My Korean Diaries
What have you been up to lately?
I am still and constantly drowning in studies but I think most of students are. Especially as it gets closer to finals…
This is not what I want to talk about today.
Remember my vegan bakery taste test in Smoothie King? (go check it out if you have not done so yet!)
Well, that took place in the newest addition to the fun places in Songdo.
And I wanted to show it all to you.
Where to shop in Songdo?
I have to confess, I am certainly a shopaholic. At the same time, I kinda hate going to shopping malls. Too many people, noisy annoying music, flashy lights, overall one crazy mess. And I am not even mentioning all the things to throw out your money for. But sometimes you have to go and it can even be a nice day out.
In Korea, it is no different. The stressful part of the experience is even highlighted (more people, more lights, more things) but at the same time, it has so MUCH to offer. Especially looking at the great food courts.
Before Triple Street Mall opened in Spring 2017 there was apparently not that much to do around the Yonsei Campus in Songdo. The nearest mall required you to take a subway to main Incheon and in my opinion, is not even that great. Naturally everyone was excited for this new huge complex, given its also only about a 10 minute walk from our dorms.
Did it fulfill all the expectations?
I think most of them.
Triple Street Labyrinth
The new mall was well worth the hype. It is build as a huge snake-like row of shops with one way outside along it all. It has 3 floors altogether – one underground, the biggest ground/first floor and then the first floor. That one is filled mostly with restaurants and the big cinema complex – Megabox.
The buildings are like a kind of a block, the starting point is the biggest one and virtually the only ground level part where you can enter individual shops from the inside. Here I started of my tour with the korean “Sephora” aka. Olive Young. In my opinion it is like a mix of your most fancy drugstore with some higher end makeup. No other shop (well at least for beauty) is as spread in Korea as Olive Young. In fact, Triple Street has one on each end. I explored the first entrance one, a bit smaller but still filled with everything from skincare to “health” snacks. Prices are usually very reasonable too and they put so many deals out it is hard to resist.
It is not the end of makeup and all beauty. The whole mall provides space to many brands and shops like Etude House, Aritaum, The Body Shop or Celltrion. You can get your haircut here (although it will be costly and I do not trust anyone with my non-asian hair).
Clothes and all the food…
Besides the beautifying market there is so so much clothes to choose from. Since it is Songo, expect some higher priced stores. You have the sports classics like Adidas, Peak Performance and more or the Europe beloved H&M or Zara. Be aware though that these are so so pricey here! Like Zara is a luxury nowadays. Miss 2$ shirts from the H&M sales rack…
But what I find the most excessive part of Triple Street is all the food part. Most of the underground floor is covered with all kind of restaurants. You can find burgers, japanese food restaurants, Mexican tacos or even Indian meals. Once again though all is much pricier than what you can normally find in Korea (25$ for small pizza?) but I suppose it is much closer to the “original” versions. Well, you can always try my favorite relatively cheap kimbap shop that still feels much more gourmet than you would expect it. The first and second floor have also an abundance of food. The first floor is mostly covered in cafes (expensive Starbucks) and cake shops and the second once again hosts more fancy dining places.
It wouldn’t be Korea without having an arcade on the second floor right next to the Megabox. My personally favorite attraction is also the underground Daiso. You can literally find anything there for almost no money and often even in a decent quality.
So what did you think?
Unless you go and explore yourself you will never see how big of a maze Triple Street is. What is important is to know that there ARE places to go even in Songdo so no more ghost cities please.
How are you?
I have been so busy lately I had almost no time to make proper videos and articles.
Wait, no the blame goes to my hand. I actually have plans on what to film and try but somehow I can’t do it one handed… hopefully I will only stay like this for little while longer.
Anyway, this week I wanted to show you something I have been wanting to try for a while now.
Should we start?
Smoothies In Korea
I remember back in the days I still used to live only between horses and school I rarely had enough time to sit down and get some meal during the day. (not a good way to live at all) I was also too exhausted (and lazy) to pack more meals for the lunch time. The only thing that saved me was a newly opened healthy deli, salad and smoothie shop right at the bus station I used to wait everyday. I then ended up mostly drinking my lunches on the go. The thing is, even in Prague were smoothies pretty pricey. Especially once you get used to making them at home. In Korea, it’s even worse.
