Life and Seoul

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Kimbab Cheongug – A cheap meal

The Kimbab Cheongug is a chain of Korean food restaurants across Korea offering a huge range of cheap Korean food. They are all recognizable for having orange facades with the Korean lettering 김밥 천국 out front. The range and quality of food often varies, but I usually find that eating outside of the peak busy times means better tasting food. They don’t deliver food and rarely have English menus, so it’s better to have what you want to eat in your mind when you go there. Most common Korean dishes will be served there.

 

The ordering process usually involved writing down what you want on a piece of paper with a list of all the dishes then handing it to one of the workers there. But the list is in Korean and I usually find that if ask somebody working there for Bibimbap for example, that will suffice.

Usually at the front of the restaurant is a small prep area where the host makes the kimbab whilst you watch, and a kitchen at the back where all other dishes are concocted. Kimbab will cost anywhere between $1.50 and $3 depending on what you want inside it. Dishes on offer cost anywhere between $2 for basic noodles and $7 for Cheese Doncasseu (pork cutlet with melted cheese inside). All orders will come with kimchi and pickled radish as a side and if you order more than just a kimbab you will get a selection of panchan. The quality and number of side dishes depends again on the place. Some are much better than others.

 This place is certainly one of my regular places to eat because I know there will be cheap, decent food there, and it’s usually quite healthy too.

 

 

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Bus Etiquette 2

In addition to my previous post regarding bus etiquette in Korea, I would like to add a few things.

One key issue to note is that, and this should be obvious, when you are in any other country, please remember that things may seem different to what you are used to. This DOES NOT MEAN they are worse than wherever it is you come from.

Korean people will rarely express any hostility openly to foreigners. What may seem rude to you may not be so in a different culture. Bear this in mind before you decide to react.

A case in point is the shocking tirade uttered by a U.S. citizen on a Korean bus, which was caught on camera:

And this, the admirable video response to the incident by my friend Sonny Side along with Pinnacle the Hustler:

 

Korean food delivery: eat ANYWHERE!

Not only are you always within minutes of a restaurant anywhere in all Korean towns and cities, you don’t even have to move from where you are to get a meal. If you can describe the location you are at sufficiently enough in Korean, then you can probably get a local restaurant to deliver food to you. This is inclusive of all areas accessible my a small motorcycle.

People in recreational areas such as the riverside parks along the river will often find a restaurant menu pinned to a pillar or park bench, call it and get food delivered to them, at no extra cost. If a road heads up a mountain, and you’re hungry at the top, then, within reason, you can probably get some food delivered to you.

One of the unique perks of Korea is this fantastic level of service which operates on a whole other level.

Even Pizza Hut, McDonalds and all other global fast food chains have a fleet of small delivery bikes. Often there is a minimum order price of 7000 won (about $7) for delivery. It does not bode well for anybody like me with habitually lazy patterns who wants to lose weight but can’t resist picking up the phone to get something delivered to the door.

Booking accommodation online

As mentioned elsewhere, I have, with a couple of exceptions, opted against mentioning specific hotels, hostels and guest-houses on this blog because information gets outdated, places close; deteriorate; improve and prices change. Instead, I would rather direct your attention to booking websites where you can read recent reviews from people who have stayed, and also get access to information about hundreds of different sleeping options that might better serve your needs.

The best impartial source of information is probably Trip Advisor; a collection of reviews from guests, a ratings system that puts all hotels in order of quality based on those reviews, and also provides multiple links to websites where you can reserve your room. It also allows you to narrow down your search depending on your requirements. Refined searches on this website even allow you to single out accommodations with a shuttle bus service, room service, wheelchair access etc.

Trip Advisor is more useful for top range hotels, than it is for budget options. If like me, your concern only goes as far as having a roof, walls and a bed in the place you sleep, then there are hundreds of hostels now in Korea, and more are appearing all the time. Try the following websites for booking: hostelworld.com, hostelbookers.com, hostels.com and of course YHA/HI hostels.

I would say that Hostelworld has the best coverage and, as it is the most used, has better reviews. YHA/HI is an international brand, so can be more reliable. Prices vary. If you buy a membership to HI then you will also be able to stay for a cheaper price. Generally every major city in the world has an HI affiliated hostel and breakfast is usually provided in the price.

When it rains it pours – a bad time to visit Korea

Koreans take pride in the distinct 4 seasons that grace the country throughout the year. However, it could be technically argued that there is a fifth, mini-season – The Rainy Season.

Much like monsoon season in countries that lie somewhere between the tropics and the Equator such as India, when the rain comes, it makes its presence felt.

In Korea, the rain will often be persistent, and at times does not let up for days on end. This can really scupper travel plans, and you might find that you spend most of your trip indoors watching t.v. or reading.

When? The season usually is worst from mid-late June and finishes around mid-late July. The rest of the summer will experience showers and thunderstorms as opposed to extended rainy periods, but can get very humid. By the end of August the rain clears up and for much of the autumn season there is little rain at all.

This video was shot at the end of July 2011 when much of Gangnam in the south of Seoul and other cities experienced flooding.

Free Tourist Bus in Korea

Incredibly, Visit Seoul are currently offering a free shuttle bus between Seoul and three major tourist destinations in Korea. This is part of their oddly named Visit Korea Year, which would be all well and good if it weren’t for the fact that it runs from 2010-2012.

