Lazy Sunday at the Hyundai Department Store’s Skygarden

As my time in Seoul is slowly coming to a close, I’ve been making a bucketlist of activities to do before leaving. Now that I’ve been here for a year, it’s almost like doing the whole “tourist in your own town” thing – and what better of a place to be a tourist than Seoul?

With a raging hangover as part of my last Saturday night in Seoul the night prior, I decided to buck up, get on the bus and go to the Hyundai Department Store in Apgujeong. I’d heard that on the rooftop they have a grass lawn and café, and I wanted to check that out.

So, with a pounding headache and a purse packed with the essentials (camera, laptop, cellphone), I went to take the bus from Sinnonhyeon to Apgujeong.

Hyundai Department Store from outside

Hyundai Department Store from outside

After a short 20-minute bus ride, I’d arrived in Apgujeong. While my plan was to go directly to Hyundai Department Store, something else caught my eye. The building right next door said “Gangnam Tourist Information Center Grand Opening” on the front. I didn’t even know that there was a tourist info center in Gangnam, so I decided to make a quick detour and look inside.

The Gangnam Tourist Center; newly-opened on June 26th, 2013

The Gangnam Tourist Center; newly-opened on June 26th, 2013

I knew that the 2013 Seoul Summer Sale was currently underway, so I went inside to ask for a coupon book. The girl at the front desk gave me one, plus a free cosmetic sampler and face mask from Etude House (a popular Korean cosmetic chain store). Then she handed me a free bottle of banana milk, which tasted like heaven on such a hot and humid day.

I decided to take a little browse around. It looks like the main purpose of this tourist info branch is to promote medical tourism. Makes sense, since there are so many high quality clinics around Gangnam, largely popular with Asian tourists from China, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Since it was a Sunday afternoon, the medical consultants and interpreters who would normally be manning these booths were away. Not a huge deterrent to me, since my budget for the week doesn’t exactly include plastic surgery!

Also, there’s a KEB currency exchange booth located next to the in-house Tom ‘n’ Tom’s café.

I decided to look around a bit more…

The medical tourism consultation zone

The medical tourism consultation zone

More info on medical tourism in Gangnam

More info on medical tourism in Gangnam

Computers for visitor use, free of charge

Computers for visitor use, free of charge

Café and seating for visitors

Café and seating for visitors

Brochures on Gangnam attractions, and an ad for Hyundai Department Store's "100-Day Time Letter Service"

Brochures on Gangnam attractions, and an ad for Hyundai Department Store’s “100-Day Time Letter Service”

Map of Gangnam and its various districts

Map of Gangnam and its various districts

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (9 of 49)

My swag: coupon book for the 2013 Seoul Summer Sale, a copy of SEOUL Magazine with Mimsie Ladner of "Seoul Searching" blog on the cover, free cosmetics, and a free banana milk

My swag: coupon book for the 2013 Seoul Summer Sale, a copy of SEOUL Magazine with Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching blog on the cover, free cosmetics, and a free banana milk

I realized after I came home though, that there’s a second floor in the center! The main focus there is “hallyu” (the Korean Wave). You can buy K-drama sets, K-pop CDs, get your makeup done, and buy souvenirs.

Here’s a map for both floors:

Gangnam Tourist Information Center - 1F (Photo: Visit Seoul)

Gangnam Tourist Information Center – 1F (Photo: Visit Seoul)

Gangnam Tourist Information Center - 2F (Photo: Visit Seoul)

Gangnam Tourist Information Center – 2F (Photo: Visit Seoul)

After I’d had enough time looking around at the tourist info center, I made my way next door:

Entrance to Hyundai Department Store

Entrance to Hyundai Department Store

The flagship Hyundai Department Store is directly connected to Apgujeong Station (Line 3). The first floor houses the store’s cosmetic booths. The food court is located on B1. My plan was to grab a snack and head up to the fifth floor Skygarden Café.

