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September 20, 2017

Is It Safe to Travel to South Korea?

This article was originally published in May 2013 but is still just as relevant today amid the most recent missle tests and threats from North Korea. 

While eating breakfast at my hostel in Barcelona in April 2013, a CNN news brief aired declaring that tensions were high and nuclear war was imminent on the Korean peninsula.  A Korean backpacker that I had met earlier that week looked at me and simultaneously, we rolled our eyes, irked by the excessive urgency and seriousness in the reporters' words. The others in the room, who hailed from all corners of the globe, looked worried and advised us to prolong our stay in Europe rather than return to a country that was in such a hostile state.

The concerned comments didn't end there. Messages from my friends in America began flooding my inbox with questions regarding my well-being and my parents even offered to purchase a plane ticket so I could quickly get back to Mississippi.

The fact of the matter is that during the situation, I never once considered not going back to Korea.  After living in Seoul for over eight years, I have become accustomed to North Korea's endless empty threats and South Korea's apathy toward them. Fortunately, because I was traveling, I also wasn't as exposed to the media's outrageous reports, which were no doubt embellished to expand viewership and increase ratings.

As tragic as it was, the Boston Marathon bombing was the event that eased my family's and friends' fears. After the bombing, news on North Korea was virtually nonexistent, proving that the threats were not as newsworthy as the media networks made them out to be.

When I returned to Seoul at the end of April, I was not surprised to find the city unchanged. Walking around downtown, I spotted cheerful children playing, decorations for Buddha's Birthday being hung, and happy couples sipping lattes in cafes.

A gentleman at Gwangjang Market expresses more interest in the latest soap opera than in updates on North Korea. (Photo: Seoul Searching)

Growing up on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, I'm well accustomed to impending disaster and brewing panic. Once every few years, a hurricane would sweep through our stretch of coastline, knocking down houses and flooding towns. I was used to trips to the supermarket to stock up on emergency supplies and waiting hours in line at service stations for gasoline.

The tensions that were manifest during those times were (and are still) nowhere to be found or felt in Korea.

In fact, those who live in Korea might be wondering why I am writing this, as it is indeed old news.  Still, there are a number of people considering moving or traveling to Korea and are wondering, "Is it really safe?"

The answer is yes, it is.

I have traveled to over thirty countries and can assuredly say that of all of the places I've visited, Korea is the safest. This remains to be true in the midst of the North's threats. I could go on to elaborate as to why North Korea would never actually make an attempt to engage in warfare with the South (or the US), but I think the reasons are obvious enough. Kim Jong-un might be egotistical and absurd, but he's not stupid, nor is he ready to see the fall of his dear nation.

A number of circulating memes indicate that many netizens are more interested in mocking Kim Jong-un than fearing him. (Photo: Gagnamite.com)

But don't take my word for it. A countless number of unfazed embassies (including the American one in Seoul) have issued notices stating, "...despite current political tensions with North Korea there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens or facilities in the Republic of Korea (ROK)."

The same goes for the recent outbreak of MERS. I'll be the first to admit that the American government is far from perfect but I do believe that they would make an effort to advise citizens to leave the country if necessary.

Now, I'm not saying that there are not risks involved in traveling to Korea. In actuality, there are risks involved in traveling anywhere outside the comfort of your home. If there weren't, travel insurance agencies would cease to exist. There are, however, precautions you can take to ensure peace of mind during your trip.

Be sure to notify your country's embassy of your travel plans, and monitor travel warnings and worldwide caution notices. Again, this should be a habit when traveling to any country, not just South Korea.

Fear of empty threats provoked by money-hungry media networks should not deter anyone from experiencing the wonderful food, culture and attractions South Korea has to offer.  Happy (and safe) travels!

Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless otherwise noted.

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September 18, 2017

5 Reasons to FALL in Love with Korea in Autumn

I can feel it. There's a crispness in the air that hints fall is near.

So close, in fact, that the first hints of autumn colors can be seen streaking the mostly verdant leaves that canopy the green spaces of Seoul. The aroma of roasting chestnuts permeates the busy streets downtown. Sweaters take over the storefronts of Myeongdong, Dongdaemun and Sinsa, the shopping districts of the city.

Yes, I can feel it.  And I'm giddy.

Korea's fall beauty in full force © hojusaram
You see, there's something about autumn that makes my heart beat a little faster. There always has been. When I lived in America, it was tailgating at football games and trick-or-treating that did it for me. But here in Korea, there are a number of things that keep me eagerly waiting for this beautiful season all year long.

Here are five of them.

Mountain Hikes

For one, there's nothing more beautiful than the sight of the country as it becomes progressively saturated with a palette of autumn hues: burning crimsons, vibrant oranges, and rich browns.

