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Retail therapy for the Seoul

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.: Retail therapy for the Seoul

Monday, July 2, 2012

Retail therapy for the Seoul

Living in Korea has taught me a few important lessons. One lesson that I have learned to no small degree is that sometimes you just need to have a weekend away from your normal routine.

Daegu is a nice city and all, but if you ask any Korean they'll tell you that it's probably the most staunchly conservative and foreigner-unfriendly of the big cities in Korea. Both Carolyn and I have recently had it with the blatant disrespect shown to us by our students when they see us on the street, the stares of drunken senior citizens, and the constant gasps of surprise from other people who live in the neighborhood that somehow are still surprised to see a foreigner in the area even after two years of several foreigners living on the block.  These things aren't usually enough to really bother us, but they do build up over time and require some relief in order to regain your patience and a generally care-free disposition.

When you take these little frustrations into consideration and add in the fact that we've both lost quite a bit of weight in the last few months and need some new clothes, there's really only one reasonable outcome, and that's a trip away from home.

We originally planned an engagement photo shoot for Saturday in Busan, but the photographer was concerned about the predicted onset of the monsoon, so we're going to try and reschedule for sometime in August. Carolyn had been especially looking forward to having a weekend getaway as she had to take care of me during my week of incapacitation after the kidney stone hell of a couple of weeks ago. So what did we do? We didn't go to Busan, we’ve been there quite a few times already this year. We didn't stay in Daegu to shop the knock-offs of brand names that Korea’s textile capital has to offer either. Instead, we headed up to Seoul for a weekend of shopping and relaxing in a nicely international and progressive city.

Saturday morning Carolyn woke up at about 6:00 and went for a run. It seemed the monsoon had truly arrived with light rains and the humidity we've so happily not felt this summer. We took showers, cleaned the apartment a little and headed to the train station to catch our KTX to Seoul.

I love travel days and always get myself a little treat for the rails. Dongdaegu Station has a Dunkin’ Donuts we always stop at, and this time I ignored the weird vegetable flavored donuts and instead ordered an item I’ve discovered on the menu here in Korea that I hope is also available in the US, the sausage burrito. This thing is probably a poor choice for someone who recently had a kidney stone, as it’s chock full of animal proteins and certainly sodium as well. Imagine a chili-cheese dog with rice wrapped in a warm tortilla and grilled. Yummo. That's what I call train food. After our little treat we boarded our super fast train for Seoul. An hour and a half of rice paddies and tunnels later we arrived at Seoul Station.

Seoul Station is one of my favorite places in Korea because it’a almost always a hub for some adventure we’re embarking on. It's always abuzz with movement, life, and noise. A few subway stops later and we were checking into our hotel in Sinchon, a neighborhood placed near lots of good shopping and dining options.

If you are a couple traveling on a budget and you want to spend a night or a week in Seoul, I’s suggest staying at the WS Hotel in Sinchon. It costs roughly the same as a private room in any of Seoul’s hostels, the desk clerk speaks English very well, and the service is pretty extraordinary for a small hotel in Korea. We screwed up and reserved a single room, and they upgraded us to a double at no additional charge. On top of that they gave us a cool gift upon check in! The location is nice too, with lots of good eats within a block and one of Seoul’s biggest bar and club districts only one subway stop away. We grabbed lunch at a Taco Bell (none of those on Daegu) while they cleaned our room (we were early), dropped our bags off, and headed to the Coex Mall for a few hours of American style mall bliss.

Coex Mall - Seoul's largest underground shopping center.
Coex was a little bit of a disappointment. Carolyn found some cool accessories, but neither of us wanted to spend much at boutique stores when we knew the big guns of fashion shopping in Seoul were waiting for us in Myeong-dong. We had a sad lunch of "Indian" curry and got back on the subway to head for some retail-therapy in Myeong-dong.

Crowded streets in Myeong-dong
I'm not really sure what happened next. If you've ever been shopping in Myeong-dong you know why. It’s like a tidal wave of humanity making its way through an urban landscape with a million different things happening at once and all five of your senses going into overload. I know for a fact we visited the smaller of the two H&M stores and the Forever 21 before telling a street vendor to do-something-not-so-nice to himself for trying to rip us off on a handbag. My memories become clear again as we walked out of Myeong-dong to catch the subway back to Sinchon. Carolyn had a walnut candy she bought from a food cart, and I had a collection of five sausages on a stick. We made it back to Sinchon, shared a berry pingsu, and settled into our hotel room where we drifted off to sleep as some Australian guy got kicked off of Masterchef Korea.

Street art in Hongdae

Quiet morning in Hongdae

I slept like a rock for the first time since the kidney stone two weeks ago. The hotel room was dark and quiet. We woke up slowly, got ready, checked out, and headed over to Hongdae to find something for breakfast. Hongdae is one of the liveliest night spots in Seoul and the sidewalks show it in the morning. The streets were being cleaned up from another Saturday night as we followed our noses to brunch. We were the first customers to arrive at Neal’s Yard and ordered a brunch plate of waffle, bacon, sausage, and eggs as well as a quiche. Everything was pretty good. Stuffed, we headed to find any clothes we might have missed in our first trip to Myeong-dong the night before.

The larger H&M store had a lot more for us to look at. I passed on shorts as I seem to be between sizes right now, but found some pants and a shirt I couldn't live without. Carolyn found a dress, some shorts, and a top she liked. Success!

Myeong-dong Cathedral

Myeong-dong Cathedral

We also walked around the exterior of Myeong-dong Cathedral. The cathedral has stood for over 100 years and seemed to be according to the pictures on-site one of the few buildings in the area to survive the Korean war.

We sat down to relax a bit at a Starbucks before heading into the fray at the Forever 21 one more time. I picked up a shirt I couldn't live without and Carolyn got some basics. We stopped at the new flagship UniQlo store for a pair if pants for Carolyn before heading back to Seoul Station.

We tried to make our normal stop a the Dos Tacos in Seoul Square before making wrong in the train, but damnit, the whole basement level of the building was closed. We had sandwiches at a Quizno’s and meandered over to the station.

The train ride home was pretty good minus some parents who think its a good idea to let their kids run around a train car like wild animals, but you run into that just about anywhere, I imagine. This is the sort of thing that would have really been irritating on Friday night, when we had our fill of being treated as some sort of exotic and dangerous wildlife as we walk through the streets, but at this point it was no big deal. The steam had been blown off. This sort of "monkey effect" is just part of being an expat when you live somewhere that you stick out. We've found that it's generally harmless, doesn't impact our life much, and we can deal with it. Sometimes though, it just becomes too much, and you need to find a way to let the rage out. For us, that means shopping. This weekend our retail-therapy was 100% effective.

Altogether our weekend escape to Seoul was a lot of fun. I think we got our fill if shopping, and boy will we look fancy on our way to work tomorrow! We might even be happy to be back in quiet, boring Daegu.

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