Friday, August 26, 2016

Whitney in Korea!

So I've been in Korea for just shy of 3 years now and no one has come to visit me (besides my mom, dad and brother...2 years ago).  I feel like I'm always telling people to hop over the pond to come see me and no one takes me up on it.  I understand it's a big expense, but you all have had 3 years to save up and I've already come to visit twice, so I think it's someone else's turn to come to me.  And in my opinion, if I had a friend living overseas, I would definitely go visit them!  Just think, free accommodation, a free tour guide, someone to try new food with, and the list of pros just go on and on. So I've never understood why no one has made an effort to come to visit me.  Well, in June my wish came true and I finally had a friend take me up on the offer...cue Whitney!  Whitney is a fellow expat so it comes as no surprise that she decided to come visit; and it was only fair that she came to me this time because I visited her in Spain 4 years ago.

My airport sign welcoming Whitney to Korea.  It says "Hi, Whitney! Welcome to South Korea"

Hanging out with Seoul at the Han River in Yeouido 

I met Whitney my freshman year at Westminster College and we became acquainted through our sorority Kappa Alpha Theta.  Despite Whitney being a senior and only having met during the 2nd semester (Whitney had been studying abroad the first semester), I felt like we connected and I loved hearing Whitney's study abroad stories.  Fast forward 2 years, I'm the one studying abroad, and I decide to go visit Whitney in Spain.  Seeing Whitney thriving in a foreign country and seeing first-hand the amazing life she was leading in Spain is without a doubt one of the reasons that I chose to move abroad right after college graduation.  Whitney is still in Spain (going on 6 years!), and for the past year, we have discussed her coming to visit--and it FINALLY happened this summer!  Having a friend come to visit was exciting for so many reasons; I had a part of home with me (Whitney is from Jefferson City), I could return the favor and play tour guide for Whitney as she had done for me in Spain, I had someone to introduce all the delicious Korean food to, and I could see all of Korea's strange and interesting quirks through the eyes of a tourist again (nothing fazes me anymore and I often forget what it was like when I first came here).  

So, long story short, I was absolutely ecstatic to have Whitney in Korea and had a million things planned out to do (and eat!).  

First thing on my long "do-when-Whitney's-here" list was to welcome Whitney to Korea with some Korean BBQ and soju.  One of Whitney's requests upon coming to Korea was to eat at a restaurant where "all the food comes in little bowls that cover the table"; little did she know, every Korean restaurant serves those "little bowls of food that cover the table" and that they're actually free side-dishes that have unlimited refills.  That's right, they're free!  When you order BBQ, you only order and pay for the meat, all the side dishes are included!

During dinner I taught Whitney how to properly pour and receive a soju shot.  Soju is Korea's most popular alcohol and at only $1.50 per bottle, it's easy to see why.  On any given night, it's common to see people downing soju at restaurants, bars and (my personal favorite) outside 7/11 convenience stores.  Because it's literally impossible to avoid soju in Korea, I knew Whitney needed to experience it immediately.  

How to Properly Take and Receive a Soju Shot
1. Never pour yourself a shot, always have someone else pour it for you
2.  Hold your shot glass with BOTH hands while the other person is pouring the soju
3.  Never let the other person pour their own shot, always pour it for them
4.  While pouring the other person's shot, hold the soju bottle with BOTH hands
5.  Clink you glasses together and say "gum-bae" (not "cheers") and drink the whole shot
6.  Refill and repeat throughout dinner

Teaching Whitney the proper way to pour a soju shot.

Whitney cooking our meat at our table the Korean way...with scissors! Such a natural!
Also, notice the "little plates of food that cover the table".

Of course we had to snap a pic by the Gangnam Style sign.

Next stop after dinner was the infamous Gangnam area, where Seoul's elite live, work and play.  If Gangnam sounds familiar to you, it's probably because you heard Korean rapper Psy's overly-played hit "Gangnam Style" on the radio a few years back.  Here's also a tip: Gangnam is pronounced "Gahng-nahm", NOT "gang" as in the group of troublemakers. 

Whitney, my friend KyeongEun, me and some English-speaking K-boys we met!

One of my favorite memories with Whitney was when we went clubbing in Spain and ended up back at Whitney's apartment around 7am.  Whitney always bragged about Spain's nightlife, and I admit it was a lot of fun, but Whitney hadn't experienced Korean nightlife yet.  Gangnam is also a popular area for clubbing and happens to be where my favorite club, Monkey Beach, is located, so we headed there with my friend KyeongEun.  I really like Monkey Beach because I always happen to meet English-speaking Koreans there and this night was no different; we made some friends right away, a couple of the guys had even studied in the U.S.  By the time Whitney and I made it back to my apartment, the sun had risen already and some people were getting their day started as ours was ending...

