22 August 2007

An afternoon in Hongdae

In honor of Korea's liberation from Japan, Hyeyoung, Cyndi, and I spent last Wednesday in Hongdae (Hongik University), best known for its artsy students and Club Day. Filled with trendy boutiques, cafes, and hipster art people, Hongdae reminds me of SoHo, just not as expensive and less pretentious. I dig Hongdae.

Our afternoon in Hongdae started off with a search for the location of my favorite new drama Coffee Prince, starring adorable 몸짱 Gong Yoo. Fortunately, we, along with 50 other teen girls, found the cafe.

Sadly, Gong Yoo was nowhere in sight. 공유 없어서 우리가 실망했어요.

We, then, cruised around the neighborhood where I picked up a pair of mouse pirate hoop earrings. I tried to bargain, and got a slight discount after purchasing a second pair of earrings. I need to work on my bargaining skills.

I also forced Cyndi & HY to eat an
아이수와풀 (ice waffle), a waffle ice cream sandwich. If you're on a diet and want something lighter, you can order an 아이수파이 (ice pie), which is a waffle slathered with strawberry or vanilla cream. I recommend the ice cream version.

Despite a lot of eye shopping, we spent most of our time looking for an air conditioned cafe -- as did every other person in Hongdae. We were so desperate to find a cool place to chill that we considered going to the Ice Bar, a trendy lounge bar set at a sub-zero temperature. If I were an uber popular celeb like Gong Yoo, I'd hang out at Ice Bar, because at $15 a person (and this is just the day price), it is an unlikely hangout for common fan girls like us. Fortunately, the Ice Bar led us to a nearby cafe called Dicca.

I can't remember the exact description, but Dicca is a cafe/ photo studio. It's a place where you finish a cup of iced coffee, then head into one of three studio rooms and take photos. Use of the rooms (each features a different backdrop) and accessories (wigs, glasses, hats, etc) are free. Costumes are available for a fee, but we slipped on some of the dresses when no one was looking. This cafe/ photo studio is such an interesting concept. It combines two favorite Korean pastimes: coffee drinking and self photos.

The efforts of our ultra glamorous photo shoot may be seen in the following video:

17 August 2007

There's no place like Costco

After our Hongdae adventure, we ventured out in the rain to check out the Costco in Yangje. Since the Lawrence Expressway Costco patronage back at home is usually about 50% Korean, I felt quite at home. I never thought that the name "Kirkland Signatures" could make me feel so warm and cozy.

In addition to the addition of a number of common Korean products, I noted a few other differences:

1) It's twice as crowded. I've never experienced such mayhem at a Costco.
2) The Costco here is three stories. Costco traffic on escalators. Not so exciting.
3) The Rotisserie Chicken is about half the size, but twice the price of a chicken from the Costco at home.
4) Cakes here are way more artful. Way classier than the balloons and clown cakes back at home. No offense.
5) They hand out samples of wine! I don't recall ever seeing free wine or for that matter, any samples of alcohol given out in the States.
4) The food court menu includes clam chowder.
5) You must leave your shopping cart unattended, in a designated area if you wish to eat in the food court. People here are so trusting. Someone could have easily walked off with our blueberry bagels and sour Icebreakers, in which case, I would have been fuming.
6) You can purchase reusable plastic shopping bags for about $2.50. They are available in red or blue. The bags proved to be quite sturdy, particularly when you're trekking through the rain.

14 August 2007

August 8: Cyndi's Birthday

Cyndi's co-workers kicked off the celebrations the night before her b-day with a sashimi dinner, followed by cake & beer at Happy Time

June & Taehee joined us on the 8th for some pasta & pizza. June picked out a cute chocolate cake. It was light and not too sweet -- that's how they like it in Korea.

I also picked up a cake from the neighborhood Cold Stone Creamery. It was dense and very chocolatey. I wonder if they make the cakes locally or import them? I suppose it's silly to import ice cream. Thanks to a 25% sale, the price of the cake was comparable to the U.S. price.

Cyndi also received an international cake surprise from one of her many admirers. Unfortunately, I can't say any more as Cyndi will kill me. As Cyndi would say, "죽을?"

12 August 2007

Shopping for a wedding dress

Don't worry, mom. I'm not getting married.

Cyndi's co-worker, Hyeyoung & her fiancee, Joon invited us to join them as they shopped for their wedding hanboks and wedding jewelry this weekend. Shopping for hanboks was quite fun. We visited two very trendy dressmakers in Seoul, including Betul Hanbok, official hanbok maker for the 51st Annual Miss Korea Pageant.

Couples are supposed to schedule an appointment for weekend consultations, but fortunately, Betul Hanbok had an opening. I did not anticipate the variety of decisions that go into selecting a hanbok. In addition to the different color and fabric choices, there are various accessories, trim, and handiwork to customize your dress.

A quality, customized, hand-sewn hanbok will start at around $500-$600 for women, and $600 - $800 for men. That's right. The men's hanbok is more expensive. Maybe because of the pants?

In addition to a hanbok set, most Korean couples will also purchase a western style wedding dress/tuxedo combo. That's a lot of won for outfits that will likely stay in storage for the rest of a couple's lifetime.

I also learned that brides traditionally wear a red or pink skirt. Purple and white are not very popular because they are usually worn at funerals. I also learned that I have the tastes of an ajumma, as I gravitated towards colors that are not very popular amongst young brides. I was surprised that in this country of matching couple outfits, Korean bride & grooms typically do not color coordinate their hanboks. So, if the groom prefers a sherbert orange while the bride loves a neon green, not a problem.

Hyeyeoung & Joon are going to check out hanbok makers in Busan before they make their final decision. I'm sure that whatever they end up will look good as they are a cute and stylish couple. :)

We also accompanied H&J to Mucha, as they browsed for their couple rings. Mucha was the official tiara maker for the Miss Korea Pageant.

Apparently, in Korea, the engagement ring and wedding bands are all purchased at the same time. Whereas in the U.S., typically, the woman (sometimes the man) is presented with an engagement ring (usually featuring a diamond) during the proposal. Then, the couple selects wedding bands in time for the nuptials. Once married, the woman wears both her wedding band & engagement ring. In Korea, however, or at least in Hyeyoung case, both the diamond bling and wedding band will be purchased at the same time. She will wear her wedding band on most days and save her diamond bling for special occasions.

I'm sure that Joon will treasure his wedding band once he is married, but I've noticed that a lot of Korean men tend to leave their ring at home. I can understand this if you are a plumber, but I don't know how a ring can impede your work if you are sitting at a computer all day. Shady...

Good Eats: Aug 2 - 11

I've eaten a lot of spicy food since arriving to Korea. I'm still a spice wimp compared to the average Korean, but I'm doing my best to keep up. Sometimes the spice heat even gets to Cyndi. That's when I know I'm in trouble. I manage to get by with a lot of water.

Play the video to glimpse a sampling of what we've eaten thus far. It seems that I've only taken photos of the less spicy food. I guess that's my subconscious at work.

We've been eating out a lot, so we went grocery shopping in an effort to eat more at home and save a few won. Lotte Mart is only about 5 - 7 minutes away on foot. Not too bad. Stores here charge a 100 won (about 10 cents) per plastic bag, so Cyndi and I must remember to bring our little shopping cart, courtesy of her dad.