Day two. The best day. It was Saturday, so Laura-Eve and I had the whole day together. No work, tons of stuff planned. After two very late nights, a long week for me, and a long journey and jet lag for her, we decided to sleep in. The alarm was set for 8:30am. We got up, had a slow cup of french press coffee and a half a muffin, and jumped on the train for Seoul. First stop: Insadong.
Being one of my favorite places in the city, we had to visit Insadong. It was cold, and we were both still waking up, so we made for a tea house. This time we were not the only patrons, but the place was still quiet and relaxed. We sat on the floor and I ordered us some plum flower tea and pat juk which we thoroughly enjoyed. I really wanted to take a picture of one of our tea drinking companions, but I didn’t want to be intrusive. Laura-Eve took out a mirror which she gave to me in order to try and pull off the picture. It worked, I ended up asking him for a better picture later. This action set off something that would come to define our trip: the mirror shot (totally her idea).
As we were leaving we perused the tea selection for sale at the front of the shop. We both bought some ginger tree flower tea to take home, and our server gave us each a big bag of another kind of tea, the name of which I didn’t quite get. Gotta love the service in this country.
When we got outside we saw that, like us, Insadong hadn’t quite woken up yet, so we walked for a few minutes to Bukchon Hanok Village – a beautiful neighborhood of traditional Korean houses. We walked around for a while, found some great views, and lost some frost-bitten limbs before returning to Insadong.
It was lunchtime. Time to return to one of my favorite restaurants in Korea. I call it the bamboo rice place because that’s why we went: the delicious rice cooked in bamboo cups. We ordered samgyapsal (pork) and galbisal (beef rib meat) and lettuce wraps. The food was spectacular. We even had some soju, Laura-Eve’s first try. She kept the bottle.
After the amazing meal, I noticed several of the bamboo cups sitting on a shelf next to us. They were clearly not being used, and after a closer look I figured out it was because they had small cracks in them. Nonetheless, I really wanted one of these to take home. When the waitress came by I picked one off the shelf and asked her “how much?” She said, “Not for sale. Gift. Two.” Incredible. One for me, one for Laura-Eve. We gave the most sincere of thanks to our host, cleaned our cups as best we could, and packed them away. As we left the restaurant I gave our host one of the bags of tea we had gotten from the tea house. It was all I had to give.
We spent the next few hours walking around Insadong, checking out the shops, walking the circuitous path to the top of that cool court-yarded building, and looking for something to bring back for my mother. We wandered into a tea museum and stopped to watch a nice gentleman explain to us about the “Candy of Kings,” a sweet treat made by turning a block of honey into 1600 threads then wrapped around nuts. I bought some for my grandma, and we watched him make it.
Eventually, it was tea time again. There was a bit of a wait for my favorite tea house, but it was worth it. Once inside, Laura-Eve ordered omija (five flavored tea) and I got cinnamon root tea. Freaking amazing, both of them. We drank slowly, munched on our tea treats, and spoke of the important things in life, including how we were pretty certain we could fit no more things into our stomachs.
It was about that time that I got in touch with my friend Seunghyun. I wanted to meet up with him later at another of my favorite places, just a ten minute walk away. We made arrangements to eat and imbibe more in about an hour. Fuck it, it’s vacation. Well, Laura-Eve’s, anyway.
An hour later we were sitting in a makgeolli house waiting for Seunghyun and our seafood and chives pancake (ojinga buchu jeon) and makgeolli to arrive. They all did. We drank, we ate, and we caught up. I hadn’t seen Seunghyun in forever. He is a constant source of laughs, good times, and interesting perspectives on his country. It was great to see my friend again. I also hadn’t had alcohol in forever. It was good to feel tipsy again.
After stuffing ourselves, Seunghyun unfortunately had to leave, but we would see him again. We headed to Myeongdong to meet up with another friend, Goun. But first, dogs. One thing I hadn’t done that both Laura-Eve and I really wanted to do was visit a dog cafe. In Korea there are cafes where people go, order a drink, and then play with the dogs that roam around the cafe. It is the most amazing concept. We found one in Myeongdong, went in, ordered a drink (which we completely forgot about), sat on the floor, and played with dogs for a few hours. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Laura-Eve smile so much. The dogs loved her, for some weird reason. They piled on top of her as if she was the most comfortable bed in the world. I only got one at a time. Goun and her friend (I forget his name) were even able to find us in the madness that is Myeongdong and join us for playtime.
It was hard to leave that place, but knowing that street food was waiting for us made it a little easier. We walked around the narrow, crowded alleys of Myeongdong, Korea’s neon lights shining bright, taking in the sights and sounds before the smells overcame us. Time to eat again. We stopped at many food carts, and by the end of the night we had all shared sausage on a stick, chicken on a stick, hotteok, honey glazed sweet potatoes with rice cake, and roasted chestnuts.
Completely stuffed and utterly exhausted, we hopped on a bus for home. An hour later we collapsed in our beds, ready for a lazy Sunday.