I set out to prove that the Spanish aren't the only ones who know how to party, and I think my mission was accomplished.

Cat Cafe where we tried befriending 30 cats.  We didn't win over all of them unfortunately.

What does one do after a night of dancing and perhaps too many bottles of soju?  Go to a cat cafe, of course!  Whitney and I are not afraid to admit that we are crazy cat-ladies and felt right at home with our new furry friends.  I hope our cats back at home, Tris and Velma, didn't get too jealous.  

Juan, Whitney and I trying to catch us a foul ball!

With Whitney and I both being St. Louis Cardinals fans, we hit up a ball game (no pun intended).  We were able to see the #1 KBL team Doosan Bears take on the SK Wyverns.  We were lucky enough to witness a few home-runs, but unfortunately we couldn't get our hands on any foul balls...because our they were too busy holding our Cass beer and Burger King.  Whitney kept looking for some peanuts, but soon realized that the official snack of Korean baseball games is SQUID, which is served in more varieties than you could imagine.  

During the game, we really enjoyed trying to follow along with the male cheerleader/crowd-pumper-upper while he lead individual chants for each player.  We seemed to be the only fans who didn't have these cheers and accompanying hand-gestures memorized, but that didn't stop us from joining in! 

Korean crowds really know how to get their team pumped up.

Growing up during family vacations, my parents always made sure that we did something educational on our trips, and I've continued that mantra in my solo travels as well.  So while Whitney was here, I definitely wanted her to experience Korea's rich history as it is vastly different than American history, and as American students, we don't really learn all that much about Asia's past.  Unfortunately I had to work, so Whitney had to go out on her own in Seoul after only being in the city for 2 days!  She was such a trooper though and found her way just fine; even though she was quite nervous about going out alone, I never doubted her navigational skills considering her impressive travel resume. 

Whitney managed to find Gyeongbokgung Palace while she explored the city solo!

Whitney took a day trip to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) where she got to fraternize with the enemy aka North Korea.

A couple of years ago I took a tour of the DMZ and left with a much greater understanding of the turmoil that has existed between North and South Korea for the past 50+ years.  So because Whitney needed something to fill the days when she had to go out alone, I suggested she take the full-day tour.   On the DMZ tour, Whitney got to buy a train ticket headed for North Korea, get a glimpse of the communist country itself, stand in the building where North and South Korea hold their official peace-meetings and even take a picture with one of Kim Jong Un's guards...while standing in North Korean territory!  Glad you made it safely back to the South side, Whitney... 

Calling all Korean princes, your princesses have arrived!

After seeing the serious side of Korean history, it was time to have some fun, and what better way to do that than to play dress up!  Whitney and I decided to have some photo booth fun and slip into a couple of hanboks, traditional Korean dress.  After a little Photoshop and decorating our pics with fun designs, they were printed out for us and made into stickers.

Whitney + rush hour = very crowded subway ride

When you come to Seoul, a city of around 10 million people, you sometimes find yourself in crowded spaces.  Whitney got to experience the subway at rush hour first hand.  Everyone is literally packed like sardines and their eyes are glued to their phones.  #SeoulLife

Just a sample of our street food adventures! (Pictured: lemonade in a bag, egg bread, hotteok: sweet pancake filled with nuts and cinnamon/sugar, tteokbokki: spicy rice cakes)

I made sure Whitney never went hungry here in Korea.  Sometimes it felt as though we were constantly eating, but I was just so grateful that Whitney wasn't picky and was up to try anything, so I wanted to make sure she was able to eat all of the Korean food she could while she was here.  Whitney especially loved bulgogi, but we also ate street food, mandu (dumplings), bingsu (shaved ice dessert), bibimbap (stir-fried rice and veggies), kimbap (similar to sushi), Korean-style fried chicken, shabu-shabu (hot pot), and live octopus (more on that below!).  And let's not forget the bagel place...that wasn't Korean food, but still delicious.

Whitney, my friend Kang, and I taking our selfie game to new places...i.e. on top of our drinks!

My personal nickname for Korea is "Land of 1000 Cafes" because of the immense number of coffee shops located throughout the country.  But, not all Korean cafes are created equal.  In order to stand out, there are a lot of themed cafes or cafes that have a signature drink or dessert.  One such cafe being CaFace, where you can order a coffee or latte of your choice and have your very own edible selfie printed on top of it!  How cool is that?!?!

