SeOUL Searching: Samcheongdong

by Grace Ko in , ,


It feels like Spring has finally decided to make its appearance here in Seoul. Despite the atrocious air quality (I will never take air quality for granted again) I still welcome the sun with open arms and say to it, "Come and stay for a while!" The start of spring makes exploring the possibilities of this city invigorating. (Just have to make sure to check air quality before leaving the house. Again, note to self: Never take good air quality for granted!) 

My friend K is a teacher, one who loves her students lavishly. Her exuberance for life is intoxicating and I always leave her presence feeling energized and refreshed. What is great is that she has Wednesday afternoons free so I have dates with K on Wednesdays. We decided we would use our Wednesday afternoons for adventures. Welcome to a new weekly series: Wednesday Wanderings! 

Yesterday, with the 60 degree weather and the sun shining bright, we decided to head out to Samcheongdong for lunch and meanderings. I couldn't believe I could actually leave the house without a jacket. My sunglasses became mandatory to avoid the squinting and scrunching. We strolled around the quaint area of Samcheongdong, its streets lined with restaurants and small shops filled with knick knacks and jewelry. 

Our first spontaneous stop was for ddukggochi, rice cakes on a stick. It was a scrumptious and glorious mess but well worth it (and well worth the 700 won price, equivalent to about 70 cents!)  Its crispy, spicy and saucy exterior and chewy inside, I could eat them all day.

After a bit more walking, we worked back up our appetites for lunch, which was soojaebi and pa-jun.

We popped in and out of shops, K and I got matching rings and made our way to one of her favorite spots, a cafe with a rooftop. I enjoyed a cup of caramel macchiato, we soaked in the sun rays and basked in its warmth and the tranquil surroundings. Our conversations were filled with reflections, words of encouragement and a rolling anticipation for future things. 

We wrapped up our date with a stop at a nearby bakery to pick up some tasty delights for the road. My choices: an apple strudel, a chicken and onion flatbread sandwich, and an olive roll for Y. 

Seoul, you are fabulous. 


Snow, slopes and skiing in Hokkaido

by Grace Ko in , ,


It feels like a blur to think that last week, I was in a winter wonderland in Hokkaido, Japan- Y and I went there to ski with some friends. It was surreal that two and a half hours on a plane could bring me to a land dusted with snow.  

After some late-night packing and only three hours of sleep for me, we got on the airport shuttle at 5:45am and were at the airport by 7am. 

First view of Hokkaido

First view of Hokkaido

We landed in Japan and had two hours until our shuttle to the ski resort. So what did we do? Had ramen for lunch, of course! 

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My miso ramen: a big bowl of deliciousness

My miso ramen: a big bowl of deliciousness

After satisfying our stomachs, we piled into the shuttle bus to our ski resort. It was a two-hour bus ride there so when the bus stopped at a rest are, we made sure to pick up a few snacks to hold us over. 

View from bus

View from bus

My pick: milk caramels

My pick: milk caramels

We settled into our hotel rooms, unpacked, relaxed for a bit before we headed out to the village for dinner. Yakitori was our choice for our first night. 

Day 1 of skiing started with feelings of excitement soon followed by a whole lot of anxiety.  My fear of heights made the first gondola lift terrifying - I took deep breaths and immersed myself in conversations to distract myself from the realization that I was dangling in the air and headed upwards to the top of a mountain. Once we got up to the top, the reality of the situation hit: the only way was down. Visibility was horrendous; we were barely able to see a few feet in front of us.

Let's just say it took me quite a while to make it down the mountain... but nevertheless I did it! (Later that day, Y said to me, "I'm really proud of you!" He knows how big of a feat it was that I came down that mountain.) 

Lunch was all-you-can-eat sushi and I was in heaven. Skiing followed by sushi may be one of the best things ever. The only thing better than that is following the sushi with a nap, which is precisely what I indulged in. 

Day 2 of skiing couldn't have been more different from Day 1. If Day 1 was the evil, wintry antagonist, Day 2 was the kind-hearted, warm protagonist of the story. Day 2 was sunny and clear, the landscape was breathtaking and it sure felt nice to be able to see where I was skiing. 

More ramen! 

More ramen! 

One of our nights, we devoured teppanyaki coupled with endless corny "punny" jokes: we laughed until our stomachs hurt. 

It was an unforgettable trip. 

There were moments when I was so focused on getting down the slope safely; my eyes fixed on the ground beneath my skis. But then I would look up and be amazed at the view, the powdered trees, the snowcapped Mount Yotei. 

Our return home though? Now that's a whole different story, unforgettable in its own way. Let's just say we ended up being in the airport for 24 hours (!!!)

But on the positive side... the one perk of being at the airport? 

Stocking up on goodies. 