I am just glad that they are here. Indeed not as much as in Europe but Korean people also like their dose of “liquid health”. Well, they are often not as healthy as it may seem but that is another point to talk about. One of the chains I have met the most here is Smoothie King. Relatively old company founded in US has spread all across the world, even to Korea. It seems to be one of the most go to options for smoothies back in the US as well as here. And we have one in Songdo’s Triple Street Mall.
But knowing the prices, why would I go there?
For vegan dessert.
Vegan bakery in a fast food chain?
Yes, it is true. During one of my mindless walks through the Triple Street Mall my eye has caught a big VEGAN sign. In Korea this word is so rare to hear and seems like the last thing you can expect to be on a regular poster. It obviously got my full attention and I learned that Smoothie King has this “event” during which they sell two (full two options!! 😉 vegan desserts – a muffin and a crumble. I was suspicious but I had to try.
And here is how this adventure went.
It was not the worst.
I had NO expectations at all having eaten way too many “vegan” takes on regular food presented by regular food chains. I ordered both the Carrot Walnut Muffin and the Blueberry Crumble, plus me and my roomie both threw in a smoothie to wash it down.
Since the shop was empty we got our food pretty soon. Visually there was nothing super pleasing about the food and I could see the dryness from miles away. Starting with the crumble my initial thought was – dry as a dessert. Both of the foods had surprisingly similar flavor – a big bunch of fall themed spices (cinnamon, cloves,…) and in my opinion it was the classic “we have to make it packed with artificial flavor since it’s vegan”.
Later though as we kept reaching the warm center (they warm it all up for you) my taste buds were more and more satisfied. I found some whole juicy (defrosted) blueberries and I genuinely enjoyed the crumble top part (there is no way you can ruin it). The muffin was the less preferred by me (my roommate like it more). Similar spices, even drier (and crumblier) with no carrot in sight. I have to compliment at least the adequate amount of walnuts and we did find a carrot string or two at the end.
Smoothies were not perfect either. Ordering Peach Slice I wanted a blend of peach and strawberry but somehow the strawberry flavor never reached my cup. The same with the Coconut Surprise – here it was just banana and no coconut.
Overall, I may be a lot critical but here in Korea, I am just glad for what is here. I appreciate that they are trying although vegans are scarce here. Honestly, were it not so pricey (Crumble – 4000 won, Muffin – 3 100 won, small smoothie 3900 won) I would go again. Smoothies are still a good dose of tasty fruit and sometimes I get sad and want a cake and can’t go to Seoul all the time.
Would you try any of it?
Have a nice day.
How are you doing?
Before I even start I have to apologize.
I have shot this video shortly after my arrival and it certainly is not perfect. I will eventually do a part 2 (maybe at night?) but since I am still injured, this is all I have for now.
But I promise it’s not that bad!
Instead I will finally tell you more about Songdo, where I currently live.
What to do in Songdo?
I have often heard Songdo being called a “ghost city”. Well, it is definitely not true but on that topic I will elaborate some other day. Located on a new “created” island as a futuristic part of the second biggest city in Korea, Incheon, it certainly has a lot to offer. It may have been built within the last decade virtually from scratch, but coming here you may not even notice.
While it is definitely not as busy, full and vibrant as for example the center of Incheon it still has a lot to offer. One of it’s main prides, which attracts people coming even from Seoul, is the main Central Park. Located near the seashore amongst the tall new and modern skyscrapers, there is a relatively huge park that is a beautiful break from all those busy streets.
It is also almost at all times packed with people doing whatever they like. Families with their kids, ahjummas doing their “active walk” or young couples on their dates (there is a lot of them..). Covering almost 10% of all Songdo are it can accommodate to all.
Oh and PSY filmed parts of his Gangnam Style video here.
Sounds even better?
I decided to visit the Central Park early in October, on one particularly sunny Saturday. Probably too sunny. It is very easy to get to the heart of this park, all you need to do is travel to the Central Park station, second last station on the blue Incheon line. Or you can also walk there from Yonsei campus, it takes only about 30 min.
Arts And Boats
There is the thing about Central Park, it not only has a canal of fresh seawater renewing itself every 24 hours and other natural beauties, it is filled with art sculptures and activities. The minute you exit the subway you can visit the Tri-Bowl, a truly futuristic metallic architectural wonder, three weird round buildings in water. Sounds great!
