Exploring the Beauty of Yongjusa Temple

Yongjusa – in Korean, it means “temple of the dragon with a magic ball”.

With a history as rich as its name and stretching back to the 10th century AD, Yongjusa is a major temple in the Jogye order of Korean Buddhism.

I had the chance to visit Yongjusa (located in the city of Hwaseong) on a recent trip with Invest Korea / KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency). During our trip, we visited a couple foreign-invested companies in Korea’s Gyeonggi region, before grabbing lunch in the countryside.

Needless to say, the fresh air, nature, and calm atmosphere was a welcome change from the usual hustle-and-bustle of Seoul.

The restaurant sign reads "sangroksu"

The restaurant sign reads “sangroksu”

Taking the dirt path to 상록수

Taking the dirt path to 상록수

A rice field on the way to the restaurant

A rice field on the way to the restaurant

Chickens outside the restaurant/house!

Chickens outside the restaurant/house!

Typical Korean-style table setting: tons of small side-dishes surround the main dish, which hadn't arrived at this point.

Typical Korean-style table setting: tons of small side-dishes surround the main dish, which hadn’t arrived at this point.

Marinated crab side dish

Marinated crab side dish

My favourite! Tteok (sweet, chewy rice cake)

My favourite! Tteok (sweet, chewy rice cake)

Yummy tteok (pronounced "dock")

Yummy tteok (pronounced “dock”)

A poster in the restaurant

A poster in the restaurant

Looks like 상록수 (Sanroksu) had been featured on TV a few times

Looks like 상록수 (Sanroksu) had been featured on TV a few times

After wrapping up lunch, we were back on the bus and on our way to Yongjusa.

Yongjusa was built after a previous temple standing in its place burnt down in the late 800s. Its name, “temple of the dragon with a magic ball”, was chosen after the King who built it had a dream before the construction began. In it, a dragon descended from the heavens holding a magic ball in its mouth.

The King Jeongju of Korea’s Joseon dynasty built the temple as a memorial and tomb to his late father.

Now, it’s a major cultural and historic site located in the city of Hwaseong, just south of Seoul…

Entering the temple grounds..

Entering the temple grounds..

Statues near the entrance

Statues near the entrance

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Our tour guide

Our tour guide

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A lion statue

A lion statue

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Upcoming celebration?

Upcoming celebration?

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Another tour group - maybe Templestay participants?

Another tour group – maybe Templestay participants?

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A pond on the temple grounds

A pond on the temple grounds

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So many Buddhas!

So many Buddhas!

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Interesting tidbit - the artwork here was inspired by the painter's visits to Europe, where he saw Orthodox Christian paintings of saints. Can  you see the similarities? (mainly the halos)

Interesting tidbit – the artwork here was inspired by the painter’s visits to Europe, where he saw Orthodox Christian paintings of saints. Can you see the similarities? (mainly the halos)

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A map to Yongjusa

A map to Yongjusa

You can get to Yongjusa through taking subway line #1 to Byeongjeom Station; about an hour and ten minute’s ride from Seoul.

Also, those interested in doing a Templestay at Yongjusa can find out more on their website here.

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Dining at Seoul’s Noryangjin Fish Market

Just before school ended a few weeks ago, some friends and I made the jaunt to Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market, located right below the centre of the Han River.

Despite the fact that the market was located a mere 10 or 15-minute bus ride from our dorms, for a few of us (myself included), this was our first time going. Noryangjin Market is a pretty major tourist site in Seoul, and a definite “must-see” while visiting the city.

One of our more passionate fellow exchange students would lead impromptu mini-tours to the market during the wholesale auction time. The thing is, these tours were a tad bit early. While I certainly would’ve loved to see the lively atmosphere and get a good deal on the fish at the same time, I just couldn’t seem to drag myself out of bed in time for these 4:00am adventures! In hindsight, and with only a few weeks left in this city, I wish I would’ve gone.

In any case, we still made it to the market!

However, it was a bit last-minute and I didn’t exactly research enough travel tips before going.

We all think we were ripped off a bit, but the food was so good and the experience was so essential that we didn’t care 🙂

Entering the market from the subway

Entering the market from the subway

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Would you like tentacles in your meal today?

Would you like tentacles in your meal today?

Stalls upon stalls

Stalls upon stalls

Where to next?

Where to next?

A fishmonger stands with his wares

A fishmonger stands with his wares

This salmon looked pretty good, so we picked up a couple filets and some lobster-ish looking things (hey, they were really good!). After meeting up with a couple other friends who’d already bought their fish, we made our way to one of the nearby restaurants to get everything all cooked up.

Nice presentation

Nice presentation

Et voila, the results! Juicy, tender salmon. I didn’t take as many photos as I would’ve liked, but you get the picture!