Routes = Roots

by Grace Ko in , ,


For one of my favorite classes in graduate school, I was asked to complete a genogram - a pictorial diagram of one's family relationships. To put it simply, it's a souped-up version of a family tree, depicting patterns in education, immigration, medical/psychiatric history, emotional relationships. It was one of the most challenging assignments but it forced me to dig deep to learn about my family's past and about myself. 

On a cold day last month, my mom, Y and I were gathered around our dining table. We began conversing about my family, my relatives and this sparked Y's impromptu drawing of a genogram while my mom shared with me and my husband things about my family. Listening to stories about my family, I knew in that moment this moment would be one I would cherish. It simultaneously lifted my spirits while making parts of my heart ache in unexpected ways. 

People say, you don't know where you're going until you know where you've been. One of the perks of living here in Korea is being able to connect and reconnect with my "roots", getting to spend time with relatives and family members I haven't seen in a number of years. Shortly after our afternoon of genogramming, Y and I did just that; we traveled the "routes" of Korea, connecting with our "roots". 

(It was an epic trip so get ready for an epic post of pictures.)

Ready to go! 

Ready to go! 

We started the epic journey across the peninsula of Korea traveling a little over an hour to Gongju to visit Y's grandfather. Though it was a short visit, it was all the more meaningful to start our trip off like this because it was the first time I met him. He was just as jolly as Y had told me and it filled my heart with love when Y's grandfather was so happy to meet me, his granddaughter-in-law. We then drove down to Daejeon with Y's grandfather and Y's aunts and uncle. We had lunch there.

A precious moment: the restaurant was on the second floor and there was unfortunately no elevator. Climbing two flights of stairs was a lot for grandpa so Y carried him on his back and brought him up to the restaurant. 

After lunch, we visited the Daejeon National Cemetery. It was a solemn visit, a chance to pay tribute to those who sacrifice for this country. 

With grandpa at the National Cemetery

With grandpa at the National Cemetery

From Daejeon, we drove to Okcheon. In Okcheon, Y's uncle showed us around and brought us to famous poet, Jeong Ji Yong's (정지용) Literature Gallery and to the former home of President Park's mother, Yuk Young Soo (육영수).

정지용's famous poem, 향수

정지용's famous poem, 향수

육영수's residence

육영수's residence

We went from Okcheon to Yeongdong. On our way there, we stopped by a restaurant to have dinner. In front of the restaurant, there were these majestic ice forms. We indulged in one of the best bibimbaps I've ever tasted. 

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Our day in Yeongdong was jam-packed. We visited Wine Korea; apparently, Yeongdong is known for their grapes, hence their wine as well. 

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We then drove to a small village called No Geun Ri / No Gun Ri (노근리), a location that holds the tragic history of the No Geun Ri Massacre. During the Korean War, U.S. military killed innocent Korean civilians who had been told by U.S. troops to flee their nearby villages. After one man's 50-year relentless quest and pursuit of the truth of the No Geun Ri Massacre to be revealed, it was uncovered, investigated and acknowledged by those outside of Korea. The No Geun Ri Peace Park now stands near the location of the massacre and it serves to remind us all of the importance of human rights. 

History isn't what we learn in history class; inside history is story, stories, stories of individuals, stories of families.  

No Geun Ri made me think about Korea's roots, where Korea was, where it has been - the pain, suffering, loss. 

No Geun Ri Memorial

No Geun Ri Memorial

Our last stop in Yeongdong was 월류봉, a beautiful scenic point, where the mountains meet water. After the heaviness of No Geun Ri, this location breathed life and hope into me and charged me with refreshment in my soul. During this trip, we visited so many places but I will never forget the feeling I had when I stepped out of the car, grabbed the rail and took in the sight of the magnificent mountains, the sound of the rippling waters, the smell of the crisp winter air. 

From Yeongdong, we drove down to Gwangju to my parents' place. On our way there, we made a mandatory pit stop and recharged with fuel for the car and fuel for us. 

Korean rest stops know the way to our hearts: corn dog and ddukbokki 

Korean rest stops know the way to our hearts: corn dog and ddukbokki 

After a delicious home-cooked meal made with love by my mom and a good night's rest, from Gwangju, Y, my parents, my cousin and I made our way to Tongyeong to visit my dad's side of the family. Before Tongyeong, we stopped by Suncheon. We hiked up a mountain and basked in the glory of nature, the birds in the air, the green of the trees. Suncheon made me excited to discover more beauty in Korea and anticipate the warmer months. It inspired Y to write a poem, in Korean at that: 

겨울 순천만 갯벌 

샷샷 갈대 흔들리는 속삼임... 귀를 간지러 피네 

웅웅 바람에 흔들리는 참나무의 우는 소리... 파도 같아 

끼억 끼억 흑두루미 저산 넘어 메아리 퍼진다 

솔방울 솔잎 향기를 느끼며 숨 갑분이 차며 올라가는 산길.. 다리건너 2.3km 

용산 전망대에서 본 경치 남해가 꼬불어진 강을 반긴다... 흐린 구름과 바다가 수평선에서 만나 흐려지고 

이 아름다운 낙원 오래 오래 보존 대길 기도하는 마음

Jumping for joy because we made it to the top! 

