Unexpected De-tour(s).

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Edited by Nadeia Miah

Whenever you temporarily move to a new country, there is always a ton of paperwork to be done. So on Friday August 31st when we were informed that we would have to go apply for our alien registration cards, we expected to spend the majority of our day in a hot, stuffy office room. We were partially right. The alien registration building overlooked a busy intersection at the 안국 (Anguk) stop on the 2 line. Seoul’s beauty and majestic location amidst mountains will always leave us breathless because the first thing I spotted, past the skyscrapers and officetels, were the lush green hills in the distance. Always a breath taking sight especially to a native New Yorker, Seoul’s cityscape clashing against its natural, sloping terrain will never cease to amaze me.

Turns out not only was the alien registration office hot, stuffy and crowded to the brim with anxiously waiting foreigners, but it also had an impossibly long wait. The number on the board showed it was up to 204. We looked at our tickets: 554. Great. Just 354 people to go.

Luckily, the office was just a couple of blocks away from a popular tourist district:인사동 (InsaDong). Famous for its traditional artwork and antique stores, Insadong was quaint and picturesque compared to the busy flocks of Myeongdong and Dongdaemun. Despite the young crowd, the shop owners and street vendors were all from an older demographic, peacefully selling their work and pottery in small crowded stores with stands to display what they stocked inside. We passed rows and rows of beautifully crafted silk fans, artfully molded porcelain vases and stores that held intricate head pieces to wear with the Korean traditional costumes, 한복.

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Edited by Nadeia Miah

Halfway down InsaDong, we were greeted by a smell that made our stomachs rumble. A man stood over a large skillet filled with oil frying what seemed to look like small hole-less doughnuts. As we blew on these tasty hot pastries (which we found out were called 호떡, ho-tteok) filled with delicious brown sugar, we embarked on finding a place to get lunch. Halfway full from our pastries, we finally decided on a small, open front 만두 (mandoo) place run by a gang of Ahjummas. With a handful of options to choose from, we finally settled on the variety platter, too greedy to just stick with one type.

After we barely managed to finish our meal, we decided it was high time we returned to the alien registration office to see how the progress was. The absolutely pleasant aspect of touring InsaDong was the unexpectedness of it. Events such as these are truly more enjoyable when they are unplanned. Despite the briefness of our tour, we definitely got the true essence of InsaDong just by walking around and eating a bunch of delicious street food. With a friendly crowd and a beautiful array of merchandise to choose from when bringing back souvenirs, InsaDong should definitely be in the top five stops to make when you visit Seoul.

Spellbinding.

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edited by Nadeia Miah

On Sunday, we decided to indulge in our inner child and venture out to the famous department store attraction-Lotte World. Located on the top floor of the Lotte Department store in Jamsil (잠실), Lotte World or Magic Land is an indoor AND outdoor theme park built not only for children but in my opinion people of all ages. Families, couples, and tourists crowded the entrance escalator as it transported us into an excited and fun filled atmosphere.

We honestly did not know what to expect. Because we knew the park was located on the top of a department store, we expected it to be fairly small and cramped. Our assumptions were fortunately mistaken. Lotte World is stupendously HUGE. Imagine all the attractions and rides of Coney Island plus a few of the smaller ones from Six Flags combined with Disneyland-esque scenery all stuffed in (with more than enough space to run around may I add) a giant stadium. Oh and throw in an ice rink that puts Rockefeller Center to shame and you’ve got every child’s dream come true.

Our first stop was the gift store. Not for souvenirs but for the cute headbands and animal ears almost every single person has on in the park. It might seem a bit silly at first to wear the wacky headgear around but it really gets you into the Lotte spirit. Its almost customary, no more of a rule, maybe even a right of passage to wear the headbands so remember to dig into your wallets and invest in one as soon as you get there. Everyone and their mother has one on.

For those of you who are big time thrill seekers and roller coaster junkies, Lotte World is more of an average high rather than the adrenaline surge of Six Flags. However, Lotte World definitely does not fall behind when it comes to quality fun. First of all, the scenery is absolutely phenomenal. As soon as you step in, you feel like you’ve been transported to a mystical forest with high mountains and bubbles flying in the air. This is just the inside.