Possibly some of the best salmon I've ever tasted - and I'm from the Pacific Northwest!

Possibly some of the best salmon I’ve ever tasted – and I’m from the Pacific Northwest!

Of course, all of that seafood needed to be washed down with a few bottles of Korea’s finest ale, Cass. Hey, when you don’t have a nice Chardonnay for the fish, what’re you gonna do? I should mention that the conversation at this meal was conducted in French, which was super for me. Good practice, and a good ego adjustment to realize that my French isn’t as good as I sometimes like to believe it is!

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The prawn/lobster-ish things are in the centre.. Couldn’t figure out what they were, but they were good!

The restaurant even gave us a “service” (Konglish for “on-the-house”) haemul pajeon. Nice!

Focus is off :( But the haemul pajeon (seafood pancake) was pretty good!

Focus is off 😦 But the haemul pajeon (seafood pancake) was pretty good!

Overall a memorable experience.

Not sure if I’ll try to make it back to Noryangjin before I leave, as I have a sneaking suspicion that you can only get the best deals during the wholesale auction (and hey, I make no promises about being able to get up at that time!).

Also, I was able to visit Jalgachi Market in Busan during my free K-Shuttle bus tour last fall. There, I was able to stuff myself with (raw) fish for less than $10 – as opposed to this dinner in Seoul, which cost over $30.

Granted, in Busan I had a local/tour guide with me who knew the best places to go – and to be honest, we didn’t even buy anything inside the market. We went to a vendor on the street outside, which could be why we got such a good deal.

As well, we took our spoils to go and sat on a park bench instead of paying a “BYOF” (bring your own fish – lol) fee somewhere ^_^ I’m not cheap, just thrifty!! I swear it!

Anyways, if anything, a trip to Noryangjin is worth it just for the photos. It’s a lively, colourful atmosphere that you may not see back home.

Learning Gayageum at the National Gugak Center

(This is a late post I started to write almost two months ago, yet never finished!)

May 26th: For the past 12 weeks, I had the chance to participate in a program offered by the National Gugak Center (formerly: National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts; or in, Korean, 국립국악원 Gukrim Gugakwon).

Pro tip: In Korean, “ 국립/gukrim” means “national”, and “국악/gugak” means “traditional Korean music”.

This program was offered every Saturday morning from 10:30am to 12:30pm at one of the buildings at the Gugak Center.

The semester’s tuition was only 30,000 KRW ($27.50 CAD), and that included a beautifully-designed textbook and CD, featuring pieces performed by some of the musicians at the Gugak Center.

I chose to learn the gayageum, which is sort of like a long, flat guitar or harp.

First class

On our first day of class, our instructor Gee asked us why we decided to learn gayageum, and what had interested us in the gayageum in the first place.

It was a kind of hard question for me to answer. A lot of students recalled a specific event or point in time when they saw a gayageum performance, which sparked their interested in the instrument.

For me, I can’t recall a specific moment. I’ve seen gayageum performances at a bunch of different cultural sites. However, I agreed with a lot of the participants in that I was really struck by how beautiful the musician’s form is when they play the gayageum. It’s a bit hard to describe, but basically, you have to stretch your arm out in order to make the vibrato sound on the left side of the gayageum. The correct way of doing this makes the body look really feminine, elegant and graceful.

Even a few of my Korean friends made the same remark: “Oh, you’re learning gayageum? It looks so beautiful when played!”.

Anyways, I decided to join the program mainly because it was so affordable, and because learning to play a Korean traditional instrument is not something I would ever get the chance to do back home.

The program

The director of the program, Mr. Lee, was very professional and friendly. He arranged for our class to individually rent gayageums at an affordable rate. It wasn’t required, but it was an option offered to those who wanted to practice at home.

I decided to rent one for the semester, but in hindsight, I wish I would’ve played it a bit more.

While I’m definitely a night owl, my roommate preferred to sleep and wake up early, meaning that I had to find time during the day to practice (not always easy since I was either working, volunteering or in class). I know – excuses, excuses!

The course was held each Saturday from 10:30am to 12:30pm. Mr. Lee told us that many students actually end up dropping out after several classes.

This is because a lot of people began to lose interest, especially when faced with the decision of staying in bed (potentially after a long night of drinking!) vs. commuting to music lessons in the morning.

I’m happy to say that I missed only one class, and that I had a VERY good reason for it!

It took a lot of commitment, though. Sometimes the classes just seemed to drag on… and on… But I’m glad I stuck with it.

The final performance

Our classes were all leading up to one thing – our semester-end recital!

Warming up with Gee songsaenim during our dress rehersal!

Warming up with Gee songsaenim during our dress rehersal!

A quick selfie during our dress rehersal!

