Seoul Searching!

Film, Travel

Last month I was lucky enough to have an extended weekend, thanks in part to BusanJin for celebrating their anniversary on the 21st of May, the day before the nationwide holiday for Buddha’s birthday on the 22nd. Having been in Busan for three months already, I wanted to venture out further and explore a different city and what better place to choose than Seoul! The city that I have adored on screens for numerous years whilst watching copious K dramas based in the capital. I booked a train, reserved a bunk in a hostel and acquired a vast amount of recommendations from co-workers and students alike. My extended weekend in Seoul was going to be epic. Four days spent doing what I love most; visiting filming locations and devouring delicious food, whilst also Gangnam styling outside Coex Mall and partying the night away in Itaewon! Let’s break down the list of cinematic, culinary adventures I pursued last month on my first ever trip to Seoul!

1) GANGNAM STYLE
Absolutely nothing better to start with then the pop culture phenomenon that burst on to the world’s stage six years ago, catapulting Gangnam as a desirable place for me to visit… of course I’m talking about the masterpiece that is Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’! Located at the East Gate of Coex is a monumental bronze-coloured statue dedicated to that song and it’s accompanying dance. Two fists in a crossed position ready and waiting to do the iconic ‘horse riding’ dance move. Naturally I threw some shapes underneath the sculpture and got some snaps to immortalise the moment; to do the Gangnam Style dance in Gangnam has been a nagging desire in the back of my mind for over half a decade. I spent most of my second year at university sneakily adding the song to pre-lash playlists and then requesting it later on the same night in whichever club I ended up at.

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Gangnam Styleeeeee!

2) BUTTERFINGER PANCAKES
A cheeky visit to Gangnam is also not complete without a hefty meal at Butterfinger Pancakes! It has an American diner feel to it and serves classic Western breakfast dishes. Bacon, eggs, sausages, French toast, waffles, iced coffee and milkshakes to boot, this place is irresistible! I ordered the split plate for myself, a gigantic platter comprising every single breakfast item on the menu with a refillable Americano on the side. The price tag is rather steep at 24,000 won, but considering it was a weekend dedicated to treating myself, I didn’t let that bother me much and looking at the picture below of such delicious food, can you say you wouldn’t do the same?!

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Heart attack on a plate… #yolo

3) SHAKE SHACK
Up next… a recommendation from two of my lovely students: Shake Shack! I have made no secret out of my love for burgers in South Korea; everyone from the teens I teach, to the people I work with on a daily basis, to the security guard at my building knows just how much Emma loves a good burg! Before starting a lesson one day, I mentioned my desire to find the best burger joint in my new home away from home when my students piped up and mentioned Shake Shack. Eager to devour a burger, I added Shake Shack to my to-do list for Seoul and I ventured there one afternoon over the course of my trip. I ordered the double (hell yeahhhh!) ShackBurger with a side of cheese fries and it went down FAR. TOO. WELL! It might even be better than Five Guys… and I cannot believe I just wrote that but it is true! Nice, juicy patties, a good slice of American (plastic) cheese, a few veggies to make it healthy (lol) all stacked in a sweet, soft bun with crinkle chips and a melted, gooey pot of cheese on the side for dipping! What more could the world’s premiere burger queen ask for?!

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A thing of beauty!

4) GYEONGBOKGUNG
Gyeongbok is just one of the five grand palaces built during the Joseon dynasty; it acted as home to the King, the King’s household as well as the government of Joseon. The palace itself is made up of numerous buildings, the biggest being the throne room; a squared structure centred in a walled complex. The level of detail in the design of Gyeongbok is undeniably impressive! Unfortunately the palace suffered during the 20th century and was a target for bombs during the various wars South Korea endured however reconstruction came underway and continues to this day to keep the palace looking as beautifully breath-taking as it did way back when it was a home for the countries ruler.

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The beautiful throne room of Gyeongbok!

I visited the palace wearing Hanbok; traditional Korean clothing made up of two items, a jeogori which covers the shoulders and the arms and a chima, which literally translates to skirt. My Hanbok was white in colour, sometimes looking pink, other times looking lilac, adorned with embellishments of sequins and beads. I felt like a princess and it was the best way to live out my Korean fantasy; strolling an ancient palace’s ground wearing such beautiful clothing. I rented it from Oneday Hanbok, a store located relatively close to the palace for just under 20,000 won; a steal considering I wore the clothing for four hours and was granted free entry in to the palace on the basis that I arrived in traditional Korean clothing!

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Living my Korean fantasy in Hanbok!

5) HONGDAE
Another recommendation from my students was Hongdae, the neighbourhood surrounding Hongik University. I was told the area was extremely popular with the young people of Korea, a suburb filled to the brim with shops, restaurants and bars, ultimately similar to Seomyeon in Busan. I visited the neighbourhood one afternoon and just simply strolled around, marvelling at the busy streets, filled with performers dancing and singing whilst a #MeToo protest took place as well. I would love to go back to Hongdae the next time I visit Seoul to experience the night life there! I’m sure it is fantastic!

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Street art I saw on my Hongdae stroll!