Tiffany & Co inside the Hyundai Department Store

Tiffany & Co inside the Hyundai Department Store

Various international and Korean-brand cosmetics on the first floor

Various international and Korean-brand cosmetics on the first floor

Take the escalators down to B1, where you'll find the food court

Take the escalators down to B1, where you’ll find the food court

Department store shopping is a popular activity in Korea. Every store has its own food floor, which I’ve noticed is essentially divided up into three sections: the “market” area, made up of different stalls selling fresh food and drinks; the food court, made up of a variety of restaurants (sushi, Japanese curry, noodle soup, Western, etc) where customers order and pay at a centralized cashier booth, then sit down and wait for their number to be called; and the grocery store.

Admittedly, I’ve always been a bit scared of intimidated of ordering up there (yet I will get on a motorcycle sans-helmet with a stranger in a developing country, eat live squid, or fly across the world to live with a family I’ve never met before – yep, weird logic!). So, I just stuck to the food court.

I must say BEWARE: if you are indecisive like me, choosing something from the food court will not be a quick task! From French blueberry cheesecake, to Chinese fried prawns, to traditional Korean snacks, there is truly something for everyone here.

Candied apples at the food court

Candied apples at the food court

One of the bakery stalls - the crêpe cake looked pretty good!

One of the bakery stalls – the crêpe cake looked pretty good!

Gourmet Korean rice cakes - much more colourful and detailed than average ones!

Gourmet Korean rice cakes – much more colourful and detailed than average ones!

A more "traditional" stall - they sell different varieties of kimchi, and are a little more loud/agressive in their sales techniques ^^

A more “traditional” stall – they sell different varieties of kimchi, and are a little more loud/agressive in their sales techniques ^^

Gift packs for any occasion. I like the meat one!

Gift packs for any occasion. I like the meat one!

Another traditional stall - these guys were selling one of my favourite Korean foods, sweet, chewy rice cakes (tteok).

Another traditional stall – these guys were selling one of my favourite Korean foods, sweet, chewy rice cakes (tteok).

Making the rice cakes

Making the rice cakes

The sit-down/restaurant area of the food court

The sit-down/restaurant area of the food court

More gourmet rice cakes (tteok), with prices to match! This box was about $40, whereas at an average store, they'd probably be about $15-$20

More gourmet rice cakes (tteok), with prices to match! This box was about $40, whereas at an average store, they’d probably be about $15-$20

More gourmet rice cakes (tteok). I like the rose one!

More gourmet rice cakes (tteok). I like the rose one!

Women browsing the international and domestic cheeses section

Women browsing the international and domestic cheeses section

French cheese!

French cheese!

French cheese!

French cheese!

Gourmet chocolates

Gourmet chocolates

Gourmet cooking vineggars

Gourmet cooking vinegars

Kitchenwares for sale on the same floor as the food court. To the left are traditional Korean serving bowls. Quite smart, actually - the metal keeps cold food cold, and hot food hot.

Kitchenwares for sale on the same floor as the food court. To the left are traditional Korean serving bowls. Quite smart, actually – the metal keeps cold food cold, and hot food hot.

Finally, I made a decision: I wanted something sweet, refreshing and preferably a bit cool. Gelato seemed like a good fit, so I chose the mint flavour and made my way up to the fifth floor.

I didn’t take any photos, but the fifth floor actually houses a number of sit-down style restaurants indoors. I thought the Skygarden was the only place on that floor, and was a bit surprised to see otherwise when I got there. It took a while to find too, since the place is set up like a maze and there wasn’t a huge sign saying “SKYGARDEN THIS WAY”.

I found it, though!

Pure bliss! If only it hadn't been so humid and hot.

Pure bliss! If only it hadn’t been so humid and hot.

I chose a table and went to go buy a coffee from the café. At 4,000w ($4) for an ice coffee, it wasn’t exactly cheap. Although these are Gangnam prices, I suppose.

My mint gelato - so nice!

My mint gelato – so nice!

My little gelato cone

My little gelato cone

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (36 of 49)

I’m not really sure what these tree things were supposed to be!

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (37 of 49) Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (38 of 49)

Tree decorations

Tree decorations

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (40 of 49) Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (41 of 49)

The garden seemed to be really popular with families. Parks, or just general community green spaces are very hard to come by in Seoul. This place is a bit of a hidden oasis.