Hikers enjoy the fall foliage at Seoraksan National Park in Sokcho. © Seoul Searching
It's the perfect time of year to enjoy the great outdoors, whether taking a walk at the park or hiking one of the nation's famous mountains. One of the most well-known places to see the foliage is Seoraksan National Park in the city of Sokcho, situated on the east coast of the peninsula. Inwangsan and Dobongsan Mountains in Seoul are two other beautiful and even more convenient hiking spots.

Beautiful autumn hues paint Shinheungsa Temple in Seoraksan.© Seoul Searching

Fall Colors at Seoul's Palaces

The palaces of Seoul are also great destinations to witness the colorful transformation of Korea during its most aesthetically pleasing season. The visual of traditional buildings and reflecting ponds draped in the colors of fall lure photographers, artists, and romantics from all around the country.

The bright colors of Deoksugung Palace blend beautifully with the yellows of the leaves.© Seoul Searching
When visiting the palaces, one can almost make out the kings and queens of past dynasties reflectively sipping tea under the vivid maple trees, enjoying the crisp chill in the air.

Leaves blanket the reflecting pool at Deoksugung Palace. © Seoul Searching
Seasonal Produce

Fall is also a time of harvest in Korea and the new crops are rich and delicious. Grains are used for making alcohol and special rice cakes called songpyeon are prepared for Chuseok, but my favorite fall food is the persimmon.

A symbol of autumn in Korea, persimmons add even more color to the foliage and offer a welcomed sweetness to the otherwise savory spread of the country's seasonal cuisine. They are particularly tasty when hardened, resembling crispy apples.

Persimmon trees add a splash of color to Gyeongbokgung Palace © Seoul Searching
Persimmons are also dried to make sujeonggwa, a punch-like drink. Dried persimmons are mixed with ginger and cinnamon to create the perfect fall beverage. Although it is traditionally served cold, I personally find it tastes best when hot, just like apple cider.

Pojangmacha & Street Food

Street food vendors serve up seasonal favorites like chestnuts, roasted sweet potatoes and hotteok, a sweet brown sugar-filled pancake. The smells that emanate from the food stalls are enticing to say the least, as are the bright orange colors of the pojangmacha, Korean street food tents.

Hotteok is a unique Korean snack made with wheat flour dough filled with dark brown sugar, cinnamon, sesame, and chopped peanuts © KoreaNet
Although these tents are open for business throughout the year, they are best enjoyed in the fall, when temperatures are ideal to load up on street snacks and swig shots of soju in the open-air spaces offered by the tents.

The sights and smells of pojangmacha, street food tents, lure passersby. © Seoul Searching
Happy Seoulites

Finally, people are happier during the fall. I'm not sure what it is. The end of the sweltering temperatures, the time spent with family, the simple beauty that can only be created by Mother Nature. Whatever the reason, smiles are contagious and folks are friendlier.

Autumn is one of the few seasons that is capable of provoking all the senses, particularly in Korea.  It's a short season, lasting only about a month and a half, but is a wonderful time to experience the splendor of the country before the cold winter sets in.

Fall Foliage Forecast

Korea’s autumn foliage season usually starts in late September and lasts until mid-November, reaching its peak when the yellow and red colors of the trees cover 80 percent of the mountain--about two weeks after the first fall foliage is observed.

According to the Kweather forecast, the 2017 autumn foliage season will arrive two or three days earlier than usual. The first autumn foliage is expected to begin in the northeast regions, at Seoraksan National Park around September 27, followed by the central and southwest regions around mid-October. The autumn foliage will arrive in the southern regions between mid to late October.

Image: KTO
Fall Foliage Dates by National Park

Seoraksan National Park   Starts: September 27 Peak: October 19
Jirisan National Park   Starts: October 12 Peak: October 24
Naejangsan National Park   Starts: October 20 Peak: November 8
Odaesan National Park   Starts: October 1 Peak: October 17
Daedunsan Provincial Park   Starts: October 15 Peak: October 27
Songnisan National Park   Starts: October 12 Peak: October 25
Deogyusan National Park   Starts: October 13 Peak: October 27
Juwangsan National Park   Starts: October 13 Peak: October 29
Gayasan National Park   Starts: October 13 Peak: October 30
Bukhansan National Park   Starts: October 15 Peak: October 29
Hallasan National Park   Starts: October 17 Peak: October 31

Let the countdown to fall begin!

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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September 13, 2017

The Best Things to Do, See and Eat in Insadong

Once the country’s largest market for trading antiques and artwork, Insadong has over the years developed into a bustling yet quaint destination that is now recognized as one of Seoul’s most iconic neighborhoods.

