The semester is waning, and with less than three weeks left until I hop on the plane back to the United States, my friends and I are scrambling to finish absolutely everything we’ve been wanting to do. Now is the time to eat to our hearts’ content, shop until we really have no money left in our Korean accounts, and rush around Seoul to hit all the main attractions.
For me, this past week has been packed, so this post isn’t going to adhere to any sort of theme or topic. I bid adieu to my beautiful organized blog and say hello to a mess of activities all jammed together.
Korean Movie Theatre
Although going to the cinema in Seoul really is no different from going in the U.S., Claire and I still had a night at the movies on our bucket list and thus jumped at the chance to see something even remotely enticing. We ended up heading to Pirates of the Caribbean on Tuesday with our Québécoise friend Anne-Lyse, hoping it was going to be a nice way to break up the weeknights of schoolwork.
The movie is played in English with Korean subtitles (we made sure of that)! That meant Claire had no safety net when it came to understanding the English, but to be honest, even I had trouble comprehending the strong pirate accents and Javier Bardem’s sinister rasping.
I will not sugarcoat the fact that I hated the film. I actually just typed an entire paragraph about the things I disliked, but that was going to drive my post into a dark and critical place, so I will just say: I do not recommend it even a little. If you are getting your movie recommendations off of study abroad blogs, then there, you have been saved!
The highlight of the Megabox Cinema we went to was the popcorn. The U.S. really needs to follow their guidance, because they offer different flavors (caramel, garlic, butter, possibly others) and it’s not loaded with vivid yellow grease. I bought a small bag of caramel corn that carried me through a good chunk of the mess of a movie I was watching. Furthermore, the movie didn’t really have trailers before, just a ton of Korean advertising, which was interesting in itself.
Sogang Farewell Dinner
On Thursday night, the Office of International Affairs threw a really nice goodbye dinner for exchange students to celebrate the end of our semester. They truly go all out for this, decking out the convention hall and giving each of us a gift-wrapped box containing a university-monogrammed towel. We also got to officially say farewell to the student club HUG, who gave speeches about how much fun we had this semester and unleashed the end-of-the-semester club video we recorded – within it, Claire and I do the worst dancing I have ever seen. Memories.
The free dinner is, of course, the highlight. They started us off with pumpkin juk (rice porridge), followed up with sides – broccoli in a strawberry sauce, quail eggs, small fried vegetable and squid patties, and kimchi, and then rounded everything off with a beef-and-rice dish and a small plate of fresh fruit. It was quintessentially Korean, pretty tasty for school-produced food, and a lovely way to kick off the winding down of the semester.
Afterward, my European friends and I headed out to Cheonggye Stream to take a walk on a nice night. I haven’t been here since February, so to see it in full bloom in the moonlight felt like a completely different experience.
Han River All-Nighter
A few friends of mine had hatched a bold plan: they wanted to take the last subway out to Yeouido Park by the Han River (around midnight) and stay there until we could take the subway back the next day at 5:45 am. Since the park is a massively popular picnic place and Seoul is exceedingly safe, we went for it, and managed to survive a night without any sleep in order to catch the sunrise.
CeCe, Jenny, Anika, and I first bought a few blankets (3,000 won each) to lounge on for the night, then headed to a nearby MiniStop to purchase some drinks and snacks to get us through. We also ordered fried chicken for delivery at 1:30 am and bought some Chinese doughnuts from a street food vendor (he also gave us a free pastry-wrapped hotdog for our patronage), so needless to say, we were set for the night.
As we chowed down, my friends played some KPop and desperately tried to educate me on which groups I should favor if I ever decided to get into it (although KPop just doesn’t really align with my music preferences, I told them I would give their favorite bands a shot).
We were having a blast hanging out when a bunch of Korean students came by from their own nearby late-night picnic around 3 am and asked if they could join us. It is always cool to meet new people, but unfortunately, the language barrier was a little insurmountable and we ended up getting antsy – just how do you politely ask them to let us have our planned girl’s night out? Nevertheless, they helped us work on our Korean game skills and obliged to take a picture of my friends and I at the giant Seoul letters after sunrise, so I can forgive their intrusion.
Finally, the subway reopened for the day and we headed back to Sogang feeling like we had accomplished something (even if it was just being hooligans at a park). I promptly headed to bed and slept until 2 PM.
Last but not least, this evening Jenny and I committed to our plans to head to Myeongdong, one of the biggest shopping districts in Seoul and the reigning king of cosmetics shops and street food stands. Jenny had a list of skincare and makeup items to buy before heading home, and I needed a bunch of gifts, so we cranked through the various stores checking out the overwhelming variety of Korean cosmetics.
I’ve grown to be hooked on Korean face masks – their sheet masks are about a dollar each (for cheaper ones), and whether you get tea tree oil, aloe vera, firming, whitening, lavender, honey, volcanic clay, or even silly characters – Shrek mask, anyone? – they’re refreshing. Naturally, I stocked up on a bunch to take home. I also picked up an eyeshadow color from a veritable rainbow of choices at the adorable shop Etude House, checked out the skin cleansers at Nature Republic, and bought some aloe vera gel at the quirky, cartoon-character-crazy cosmetics shop Tony Moly. Jenny and I were exhausted and poor after all this effort.
For dinner, we started with some tteok galbi meatballs from a street cart. If that didn’t strike our fancy, we could have picked anything we desired – there are dumplings, shrimp skewers, fresh-squeezed orange nd pomegranate juices, huge fried potato spirals, roasted chestnuts… I was in awe.
Next, we finished up with some Vietnamese food at a little self-service restaurant we came across. Jenny is Vietnamese-American, so she granted her approval of her fried rice and my pho before we dug into the cuisine.
Myeongdong is insanely packed with Koreans and tourists alike, so navigating the stores can be a little overwhelming, but the sheer amount of activity and insane amount of colorful and quirky shops makes the experience worthwhile. I will say that cosmetics shopping is not nearly as fun or whimsical in the United States.