Whitney eating her poop bread.

Korean people, especially kids, are obsessed with poop!  I don't understand the fascination with it, but I've learned to just accept it.  While in Insadong, Korea's famous traditional street, I introduced Whitney to poop bread, a pastry shaped like a pile guessed it, poop! And filled with a sweet red bean mash, also a Korean staple.

Coast of Busan

After we were all Seoul'd out, I decided to take Whitney to Korea's 2nd largest city, Busan.  Even though it's a city, Busan is a fun getaway because it's located on Korea's southern coast and boasts one of Korea's best beaches...and who doesn't love the salty air and fresh seafood, right?  

Since Whitney has been to the real Santorini, Greece, I knew we had to make a pitstop at Gamcheon Culture Village.  Gamcheon is tucked away on a Busan hillside and is referred to as the "Santorini of Korea" because of its colorfully-painted houses, steep alleyways and murals decorating the walls. 

Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan

Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan

Historically, South Korea is a Buddhist nation and although Christianity has made its mark here in recent decades, Buddhism remains an important cultural aspect that can be seen all around the country.  I wanted Whitney to see a Buddhist temple while she was here, and out of all the temples I've seen here in Korea, Haedong Younggunsa Temple takes the cake.  Because it overlooks the ocean and has a giant golden Buddha statue, it's no wonder this place is always attracting tourists and locals alike.  

Look at that view // Younggunsa Temple, Busan

Haedong Younggunsa Temple

If you've kept up with my blog, you'll know that I've been able to really give my tastebuds a culture shock here in Asia.  I don't think you need reminders, but I've tackled the balut egg in the Philippines, ox-blood soup and blood sausage in Korea, snake wine in Vietnam, and a whole fried frog in Malaysia.  Because I never shy away from trying exotic foods, I was so excited that Whitney was on board to eat whatever too.  

Since Busan is known for having (maybe too) fresh seafood, I knew it was finally time to tackle live octopus.  Whitney and I made it our mission to find "san-nak-ji" (live octopus in Korean), so we decided our best bet was to check out the famous Jagalchi Fish Market.  Before long, a Korean lady had talked us into buying one of her tentacle-clad suckers.  Whitney and I had barely pointed out the octopus we wanted when the lady grabbed it out of the tank and flung it in a bowl.  Our octopus was then put into a plastic bag and we were lead upstairs to the dining area of the market.  After a few minutes, our octopus reappeared at our table, although he had gone through a major transformation.  After being chopped up and seasoned with sesame oil and soy sauce, our octopus was ready to be consumed, still armed with its tentacles and suckers intact and still moving...even trying to wiggle off the plate. Below is the before and after:   

Before: fresh out the tank

After: freshly cut

Jagalchi Fish Market, Busan

Name your seafood...I'm sure they've got it.

Whitney and I with our Kakao character sheet masks

Ask anyone who has traveled abroad and they'll tell you that it's life-changing and beyond fun but also so exhausting.  Unfortunately when you're tired, it likes to show on your face, but there's seriously no better place to revive your skin and body than in Korea.  Korea is obsessed with everything beauty and skin-related and you'll find a cosmetics store on every block.  I'm in no way bashing Korea for their infatuation with BB creams and face mists, because have you seen a Korean person's skin?  Utterly flawless and perfect 24/7.  I have to admit that I've even jumped on the Korean cosmetics band-wagon and adopted a 6-step daily skincare routine, so it's only natural that I introduced Whitney to Korea's cosmetics craze.  Whitney probably wishes I hadn't though because after taking her to my favorite cosmetics store, Innis Free, her wallet was considerably lighter, but my VIP points card sure appreciated it (thanks girl!).  
To ease Whitney into the Korean cosmetics world, I started her out with a face mask sheet.  You can buy a variety of face masks, all infused with different ingredients such as snail mucus, charcoal, bee venom, etc.  Whitney and I decided to go for these cute, new Kakao character sheet mask though; I think we made a good choice and our faces looked nice and revived afterwards.     

This blog wouldn't be complete without a classic Whitney feet-on-a-manhole-cover pic!

I was so sad to see Whitney leave to head back to Spain, but I was so grateful for her willingness to come visit me and trusting me with tour guide duties during her stay.  I had an absolute blast not only showing Whitney my home for the past 3 years, but also just having a piece of MO here with me.  It meant so much to me to have a friend fly across the world to come hang out with me for 12 days, and I hope I made it worth it, Whitney.  

P.S. We've met up on three different continents, so where to next?


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