Step outside and not only are you greeted by the more thrilling rides such as the Gyro Drop and Gyro Swing, but also by a beautifully constructed castle that looks like it came straight out of fairy tale. There’s also a gorgeous lake with group and individual boat rides along with enough bridges and gardens to complete your fantasy stroll through the park. If you don’t have the energy to walk after your spazztic dash through every single ride (much like my overzealous self) we suggest you take the Aeronauts Balloon Ride which gives you a birds eye view of the entire park through these lovely hot air balloons that glide on the ceiling of the park.

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edited by Nadeia Miah

Despite the occasional long lines and the heat, Lotte World was the most fun we had in our stops in Seoul. Even the rides that could be seen as more of a kiddie ride such as The Adventures of Sinbad or the Pharaoh’s Fury were very very well executed with life like props and amazing story, sound and scenery. Every single attraction is worth a second ride so really make most of your trip and stay until the park closes (which is 11 PM). There is a spectacular laser light show every day at 9:20 PM that is totally worth a stop and watch.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Lotte World Magic Land and theme park. By the end of the day, we barely had enough energy to move or time to even check out the department store. Although our bodies are two decades old, we definitely felt like we traveled back a few years that day.

Next stop: Hongdae (홍대)

Bustling Bright Town.

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edited by Nadeia Miah

The good thing about living on the 4 line is that we have so many tourist districts easily accessible. Just two stops after DongDaeMun is what literally translates to “bright town”- MyeongDong (명동).

Despite the slight drizzle, Myeongdong was bustling with tons of tourists eager to shop and experiment with Korean fashion. Similar to New York City’s SoHo, Myeongdong is home to many international brand stores such as Forever 21, Zara, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton and many many more. My advice: skip the stores you can find at home. There is no difference in price or fashion—everything is exactly as would you buy it in your local mall or shopping center. Instead aim to be a bit more adventurous and head for the smaller Korean boutiques.

MyeongDong, like most neighborhoods in Seoul, operates in a spider path sense. There is one main road right down the middle that houses all the big brand names and dozens of tiny alleyways that house the better deals. These tiny crowded shops sell everything from briefcase shaped hand bags (for as little as ten dollars!),to trendy chiffon skirts and shirts, as well as tons of adorable accessories to wear and gift.

One thing fascinating about MyeongDong is the amount of makeup and beauty cosmetics stores they have. Every single block has one of each major beauty stores: Faceshop, Innisfree, Missha, Etude House, Holika Holika, Olive Young, Skin Food, Its Skin and even Lush. As its said, the things you will see the most in Korea are coffee shops and cosmetic stores. And trust us, you will go into every single one of them-with or without choice. Employees stand in front of each store, waving free samples and shouting “EYE SHOP, JUST EYE SHOP” to lure in passing, unsuspecting tourists. Its definitely good advertising because 99 percent of the time, you will go in and you probably will end up buying something because the products are just that good.

MyeongDong has its fair share of amazing restaurants like any other neighborhood, but what caught our eye was the peculiar and sense-tingling street food. You have your typical Korean street food like ddeokbukki(떡볶이), a spicy rice cake dish, and then you have the most mind boggling food we’ve ever seen. Hot dogs on a stick with a tater-tot coating, what looks like chips on a stick, freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with soda in a bag-its the definition of fun food.

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edited by Nadeia Miah

Although central MyeongDong does get very crowded, it has other streets that are fairly calm as well. Just a few blocks away from the shopping swarm is the beautifully calm MyeongDong Cathedral. Aided by the hilly landscape of Seoul, a flight of steps leads up to the towering cathedral from which dozens of individuals walk up to the daily mass.

MyeongDong is definitely THE place to go for the best shopping deals in Seoul. Filled with a daily crowd of tourists, its the ideal place to be for those looking to score great deals without getting lost in translation. There are tourist information centers as well as currency exchange stations at every corner so bring along your rainy day fund because spending is inevitable in MyeongDong.

