South Korea – Highlights of 2015 part 1

This is my first blogpost. And what better way to start a new blog than by writing about the past? In the upcoming blog posts I want to talk about 2015.What I’ve done, discuss the highlights of my year. The year 2015 has been an incredibly inspiring, important, busy and fun year for me. I learned a lot.  I have met new people and I actually went places.

Gangnam Style

Nikos and me at a cafe in Insadong, a cosy looking part of Seoul
Nikos and me at a cafe in Insadong, a cosy looking part of Seoul

One of these places was Seoul! As you probably know, that’s the capital of South-Korea.I went there with my friend Nikos Driehuis (take a look at his piano blog here. He also wrote about Korea on his blog). Nikos was listening to K-Pop a lot and so was I. I have studied Japanese (among others) in college and I heard that the languages had some smiliarities. I heard about Korean food and about Korean fashion, gaming (Starcraft). Of course, we were obsessed with Gangnam Style as well. I really wanted to go there!

 

“Yes!”

 

Nikos and I get together once a week to watch series, clips on YouTube, talk about music and games and have fun together. This one night I really wanted to ask him to go to Korea with me three weeks later. But, one doesn’t just ask that out of nowhere. It’s an expensive trip for us (we live in Europe) and winter wasn’ta standard time to go on such a journey. When I was about to depart his house, I asked him.

“Do you want to go to South Korea with me?”

And he said

“Yes!”

 

So, a couple of weeks later, Nikos’ dad brought us to the airport and we flew to Korea. It was a pleasant flight.I thought it was interesting that the airplane made quite a sharp turn, because under no circumstances airplanes allowed to fly over North Korea. We landed and we traveled to our hostel in Seoul. When we got there, I was amazed. I have traveled by plane a lot of times in my life. But I had developed a fear of flying over the years. So when my feet touched Korean soil, that was a good moment for me. A real “flow” moment.

Another "flow" moment: randomly coming across a crowded Korean movie premiere at a mall. Still don't know which movie it was. Please tell me if you know!
Another “flow” moment: randomly coming across a crowded Korean movie premiere at a mall. Still don’t know which movie it was. Please tell me if you know!

In Seoul, we stayed at a lovely hostel in Gangnam. Our taxi chauffeur couldn’t find it at first and took a lot of wrong turns. But he was trying so hard, so we tipped him. And it was fun looking at the city from the passenger seat. I saw huge skyscrapers in Seoul. Turns out that they were part of Seoul’s newest hyper modern quarters of Songdo.We came to our hostel, which was a friendly looking place (Guesthouse 24 Gangnam Center). We had our own comfortable room with a flat screen tv. The owners were very friendly and even encouraged us to wear their traditional hanbok (which they bought for a marriage of a family member). They had a dog whose name was “Handsome” in Korean (I can’t remember the Korean word for this).

Wearing hanbok
Wearing hanbok

 

Daily rituals

Every day we sort of had the same ritual. We would have breakfast at the hostel and then go outside, to visit places and walk around all day. In the mean time, we would go to lunch and to dinner. Bibimbap was my favourite, it just looks and tastes so healthy.

gerecht bibimbap
Bibimbap in Seoul in South Korea

Then we would go back to the hostel and listen to music (K-Pop), I would practice Korean letters and Nikos would listen to podcasts and after that we would watch movies (we watched “Frozen” two times this vacation!) on my laptop from our warm comfortable beds. But before we went back to the hostel, we usually stopped at our hangout “the Coffee Bean” where we had tea and hot cocoa and cake (depending on how much money we had and how hungry we still were).

 

Honey, there’s a fish swimming in my refrigerator!

On our first full day in Seoul, we took a guided tour. Because there were no other tourists, we got a private tour with a private chauffeur.
That felt pretty luxurious. We first went to Bongeunsa, a temple complex at the city center. It was a pretty big terrain with impressive
structures, buildings and statues.19a After that, we went to a large mall with an aquarium in it. We saw fish in places we wouldn’t expect them, like in washing machines, telephone boots and refrigerators.

Fish in the refrigerator in Gangam, Seoul
Fish in the refrigerator in Gangam, Seoul

On other days, we would also look at culturally interesting things. Like, we would go to the old grave hills of Seoul in which

kings and queens of the old days lay to rest. And we went to a museum at Lotte World, where we saw life sized dolls of the kings and queens

and other people of the past and and a city full of minitiatures.

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Indoor themepark and Psy flying through the air

Another fun thing we did was going to a huge indoor themepark. Somehow, we managed to not immediately see the huge indoor themepark, that was  connected to a mall. We searched for Lotte World for a while. But then we asked for directions and we came into the biggest hall. There were rollercoaster, attractions in which you could shoot dragons, an It’s a Small World-esque attraction with a less clear cut theme (mice, sunflowers and stuffed dolls on a carrousel?) and even a castle.

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A less coherent, yet fun, version of “It’s a small world”
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View from the hot air balloon attraction
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A true dream castle

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A day after. we also went to a hologram concert, where we saw some of our favourite Korean bands (BigBang and 2NE1) and Psy fly through the air, riding on motorcycles, coming out of a jukebox. We weren’t allowed to film there, sadly.

 

BigBang, img src: http://1.soompi.io/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/bigbang11.jpg
BigBang, img src: http://1.soompi.io/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/bigbang11.jpg

 

Starcraft at GomTv

What we also wanted to do while in Seoul is going to a Starcraft match. We couldn’t find the building at first.
But then we saw somebody walking by who looked like he could be a gamer. Turned out he was and we could follow him to the right building.
GomTV was quite a big studio. I heard it would be moving or something. We watched games with among others Rain, who was the best.
He was being followed around by a group of girls. Can’t blame them, he is quite handsome. The matches were exciting. The hand-eye coordination of these virtual athletes is amazing.
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The commenters mentioned us in the Starcraft audience and we were being filmed.

 

 

 

Korean hairstyles are on fleek!

img src: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/5a/44/c4/5a44c4bb527b6766b0dcc405b0f3a4e2.jpg
img src: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/5a/44/c4/5a44c4bb527b6766b0dcc405b0f3a4e2.jpg

Another thing we did in Korea is go to the Lóreal hair salon in a large mall in Gangnam. The hairdressers could not speak English. We could not speak Korean. But we managed to communicate with pictures and the use of a calculator (“What does it all cost?” *type type type* *show screen* “Ahhh!” and I gave her the thumbs up). We wanted really Korean style hair, of course.  Because how often do we get to go to Korea? And the Korean style of beauty and fashion is superb. I could devote a blogpost (more than one even) to their clothing and their sense of aesthetics. The hairdresser wanted to give me a bright blonde Jessica Alba-haircut at first. I asked for something else. Then, she suggested “long layers”.
My hair became a lot shorter and another colour. I liked it a lot. We went back home with the feeling that we hadn’t had this much fun in ages (nor hadn’t we walked around so much that we got sore feet in ages!).

Before (at my Tacky Christmas Sweater birthday party)
Before (at my Tacky Christmas Sweater birthday party)
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After (at GomTV. That pose was really my thing).

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