Fairly well preserved and organized to represent Korea’s culture of both the past and the present, Insadong is the premiere locale to sample unique dishes, spend an afternoon in a tea house and wander delightful shops that sell everything from traditional stationary to EXO posters and delicate ceramics to cosmetics.

Most tourists only stick to the main strip, Insadong Street, which is quite a shame considering that the narrow side streets that wind through the district are a treasure trove of antique shops, art galleries and tiny cafes waiting to be explored.

One of the best ways to fully experience the real Insadong is to simply lose yourself in the maze of alleys. But for those with limited time, there are still plenty of places to see to get a feel for the area.

Back to the Good Ol Days 

The entrance to the neighborhood, located just outside Anguk Station and a stone’s throw from Gyeongbok Palace, is marked by a giant stone paintbrush, a striking symbol that pays tribute to Insadong’s artistic roots. Here, you can pick up a few additional maps or brochures at the tourist information booth or grab a quick bite to eat at Miss Lee’s Cafe (별다방미스리).

This lively little eatery serves up nostalgia with its signature lunchbox meal of sausage, kimchi pork and a fried egg sprinkled with seaweed over a bed of white rice. Known as a doshirak in Korean, the lunchbox is to be shaken before eaten, just as school children did back in the good ole days.

The decor, primarily made up of old-fashioned posters and toys, and thousands of love notes left by previous diners, is especially adorable. As such, Miss Lee’s Cafe provided the perfect backdrop as a filming location for an episode of the popular Korean reality show We Got Married.

Just as kitschy as Miss Lee’s is Toto’s Nostalgia Museum and Giftshop, a fun museum cluttered with Korean toys and trinkets from the 1970s and 80s. Although the collection is a bit chaotic, it’s a great place to check out (with your eyes, not your hands) characters and comics unknown outside Korea, mixed in with a few Japanese and American classics. While most of the items are not for sale, you can purchase vintage Korean candy, stickers, stamps and kiddy toys for prices as cheap as the admission (2,000 won).

Get Your Art On

As the art capital of Seoul, it would be a crime to miss Insadong’s galleries that showcase a wide variety of traditional and contemporary art. Many of the neighborhood’s galleries are completely free to explore so be sure to dedicate at least an hour to browsing a few exhibits. Gana Art Space is one of the better known cultural spaces in the neighborhood and is a breeding ground for up-and-coming artists emerging on the scene.

Shop Til Ya Drop 

Down the street, Ssamziegil beckons visitors with its imaginative architecture, whimsical shops and rather bizarre cafes and dining establishments. It has become the beating heart of Insadong since it opened its doors in 2004 and is the perfect place to find one-of-a-kind quality gifts. (Unlike most of the made-in-China wares sold on the bordering streets.)

Follow the spiraling walkway upward from the cheerful courtyard to be treated to a fantastic window-shopping experience as you peer into the glass facades of over 70 shops, many of which incorporate Korean themes into their wares, making them perfect souvenirs for all your loved ones at home. Or yourself. Because you deserve it.

For the Hallyu fan, Pattern Craftshop sells orgel, hand-painted music boxes; some play the traditional anthem “Arirang” while still others feature a variety of K-pop hits. Those with traditional tastes might like something from Art Sense, Korea’s only fan shop that exclusively produces and sells fans. The all-natural cosmetics and skin care products that incorporate Korean herbs found at Skylake will excite any beauty junkie.

Embrace Your Inner Kid 

Upon reaching the rooftop of Ssamziegil, visitors can take in views of the bustling streets below before settling into Ddo-Ong Cafe, sometimes referred to as the “poop cafe.” Here, colorful mini plungers hang delicately from trees, old fashioned squat toilets are placed tastefully throughout the shop and patrons take selfies with borderline offensive poop-shaped dolls.

Yet, the design isn’t too over the top and is worth a visit, if only for a laugh. The ddongbang, or poo-shaped pastries filled with red bean paste, sold outside the cafe also warrant a try.

Also located on the rooftop is a small garden and coffee vendor where couples can purchase love tags and write messages to one another. This also leads into the Alive Museum, a cheesy but fun gallery that engages visitors in a 3D art experience, in which the exhibited works create the illusion that visitors are part of the art.

While you’re at it, try on a hanbok and gather around the Chalcak sticker photo booth studio, where you can use props and wigs, hilarious backgrounds and your very best poses to create colorful stickers that you can take home as a memory of your time in Ssamzigil.

Kids will appreciate the paint-your-own ceramics and candle making studio at the experimental workshops in the basement.

A Taste of the North 

Get a taste of North Korean style dumplings at Gung, a family-run restaurant owned by an kindred grandmother who escaped the North during the Korean war. The Gaesong mandu, stuffed with ground pork, Chinese cabbage and pumpkin, is served perfectly steamed and packs a lot of flavor into each bite.

