I was re-reading one of my blogs a while back and in it I mentioned that I would do whatever it takes to get myself to Seoul for a semester of studying/living alone. Surprise! I’m here!
Right after I ended my internship at 2359 Media I decided that the gruelling year had caught up to me and I needed some time away from Singapore to reevaluate my future options. I’d considered a few places – Taiwan, New Zealand, Korea – but finally settled on Korea since I knew the language and could do some extra studying on the sidelines here. Why waste 8 years of studying the language, right? So after a lot of hesitation, I booked accommodation for a month and a half, enrolled in a language course with a 4-day study week and bought my flight tickets here. Less than 3 weeks after doing so, I landed at Incheon International Airport at 9 P.M., UTC +9, 16 March 2016 (let’s skip the part about how immigration took an hour to clear), shivering in the cold while waiting for the airport limousine bus. Just imagine how badly I was berated by almost my entire Inner Circle for being, and I quote, “stupid as a block of ice”. I can’t even in good conscience say they’re wrong
The language institute I enrolled at is located in Gangnam, and in the hopes of pushing myself to walk more (nah, who am I kidding, more so that I wouldn’t miss class), I got an apartment nearby, around the Seocho area. For those who are unfamiliar, Gangnam is located in Southern Seoul, with its name 강 Gang meaning river (江) and 남 meaning south (南). Seocho is an administrative district in Gangnam and covers a big area, split into three smaller areas. Gangnam is on the opposite bank of the Hangang/Han River from places like Myeongdong, Dongdaemun, Seoul Station, Hongdae, Idae, Sinchon, Itaewon, etc. It’s almost like a community of its own. Most prominent places here would be Apgujeong, Cheongdamdong (Cheongdamdong Alice, anybody?) and Garusogil. Compared to the rest of Seoul, the buildings are taller, roads busy into the late of the night.. and rent is also higher. Haha. I really enjoy the atmosphere here though, so no complaints.
The first week of Seoul was more for settling down than anything else – first of all, I came to Seoul with only one leather jacket, God only knows what I was thinking when I rejected my mum’s offer to air out and pack my down jacket for me. This year’s winter in Korea was just bitter, with the lowest temperature being a freezing -18°C due to the same cold spell that brought Thailand’s temperature to 16°C and made Singaporeans envious. I didn’t know what to expect, but I sure wasn’t expecting stepping out of the airport into 5°C weather and shivering all the way to the apartment. The second day, I made a beeline for shopping street in Gangnam and hit up the nearest Giordano to get a woollen jacket. This week, temperatures in Seoul (at night) went back down to 0°C, which is sub-zero including wind chill, and.. I guess I am getting acclimatised. I no longer shake like a leaf in the wind, though I am still amazed at how Korean women wear skirts that cut at half-thigh at this temperature (according to Faizan, they dressed like this in -18°C weather too, so by that measure this is probably warm weather). I’ve been looking enviously at people with goose down jackets (the ones with the furry hoods) and trying to buy one, so much so that the word ‘down jacket’ illicits as much glee in me as the word ‘discounts’ now.
I came to Seoul alone, and though I met DC for dinner on my second day, I quickly decided that living alone here for one and a half months would drive me stark raving mad, and resolved that I would have to make friends – so I befriended everyone I met, literally. The guy who works at the convenience store downstairs (hi, Jinsu!) and the two guys I met on my second day in Korea while taking my placement test (yeah that’s you, Hyundai and Hyeonwoo) were the first ones I met, but I decided to join a language exchange meetup in Itaewon on my first Sunday here. These meetups are basically where you pay a 10,000₩ entrance fee, get admitted into a cafe with a drink and a free refill, gather round a table and meet new friends! Most of them are Koreans looking to learn English, but there are a fair share of tourists and foreigners (or waygooks 외국 as we’re fondly known) who could be learning Korean, studying in a university here or teaching English. I loved my first meetup – we even continued our session at a pub (ahem, no drinking on my part) to hang out after the first cafe session ended.