A quick selfie during our dress rehersal!

The other gayageum class practicing in the same room as ours at the dress rehearsal. Their teacher seemed a bit more stern/serious.

The other gayageum class practicing in the same room as ours at the dress rehearsal. Their teacher seemed a bit more stern/serious.

Held at Seoul Arts Center, we were given an honor normally reserved for Korean musicians with years of experience and training in their field – our class played on the main performance stage.

Here’s a link to the video of our group performing in the recital:

Gayageum Performance at Seoul Arts Center

cropped gugak (4 of 4)

cropped gugak (2 of 4) cropped gugak (3 of 4)

One of the other classes performing

One of the other classes performing

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What a professional performance would look like

We performed three different songs: Gyeonggi Arirang, Jindo Arirang and Sanjo Arirang (listed in order of how nice they sound/how good we were at playing them). Sadly, the video doesn’t show the first song, Gyeonggi Arirang. It’s almost like the “Edelweiss” of Korea; not a national anthem, yet still a nationally-recognized traditional song.

I’d invited a couple of my friends from school along, but the Seoul Arts Centre grounds are actually pretty hard to navigate.

Turns out they ended up in a different theatre, and saw a completely different performance XD Oh well!

We all went out for lunch afterwards with Gee, our teacher.

She took us to a noodle house (simply called “Noodles” – Foursquare link here; menu/photos on Korean blog here) a short walk from Seoul Arts Center.

The Indonesian noodles I tried were divine, and I fully intend on going back there sometime!

With Gee (to my right), and two of my classmates from Germany and Trinidad & Tobago

With Gee (to my right), and two of my classmates from Germany and Trinidad & Tobago

Yummy noodles

Yummy noodles

Gugak experience program

I would 100% recommend participating in the Gugak Experience Program for Foreigners.

It will be a bit of a commitment to get up every Saturday in time for class, but it’s definitely worth it. You will have a unique experience that you won’t get back home, and will likely meet a lot of really interesting people.

Plus, you’ll even get to perform on stage in a foreign country – how cool is that?

More info:

Click here to visit the Gugak program’s website.

If you’re in Seoul and want to check out some traditional performances at the Gugak Center, click here.

Directions to the National Gugak Center

Directions to the National Gugak Center

Some of my favourite gayageum cover videos:

My Trip to the JSA and DMZ

Recently, I won a discounted fee for one of the most popular tourist destinations in Korea: the Joint-Security Area (JSA) between North and South Korea on the DMZ.

Despite being commonly referred to as “the most dangerous place on earth”, trips to the DMZ are strikingly popular among tourists visiting South Korea.

Prior to this trip, I’d already been on two tours to different sites along the 38th parallel, separating the communist North from the capitalist South.

(Why are there two Koreas? It’s a long story – check out the video below for a summarized version)

I’d never visited the JSA before, which is arguably the most interesting stop along the border.

With American and ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers on the Southern side staring down DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) soldiers on the Northern side, the line on the ground separating these two countries seems more apparent than ever. In other words, tensions are VERY high.

That said, the rules for visiting JSA are understandably strict. For example, even though there are dozens of independent operators offering tours to other DMZ sites (such as tunnels, military museums, and observatories), only a few select government-approved tour agencies are allowed to take visitors to the JSA.

It’s not cheap, either – most JSA tours start at around $77, while other non-JSA DMZ tours can go as low as $33 (like the one I took).

That’s partly the reason I hadn’t signed up for a JSA tour since coming to Seoul (student budget!).

I did do a free DMZ tour as part of the summer Korean culture program I’d attended back in 2011. As well, I opted to go for another tour in the winter of 2012 that visited some other sites I hadn’t seen, mainly because it was offered at an affordable price ($33) through When in Korea (WiNK).

In the case of this JSA tour, offered by the Panmunjom Travel Center, I’d won a facebook draw a few days prior for a discounted fee. Normally, the cost of the tour is $77, but I only had to pay $10. The tour company occasionally uses this promo to fill up empty seats on the bus a few days before the departure.

Panmunjom Travel Deal Photo

Anyways, after receiving a facebook message confirming my spot, I sent my passport to the company. Part of visiting the JSA requires having a UN-performed background check (serious, right?). I passed, so come Friday morning I was set to go!

Shortly after arriving at the Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul, we were on our way to the first stop along the tour, Odusan Observatory.

Odusan Observatory 

Once hearing that we were visiting an observatory, I got a bit disappointed. Since I’d already visited a few others on the two other tours I went on, I thought it would be a bit boring to see the same place for a second or third time.

However, I’d never been to the Odusan Observatory. In fact, I’d have to say that it’s one of the better ones I’d visited along the DMZ.