The dumplings, which are bigger and rounder than the South Korean version, pair well with the restaurant’s bossam, or tender boiled pork slices in lettuce wraps, and kimchi, which is made fresh in front of the restaurant throughout the week.

Don’t expect the dishes at Gung to be overly inventive or even photogenic, as the restaurant is a simple one that captures the traditional tastes of the past, which is perhaps the best thing about this lovely lunch spot.

Tea Time 

Just across from Gung is Kyung-in Museum of Fine Art, a collection of three galleries canopied by trees and surrounded by flowers, a setting that is particularly stunning in spring. The small galleries’ architecture makes use of their surroundings to create a harmony between the indoor spaces and nature. Exhibitions frequently change, but past artworks have included paintings and traditional handicrafts from Korean artists.

The highlight of the artspace is Dawon, the oldest tea house in Seoul, housed in a hanok. In warmer months, it is recommended that you take advantage of the patio, or if you happen to avoid peak hours, the wooden pavilion, to soak up the space’s natural beauty while sipping your tea.

Elusively tucked away on an ivy-consumed alley behind Ssamziegil is Moonbird Thinks Only of the Moon, a lesser known tea house, but one with even more charms. Stepping through the elusive sliding door is almost like stepping back in time to a more simplistic and magical Korea. Shrouded in rustic decor, old household tools and jars of fermenting fruit, one becomes enchanted by the tea house’s charms.

A multi-language menu consists of various homemade fruit and herbal teas, each of which promises a different nutritional benefit. Safe bets include the omija (five-flavored berry) and yuja (Asian citrus) teas, which are served with a complimentary sampling of rice cakes and tea snacks.

The Temple Life 

After exploring the remainder of Insadong Street, continue on to Jogyesa, one of Seoul’s most frequented Buddhist temples, thanks to its central location. Although it may not possess the solemnity of Korea's rural mountain temples,

Jogyesa’s larger-than-life bronze Buddha statues, 500-year-old locust and baeksong trees and chanting monks create a spiritual environment. The temple is a must-see during Buddha’s Birthday, when the grounds are decked out in colorful lanterns and performers from all the world over come together to celebrate the Buddha’s life and teachings.

You can even spend a day in the life of a monk through the Temple Stay program, in which participants engage in activities such as chanting, meditation and service. Night owls be warned: wake-up calls during the stay are as early as 3:30am so be prepared. The Information Center across the street from the temple has plenty of pamphlets and books to assist you in finding the right program for you.

On the fifth floor of the same building is Barugongyang, a modern yet traditional restaurant that serves up customary Korean Buddhist temple cuisine. Strictly vegetarian, this type of cuisine uses only natural flavoring agents such as kelp, mushroom, wild sesame seeds and raw soy bean powder to assist in maintaining nutritional balance while at the same time delivering a simple, clean taste.

Moreover, the food lacks the ingredients usually found in Korean cuisine such as onion, garlic and chili powder; who would’ve thought Korean food could lack this holy trinity of ingredients?

Adorned with minimalist furnishings in natural color schemes and surrounded in floor to ceiling windows which let in plenty of light, Barugongyang exudes a relaxing atmosphere. On the menu is a variety of mid-range to expensive pre-fixed seasonal course meals, each offering up an eclectic sampling of dishes commonly found in formal monastic meals such as dwenjang (bean paste) soup, lotus leaf rice, seasonal salads and fermented vegetables.

For those looking to try temple food on a budget, consider stopping in Barugongyang Kong, a popular lunch buffet, on the second floor.


Although Insadong’s nightlife options are limited — most places shut down around 9pm — there are a few makgeolli (Korean rice wine) pubs that are worth visiting. The best in the neighborhood is Story of the Blue Star, a hidden gem located just a stone’s throw from the subway station.

Adorned by colorful prayer flags, smiling Buddhas and old movie posters (many of which feature the actor-turned-owner’s previous film and theatrical productions), the pub is rustic, unpretentious and popular with rowdy businessmen. Fresh makgeolli is served Korean style, in brass kettles, and pairs well with the kimchi dubu, homemade kimchi and tofu pyramids.

For something a bit less traditional (and less healthy), Brew 3.15 serves up some of the best chimaek in the neighborhood. This dish, which gets its name by combining the words chicken and maekju (beer), has become all the rage throughout Asia in recent years and is a perfect late night meal (or snack).

Start your order with a beer sampler to find the right brew for you; all of the craft beer on tap pairs beautifully with Brew 3.15’s signature fried chicken, which is served up with a variety of homemade dipping sauces. Finish off your meal, and night, with a deep fried chocopie smothered in ice cream. (Yeah, you heard that right!)

To Get There: Take the Seoul subway to Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 6). Walk straight for one minute then take a left just before the giant paintbrush status.