Walking around the Central park you get to enjoy various sights, cafes, sculptures and just overall the architecture of the park itself. You can relax and forget for a minute you are indeed in the center of an International Business District. Being quite large it takes a while to walk the whole way around which mainly mimics the canal direction. You get several points where you can cross via a big or small bridge to shorten the way. At one side you get to see a Central Park Hotel, which is designed entirely like an old Korean palace! Looks so awesome!
There are also many of my favorite workout playgrounds (just for the elder..) as the typical playgrounds for children. You can sit down at a cafe and enjoy the day or (what I personally NEED to try) rent a boat or tiny canoe and go have fun floating around the canal. This is even more magical at night.
At the very end (or beginning) of the canal is located the biggest cafe, restaurant as well as the rental shop. (not sure if I understood it correctly but scenes from the drama Goblin were shot there 😉 For my taste the food and drinks looked a bit too overpriced but people seemed pleased so I am not discouraging from resting there a bit.
I also loved all the cute dogs. And even the cute doggy couples.
I had a great fun, got a sunburn and sweated a lot.
The outtake on this is that Songdo Central Park truly is magical and worth traveling to even from Seoul, just not at 1pm on a super hot and sunny day.
Would you go?
I hope so.
See you next week.
How have you been doing?
Last week I attended the amazing Yonsei vs. Korea University games and I couldn’t help but film and write about it. It was so much fun!
I can’t wait till next year’s games take place again.
But first let me introduce to you one of the main things I experienced.
YonKo or KoYon?
Everyone seems to be well aware of the battle between Yonsei and Korea University as old as the schools themselves. Although for most foreign students it is a kind of a mystery. Both being prestigious institutions with great students on their side (Yonsei is still better, obviously), the battle is intense and never-ending, culminating each year with the September YonKo games. As an international freshman, I could never truly appreciate the clash between the two universities, described to me often as the Oxbridge fight, nor did I have the chance to watch the YonKo Games myself. I was quite interested in witnessing the competition for the first time and was happy to get a chance to meet the actual Korea University students to see how great or not they are. I was also a bit scared.
Songs over Sports
I would like to firstly give a round of applause to every student who attended the Games. Arriving at the big Jamsil stadium for the Friday Baseball game, I was taken aback by the sea of blue t-shirts, caps, temporary tattoos and even hair. How could I have thought I would be the only one sacrificing my hair color for my school? On both sides, I saw excited students from all over the world representing their university color. I would be lying if I said I was not happy seeing so many international students singing the Yonsei anthem and noticing less foreigners on the Korea side. Particularly entertaining to me was the lack of attention paid to the actual players (sorry guys) as everyone was too emerged in singing with the incredible Akaraka group. I would have never imagined anyone to have such stamina in the heat.
I should now probably explain why I was a bit scared. After finishing the sports part of the YonKo Games, students of both universities united and went celebrating together like they do every year. However, it was the first time I attended and I lack both in Korean and in social skills. I knew my fellow UIC students were more than comfortable with English, but how would the Korea University students react to my bad “anyonghaseo”? And how would their attitude be since Yonsei managed to demolish their team?
I needn’t have worried.
The evening commenced with the “Train Event” and after the subsequent barbeque we sat down with our sister department from Korea University. Despite my friends and I being obvious foreigners and not very proficient in the Korean language none of the students refrained from our table and went to their limits to try and engage us in the conversation. Speaking literally with our hands and legs, we shared our experience and laughed together at the Korea University tragedy. Throughout the entire night, I met many of our rivals and almost none had trouble speaking to us in a way we could understand. We all tried our best, had a lot of fun together, and I still consider it the best Korean learning experience so far. I would be lying if I said I did not come across few individuals, who were more reserved and left us fairly early, but the majority of the Korea University students didn’t mind our language barrier and they for sure didn’t mind us being from Yonsei.
Friends Over Rivals
So where was the rivalry?
It was in the occasional funny remarks, sarcastic comments aimed at no one in particular and at the continuous friendly competition in the little games. I have noticed during the train event when the slightly upsetting songs mocking Korea University students were singing no one seemed to be too distressed by it and some even joined to admit this year’s defeat. It is not like we were not called “chickens” couple times (not that it makes it in any way a good practice).
Overall, despite the occasional offensive comments, I have never experienced a more open and generous bonding event between what are supposed to be deadly rivals. Even though there were older students, the sports players themselves and even freshman who – like me – were unable to fully join the conversations in the event, I can say I will remember this night as one big and funny celebration, where no one had to feel left out. Not only have we won, but also ate a lot, got drunk and met new friends – all of that with little to no conflicts or stress and even the language or background diversity couldn’t prevent that. Indeed, we are all becoming more and more global, and this could be seen even in the “traditional” battle of Yonsei vs. Korea.