Unlike other observatories, there wasn’t any visible North Korean “stuff” in the landscape (ex: propaganda posters, military watchtowers or outposts, etc). However, the mini museum inside the observatory was very interesting.

The view from Odusan Observatory: staring out into North Korea from the South

The view from Odusan Observatory: staring out into North Korea from the South

The focus was on life in North Korea, so they had a replica of a typical North Korean class and living room.

Typical North Korean clothes

Typical North Korean clothes

A typical/well-off North Korean home (notice the TV set, not something a lot of poor North Koreans can afford)

A typical/well-off North Korean home (notice the TV set, not something a lot of poor North Koreans can afford)

Our tour even included a Q&A with a North Korean refugee, who was a woman in her 40s or 50s. We sat in the replica classroom and asked her questions about her life back in the DPRK. I asked her what made her decide to leave, and she said (with the help of our tour guide translating) that it was the fact that her sister had already left.

It was a great follow up to the film that we were showed upon arrival, which briefly showed the history of division between the two Koreas and the state of human rights abuses in the Hermit Kingdom.

The observatory’s gift shop was pretty impressive as well, with a lot more DMZ and North Korean products available for purchase than at other tourist sites.

Entrance to Odusan Observatory

Entrance to Odusan Observatory

North Korean liquors for sale ($15-$50/bottle)

North Korean liquors for sale ($15-$50/bottle)

North Korean liquors for sale ($15-$50/bottle)

North Korean liquors for sale ($15-$50/bottle)

North Korean liquors on display

North Korean liquors on display

JSA Tour (19 of 46)

North Korean pins and stamps on display

North Korean pins and stamps on display

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The giftshop was the largest I'd seen on a DMZ tour

The giftshop was the largest I’d seen on a DMZ tour

South Korean ginseng products

South Korean ginseng products

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A monument outside the observatory

A monument outside the observatory

A statue outside the observatory

A statue outside the observatory

After wrapping up our visit at Odusan, we moved onto our next stop.

Imjingak

Now, I’m not going to say much about Imjingak, mainly since I already visited the place on my prior DMZ tour with WiNK. Granted, at that time it was covered in snow and almost devoid of any other visitors; while on this visit there was no snow to be seen and instead just droves of tourists.

I took a look at the pond, which I must’ve missed on my first visit there.

Prayers for unification at Imjingak

Prayers for unification at Imjingak

Train and tourists

Train and tourists

Gift shops and restaurants

Gift shops and restaurants

Participants on the Ministry of Environment tour

Participants on the Ministry of Environment tour

Little pond beneath the symbolic bridge between North and South Korea

Little pond beneath the symbolic bridge between North and South Korea

Something I didn't notice on my last tour - this monument is a symbolic ancestral tombstone for all North Korean refugees who cannot visit the remains of their deceased relatives back home - moving.

Something I didn’t notice on my last tour – this monument is a symbolic ancestral tombstone for all North Korean refugees who cannot visit the remains of their deceased relatives back home – moving.

After snapping some photos, I headed back to the bus, but not without running into Patricja, a Polish friend of mine from the Friends of Invest Korea program I’m in. She was there on a group trip with the Korean Ministry of Environment.

Lunch

Again, I’m not going to say much on this subject.

Since those who know me know I’m a shameless foodie, the fact that I don’t have much to say on the subject of a meal will understand that this is not a good thing.

Okay, so I can’t complain – I only paid $10 for the trip.

However, everyone else was paying $77 – and for that price, I’ve gotta say, the meal was pretty horrible.

I’ve eaten a lot of Korean BBQ since abandoning my meat-free days here, and this was pretty bad. The lettuce was limp, and there was enough grease in the table-top bulgogi pan to drown an army.

It was clear that the restaurant survives on business from DMZ tour busses, as it’s in a pretty isolated area, and all of the other diners were being herded to their tables after getting off of their own respective tour busses.

Compared to the restaurant we ate at on the DMZ tour I took with WiNK, this place was not very impressive.

Camp Bonifas

After lunch, we got back on the bus and were off to get our passports checked on the Unification Bridge.

Everything was good to go, so we continued onto Camp Bonifas, which was the military base that we would transfer busses at.

Camp Bonifas is operated by both Korean and American troops.

At this point, we were now officially in the South’s side of the DMZ. We just needed to get onto a UN-approved vehicle for our trip to the JSA.

After meeting our supervisor from the US military, we were on our way to the JSA.

Panmunjom – the Joint Security Area

Finally, we’d arrived at the main attraction of the tour – the JSA.

As mentioned earlier, everything was super strict. Back at Camp Bonifas, one of the tourists had to change out of his shorts and into a pair of pants.

It appeared that I was one of the few tourists that actually took the JSA dress code seriously, but in general they were pretty flexible with it.

