Seoul, Korea · Travel

Experiences in Seoul

When it comes to my trip to Korea, I have several experiences to share! Majority of them are pleasant, and a couple were downright funny (for me, at least).

How I accidentally offended a little Korean ahjumma
Let’s start with the very first night. We arrived to Dongdaemun, starving and hot even though the sun had set a good hour ago. Our first order of business (after getting briefly side-tracked by Daiso) was to find food, preferably in a restaurant with A/C. We found a little restaurant that was pretty full, but with a fairly small menu.

Since it was so hot, I ordered a cold noodle. Studying the picture, I saw one with noodles and soup, and the other with soup on the side! So, I ordered the one with the soup on the side, since I usually find that the icy soup is colder than I can fully appreciate. As someone who cannot tolerate very spicy foods, imagine my surprise when this is how the noodles arrived.

The hot sauce that was ready to set my tongue on fire
The hot sauce that was ready to set my tongue on fire

It had HEAPS of hot sauce on it! So, I careful scraped it off, and began to eat my noodles, dipping a little into the soup on the side when the noodles were really stuck together. Then it happened. The ahjumma running the restaurant passed by and began to speak to me in Korean, waving her hands. The only word I recognized was ‘aigoo’ (repeated several times). Ultimately, she took my chopsticks, dumped the soup into the large bowl and mixed it all up, taking extra care to get all the hot sauce mixed in well. With a disappointed look and a little shake of her head, she handed my chopsticks back to me and walked off.

I think I offended her by making her feel like I didn’t know how to appreciate her food. But by golly was this dish SPICY. Every bite was delicious, don’t get me wrong, but my tongue was burning! I laughed through the meal though, because this definitely was a interesting experience.

End Result
End Result, the hottest dish I’ve ever managed to eat.

How I almost got run over, then ripped off by a taxi driver
During check-in, the front desk staff at the hotel handed me a card with the hotel’s address written in Korean, just in case we needed to take a taxi. I thought, “we aren’t planning to take the taxi at all!” but kept the card with me nonetheless. We couldn’t believe that we had to use that card that very night! This was the night that we learned, at 12:05AM, that the subway lines closed at midnight. We were left with hailing a cab back to the hotel, an ordeal that took us 45 minutes. Not only was the taxi stand across from DDP largely ignored by locals, tourists, and taxi drivers, but taxis were haggling with everyone before allowing them to board! The locals stood far into the street and many would walk past us towards the direction the taxis were coming from, in order to be ‘first in line’.

It left us with no choice but to step further out into the street, but the cars come really, really close to you when they make sudden lane changes. After I was almost run over, we retreated to the taxi stand, trying to figure out how we would ever hail a cab. Even the ones that were dropping customers off within the area were immediately swarmed by someone, or the drivers would wave their hands and simply drive off! We couldn’t understand it; we thought every taxi driver would want to grab a passenger. I guess they felt like they could choose their fares and distances, since it was so busy where we were.

The first taxi driver I managed to hail quoted me 20,000W (a search online told us it should cost about 12,000W). I turned to ask my friend, and the taxi driver just drove right off. That was about 25 minutes into our trying to hail a taxi. It took another 20 minutes for us to hail a second taxi, who told me 30,000W! But I figured we really would have no choice. At risk of him driving off, I gestured for 20,000W, and luckily, he accepted and let us board. PHEW. We were beginning to think we would never get home, so we were super thankful.

How we learned that queuing in an orderly fashion is not a thing
We lost count of how many times we were budded in line, but we learned quickly to accept that queues were rare in Korea, and not lining up is…socially acceptable? Budding just happens? I’m not sure, to be honest. It sounds a bit rude to say it this way, but this is the reality. It’s not just older men or women; even the younger generation does the same. They will not look at you nor avoid your gaze; they simply act as if the line did not exist to begin with. Here are some places where lining up was apparently redundant:

  • The airport Info Desk. We were cut 3 times by Korean-speaking customers and the staff never directed those who intercepted the line-up to the back of the line. That was when we figured lining up was a largely-ignored formality
  • Elevators, unless you’re standing right up at the doors
  • Public washrooms, where the line is blatantly ignored. Ladies will walk past you to check all the stalls, then stand right in front of you and nonchalantly step in to vacated stalls
  • Bonjuk restaurant, where we waited to be seated but a young local simply sat down and occupied, by herself, a table for four. The waitress simply took her order
  • Subway. There’s a pretense of lining up before the train arrives, but as soon as it does, people from the back of the line will walk right up to the platform doors and completely disregard the line. Why they wait until the train approaches though, is beyond me

Being brought up in North America inevitably means that you first feel the need to protest (you will be ignored as if you did not exist), shake your head at them, or just generally react as one would when inconvenienced or wronged. But we couldn’t bring ourselves to ignore the line either, so we just took it in stride and went with the flow.