Jumping for joy because we made it to the top! 

After our hike, we treated ourselves to some fabulous food. It may be one of the best meals I've had, probably tasting even better after the strenuous walk. 

It's apparently in to wear plaid and throw up peace signs.

It's apparently in to wear plaid and throw up peace signs.

With full bellies and tired legs, we packed into my dad's car and were on our way to Tongyeong. It was my second time there but first with the husband and his enthusiasm to go there and meet my relatives added another layer of excitement for me. We had an unforgettable dinner of oysters: steamed oysters, raw oysters, fried oysters, oyster salad, oyster rice... you get the gist. (Reminds me of Forrest Gump: "Shrimp salad, poached shrimp, fried shrimp, shrimp cocktail...) We had the mandatory 충무김밥. And our time was filled with chats. There's something I love about being in Tongyeong and watching my dad interact with his aunts and uncles. I love listening to their stories and trying to decipher what they're saying through their thick dialects. It makes me think about how my dad was once a child and his childhood memories, hopes, dreams and wishes. 

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The next day, we explored Tongyeong. We visited an arts and trade museum and a museum honoring author Park Kyung-ni, we rode a cable car up a mountain and we walked the painted hills of Dong Pi-Rang. 

Don't be fooled by my smile; it belies my fear of heights. 

Don't be fooled by my smile; it belies my fear of heights. 

Best angel picture of them all

Best angel picture of them all

We then ended back in Seoul with my parents and celebrated Lunar New Year with relatives. 

My inspirations: my grandma and my mom

My inspirations: my grandma and my mom

The epic trip took a toll on our bodies and Y and I ended up getting terribly sick. (We then unfortunately and unintentionally passed it on to my parents.) But the trip will go down as a good one still. 


Friday Favorites

by Grace Ko in , ,


This week felt like a marathon (more specifically, one I had not trained for, at all). Okay. Let me rephrase that. These past few weeks have felt like a marathon. (Hence the lack of blog posts. I apologize... I promise I have legitimate reasons. And I promise to tell you more about it in this entry.) 

These past few weeks' marathon-like qualities were due to the fact that during work hours, each day was bursting at its seams with emotions, crises and activity.  In the after-hours, Y and I were trying to squeeze in as much time with as many people as possible. Why, you may ask? Because we are moving to Korea!!! And in fact, the husband has already moved there. So last week, we went to a concert, visited a friend, met our newborn nephew, had date night, indulged in an Italian dinner in the city with good friends. This week, post-husband's-deparature, my week was filled with stress, sick days and sad, gloomy weather. 

But I welcome this weekend with open arms and cannot wait to:

  • catch up some sleep 
  • watch football (on TV in the comforts of my own home, in PJ's of course; and live - my friends are playing in an annual flag football tournament... one I used to play in. Since then, I have "retired" in fear of injury)  
  • cross off a few to-do's off my never-ending list
  • enjoy quality time with friends, more specifically a "dinner and movie" girls' night in

Sounds to me like a perfect formula to rest and reboot. 

Wishing you all a restful weekend! 

Now here are some favorites (from the past few weeks): 

Enjoying some real New York pizza with good friends 

Enjoying some real New York pizza with good friends 

Our friend, Ilmar introducing his group  The Harlem Quartet  at their new album release.

Our friend, Ilmar introducing his group The Harlem Quartet at their new album release.

Enjoying a delicious meal with amazing people @ LocandeVerde . (I must've missed the plaid memo...) 

Enjoying a delicious meal with amazing people @LocandeVerde. (I must've missed the plaid memo...) 

A home-cooked, lavish steak dinner as our last get-together with friends before Y's departure to Korea. We are so thankful for such great friends. 

A home-cooked, lavish steak dinner as our last get-together with friends before Y's departure to Korea. We are so thankful for such great friends. 

And he's off! See you soon!

And he's off! See you soon!


Comfy Casual

by Grace Ko in , ,


Last Thursday night, Y & I decided to head to a local park to go for a walk after he came home from work.  We discovered there was a food truck rally being held at that very park so we put the walk on hold (for just a little while) while we enjoyed some delicious food truck fare. It's a glorious thing: food trucks with their various designs and colors, lined up in single file, calling out to you to come and pay a visit and discover the many treasures they hold. 

This tank top may be my favorite article of clothing currently. I wear it more often than I would care to admit. Its soft fabric and comfy fit make it perfect for hot summer days and I love it all the more because I found it for $5! Steal!) The loose tank and drawstring pants were perfect for indulging myself. I had two lobster rolls. Yes, two. And I have no regrets.

Tank: Gap, Pants: Gap, Watch: Emporio Armani

Tank: Gap, Pants: Gap, Watch: Emporio Armani

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