The dress code prohibits visitors from wearing: t-shirts, miniskirts, shorts, heels, exercise clothes, slippers, faded jeans, tights, leggings, and trousers. Previously, I thought the reason for this was partly due to safety concerns (ex: a woman wearing heels isn’t exactly in the best position to make a break for it, just in case shots get fired).

According to our tour guide, the dress code exists in case the North decides to feature any of the tourists in state propaganda.

Those who dress “sloppy” make perfect fodder for the North’s favoured depiction of American (or other Western) foreigners.

Additionally, we were instructed not to make any gestures (ex: pointing, waving, etc) towards the North Korean guards. This was for the same reason – those who are shown waiving risk being depicted as “someone wanting to defect to the North” by the DRPK’s propaganda artists.

After being given these briefings, we made our way – single file – to the JSA.

We were quickly shuffled into the Freedom House Military Armistice Commission Building, where one can put one foot “into North Korea”, and one foot into South Korea.

South Korean guards were in the building to keep watch, and much like the British bobbies in London, they’re supposed to keep still in the ready position – a perfect photo opp for tacky tourists like me!

Standing with a South Korean guard

Standing with a South Korean guard

Photos!

Photos!

The centre table

The centre table

This building is used for signing official documents and to have UN-monitored meetings. Since it’s half in North Korea, half in South Korea, it makes for a fairly neutral meeting space.

After taking a few photos in the Armistice Commission Building, we moved outside.

I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t as many North Korean guards as I had expected (based on different YouTube videos I’ve watched), but it was still cool to see.

The JSA!

The JSA!

JSA Tour (44 of 46)

A North Korean guard

A North Korean guard

Before you can say “bomb threat”, we were shuffled out and back into our tour bus.

From there, were were back on our way to Seoul.

Summary

All in all, it was a good trip.

I liked that they brought a North Korean refugee along with us to answer questions; it was probably a great experience for those who only had a week or two to spend in Korea.

Additionally, I liked that we were back in Seoul by 4:30pm. Everything ran very smoothly.

Would I recommend Panmunjom Travel Center?

If you must see the JSA, then yes. The fact that they brought along a North Korean refugee was quite memorable. The tour guide was alright – not fantastic, but not horrible.

If you just want to be able to gaze out into North Korea and buy some North Korean souvenirs, then I’d recommend taking a tour with When in Korea (WiNK).

Though not regularly offered, WiNK’s DMZ trips are affordable and cram a LOT into a one-day tour; around double the sites that the standard DMZ tour operators normally offer.

How can I get an 85%-off travel deal to visit the JSA?

Simply like the Panmunjom Travel Center on facebook, and keep your eyes peeled for their next deal.

Students can get a discounted rate of $65 to go on this tour.

Sundays in Seoul: Club Italia’s Pranzo Domenicale

On Sunday March 17th, a few friends and I decided to head to the Pranzo Domenicale (“Sunday lunch”) offered by Seoul’s Club Italia. When I was doing my internship at WorknPlay, one of the other interns suggested that I check out this weekly luncheon, which is held in the basement of Seoul’s Franciscan School (map below):

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Reservations must be made a few days in advance via their facebook group – Club Italia Seoul. They can be reached via email at clubitaliaseul@gmail.com. In addition to the Sunday lunches, Club Italia also has started hosting weekly Italian pizza & movie nights (held Thursdays).

The menu for the Pranzo Domenicale is set, and changes weekly. The charge is 15,000w (about $14 CAD) which is actually quite reasonable.

At most “Italian” restaurants in Seoul, you would pay that amount for one dish; the quality of which being nowhere near the level of Club Italia’s. You really cannot beat home-cooked food, especially when the choice is between authentic Italian vs. “gorogonjola pijja” served with a side of honey. Or – even worse – salad pizza, a highly disturbing phenomenon which is beginning to gain more ground here in Korea.

Anyways, I digress – here was the menu from March 17th:

APERITIVO
Aperitivo del Club

PRIMO (First course)
Spaghetti al pomodorino fresco
(Spaghetti pasta with fresh tomatoes)

SECONDO (Second course)
Petti di pollo ripieni con spinaci, mozzarella e prosciutto
(Chicken breast stuffed with ham, mozzarella cheese and spinach)

CONTORNO
Pure’, bietole e insalata mista
(Mashed potatoes, chard and mixed salad)

DOLCE (dessert)
Macedonia di frutta fresca
(fresh fruit salad)

Caffé espresso
(the best you can find in Seoul!)

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The spaghetti

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Some friends in line for the self-serve meal.

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Seoul’s Italian families convening for a weekly community meal.

