definitely the high point.
The cafe is located in a building of about three stories. And the building is filled with little touristy shops and boutiques. Very sweet and cute. It was mostly open and they had flowers strung up in the center courtyard and umbrellas with ivy (fake) placed intermittently as decoration. There were many interesting shops with artisan items. My favorite was the shops with the modern hanboks or traditional Korean clothes. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to get even a toe into the outfits, but I still admired them from outside.
After the cafe, we decided to walk the area and see what there might be to get into. Norma found an advertisement for Dr. Fish, the pedicures where you stick your feet in a little fish pond and the fishies eat your dead skin. It looked like fun and the price was about 9,000 won – cheap. So up we went and got our little fishicure. The feeling of the fish nibbling on your feet is quite…… something. It tickled like crazy. Some of us (Lori and I) handled it better than others (Norma). Norma cried her makeup off, she was laughing so hard. I thought she might wet herself because she couldn’t stop cackling. We had a blast and our feet were quite pretty when we got done.
After the pedicures, we walked some more looking for a place to eat. What I love about Seoul is the little alleyways with more traditional style restaurants and business, away from the hustle and bustle of the main areas where the tourists hang out. We found an overpriced barbecue place, it was o.k, the service was great, and the company was a lot of fun. I didn’t get any pics of the bbq food (sorry, bad blogger).
We decided to head over to Myongdong to find some street food desert. This area is known for their street food and shopping. By this time, it was pouring, like torrential rain pouring. And, all you could see were a sea of umbrellas because the streets were packed with people. We walked in and out of a few shops but didn’t stay too long as it was getting late and soon our trains home would stoprunning. Norma and I got squid on a stick to go. Although not a desert, it was a warm and tasty snack for my soggy trip home. I truly had a glorious day with new friends despite the crummy weather.
As I sat on the train, watching the lights of the city pass by, I looked around at the people on the train. Korea is known for having very thin and petite people and one of my fears was that because I am heavy set, I would feel extremely out of place. However, what I noticed is that Koreans come in all shapes and sizes, and although many, are petite and thin as reeds, there are a significant amount who are just normal built, and some who are even a little on the plump side. So if you are reading this and you want to visit or live in Korea and you are plus sized, dont’ let your size stop you from coming. Yes finding clothes and shoes is hard (next blog I will tell my shoe shopping story in the Seoul subway), but not impossible. Yes you may stand out a little, but not everyone in Korea looks like Kpop idols or Kdrama stars. Infact, most Koreans look pretty average just like most Americans do, and I suspect just like most people do in every other country around the world.
Here is short video of my day in Seoul. Hope you all enjoy and have a wonderful day, or night.
Good night from South Korea!