More Neighborhoods Like This: Seochon Village; Samcheongdong

Nearby Neighborhoods: Myeongdong; Seochon Village; Samcheongdong


Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. 

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September 10, 2017

How to Skip Airport Check In and Security Lines with City Airport Terminal

With its great service, endless array of dining and entertainment facilities and optimal efficiency, Incheon Airport is one of the best in the world. It's also one of the most traveled which can make the entire airport experience incredibly frustrating during peak travel periods like Chuseok and Chinese New Year.

But did you know that rather than wasting your precious time in line at the check-in counter or twiddling your thumbs as you wait for your passport to be stamped in immigration, you can actually fly through the process before you even arrive at the airport?


Well ya can, and I did on a recent trip to New York, thanks to the City Airport Terminal (CAT) at Seoul Station.

As usual, I opted to take the AREX Express from Seoul Station to the airport, as it's not far from my neighborhood.

But because of summer vacation traffic, I missed my train. With an extra half hour to kill, I decided to try out CAT's free check in service. 

It literally took less than 15 minutes to check in, go through immigration and board the train. This meant that I even had time to exchange my won for dollars right there at the currency exchange counter.

And let me just tell you about the pleasure I experienced from not having to wait in that security line at Incheon. I walked right on through the crew entrance and was through security and immigration in a snap. 

Seriously. If you usually go to the airport via Seoul Station, there's no reason not to take advantage of this service. (There's also a similar one offered at COEX.) Here's how to do it. 

First off...

Note that you must be flying Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, Jeju Air or China Southern Airlines to check in at the City Airport Terminal. Also, you have to check in at CAT at least three hours before your flight is scheduled to depart.

Step 1 

Purchase a ticket for the Airport Railroad Express Train (AREX) (Tickets are ₩8,000, adults; ₩6,900, children). You can do so either at the counter or an electronic kiosk on the B2 floor of Airport Railroad Seoul Station. Check the time table here

Step 2

Walk a few steps over to your designated check in counter and present your flight information, passport and AREX train ticket. You'll be checked in just as you would at the airport, and will be presented with your boarding pass. Drop off any checked luggage... they'll deliver it all the way to Incheon so you don't have to! 

Step 3

Wait 10 minutes for your luggage to be cleared. (Make sure you don't have any lighters or batteries in your bag!)

Step 4 

If you're not called, proceed to the immigration office next to the check in counters and have your passport stamped. You can instead go through the regular security and immigration lines at the airport, if you chose to do so, but it's preferable to do it here.

Step 5

Take the elevator down to the platform on B7 and board the train. (Check your seat assignment on your ticket receipt.) Enjoy the 43 minute ride!

Step 6

Upon arriving at Incheon Airport, go to the Departure Hall on the third floor. You can use the designated entrance to be fast tracked through security and immigration. 

Boom! You're in! Now, relax and enjoy a cultural performance, do some shopping or fill your belly before take-off. Happy travels!

More Information

Seoul Station City Airport Terminal Service Hours:

Check-in (Boarding and Baggage Consignment): 5:20am - 7pm
Departure Procedure of Immigration : 7am - 7pm

Seoul Station City Airport Terminal Map:

Incheon International Airport Designated Security Line Entrance Map:

Words and images by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. 

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August 28, 2017

Places to Check Out in Paju That Have Nothing to Do With North Korea

Paju is perhaps most associated with its geographical location, as it sits just south of Panmunjeom on the 38th parallel, steps away from North Korea. As the peninsula's most famous border town, many might assume that Paju is a drab, frightful place, but in actuality, it's just the opposite.

Sure, it may be the final destination for many DMZ tours, but there are also plenty of great non-military-related spots to explore. Here are five of them.

Paju Premium Outlets 

This three-story shopping complex, known for having the largest number of individual brand stores in the entire nation, contains 165 stores. Discounts at the outlet range from 25-65 percent, and are often even better than those offered at Korea's duty-free stores.

In addition to designer brands such as Armani, Banana Republic and Comme des Garcons, the complex also boasts a range of sportswear, accessory and home furnishings shops.

Get there: Take bus 2200 to the Paju Premium Outlets stop.

Paju Book City 

Bibliophiles should most definitely dedicate a couple hours to this charming village near Heyri, which is home to over 250 publishers that conduct the entire process of publishing from planning to printing and distribution.

Thoughtfully designed book cafes and used bookstores are a few of the highlights of the book city. Visitors can even participate in a printing demonstration at a fully operational moveable type workshop with the tools the printing master has been using for decades.

Get there: Take bus 2200 to the Paju Book City stop.

Provence Village 

Since an upscale French restaurant opened at Provence Village in 1996, the area has transformed into a small but colorful themed village that aims to evoke a European charm in a quintessentially Korean way.