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Victor (a French student from Paris’s EPITECH school) striking a pose

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My plate

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The best chicken I’ve EVER had. This was kind of like a cordon bleu – chicken breast stuffed with cheese, prusciotto, spinach, and cooked to perfection. It was so tender and moist that it seemed to just melt in my mouth… Can you believe I was meat-free for six years??

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A basket of bread was served to every table. I didn’t get any photos of the dessert, or my espresso – which I spilled, promptly after taking one sip and being momentarily transported to coffee heaven. At least I know it was good for next time!

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After the lunch ended, I made my way to Itaewon as I had to meet with a friend to talk about our upcoming trip to BALI! On my way to the cafe, I passed by this sign at la Cigale Montmartre, a popular French restaurant in Seoul’s foreigner district.

Next post: Attacking the crepe/brunch buffet at la Cigale!

Sundays in Seoul: Free Cooking Class at CJ Food World

 

This past Sunday I attended a free cooking class at CJ Food World, in Dongdaemun, a famous shopping area in northeastern Seoul.

 

CJ Food World is the national headquarters of brands like Tous les Jours (Canadians: think a French-inspired, self-serve version of Tim Horton’s) and Twosome Place (a Starbucks-esque “dessert cafe”). They also have an in-house cooking studio, where the class I was in took place.

 

I found out about the cooking class through a group called Community Korea. They have a very active facebook presence, and regularly advertise events, contests, and sales for foreigners. This was the first time I’d attended one of the events they’d promoted, and I was really excited. I’d won the class from an online draw (been so lucky lately!).

So, I took a bus from outside my school right to the CJ Food HQ:

CJ Food World  Upon arriving, we were led into a meeting room which had free coffee and tea (silly me, I’d already spent $4 on a soy vanilla latte – but in my defense, it’s not often you see one of those on a cafe menu here in Korea!).

 

After the meeting room, we were ushered into the cooking studio, where we began cooking our Lunar New Year-themed dishes, “doenjang goggi buchu jeon” (soybean pancake with chives) and “haemul beoseot soondubu jeongol” (Seafood & mushroom soft tofu stew).

 

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The chef presented a lively and engaging cooking demo. His English was really good; turns out he’d spent several years as a restauranteur in the US.

ƒÌ≈∑≈¨∑°Ω∫130203copix43We were supposed to pair up, so I went with a girl I’d met at an event the weekend prior; 10 Magazine’s Sunday book club (which featured Michael Breen, author of “the Koreans”).

That’s us below:ƒÌ≈∑≈¨∑°Ω∫130203copix25

Our dishes!

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The rest of the participants…ƒÌ≈∑≈¨∑°Ω∫130203copix28

All in all, it was a lot of fun! The organizers had altered the dishes a bit to make them appeal to foreign tastes though. A couple of us noticed this, as the mixture they’d provided actually had sugar added, giving the pancakes an unusually sweet flavour.  As well, we were given beef to use in our pancakes, another non-traditional addition to the original Korean recipe. The chef noted during the demo that they wanted to “spoil” us foreigners (hence the beef), but I think many of us would’ve just preferred the traditional version! But, it was so thoughtful of them to go the extra mile.

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The chef explained several times throughout the demo that since Korean food is too often overshadowed by “sushi” (Japanese food) and Chinese food, the goal of the class was to try and make Korean food appeal more to foreigners. Part of this was promoting a new line of products, which essentially cut out half of the prep involved in cooking many popular Korean foods (which traditionally take more work than other Asian cuisines). Some of these included Korean BBQ marinades, soup stocks, and hotteok (Korean sugar pancake) mix.

To cap off the lesson, we all gathered for a few photo ops coordinated by a very serious Korean photographer. Actually, it kind of reminded me of the “Suntory Time” scene from one of my favourite movies, “Lost in Translation” (clip below).

Of course, it was very different because it was set in Japan, and my cooking class was in Korea 🙂 Korea and Japan are very different. Dokdo is Korean. My Korean friends would be very proud of me right now 🙂

ƒÌ≈∑≈¨∑°Ω∫130203copix03Some of the products that we used:ƒÌ≈∑≈¨∑°Ω∫130203copix05

Anyways, probably the best part of the day was getting the freebie pack they sent us home with! Holy guacamole, Korea LOVES too give out free stuff to foreigners!

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What the f-ck am I going to do with all this kimchi… It’s a non-resealable bag, by the way.

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They even gave us thank you cards!

“Thank you for your time” – seriously? You gave us a free cooking class, plus what I’m estimating was around 30,000w ($30) worth of free samples. My pleasure!

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Korean Cosmetics Haul #2 (Face Shop, Innisfree, Skinfood, Etude House, Too Cool for School)

So, after being here in Seoul for six months, I’ve found some pretty good (and pretty horrible) Korean cosmetic products.