6) ITAEWON
The night life I did experience did not fail me! Itaewon is another neighbourhood in Seoul that is filled to the brim with foreigners and it just so happened to be the place where I rested my head (considering I am indeed a foreigner) every night during my trip. I met up with one of my sister’s friends who has lived and worked in Seoul for the past five years for a wild night out on the Saturday. There is a SICK club in Itaewon called B-One; an eclectic place housing two rooms, one that plays hip hop and R’n’B and another dedicated to EDM! I have never seen myself as a crazy fan of EDM before but after letting my hair down and throwing my dignity out of the imaginary window (imaginary as as the name B-One would suggest, the club is in the basement of a building), I had the BEST night out I have had so far in Korea! Tequila shots were aplenty, dance moves were deliriously created to a raging rhythm and the night ended with me doing a duet of Aladdin’s ‘A Whole New World’ at a nearby Norae Bang! Y’all already know I’m hitting that place the next time I’m in the capital!

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Grateful for no pictures of me on the old sauce but here is Jordan Falafel, a shop sign I loved in Itaewon considering I’m half Arab!

7) HAN RIVER
I’m about to get all film nerd on you right now but with good reason! The Han River splits the city of Seoul in two; I first ventured over it on the bus from Gangnam to Itaewon (funny story that consists of me getting super lost with a Korean bus driver who could not speak a word of English) but I decided to head there one day to walk along its green banks. The river itself stretches for miles and there is no way I could have walked the distance without it eating up an entire day but nonetheless it was imperative for me to spend at least a few hours there. Why? Because of the cinematic mastery of Bong Joon Ho’s The Host; a monster flick that came out of the Korean industry in 2006. The story starts in a laboratory, a young apprentice, at the behest of his American colleague, pours copious bottles of formaldehyde down a sink, ultimately creating a beast that dwells in the water, occasionally leaving its home to wreak havoc amongst unsuspecting humans who simply want to enjoy a picnic on a sunny day next to the river.

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The monster of the Han looking majestic AF!

I definitely consider The Host to be one of my favourite ever movies; it plays host (cheeky pun) to a few suggestive, political messages which viewers can choose to either accept or ignore, something I have previously written about and will repost as a follow-up to this blog. Therefore, I HAD to visit the Han River, I HAD to walk along its banks in search of a familiar location from the film however after walking for an hour, I decided to rent a bicycle (super cheap at 3,000 won for an hour) and ride myself along underneath various bridges and other structures. Sadly, despite spanning a large amount of the river, I did not come across the exact location where our beloved hero, Park Gang Du, played by Song Kang Ho, works in his caravan selling dried squid and drinks and where ultimately the monster first decides to crash the party, killing numerous people in its wake. However, I did thoroughly enjoy my time at the river, revelling in my imagination, picturing the slimy beast running amok behind me as I cycled.

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Han River viewz

8) NAMSAN TOWER
The K drama obsessive in me comes through with this next one… Namsan Tower or N Seoul Tower has featured in SO many K dramas throughout the years. The first time I learnt of its existence was at university, sat in my room, watching an episode of Boys over Flowers. #bae Gu Jun Pyo arranges a date with Geum Jan Di at that very location; “Saturday, 6pm, Namsan Tower”. Since then it has been a dream of mine to visit the tower and see Lee Min Ho at the top and guess what? I did! Albeit it was a large poster of him but it still counts, okay!

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Hiiiiiii Lee Min Ho!

Regardless the tower is located on top of Namsan, a mountain with extensive views of the city below and rails chock-a-block full of handwritten padlocks. I bought a lock and marker of my very own in the coffee shop halfway up the mountain before jumping in to the cable car for the rest of the ascent. In spite of my love for K dramas, since being in Korea, I have developed a new obsession for hiking and appreciating the views I gain once I reach the top. Although I didn’t technically hike Namsan, I could still very much appreciate the view I had of lit up buildings and streets, vehicles looking like tiny toys, an awesome sky giving the world around me a golden glow and I planned it so that I could watch the sun set over the capital on my last night there.

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Hell yeeeeeah she does!

The next day came and it was time for me to go back to Busan… honourable mention here: I had booked a ticket on the KTX, the bullet train that takes you from Seoul to the south-east of the country in two and a half hours and also technically a filming location for Train to Busan! If you haven’t yet watched this film then I implore you to do so (it’s readily available on Netflix after all…) as it is undoubtedly the best zombie thriller I have watched thus far! What better way to reinvent an overdone and tired genre than to set it on a moving train. After getting on the train and seating myself in my carriage, I marvelled at the fact that the train looked exactly the same as the one I saw Seok Woo, Sang Hwa and Yong Guk fight their way through, bashing in the skulls of zombies as they did. Of course I snapped a pictures and cut and pasted a zombified train worker on the floor before the carriage filled up…

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I find myself too funny…

So there it is… my trip to Seoul was most satisfying and certainly pleased my soul and love for all things food and film! I cannot wait to go back in a couple of months’ time and enjoy more of the city’s delights! Have you ever been to Seoul? Is there anything different you can recommend to me? Let me know in the comments! 😊

 

Cherry blossoms in South Korea!