What do you think?
Would you like to see it yourself?
I hope you liked this post and I will see you next week!
P.S. you can never imagine how good your language skills are until you start drinking.
Welcome back 🙂
I know I was kind of absent here last week but I worked hard on the video I shared with you so I hope it is enough as an excuse for not writing any post.
This week will hopefully make it up to you.
I for sure enjoyed filming this video.
Do not watch this hungry… or do but I warned you.
The Street Food Center
Some things just make me extremely excited. New sweaters, discounted acai powder, days off or street food.
I do not know what is so magical about eating without sitting down and reading through menu but I enjoy it too much. Especially since no street food was created equal and I each and every spot on the earth ha it’s own original one.
Traveling so much I realized simple things like food from a local beloved truck can really open up the culture to you. Plus it is usually super cheap.
That all said, I have never met a better street food city then Soul.
Korea for sure gets me when it comes to food and even the cheapest bites you can get on the go are one of my favorites It is true it is super HARD being vegan hear but you would be surprised how many dishes are or can be requested without animal products. (warning though, I have become okay with honey… I know I know but you would never believe how hard it is to stay vegan in Korea until you tried so this is still a little victory for me)
Just to emphasize how big street food in Seoul is, there is even a “Street Food Street”. Located in Myeongdong it is filled with one food stall next to each other and people crazily moving from one to another. If food is not enough, the street is lined with many actual shops, from cosmetics to clothes. You can find anything there. Let’s just look what I managed to get my hands on.
Somewhat Vegan-friendly Foodie Heaven
How many times have I mentioned how veganism is hard in Korea? I also mentioned how some of my vegan standards changed so I won’t repeat myself. I will dedicate this topic a whole article soon, it is so complicated I do not want to talk about it in a rushed way. However, that is not the point right now. The point is to make you hungry listing all the amazing foods I did try in Myeingdong
First of all, it would take at least a week of constant eating to try all the foods there. From traditional street food famous Tornado Potato to endless stall of fruit cups, everyone can find their own food soulmate there. I myself had such a hard time choosing and I obviously ate too much as always.
We started of with Korean twist on Mochi. Fresh strawberry covered in red bean dough and wrapped in pink glutinous rice coat right in front of our eyes was definitely something. Tasty, fresh and light (but pricier) it is an absolute must. My friend kept talking about it the whole ride back.
Next up we had Kimbab (김밥). Being absolute cheap stable for anyone in a rush kimbab is everywhere. Our stall of choice served mini Kimbabs, each tiny roll having just one distinct filling. You could load up your box with 5 rolls, each one for 1 000 won. Varying from traditional fish and spam flavors to something like cheese, I went for jalapeno and kimchi. Both were super tasty and I watched couple of ahjummas made another batch right in front of me drooling.
Fried food belongs to streets of Seoul like nothing else. From popular twigim (aka various deep fried dumplings, potatoes, squid…) to fried noodles and chicken. I usually avoid fried food as it makes my stomach very unhappy, but fried desserts are my weakness. And the one I like the most is without doubt Bungeo-ppang (붕어빵). Fried bread like dough, traditionally filled with sweet red bean and shaped like fish. What else would I need? This version I tried is also called Croissant Bungeo-ppang as it has flaky outside rather than the regular dense one. The lovely couple also offered other special fillings like sweet potato or even cheese. I could stay there forever.
One last item (or items) I tried were two kinds of Hotteok (호떡). Although it is compared to pancake, Hotteok is much different, thicker and heavier round shaped dough filled with melted brown sugar and pumpkin seed mixture. You can also find the savory version, filled with Japchae (glass) noodles and veggies. I can never decide between the two so I just get them both. And you should too.
So what was my favorite?
It is hard to declare just one winner but this time I reminisced most about the Bungeo-ppang. I have a serious thing for red beans and a cute fish I can eat, it is hard to beat that one.
And how much money did I spent?
Apart from fruit and some unusual items, street food in Seoul is super cheap. Even in such touristy area as Myeongdong I did not spent over 13 000 won (cca $13) and I ate more then I would need. So do not worry about spending too much there.
What should I try and where should we go next?
I hope you liked this adventure and I will see you soon again.
And hello from South Korea.