Visitors can browse small cafes, ceramics shops and bakeries.

Get there: Take bus 2200 to the Seongdong Intersection stop.

Heyri Art Village 

This quaint village, home to some of Korea's most creative artists, is the definition of cheerfulness, with its quirky museums, beautifully landscaped parks and funky modern architecture.

Heyri Art Village is also a popular filming location for a number of K-dramas, music videos and movies so Hallyu fans might recognize certain spaces and places like Farmer's Table, the setting for the school cafeteria in Boys Before Flowers.

Get there: Take bus 2200 to Heyri Art Village, Gate 4.

Motif NO. 1 Guest House

It’s impossible to see all of Paju's attractions in a single day, so why not consider making it a weekend trip?

Located in Heyri Art Village, Motif 1 is a guesthouse managed by artist Lee An-soo.

The building houses an array of guest rooms, each boasting their own distinct character and design, in addition to a library and art gallery. Rooms start at ₩140,000. For more information or to make a reservation, click here.

Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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August 6, 2017

A Girl's Guide to Seoul's University Quarter, Part 2: Sinchon

This is the second part of a two-part series of a walking tour through Seoul's university neighborhoods. To read Part 1: Edae, click here.

Sinchon at night | © Sami Paju / Flickr
From Hello apM in Edae, pass Sinchon Railway Station, which separates Ewha Women’s University and Yonsei University, and is the oldest railway station in Seoul.

Originally intended to be a whistle-stop along the Gyeongui Line connecting Seoul and Sinuiju (a city in present-day North Korea), the station was constructed in 1920. After the two Koreas were divided, the station became the departure site to Munsan, a city near the Military Demarcation Line. Although the station was shut down years later, it still stands as a symbol of Sinchon’s historical importance and operates as a tourism office today.

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Peek inside Sinchon Station to see photographs of the past and present area. They may remind Yoo Yeon-seok fans of Reply 1994, as the area was the setting for the majority of the nostalgic drama, which featured a soundtrack that was heavily praised.

Ice, Ice Baby

As is the case for most cuisine, dishes are most delicious when ingredients are fresh and flavors are simple. Unlike most bingsu (shaved ice) joints, which serve ostentatious and often outrageous combinations of the dessert, Homilbat (호밀밭) has stuck to the basics and, as the line out the front door proves, has had great success in doing so.

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With only a few options, Homilbat is most known for its deconstructed Milk Bingsu, which consists of powder-like ice mixed with condensed milk and is served with a sweet, homemade red bean paste made from beans sourced from Korea. Distinctively fresher than the canned beans most other places use, Homilbat’s beans are addicting and memorable.

A few doors down does a less traditional twist on the summer sweet. Towering almost a foot high, Pop Container’s (팝컨테이너) Oreo Bingsu is a mountain of ice shavings, ice cream and finely ground Oreo powder. Its comfortable seating area of overstuffed beanbags invites sharing, which is a must considering the portion sizes of its desserts.

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Swing into the alley across from the Changchun Methodist Church and keep an eye out for Little Cuba, Korea's first and finest Cuban restaurant. Run by Cuban native Augusto Cesar Calzadilla, this place serves up classic dishes and has a pub-like atmosphere, complete with continuous screenings of passionate Latino musical performances.

Although most well known for its Cuban Sandwich, stuffed with ham, cheese and pickles, Little Cuba has a great selection of authentic comida. Try the ropa vieja, a flavorful dish of shredded flank steak which comes with congri (mixed rice and beans) and a salad, along with one of the rum-based cocktails. The mojitos are only available in the summer, when Augusto uses home-grown Cuban mint in the cocktails. This is about as close to Cuba as you’ll get in Asia. (Note: Little Cuba is temporarily closed as of August 2017. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for reopening information.)

The Sounds of Sinchon

Stop by Zado Ranking Shop, one of the few markets in the area that sells microbrews, and a fairly good number of them, at that. The place also carries a wide variety of international snacks, microwaveable meals and freshly baked bread and desserts. Bring your beer down to the Sinchon rotary, which starts to pick up in the early evening.

Here, hop aboard the Sinchon PlayBus, the coolest looking information kiosk in the city. Inside, friendly volunteers are more than willing to make restaurant recommendations or answer travel questions, but the unique feature about this booth is that it was established to bring locals and visitors together through music.

It features a DJ Box, where live broadcasts feature hit songs from the 70s, 80s and 90s from a collection of 150 albums.

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Hanging on the walls are nostalgic images that convey the stories of Sinchon’s beginnings as not only an area of education and music, but also one that was at the center of the student-led pro-democracy movement of the 1980s. It’s also a popular place for street artists in the evenings, so stop by to catch a free performance.