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (42 of 49)

Art on one of the walls

Art on one of the walls

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (44 of 49)

Lots of chairs to hang out in

Lots of chairs to hang out in

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (46 of 49)

My little work station

My little work station

Hyundai Dept Store - Skygarden (48 of 49)

Father and son kicking a soccer ball

Father and son kicking a soccer ball

The Skygarden at the Apgujeong Hyundai Department Store is definitely worth a quick visit.

Here are the details:

  • Directions: Apgujeong station, line #3 (orange line), exit 6. Hyundai Department Store is directly connected to the station. Skygarden is on the 5th floor; food court is in B1.
  • Hours: 10:30am to 8:00pm; closed one Monday a month (chosen randomly)
  • Website: http://www.ehyundai.com/newPortal/eng/dp_main_01.jsp?swfseq=0
Map to Hyundai Department Store (Photo: Vist Korea)

Map of Apgujeong area – Hyundai Department store is at the top left (Photo: Vist Korea)

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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.

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!

SIWA (Seoul International Women’s Association) Annual Bazaar

Today I visted SIWA’s Annual Bazaar and had the chance to browse around the stalls run by various embassies and cultural groups.  I picked up some cheap Korean language books and got showered in freebies, tried the Indian stall’s chickpea curry (but all the naan bread was gone T^T) and had perhaps the BEST dessert I’ve ever tasted: South African cheesecake! Had to pick up some authentic North American baked goods from the US table (which looked straight out of a county fair bake sale). Didn’t buy any Tim Horton’s coffee that the Canadian table was offering though; I feel like a traitor to my people!

I’d found out about SIWA (Seoul International Women’s Association) via facebook last week. One of their sub-groups, Cultural Connections, was having a private event featuring a representative from NKHR (the Citizen’s Committee on North Korean Human Rights) the next day, and since I’m so interested in the situation in North Korea, as well as the work that NKHR does, I figured I’d try to attend. Sadly, the event was “members-only” and the $60 membership fee seemed to expensive to pay without having attended any sort of prior event to get a feel for the group. So, I decided to email them (VERY short notice) about paying a student rate. They replied and told me I could attend the Cultural Connections event for FREE. How nice was that?

The event was held at a SIWA member’s home in Itaewon, surrounded by beautiful houses, European-style bistros, and various embassies from around the world. The event was very intimate, and I think I will pay the membership fee. The only bad part is that most SIWA events are held during the daytime, and as a student living in the largest metropolitan area in the world, I won’t always have time to go to their events between classes. Last week though, I was able to, and I’m so glad I did. The women were very kind and welcoming, and the presentation (which focussed on the situation of children in North Korea) was incredibly moving.

ANYWAYS, fast forward one week later to the Bazaar – I got a little confused finding the museum, but thanks to my trusty TripAdvisor app,  I was able to find my way there eventually. I saw a “visibly foreign-looking” lady who kept walking around confusedly in the same area I was, so I asked if she was headed to the Bazaar and it turned out that she was. We walked there together and then went our separate ways…

The main hall of the Seoul Museum of History where the event was held.

The bazaar was divided up into two areas: the main area with various national booths, selling everything from jewelry, to apparel, to books, to sweets, to national crafts, liqueur, and more… The other area was the food court!

The first table I saw: Ukraine

This one was from the Nordic Women’s Club, featuring Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.

The Bazaar was SO busy! There were about an even amount of foreigners and Koreans.

And now.. onto the food court!

The food court was a festival of foreign tastes and flair, as many countries took the opportunity the present their national cuisine with pride to the event’s many attendees…

Of course, I had to visit Canada’s table first!

Loved the tablecloth..

 

Canada was serving up roast beef sandwiches with potato salad, and to drink: Tim Horton’s coffee!

To calculate the amounts, just remove a zero off the end and change the comma to a period – et voilà, a rough equivalent of what the price is in Canadian or American dollars (ex: the coffee was roughly $2).