Next Stop: Lotte World (롯데월드)

Metropolis Oasis.

edited by Nadeia Miah

When we got to Dongdaemun (동대문), we expected to see what we heard it was famous for- shopping centers and giant malls. Just three stops away from our university, Dongdaemun only took ten minutes to get to by subway. The weather, unlike the previous day, was certainly in our favor on that breezy, cool Wednesday.

Just like on our ride from Incheon to Seoul, Korea managed to surprise us yet again. Just five steps away from the subway we were greeted by the busy traffic and in the midst of it all- the majestic Heunginjimun (흥 인지문), one of the six of the eight existing gates that are part of the Fortress Wall of Seoul. Dongdaemun literally translates to “Great East Gate”.

The sight was absolutely breathtaking. To see something so architecturally beautiful in the hub of Seoul congestion was the perfect juxtaposition of East meets West. Just a few more steps down, we saw a sight that puts the New York City High Line to shame. Surrounded by skyscrapers and traffic lights rests the lush green oasis of Cheong Gye Cheon (청계천). A five mile recreational strip, the Cheong Gye Cheon is the ideal stroll to take during a romantic date. Fans of korean drama may recognize this place from City Hunter and true to its picturesque portrayal, couples dotted the walkway as the stream slowly trickled down a long stretch.

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As Nadeia and I made our way to the Doota shopping mall, we were struck by how many foreigners were walking around. Dongdaemun was definitely a tourist district. The glass elevator of Doota Mall shot us to the 8th floor, giving us the ideal bird’s eye view of the city. That was when we noticed how mountainous Seoul actually was. The elevation and mountains in the background encircled the metropolitan oasis Dongdaedum exuding an air of nature intermixed into an urban setting.

Despite Dongdaemun’s stylish malls and attractions including the open sky roof of the Doota mall where we enjoyed a refreshing Korean dessert Patbingsoo (팥빙수) and the thousands of stores that housed the latest Korean fashion, what we truly enjoyed about Dongdaemun was the awe-inspiring scenery. Ladies, you can go shopping anytime. But only in Dongdaemun will you find beauty that even the top runways of the world can’t capture.

Globe Trotting

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edited and taken by Nadeia Miah

 

We anticipated this moment to arrive ever since our junior year of high school. We are now juniors in college. Yes, that is exactly how long we’ve been wanting to study abroad in Seoul. After countless moments of disappointment where one year we didn’t have enough credits or another when we didn’t finish our requirements, we finally got approval and acceptance to spend one semester at Sungshin Women’s University (성신여자대학교).

Our entire summer revolved around us leaving. We prepared for everything. We bought all the necessities, we got our paperwork in order, we said good bye to family and friends.

And on August 19th at 9:55 AM we were finally Korea bound.

The first couple of hours were mingled with a bit of sadness, nerves, and excitement (with just a hint of nausea). And then reality hit and exhaustion set in. Thirteen hours in flight couldn’t go fast enough.

We finally landed on August 20th, 3:22 in the afternoon at Incheon Airport. Despite the rain and humidity, we were excited to meet the student buddies Sungshin had assigned us and finally get to our new college for the semester.The bus ride from Incheon to Seoul was an hour long during which we watched the landscape evolve from suburban shrub to urban jungle. The rice paddies and fields of Incheon slowly blended with the highways and high rises of Seoul to capture a moment of old and new- a concept that we soon learned is very prominent in the capital city which holds on to its rich historical roots in the midst of a bustling metropolitan.

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edited and taken by Nadeia Miah

 

In that hour of quiet scenery, prior to the hustle of unpacking began, Seoul was everything we never imagined to be. Our expectations were exceeded in the sense that they were never really accurate. We expected to see the core of the city right away- essentially the Manhattan of New York City. But we saw what the shiny kpop MV’s and edited dramas don’t really capture. Outback steakhouse, 7/11’s, Burger Kings-Western corporations dotted along the narrow streets which snaked into alleys that supported small, modest apartments and cozy houses.

We were surprised definitely, a bit naive some may say but the mundane-ness (as some may see it) of our surroundings is what made it more tangible and almost remarkable. This is our home for the next four months.

Just a few more days..

Everything is set. I got my VISA, my passport, my ticket, and my guidebook. Just a few more days and I’m going to be there.

                                                                               내가 간다.