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Fast forward to present day. KakaoTalk is hands-down the most widely used mobile instant messaging app in Korea and since its launch in 2010 has accumulated over 140 million users and is available in 15 languages. It has attracted a cult following not only with its expansive services, but with its adorable characters that can be sent as oversized emoticons.

Even those who have never used the app will appreciate the Kakao Friends Store, where images of the app’s characters including Muzi & Con, Neo, Frodo, Tube, Apeach and Jay-G are featured on stationary, accessories and other gift items.

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Galbi Gone Wild

If you haven’t tried it yet, Seo-seo Galbi is the best place in Seoul to try galbi (marinated ribs). In fact, it’s so good that despite it being the only thing on the menu and there not being a single chair in the entire place, the restaurant almost always sells out by early evening.

This no-frills establishment which started as a popular spot with truck drivers has been around for almost half a century and serves quality, fantastically marinated hanu (Korean beef), which pairs perfectly with a bottle of soju. Get here early, be prepared to stand and get ready for one of the best barbeque experiences to be had in all of the city.

Or, if burgers are more of your thing, head to Yaletown Burgers and Bar, a sports bar that serves up juicy burgers and a mean plate of curly fries. Adored by expats and locals alike, the venue is a great spot for groups, complete with a pool table, beer pong and numerous board games - not to mention plenty of TVs showing the big game.

After dinner, it’s time to explore Sinchon’s nightlife.

If you’re up for a game of pool or darts, 900PUB has both, along with arcade games and a DJ booth to liven up the atmosphere. It’s also a good place to sip on affordable cocktails and party the night away, just as Kim Tan (Lee Min-ho) and Cha Eun-sang (Park Shin-hye) did in The Heirs when the drama was filmed here.

Or, for something a bit more laid back, head to Damotori. Established in 1987, this popular watering hole has catered to university students for two decades, and still exudes a 1990s feel. In addition to boasting a nostalgic atmopshere, the DJ also takes requests, and plays anything from protest songs to the pop hits of the era.

A post shared by 정승민 seungmin.chung (@jayusesang) on

You can conclude your night out with a round of noraebang at one of the area’s many karaoke bars or head to nearby Hongdae for some dancing. But, chances are you will probably have shopped, eaten and partied so much that you’ll require a good night’s sleep. Hail a cab, or take the subway at Sinchon Station, just a few blocks away.

More Information

To Get There: Take the Seoul subway to Ewha Womans University Station (Line 2, Exit 3).
More Neighborhoods Like This: Hongdae; Gangnam Station
Nearby Neighborhoods: Seodaemun; Hongdae; Yeonnam-dong

Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized. 

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July 9, 2017

Korean Onomatopoeia: The Fun Korean Words

The Korean language contains many words that are based on onomatopoeia, which is the sound associated with an object or action. The Korean word for onomatopoeia is heeseongeo (의성어), but don't worry about remembering it... it's rarely used. In fact, if you use the word with Koreans, then they might assume that you are talking about some kind of fish! So let's take a closer look at a few of them.

Note: This article contains Hangul (Korean letters). If you can't read Korean yet, download a free guide here to start reading in about 60 minutes!! 

Learning the onomatopoeic Korean words might sound like an easy way to improve your Korean ability, but it's not as easy as it might seem. This is because the sounds that Koreans associate with something can be very different from the sounds that English speakers associate with the same object or action.

Take animals, for instance. What sound does a dog make? In English, people might say "woof, woof" but in Korean, "멍멍 (meong-meong)." Clearly these are very different. Cats, in English, go "meow, meow"; in Korean, "야옹 (ya-ong)." Korean pigs sound, "꿀꿀꿀 (ggul-ggul-ggul)" whereas in English, "oink-oink." Ducks in Korea go "곽곽 (quack-quack)", and in English... well, actually that one happens to be the same.

In some cases, the Korean name of certain animals is based on the sound that they make, which makes it easier for learners of Korean to remember the names of such animals. Frogs in Korean are called 개구리 (gaeguri) and the sound that they make is "개굴개굴 (gaegul-gaegul)" while owls are called 부엉이 (bu-ong-i) and make a "부엉부엉 (bu-ong-bu-ong)" sound when they hoot.

Other Animal Sounds

구구 (koo-koo) – the sound of a pigeon
음메 (ummeh) – the sound of a cow or sheep
찍찍 (chik-chik) – the sound of a mouse squeaking
히잉 (hi-ing) – the sound of a horse
깎깎 (ggakk-ggakk) – the caw of a raven
꼬끼오 (kkokki-oh) – the sound of a rooster in the morning (and my personal fav!)

These animal sounds are useful for demonstrating how onomatopoeias work in Korea. For example, they show that the sound is often repeated (meong-meong or gaegul-gaegul, for instance) and that the names of objects can be based on the sounds that those objects make (like owls and frogs).