It is so weird thinking that everything I have been only picturing in my head is coming true. Slowly step by step, minute by minute I am oozing into this new life whose looks I have yet to discover.
But before all of that I had to undergo a pretty long journey. It was not an easy one to say so shall I just start from the beginning?
6 Hours Prior To Departure
Packing. As anyone who knows my organization’s skill could have expected I am still packing. I may have just properly started. But that is not the biggest problem. As I am piling on more and more absolutely necessary (maybe my entire essie collection…) things to pack i quickly realize I am by no means fitting that all in. PLUS there is the ridiculous weight limit. Buy another luggage? I am already paying for extra piece. How did I pack for England? And I was so confident.
So here you had a quick excerpt of how I felt while trying to stuff my life into two suitcases and a backpack. Since I have no idea when I will be returning to Prague I tried to pack it all. However, I already had to do a lot of hopping and will have to do even more so it is really not easy. Moving is hard.
In the end, I maned to do it. AND I did not exceed the weight limit. (kinda but it evened out with the smaller luggage) So do not be afraid if you need to leave for long time yourself.
Airport Goodbye Party
Being lucky enough to have multiple friends supporting me during anything I choose to do I had my own small group saying me goodby at the airport. Or maybe celebrating that they finally got rid of me?
Anyway after some hustle with purchasing the extra luggage (always buy online beforehand!) I managed to send them off and just had to figure out the way to properly let go off everybody which is not easy. How could you put years of friendship into words?
Passing all the security I rushed to the exit and quickly found myself being (almost) the only white person in the room. NOTE: The only one wearing comfy travel clothes as well. I have no clue how people travel 10 hours on heals and in dress. Boarded the airplane, had a luck of sharing the double seat with a very quiet, English speaking guy and they were no screaming children around. uring the flight I was served two meals (see the video) and the airline did NOT forget I ordered vegan option! Food looked like airline meal, nothing special but it was surprisingly okay to taste. I tried and slept most of the time but, my luck the TV set was broken! No Return of the Furios for me to put me to sleep.
Waking Up In The Shower
I woke up in Korea. Or technically still on the airplane but we were above Korea. I was dead, broken to pieces, thirsty and wanted to stretch my legs so badly. Luckily, I woke up very close to the landing time. I had to fill customs papers (of course I am not admitting all that food) fyi: no import of mangoes… and then I was all ready to go.
The heat hit me hard. Just the airport hallway was so damn hot! I was sweating like a pig while everyone looked okay. Damn my genes. I traveled by train to the main terminal and walked quite some time to get through immigration control (took only few minutes!) and to get my bags. I looked like an idiot, so white (but not pale) and slightly towering over most of the people. And not to mention the clothes.
The worst part though was just getting out of the beautifully airconditioned hall. I seriously can’t remember last time I was so shocked. I felt like I stepped into a steaming shower and I could immediately squeeze water out of my clothes. Not to mention my hair. Normally short, dry and straight turned into frizzy ball of sheep coat. Great. And I forgot my hairbrush.
I had the luck of my senior student picking me from the airport so literally from the beginning I had a great help. She was a part of Underwood International Community so she basically did her job but i still was super thankful. We somehow fit into the regular taxi (I did sit by my suitcase).and set of to about 20 minute drive from Incheon Airport to Songdo Yonsei Campus. On the way i got to chat about a the typical new student stuff, where do you come from, how old are you but I did bomb her with some enquires about the school itself. Once I glanced from the window I was so surprised!
Wide flat ground with high tower buildings. Some old some new. Super modern and old damaged ones. What I loved were all the Korean signs. Although i did not understand a lot i was happy to see Hangul somewhere outside my classroom. I did not learn this just for fun!
But if I was amazed by the buildings it was nothing on Songdo.
I will definitely tell you more about this crazy city but I will just brief this. Long ass bridge into this super modern brand new city filled with high buildings and modern routes and I am here at the beautiful UIC campus. ALL is new, big, modern a I am obsessed. It is not ugly modern but just enough. My amazing helper got me through all the registration, showed me around and even took me and my new friend to Homeplus.
Dorms were surprisingly spacy (I did pay more for double room though..) but not much was included. I need some toilet paper.
I ended the night hanging out with my new friends falling asleep instantly from the jet lag.
and that was it.
How I moved to Korea.
Still feels weird.
I will see you later.
Maybe next week? I will have to figure out my new posting schedule.