Saturday, September 29, 2012

Korea Trip: Tuesday--Doota, Chocolate, 7-11

Tuesday was our last full day in Korea, and we were determined to find a place to buy cute Korean office supplies.  We were, however, defeated by the confusing layout of Korean roads, at least in Seoul, anyway.  No grid system here, my friends! Street signs? Maps labeled with street names? Please. Those are for wimps! Nope, nothing to guide our way there but a few sites on the internet that said to take a certain exit from a certain subway stop, walk straight ahead, and turn right by a pharmacy. Well, we walked quite a ways and never saw a pharmacy.

We were able to find a different set of directions, which were actually substantially the same, except they named a different subway station and exit. We tried that one, too. Never did find that pharmacy. Many blocks were made that day, and nary a stationery store was seen, despite much walking and google-mapping. We did, however, find Doota, which we decided to visit despite it's ridiculous-sounding name. But not for shopping. No, we spotted Doota while sitting forlornly on the ledge of planter-bench-thing, eating our snacks, when we saw Doota across the street.  One look quick online search revealed that Doota had both a coffee shop and an information desk.  And so, we ventured across the busy street on the promise of coffee and the hope of an English-speaking person at an information desk who could direct us to the stationery street.

We didn't like the coffee--not their fault, I just don't like iced americanos but keep on buying them. The woman at the information desk did speak English, but she couldn't direct us to where we wanted to go. She just pointed us in the general direction and said we'd have to ask someone else on the way because it was too complicated to describe to us. Basically, we'd have to get directions from a different person for different sections of our trip there. Um, no thanks. That just seemed like an excellent way to come up with a blog entry titled, "How I spent three days wandering lost in Dongdaemun."  But the good part of us wandering around for awhile is that we came across Dongdaemun Gate, which we would not have seen if we'd known where we were going.

[Side note: speaking (sort of) of Korean fashion, here's something we noticed. Well, I noticed after RR pointed it out. There seem to be a not small number of women walking around sporting white shirts with dark-colored bras. Is that a thing now? Is it a world-wide trend or just a Korea thing? Over here that's considered kind of tacky. Don't get me wrong, I totally did that in college in my "I wear what I want, damn the conventions" stage of life that most college students go through. And for me that stage lasted a few years after college, too, I'm not going to lie. But women over college age generally don't do that here. Is it just me? Are we just really behind the times here in Texas? Is this my sign that I'm officially old now? Is this my "hey, kids, get off my lawn" moment?]

Before we left Doota, we decided to make use of the restrooms. One of our unwritte rules when out and about is "Go before you go," meaning that before you leave a place that probably has a decent bathroom, you go make use of it because you don't know when you'll next find acceptable facilities.  On our way up to the floor with the restrooms, we saw lots of shops with clothes that were very "us." Unfortunately, we'd already spent all our budgeted shopping money. Regrets, we had them. I could have happily redone my entire wardrobe based on some of the clothes I saw there.

And while I was in the restroom, I got treated to a Phil Collins song being played on the sound system, and not even a good Phil Collins song. Even in Korea, the shopping center background music of choice is easy listening Top 40. Like death, it's inescapable.

On the way home, we decided to try and find the Institute of Traditional Korean Food. We didn't want to go to the museum part. I mean, we did, but we didn't have time, so we prioritized. In other words, yes, we wanted to go to the cafe part and buy more dduk. We did find it and were disproportionately proud of ourselves for doing so. Inside the cafe, it looked just like the little tea room restaurants that old people love so much over here.  I have spent a lot of lunches in those tea shops, so I immediately felt at home. And then we bought more dduk than we needed.  The street that the Institute is on is completely lovely and charming, and I wanted to move there immediately.

Chocolate castle on the left, Jilsiru Cafe on the right

Right across the street was Chocolate Castle, a place I'd read about that makes and sells--you guess it, chocolates. It seemed fortuitous that here was a place I'd read about and wanted to visit and I hadn't had to try and find it on our my own.  We took that as a sign that we should definitely patronize Chocolate Castle. Actually, the sign outside said "Chateau Chocolate Castle," which technically translates to Castle Chocolate Castle, or Chocolate Castle Castle. We decided to give the proprietors the benefit of the doubt and conclude that the sign only says "Chocolate Castle," just in both French and English. Of course, the packaging the chocolate came in said "Chocolate Museum," and we weren't sure how that fit in. But you know what? We didn't care. Those chocolates were fantastic, so if they want to call their store Castle Chocolate Castle Museum, that's ok with us.

We weren't able to ask the woman behind the counter about ingredients because we don't speak enough Korean to ask if any of it was safe for us.  But we bought some for friends and family, and we bought a drink (called "chocolate elixir") for ourselves. Y'all, it was so good. I was pretty sure I had a mild reaction to it, but I didn't even care. The woman was so nice, and super sweet to RR for her conducting the transaction in Korean. If we lived there and spoke fluent Korean, I'd probably get annoyed if people were always surprised and patronizingly "good for you!" when finding out I spoke the language. But I don't speak it, and we were clearly tourists, so it just came across as encouraging and sweet. If you find yourself in Seoul, I suggest you go and treat yourself.

On our way home, we came across one of the other palaces we'd meant to go to, and then we discovered that we were quite close to our hotel. It meant we didn't have a long walk back, which was nice, but it also made us wish we'd walked in that direction earlier in our trip. We really liked that area and would have liked to have spent more time there exploring. Oh, well! Maybe next time.

Oh, I forgot to say that in the morning, before heading out on our fruitless stationery excursion, we had swung by De Chocolate Coffee in Insadong to buy some gifts for folks back home. Some people really like souvenirs, others just think of them as something they want to throw out but feel they have to keep, so we thought we'd buy food for our family members.  That way they'd know we thought of them, but they didn't have to keep some trinket they had no use for. Anyway, as a name, De Chocolate Coffee doesn't really make sense, in French or in English. But considering how many places here in the States try to use French names to sound fancy, only to end up looking ridiculous to anyone who understands French, I'm not going to pick on this place. From what we were told, the dark chocolate that we brought back from there was very chocolatey and enjoyable.  Of course, the people telling me this are very not picky about chocolate, so keep that in mind if you are trying to decide whether to go there. The poor young guys working the counter looked terrified when we walked in, so I'm guessing that English is not their strong point despite working in a very touristy area. We did our best with our limited Korean--ok, RR did--and we walked out there with most of what we'd wanted.

And that was pretty much it for our last full day in Korea. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the 7-11 across the street to buy some of the interesting looking snack items we'd seen there for our family. If your family appreciates a good showing of Engrish, then the 7-11 is a good souvenir destination. When we got back to the hotel, we asked them to arrange a taxi to pick us up the next morning, and we went upstairs to pack and crash for the night. 

I had a good time all in all. I'm just sad I didn't get a chance to see the famous Korean pylons. I'm joking but also serious. In many a K-drama, the characters will go to the Han to break up, to argue, to threaten someone, to divulge a secret, or to ponder over an Important Decision, and the two-guys-fighting scenes always seem to happen near pylons. I love drama cliches. Well, not if it ruins an otherwise original, quality drama. I guess I should say that I love spotting and making fun of drama cliches. As a result, every time we crossed over the Han on our way to some destination, I had a hard time not laughing. I really wanted to be able to go to a spot by the Han, lean on the hood of a car, and have RR take a picture of me looking pensive. I feel like my trip wasn't complete because I didn't get to do that. But I can't really complain. The only problem with our trip was that we had more that we wanted to do than we had time for.  Next time we go, we'll plan better.

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