The biggest things I’ve learned? Well, Korean mascara is horrible (although I can’t say I wasn’t warned), hair products are generally non-existent (specifically heat protect) and I should’ve started using Skinfood earlier.

I’d actually been avoiding Skinfood for a while because their whole brand and packaging “look” never appealed to me. Actually, it seemed kind of tacky. I knew the premise was that most of the products were made from food products (quinoa body lotion, ginseng face mask, sugar cookie blush, etc) but I never thought of going in until I read some good things about a few of their products online. After buying the products, I was very impressed. They also gave me a ton of freebies – as in, more than you’d usually get at a Korean cosmetics shop – so of course that had a positive influence on me!

The products I’m going to review today are:

  • Innisfree: No-Sebum Mineral Powder ★★★★★
  • Etude House: Drawing Show Brush Liner ★★★
  • Too Cool for School: Dinoplatz Lost Identity Lipstick ★★★
  • Etude House: Lash Perm Volume Mascara ★
  • The Face Shop: Anti-Trouble Spot ★★
  • The Face Shop: Face It – Oil Concealer, Dual Veil ★★★★
  • The Face Shop: Tea Tree Oil Spot Corrector ★
  • The Face Shop: Blemish Zero – Clarifying Toner ★★★
  • Skinfood: Black Sugar Scrub ★★★★★
  • Skinfood: Argan Oil Silk Hair Mask Pack ★★★★
  • The Face Shop: One Step BB Cleanser (Cleansing Oil – Foam) ★★★

My apologies for not putting them in order!

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Innisfree: No-Sebum Mineral Powder ★★★★★

Definitely an HG product! I think it’s supposed to be used more as blot powder, but I’ve started using it as an all-over finishing powder instead of MAC’s Mineralize Skinfinish Natural. The two are very similar, except MAC’s version costs $25 CAD and Innisfree’s costs 8,000w (roughly $6.50 CAD), in addition to coming with a free applicator. Definitely going to stock up when I got back to Canada!

Pros: Lasts long, goes on sheer (good for any skin tone), really fights oil.

Cons: Pretty small, but still good for its value.

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Etude House: Drawing Show Brush Liner ★★★

So, previously I was using the Revlon Colorstay Liquid Liner (after having downgraded from MAC’s version, nearly triple the price). I’ve since downgraded to the Etude House version, and I find it’s pretty comparable.

Pros: Lasts long, easy to apply

Cons: Not as dark as MAC’s or Revlon’s version. I also prefer the stubbier applicator from Revlon as opposed to the longer one from Etude House (kind of between MAC and Revlon).

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Too Cool for School: Dinoplatz Lost Identity Lipstick ★★★

So the packaging here was just too awesome. I’d read about this lipstick that starts off green, then changes colour to match your lips. Had to buy it. However, when I applied it on my lips, it became too dark. I don’t like wearing a lot of colour on my lips because I usually go pretty dark with my eyes.

Pros: Awesome packaging

Cons: Expensive; too dark.

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Etude House: Lash Perm Volume Mascara ★

Easily the worst mascara I’ve ever used. Clumpy, hard to apply, and just generally horrible. I tried using it then removed it immediately after. The stuff is awful.

Pros: Nothing (maybe the packaging, which I fell for)

Cons: Crappy applicator, super clumpy

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The Face Shop: Anti-Trouble Spot ★★

I don’t have much to say about this; it’s not that great. It’s not horrible either; but it just doesn’t get rid of my acne. I’ve been using it together with the Tea Tree Oil Spot Corrector, so maybe I’ll try using it on its own in the future. I bought it because it was on sale.

Pros: Meh.

Cons: Meh.

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The Face Shop: Face It – Oil Concealer, Dual Veil ★★★★

AMAZING, simply amazing. This stuff rocks! Covers up even the worst spots and under-eye circles. I’ve heard some people comparing it to Urban Decay or MAC, which is why I bought it. Affordable and super effective. Great design too.

Pros: Cheap, lasts long, great dual-applicator tips.

Cons: Nothing really.

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The Face Shop: Tea Tree Oil Spot Corrector ★

Also a “meh” product, bought solely because it was on sale. Produces no noticeable results.

Pros: Meh.

Cons: Mehh.

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The Face Shop: Blemish Zero Clarifying Toner 

A pretty decent product; good for the people like me who want to reduce redness (but not bleach the face in the process). Got it on sale a few months ago; great value for size.

Pros: Reduces redness and trouble spots “sans-brightening” (aka: non-bleaching)

Cons: Not all that strong

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Skinfood: Black Sugar Scrub Foam 

This product warrants a heart-felt OMG. Wow. Seriously though, this is my new HG scrub. It works magically. My skin is SO soft after using it, and my foundation/primer even goes on easier the morning after. I only use it about once a week. It’s one of Skinfood’s top sellers.