How crazy the Myeongdong Lotte Duty Free Looks
My 3 Days in Seoul post details a bit of my experience at the Lotte Duty Free. But here’s a look at what the inside is like; you can’t really see all the crowds, but we were packed like sardines!

Myeongdong Lotte Duty Free
Myeongdong Lotte Duty Free (Warzone!)

How I desperately wanted to, but couldn’t, buy and/or eat all the food
Lotte’s Superstore had large counters of food and I wanted to try absolutely EVERYTHING! I had heard that their spicy squid was good, as well as their kimchi. Unfortunately, the lady told me that the kimchi would last only for 2-3 days without refrigeration. Since we were headed to a 4 day tour, meaning the kimchi would be sitting in the bus with no fridge, I could not buy any of the yummy-looking kimchi. I had to settle for taking pictures of all the different foods!

Lotte Duty Free Superstore ready-to-eat foods
Lotte Duty Free Superstore ready-to-eat foods
Lotte Duty Free Superstore Banchan (Side dishes)
Lotte Duty Free Superstore Banchan (Side dishes)
Lotte Duty Free Superstore Kimchi
Lotte Duty Free Superstore Kimchi

How I found out I’m not a fan of sea squirt
When we visited Hongdae, we made a point to stop at a restaurant called The Veggie Eating Bear, which is a restaurant that serves bibimbap topped only with vegetables that are sourced locally. Not only did we come across this restaurant through several blogs talking about the best eats in  Hongdae; the fact that the restaurant is in a quaint, traditional-style building in the very modern Hongdae caught our fancy. It was also recommended by Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi!

Okay, so it also has ‘bear’ in the name and signage; how could I not go?

The Veggie Eating Bear
The Veggie Eating Bear

I did also order sea squirt (meongge a.k.a sea pineapple) bibimbap. It started off delicious, especially with the very fresh vegetables, but it got very fishy, very quickly. Even though I am very used to eating sashimi, and I do love uni (sea urchin), I found it even fishier and a little hard to tolerate by the time I got about halfway through. I am usually a pretty big fan of seafood (raw or cooked) but trying this sea squirt once is more than enough for me!

Bear Bibimbap Dish
Sea Squirt (Meongge) Bibimbap at The Veggie Eating Bear, Hongdae

How I ended up with fewer sheet masks than I expected
Okay, I’m joking. I had no idea how many sheetmasks I would get (the result was 179 after souvenirs were gifted away) but I definitely made a point to leave luggage room for the delicious snack that had captured my heart (palette? tastebuds?).

A lot of people have heard about the huge rave over the Honey Butter Chips a good while back. That craze is NOT over in Korea; you can find Honey Butter Chips in supermarkets and stores, yet sold out at the duty free stores where many tourists shop. We did pick up one bag to try and I absolutely fell in love. I mean, I do love honey as many of you know, and I do love butter. This is exactly as it sounds; the sweet taste of honey accompanied by strong, savory butter flavour. I loved it; so much that I ensured I left room in my suitcase to bring two bags to Hong Kong, then all the way back to Canada, to share (just a taste) with my family and boyfriend, before hoarding the rest for myself.

Honey Butter Chips
Delicious Honey Butter Chips, how I LOVE thee!

So there you have it, some of my experiences from Korea! Luckily, it was a very fun and enjoyable experience above anything else. I can’t wait to plan another trip to Korea again in the next few years! I keep thinking that I should go around the same time of year, because the hot weather means packing lighter clothing, leaving more space and weight for my purchases! However, it’s just so HOT and HUMID, so I’m undecided! What do you think?

Disclaimer: The pictures above were taken personally. The experiences are my own.

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