Film, Travel

Pretty pink petals, dark tree bark, a festival to celebrate their arrival… cherry blossoms are a big deal in Asia. Here in Korea, they symbolise purity and they are made all the more special due to their short time in full bloom, forcing humans to stop their busy lives and just appreciate nature at its finest. But they haven’t always been viewed so sweetly; they are also integral to a desperately sad part of Korean history, the Japanese occupation which spanned thirty or so years before the surrender of Japan at the end of WWII. Korea, Japan and more recently, China, all stake a claim to the origin of the cherry blossom tree however this post will not delve in to that debate. It will primarily focus on my experiences with the blossoms in Korea; something I thoroughly looked forward to and enjoyed.

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Blossoms at my girls school!

The Jinhae Gunghanje festival (진해궁한제) is an annual event held in the small district of Jinhae, located in Changwon city, at the beginning of April. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to this festival every year with the desire to view the abundant cherry blossoms, snap an Insta worthy photo and to revel in the official start of spring. This year, the festival was held from 1st April – 10th April so I headed to Jinhae to become a cherry blossom viewer on the first day of the festival. Living in Busan, Changwon lies just to the west and therefore getting to Jinhae was super easy; a 1 hour coach trip, costing only 5,100\ from Sasang station. I caught an early coach with friends on the 1st April with my camera at the ready… Our first Jinhae stop: Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge (여좌천 로망스 다리).
I’m not 100% sure which bridge is the actual Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge as there are numerous bridges in a row that cross over the Yeojwacheon stream however I am certain this place is absolutely stunning! The cherry blossom trees line either side of the stream, their branches hanging low and swaying in a gentle breeze over a shallow body of water. I walked the length of the stream before venturing down to stroll along the cobbled bank. Despite the mass of people surrounding me, I felt at peace amongst the blossoms and the water; I could have stayed there for hours just appreciating the scenery around me.

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Loveleh Yeojwacheon!

Our next stop in Jinhae was Gyeonghwa (경화역 봊쏯길); a now closed railway station labelled Cherry Blossom Road due to the abundance of trees planted there. The Korean government have left an old Korail train in situ on the tracks to make photos appear more authentic as back when the station was still in operation, carriages used to whoosh past the trees, enabling petals to fall elegantly and allowing visitors to snap beautiful photographs. The old train itself reminded me of the one used by Seok-woo, his daughter and Seong-Kyeong at the end of Train to Busan when they make one last, desperate attempt to flee an onslaught of zombies and I was tempted to pose just like our hero against the rails before he transforms in to the undead however I ditched the idea due to the crowds of people at Gyeonghwa. The queue to take a photo by the train consisted of roughly 50 people alone! People were milling here, there and everywhere over the tracks and around the food stalls that had been erected especially for the festival! Gyeonghwa was pretty but too busy for me.

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Just a handful of the people queuing to take a picture in front of the Korail carriage!

The following week at work, I showed my co-workers some of the snaps I had taken in Jinhae and the first question the majority of them asked me was: “was it very busy?”, to which I answered: “yes!” to a chorus of: “ahhh!”. One co-worker was then kind enough to suggest a more unique, less touristy cherry blossom viewing experience; a hike up Hwanglyeongsan (황령사) to witness awesome views before a descent down Busan’s very own Cherry Blossom Walkway. Ever since being in Korea, I had been keen to start exploring the numerous mountains dotted around the city so I jumped at the chance to get my first hike under my belt and made arrangements with a friend to accomplish Hwanglyeongsan the following Saturday.
The climb itself is pretty easy; the toughest part is the steep stretch on the residential streets before reaching the actual trails. All in all it took roughly two hours to reach the summit and that is including one brief toilet break and numerous extended photo op stops. The view at the top is quite simply exquisite; an expansive sight stretching from east to west, covering numerous Busan neighbourhoods, the sea in the distance, whilst also including various sky scrapers and bridges such as the Diamond Bridge/Gwangandaegyo (관간대교). My friend and I spent some time trying to decipher the different areas to no avail before just sitting and appreciating what lay before our eyes.

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The epic view from the top of Hwanglyeongsan!

To reach the Cherry Blossom Walkway, we had to descend Hwanglyeongsan in the opposite direction of our ascent; it was a 15 minute amble through some shrubbery and across some boulders with another spectacular view. The walkway itself is just an ordinary road that serves as a path for people and vehicles alike however during the first two weeks of April, much like Yeojwacheon stream, the road plays host to a bounty of cherry blossom trees lined up on either side, pink petals and almost black branches framing the concrete beautifully. Yet what made this unique compared to Yeojwacheon was the absence of other people. Sure, a few cars passed by, stopping now and then to snap a photo or two but there were no crowds, no buzz, no craziness; it was just me, my friend and Mother Nature doing her thing. We stayed on the walkway for well over an hour, venturing back and forth before finally watching the sun set through the branches whilst we made our way down the winding path.

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Sunset n blossoms!

Have you had the opportunity to view cherry blossoms in Asia? Share your experience down below in the comments! 🙂