The destinations a foreigner in Korea can travel to for free are:
Gyeongju – Korea’s historical capital and former seat of the Jeoseon Dynasty for centuries. This is the best place is Korea to get a sense of historic Korea, and one which has not been rebuilt.
Busan – Korea’s second city, famed for being more laid back than Seoul, and home of the famous Haeundae Beach. It also hosts the expansive Jagalchi Fish Market and good ferry and plane links to close neighbour, Japan.
Jeonju – Supposedly the culinary capital of Korea. All you foodies take note. There are a number of sites of historic interest here also.

This offer runs from now until December 31st, 2011.

The buses are phenomenal; only 3 seats across each row, spacious, comfortable, air conditioned and shiny deluxe buses. Aside from the lengthy visit Korea promo video which plays for a while once the trip has started, it is easy to fall asleep and wake up at your destination.

What’s more, there is NO catch. You don’t have to buy anything, you don’t have to visit any specific places and get herded around like cattle, you just get on at a designated spot and off at your destination. You can travel free either one way or return, and there is no time limit on how long you wait before returning.

The buses travel on every day of the week except Mondays. Plan your trip accordingly.

To reserve your seat, click on this link and have your passport handy. You must reserve in advance, you can’t just rock up and get on the bus.

So far I have only been to Gyeongju and back using this service but I highly recommend it and will certainly take the opportunity to visit Busan and Jeonju using it also before 2012.

Neolttwigi and Jultagi – Chuseok performances

Chuseok is just a week away. There is a particular custom performed at this time of year where two people stand on a see-saw type thing then jump up and down. Neolttwigi/nol-ttwigi (널뛰기) as it is known actually has a defined purpose.

Explanation: Neolttwigi is a giant see-saw that you stand, rather than sit on. By jumping up and down on it, you can, providing that both people (most usually women) are roughly equal in weight, get some serious air. The custom is only really likely to be seen in Korea during the Chuseok festival, usually around September or October (changes due to the Lunar Calendar). The historical point of it was that womenfolk, who were not allowed outside the town walls during the day, were able to get fleeting glimpses of what was going on in the outside world.

If that does not sound challenging enough as a way to see outside you home, then the acrobatic performance of Jultagi (tightrope walking), takes things to another level. Performed around the same time, Jultagi (줄타기) involved musical accompaniment (and sometimes a clown) whilst the performer uses a variety of techniques to walk along the rope. Some of these may include lying down, kneeling then jumping up into a cross-legged stance, and walking backwards.

Huge bowling pins

Wherever you wander in Korea, it doesn’t take long to realise that space here is used very efficiently. Any busy high street can be overwhelming at night time as the bright neon signs jostle for position, revealing how every level of a building will play host to a restaurant, store, bar(or hof as they are also known).

Occasionally, in the midst of all the glitz and neon 1980s sci-fi movie glare, you may see a huge bowling pin sticking out the side of the building. Unlike in the West, there are few out-and-out bowling alleys in Korea. However tucked on one or two floors in between a pharmacy on the floor above and a seafood restaurant on the one below perhaps, you can hit the bowling lanes for a few thousand won (usually around W5000) an hour including gear hire. Sometimes the bowling alleys are located in the basement.

If you have to wait, there are usually pool and billiard tables in a waiting room. The best time to go is during the day time when most people are at work.

How to get a ticket for the subway in Korea – photo guide

New systems can often be confusing. Coming from London, England: home of the world’s very first network of underground railways and stations is now outdated. Korea’s system is new, spacious, modern. As such it is actually more user-friendly. Once you have worked out where you want to go on the subway map, you need to buy a ticket.

In the lobby, there will be a bank of ticket machines and deposit refund devices. First you needn’t worry about the latter. The ticket issuing is in 4 languages (Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese). It is all done by touch screen.

First select the language.

Then select the station you wish to go to. This is alphabetized.

Choose you station, then you will be asked how many tickets you wish to buy. Select the number and insert your money.

The money-eating mouth hole of the machine will light up green to indicate where to feed it.

A few seconds later, you ticket will be spat out, again in a little compartment which will light up.

The cards work much like the oyster of London or octopus cards of Hong Kong. Just touch it to the pad as you walk through the gate, both on your way in and out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once your journey is complete, head to the bank of ticket machines in your destination station and find the deposit refund device. Insert your card and you will get a little money back.

The T-Money travel card is only worth buying if you are going to use the transport system more than 20 times. This is the point where you will start to save money from the purchase price of the T-Money card.

The Hof

I’m not talking about Dustin, or Philip Seymour. I’m not paying my respects in this post to David Hasselhoff either (although I probably should be doing). Nope, a hof when Korea is concerned is a watering hole, bar, public house, stank pit, cocktail lounge, tavern, rathskeller, alehouse or saloon.

When pronounced it sounds a little more like our word ‘Hop’ with a softer ‘p’. It certainly doesn’t seem like a word with Korean origins, and some stipulate that it may be named after the German Bavarian city of Hof, the Germans having helped spread lager around the world.

Whatever the origin, hofs are ubiquitous in all areas of Korea and often have the English spelling on their signs.

Most of the ones in the area where i live are located underground. In fact in most areas, you will walk down dark, often dank stairways. However the bar itself can be surprisingly chic. My area, Hyehwa, is famed as the Broadway of Seoul. As such there are a number of arty hofs, jazz hofs and record hofs. Also known as vinyl bars, the latter are by far my favourite. Along one whole wall will often be thousands of old LPs from which you may select songs which the proprietor will put on for you.

Vinyl records line the entire back wall of the bar

The hof is a staple of Korean life and business and in my opinion is the best place to have a bottle of soju with friends.

Okay and because I can’t help myself, on a different note, check out this video.