Jay Park did a great parodoy of "What Does the Fox Say" on a past episode of Korea's SNL. Check it out below and see if you can't catch a few of the animal sounds (including that of the legendary gumiho).

But learning about animal sounds is only really useful if you are a hunter (unlikely) or if you want to try and talk to an animal in a zoo (assuming that they are a native Korean animal... llamas and armadillos would most likely speak in Spanish). Instead, let’s learn some useful onomatopoeia that we can use on a daily basis.

Crashing and Explosive Sounds

 (bbang) – the bang of a gun (and, coincidentally enough, the word for bread)
 (ggwang) – a crashing sound (also the sound made when you lose a game)
  (kung) – the sound of a thud

Sounds from Speech or Bodily Actions

짝짝짝 (jjakjjakjjak) – clapping sound (often used in chants at sports matches)
 (eum) – ummmm…..
 (shwit) – shhhh, "Be quiet please," or "Shut up!" if used more forcefully
하하하 (hahaha) – laughing
아야 (a-ya) – Ouch! 
엉엉 (eong-eong) – crying
잉잉 (ing-ing) - whimpering
에취 (eh-chwi) – Achoo!
 (jjok) – kissing sound (you can use this if you want to kiss someone on the cheek)
드르렁드르렁 (duh-ruh-reong-duh-ruh-reong) – snoring
치카치카 (chika-chika) – the sound of someone brushing their teeth
두근두근 (du-geun-du-geun) – the sound of the heart beating. 

If you are talking about your crush, or a situation that gets your heart beating, then you can say 두근두근 to describe your feelings. You may have heard 두근두근 used in K-pop songs.

Sounds Made by Objects

딩동 (ding-dong) – doorbell
똑똑 (ddok-ddok) – knock, knock
빵빵 (bbang-bbang) – car honking
부릉부릉 (bu-reung-bu-reung) – car engine revving 
칙칙폭폭 (chikchik-pokpok) – train 
삐뽀삐뽀 (bbibbo-bbibbo) – police or firetruck siren

Sounds Made in Nature

콸콸 (kwal-kwal) – bubbling stream water
솔솔 (sol-sol) – leaves on a gentle breeze
활활 (hwal-hwal) – a burning fire
쨍쨍 (jjaeng-jjaeng) – a blazing sun
추록추록 (chu-rok-chu-rok) – falling raindrops
우르릉 (oo-ruh-rung) – the rumbling of an earthquake or landslide
휭휭 (hwing-hwing) – the wind
철썩철썩 (cholssok-cholssok) – splashing

The most interesting types of Korean onomatopoeias are descriptive sounds. These sounds represent feelings that might not even make an actual sound. For example, the feeling of warmth can be given the sound 따끈따끈 (ttaggeun-ttaggeun). They often sound similar to the corresponding Korean verb for that feeling, for example "따끈따끈" sounds a little but similar to 따뜻하다 (ttatteuthada, to be warm). Using these descriptive onomatopoeias will make you sound more Korean and help you show your emotions and feelings more clearly in Korean.

Descriptive Sounds

따끈따끈 (ttaggeun-ttaggeun) – a feeling of warmth
방글방글 (banggeul-banggeul) – to smile beamingly
반짝반짝 (banjjak-banjjak) – to be glittering or sparkling
미끌매끌 (mikkeul-maekkeul) – to be slippery, taken from 미끄럽다 (mikkeuropda, to be slippery)
올긋볼긋 (olgeut-bolgeut) – to be many colors / picturesque
보들보들 (bodeul-bodeul) – soft and cuddly
뽀글뽀글 (bogeul-bogeul) – the bubbling of boiling water

Tips and Tricks

Learning onomatopoeic words can be difficult, especially if you try and remember them using a regular method such as flashcards. This is because so many of the onomatopoeic words sound similar compared to other Korean words. They are spelled out as they would sound, so contain far more double consonants.

The best method to learn these words is by trying to listen to them naturally. A fun way to learn the words in this article might be to draw a cartoon and write out the onomatopoeia on the that represents the sounds in the illustration, such as a knock on the door, a gunshot, or a villain slipping on a banana skin. 

Reading manhwa (만화, Korean comics) is also a good way to learn Korean onomatopoeia, as actions and sounds are often written out next to the illustrations. Of course, there are thousands of onomatopoeic words in Korean to match the thousands of sounds in real-life. Learning all of them is too big a task to take on at once, so learn the ones that you think that you will use regularly and find most useful.

What is your favorite Korean onomatopoeic word? Leave it in the comments box below.

In the meantime, check out Seoul Searching's Facebook page to enter a contest to win one of three Korean language scholarships at 90 Day Korean.

This article is the property of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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