SeOUL Searching: Bukhan Mountain

by Grace Ko in

During my weeklong media fast (post here) I was lucky enough to have my husband all to myself for the entirety of a weekday on Veteran's Day.  We crossed off "Climb Bukhan Mountain" off our to-do list that day. 

We slept in until a reasonable hour and then with a backpack on [his] back, hiking shoes tied tight, we leisurely made our way over. We stopped to pick up a few rolls of kimbap at the base of the mountain to indulge in after our ascent. 

It started off like a stroll in the park and I even mentally patted myself on the back: "Grace, this isn't bad at all. Good job! You must be in better shape that you had expected!" But I had spoke too soon. Only then was I quickly met with the strenuous latter half. Cold hands and grumbling heart, I had no choice but to go onwards and upwards. A selfie was taken to serve as evidence that "We were here". 

There was something enlightening about being at the "highest point" in Seoul - 836 meters high, overlooking the city - high-rises appeared like legos and childhood memories. The quiet provided a moment to breathe in nature, palatial and lovable, and to dream big for this land and for me. 

SeOUL Searching: Insadong

by Grace Ko in ,

To Y's bewilderment, I am surprisingly content being left to my homebody-ways. He recently pronounced me as an introvert. Though I disagree, I do admit I don't mind me some quality alone time. Maybe it's the amalgamation of changes, events, people, places surrounding me, that even with the absence of work, my mind is at a constant "Go, go, go!" trying desperately to take in, process, soak, and embrace all that is around me. 

There is something thrilling about being in a new city, uncovering gems in "new" neighborhoods. But it is also quite something to revisit a place with fresh perspective. 

Last week, Y and I had a wander in Insadong. It wasn't our first time there but we loved it nonetheless. We loved its traditional vibes, with a plethora of ceramics, calligraphy, and artwork to take in at every step. Not to mention, we absolutely loved that all the signboards were in Korean. 

SeOUL Searching: Sadang

by Grace Ko in

Nostalgia is a funny thing. How it suddenly startles you with a visit at the least expected times. How it brings with it memories you had long since pushed into places in your mind you had forgotten were there. 

Several weeks ago, a friend took me to the Sadang area of Seoul and we explored a museum. The Seoul Museum of Art to be specific. As I walked around the museum, strolling from exhibit to exhibit, exhibits about recreating history and "When Collecting becomes Creating", I was brought back to my childhood growing up on-campus at Drew University. The building, creaky floors and stairways, light fixtures, hallways and all, reminded me of some of the buildings on Drew University's campus. I remembered how I used to walk around campus where my dad was studying and visiting the various school buildings. Even the smell of the museum brought me back to my early elementary years. 

I loved the homey feel of the museum. I must admit that sometimes, I am overwhelmed at museums with stimulus-overload. Too many things to look at, too many things to listen to, too many places to go. But this museum felt like I was walking through the rooms of a home and I felt welcomed to explore at my own leisurely pace. 

Afterwards, my friend J and I went to a cafe she visits often. We ordered iced hot chocolates (they were delicious) and we talked about this and that. She asked me to participate in an art project she is working on and I must admit, the perfectionist in me almost got the worst of me. More often than not, when I begin projects, I have visions in my mind of what I would like them to turn out like. But out of fear of not being able to execute them to my satisfaction, I quickly fold and throw my hands up saying, "Oh, I can't!" even before I start. But J put me on the spot and I decided to at least try. I repeated my mantra, "Progress, not perfection" and interestingly enough, progress was exactly what I focused on. 

Thanks for allowing me to reflect on progress, not perfection, J. And more museum dates to come? 

SeOUL Searching: Seongsu

by Grace Ko in

Let me just say, I am a planner. I love lists. Y laughs when he sees the things I write down and make lists for but I love the sense of organization, order and accomplishment they provide. So when it comes to spontaneity, I don't do very well. 

A recent trip to Seongsu with Y and my cousin D was what I would call spontaneous. We had no agenda, no time constraints, no prior experience of the area. We just walked around. I kept feeling the urge to ask Y, "So where are we going? What are we going to do?" And I may have asked a few times (just a few) but I fought the urge to continue to do so and instructed myself to take in the neighborhood, to live in the moment. 

We did a lot of walking but it felt good, especially after downing a "grapefruit squash". 

We learned that Seongsu is home to many artisans and artists, manufacturers and factories. It gave off Brooklyn-esque vibes. While at a cafe, we found "Oh, Seongsu", a magazine about places in Seongsu. We decided to go around and find some of them and it became an impromptu "treasure hunt" of sorts, discovering various street art and murals. 

I am excited to welcome more spontaneity in my life. Or at least "planned spontaneity". And to discover more neighborhoods in Seoul, to uncover hidden gems and the SeOUL of this city. 

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.