Next was the South African booth, which was definitely the best-decorated! It caught my eye immediately so I decided to go take a gander…

The display was pretty cool!

I’d never heard of Hunter’s before, but it sounded really nice. I’m still getting used to the whole concept of being able to drink during the daytime (in Canada, I drive nearly everywhere and have a license that prohibits me from having any alcohol in my bloodstream). I quickly remembered that I was taking the subway back to school, and decided to come back after doing a lap around the room to try some of this yummy-sounding booze. I did make it back to the SA table, however, I totally forgot to buy a bottle of Hunter’s!

I was having a sweet tooth craving, and as soon as I realized that I’d never tasted South African food before, grabbing a dessert from the table’s impressive selection of goodies just seemed logical!

The guys there recommended the cheesecake – it was the last piece so I thought it must be good! And boy, was it ever! I’ve had a lot of desserts in my day (again, just an insatiable sweet tooth!) and this probably ranks in my top 10 – perhaps the best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted.

They also gave me a free shot of Amarula, South African liqueur. What a delicious way to wash it down! I’d never had that liqueur before.

The lady who baked the cheesecake has a facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/103982269694930/

Perhaps I’ll have to order another cake when Christmas comes around 🙂

For lunch, I took a trip to the Indian table and decided to try some of their curried chickpeas and naan. Sadly, the naan bread had sold out, so I had their jasmine rice instead – a nice change from the sticky white rice eaten most often in Korea. I’m not a huge fan of the stuff.

It was good! However, there was barely any room to sit in the food court as it was so crowded…

…So, I decided to sit outside. The fall colours were breathtaking.

On my way out from the food court, I saw how HUGE the line for Turkey’s kebab station had grown! Obviously a popular selection!

On my way to see the other booths, I passed by Germany’s. They were selling advent calendars for $10 a piece!

Here was Canada’s booth – selling Timmy’s coffee, maple syrup, and some books.

The Canadian Women’s Club (CWC) had organized this table – even had a mini Remembrance Day display.

In true geographic style, across from Canada’s booth was the US’s. It looked like it was straight out of a county fair! Decent baked goods are hard to come by here in Seoul, as the price for butter is so high. Yes, you can buy cookies at nearly any of the countless convenience stores or chain bakeries that dot the streets of Seoul, but what you end up with is a cookie devoid of any moisture – biting into a hockey puck might be a more pleasant experience (but at least the hockey puck wouldn’t crumble all over you..)

And, of course, since our cooking facilities in the dorms are limited to a single microwave per floor, it’s not like I have the option of baking at home.

It was way too hard to choose which things I wanted! The prices were quite reasonable, but I didn’t want to empty my wallet on cookies that I would gobble up in a matter of days 🙂 There were sugar cookies, those little peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses on them, ginger snaps, lemon zucchini and pumpkin bread, pumpkin tarts, snickerdoodles, raisin cookies, and the list goes on! I decided on ginger snaps and snickerdoodles, although I was seriously eyeing up some of that lemon zucchini bread! Willpower, willpower…

This was the venue for the event, the Seoul Museum of History in the city’s Gwanghwamun district.

My goodies!

The ginger snaps and snickerdoodles 🙂 I shared the ginger snaps with a couple American classmates in my Project Management class right after coming back from the bazaar. Aaaaaand then I ate all of them 😛 So much for “willpower”. There’s only half a snickerdoodle left too; I’m saving the one full cookie that’s left for my roommate. We have this cool system where we randomly give each other food. It’s great.

The books I picked up at a Korean publisher’s booth. The two language ones were 40% off, and the culture book was only $3. It’s got a lot of useful history in there which I’m planning on using in some future essays.

These were all the freebies they gave me for buying the books! I was distracted and looking at some other things while they were bagging my books, so I didn’t even realize they’d given me these until I got back home – I know, super observant right? They gave me a couple folders, a calendar, a pen and a catalogue of their merchandise.

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What a fun day at the Bazaar! I was actually surprised to see so many Koreans there; I don’t know why. But here’s one thing I do know: it’s events like these that bring cultures together and help eliminate prejudice, especially at the grassroots level.