Pros: Doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin, produces AWESOME results, little product needed. Also very affordable!!

Cons: None!!!

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Skinfood: Argan Oil – Silk Hair Mask Pack 

This treatment is pretty awesome. Not quite as effective as my HG hair treatment (Healthy Sexy Hair Soy Tri-Wheat Treatment) but still pretty good. It’s hard to find decent hair products in Korea. Maybe it’s because all Korean girls have enviably thick and shiny hair naturally and don’t need to use treatments, heat protect, and the like. In any case, this mask pack is a lifesaver. Works great on my extensions.

Pros: Cheap. Works well, makes hair shiny without weighing it down.

Cons: You need to use a lot of product to get results.

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The Face Shop: One Step BB Cleanser (Cleansing Oil – Foam) 

Finally a half-decent product that doesn’t turn my skin into a pasty mess or make me break out! Hurray. It cleanses deep without irritating the skin. Definitely going to buy it again.

Pros: Removes foundation really well. Good for sensitive skin.

Cons: Not that great for reducing trouble.

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A Trip to Ani Land (the Studio Ghibli Store) in COEX

Today I visited a store I’d been wanting to go to for a long time… “Ani Land” in COEX, Seoul’s biggest mall. Ani Land carries collectibles from Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation company with a cult following. Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Howl’s Moving Castle are all my favourite Ghibli films.

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Outside of the store…

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…And inside

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Everything was SO expensive though! I was really disappointed. Even the keychains cost upwards of $15. Everything was imported from Japan.

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The photos are poor quality because I’m still not 100% comfortable taking pictures inside specialty shops like this. I forget that I’m in Asia, where it’s okay to do that. In Canada the manager will usually have a hissy fit – buy something or get out.

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A whole cabinet filled with Kiki’s Delivery Service stuff. I wanted the mug!! It’s the same one Kiki buys in the movie.IMG_0991

Lots of figurines… Spirited Away on the far right

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Stupid expensive stuffed animals. I wanted a stuffed Gigi (the black cat) from Kiki’s Delivery Service, but the smallest one was $13; the regular one was $30. Just couldn’t justify it.

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Not Ghibli related, but still cute!

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Giant Totoro in the window

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More Totoro stuff

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Totoro Wreath

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A giant beer in the movie theatre lobby as I was walking out of the Ghibli store

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Finished my shopping trip with an udon + sushi set. Ready 5 mins after I ordered, not bad.

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The planner was only $12 so I treated myself. So cute!!!IMG_1007 IMG_1008 IMG_1009

….And a Totoro one for a fellow Ghibli-obsessesd girlfriend back home

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Birthday Love from Canada + a trip to High Street Market

Yesterday, after two months of eager anticipation, I received my birthday package from Canada!

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There were a ton of cards from family members, winter gloves, smoked salmon, Straight Sexy Hair heat protect, Healthy Sexy hair soy wheat treatment, and a mickey of Crown Royal! So awesome.

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Mmm… maple salmon… I’m going to save one pack until the exam period for late night snacking with my roomie, and another pack for Christmas.

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Canadian whiskey!

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These gloves were super popular during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. They sold out everywhere because they were so comfy and warm! They look super great too.

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Because of the salmon, I decided to buy rice crackers and chive & onion Philly cheese dip (my preferred flavour is the low-cal herb & garlic cream cheese, a cheaper and less-fattening version of Boursin, but I could only find the plain and chive & onion ones!).

Anyways, I had to make a special trip to the foreigner district of Seoul (Itaewon) for these “speciality” products. I actually haven’t been to Itaewon too much. As one of my other foreigner friends described it, it’s basically like Korea’s “Americatown”. I took a trip to the famous High Street Market there, which is the most popular foreign food shop in the city.

High Street Market - photo from jseseoulsearching.blogspot.kr
High Street Market – photo from jseseoulsearching.blogspot.kr

The prices weren’t too bad; the crackers and cheese were about the same I’d pay at a Thrifty Foods in Canada, and I was excited to see that they sold Reese cups! However, these were most certainly not cheap – I’m talking like $20 for a medium-sized bag (something that would probably cost $5 in Canada). I love Reese, but I don’t love them that much!

High Street Market
High Street Market

This photo is from their facebook page. HSM has a deli section and also sells frozen meats, baking supplies, pastas, snacks, import beer & wines, among many other things. HSM is also sponsoring a fundraiser I’m helping plan with Justice for North Korea (a local human rights NGO based here in Seoul) so they’re obviously a socially-concious business! HSM was actually a bit smaller than I’d expected, just based on the hype, but there were lots of goodies that I’ll likely by back for… But couldn’t find any Kraft Dinner. Bummer!