Still in active contact with a few of them (hello Dawon eonni, Shyuan!) and they’ve really helped me in getting around, especially when I throw them random missions like “I’m cold, where can I get a thick coat pronto?” Nothing like learning to explore and live in Seoul like a Seoulite like getting the true Seoulites to direct you. 🙂
The casual part-time classes I enrolled in to occupy myself started on Monday. I initially signed up for the course because 1. I’d be missing my weekly Korean classes while I was in Seoul and that just does not add up 2. I needed to make friends so I thought this’d be a good avenue. I’d initially wanted to do a term in Seoul National University’s Korean Language Centre, but since that didn’t work out, I went for a private institution called Lexis Korea instead. It’s pretty well-known for being a premier English language institute and its Korean syllabus is.. pretty OK. I signed up for the TOPIK classes because one of my new year resolutions was to clear TOPIK this year but the pace is back-breaking. Something like covering 2 months of grammar for my regular Singaporean classes in one evening, 2 hours flat, here. I only have one classmate who’s Pakistani – hello there Faizan! – and we quickly became friends over talk of food. After hearing him talk about food with such relish I now have an intense urge to try briyani (yes, I’ve never tried it, yes, I’m 100% Singaporean) and could do with some prata too. If there’s something about making friends that I’ve learnt this week, it’s that food is a universal unifier.
So far, I’ve had a great time settling down. I’ve been to the mart, stocked up on pork belly (because what else is easier to cook?) and called for fried chicken delivery many, many times. Korean’s food deliveries are amazing, not to mention there are 24 hour joints on almost every street offering hot mandu, kimbap, or fried chicken. Jasmine mentioned off-hand that I might not be able to come back to Singapore when I hit my target of 20 boxes of fried chicken because I won’t be able to squeeze through my door. Not to mention the fried chicken here just kicks every franchise chain to the kerb. AND IT DELIVERS FOR FREE THROUGH AN APP. We need to take a leaf out of their book. So here are some mouth-watering pictures of chicken, my first 3 boxes:
I ordered two of these using a Korean food delivery app called Yogiyo 요기요 which I may create a tutorial for later. So far, Cheogatjib 처갓집 has been the best chicken of the lot. May I also mention that there’s an option for ordering boneless, which is nothing new until you bite into the chicken and realize that it’s really juicy, tender thigh meat in addition to being boneless. That is like a chicken (thigh/wing) meat lover’s wet dream.
I’ve gotten so used to eating suppers in Singapore that on days that I didn’t have leftovers in the fridge, I whipped up some food for myself. Simple, but so so satisfying at 4AM.
Do you know how simple this was to make? Literally throw pork belly into pan, wash vegetables, scoop ssam-jang 쌈장 out. Fuss-free and delicious I may add.
Other than the above culinary adventures, the most touristy thing I’ve done all week is go to a cat cafe. Yes, what’s new, Singapore also have right? I know. Just haven’t had the time to go to one in recent years (!!) because I’ve been too occupied with other things. Which brings me back to my point about needing to have an escapade to regroup. Anyway, let me tell you the story of this beautiful Siamese.
This little baby ignored me for the better half of the afternoon, and just one hour before I was due to leave, he crawled onto my lap and slept. Awww, heart melt, right? He woke up about 45 minutes later and proceeded to bite my arm – which he’d laid his head comfortably on for the past 45 minutes. Little bastard.
I soon realized that going into a cat cafe means you’re essentially paying to be a glorified cat throne:
And look at the amount of fur these guys shed. Geez. If you’re planning to go to a cat cafe though, don’t worry, they provide slippers and lint rollers to tidy yourself up afterwards.
This particular cat cafe had really pretty cats, though:
I need to say something about this cat – he refused to let me touch him and then proceeded to stake claim over my bag and jacket. -_-
CAT’S ATTIC 고양이 다락방 | 1317-11 Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul / 1317-11 서초동, 서초구, 서울
DIRECTIONS | Take the subway to Gangnam station (Line 2) and exit via Exit 9/10. Once you reach the building, head up to Level 4. The cat cafe is on the left. There are slippers provided for you to change into outside, as well as lint rollers hung on the wall. Children under the age of 8 will not be admitted. The entrance fee is 8,000₩ inclusive of one drink. Treats can be purchased at the counter too, if I’m not mistaken!
Looking forward to doing other interesting (hopefully more cultural) stuff this week! Have been busy catching up with work – work from Singapore caught up to me – but I’ve rearranged my schedule to do all writing and work on weekends so I have weekdays free to explore Seoul!
Shoutout to my Korean classmates back in Singapore – especially 선생님 and Kai – I MISS YOU GUYS, it’s not the same learning Korean w/o you. 😦
Looking forward to a greater Week 2 🙂
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If there are any tutorials you want to see eg. getting around in Seoul, Korean apps, or places you’d like me to visit, drop me an email or leave a comment!