Category Archives: Life

An unlikely actor encounter, secret garden and finally…pork

First stop of the day was to explore the Bukchon Hanok village alleys. There were many modernized old residences and cafes along the road we walked, though alleys were few. I didn’t get a chance to shoot the alleys I’ve seen in other photos, but we encountered a filming scene about to happen. The missus couldn’t recognize the actresses but then said the actor looked familiar – Song Jae Rim. Don’t ask me, I don’t watch enough Korean dramas. :P

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As we walked along the road we took, we realized we were passing the walls of a nearby palace. We were surprised to discover the palace grounds was in fact the one we needed to go today – Changdeokgung. In order to visit the Huwon secret garden within Changdeokgung, you must purchase the palace entry ticket and tour into Huwon. Furthermore, entry point of Huwon was inside the palace grounds. 

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The secret garden or forbidden garden talks more about how the kings used the area for thinking, spending time and creating a space for their kin. It’s a 1 hour 30 minute tour and will require lots of walking on flats, stairs and some hills. While I observed a pair walking with slippers, I wouldn’t advice it because some paths were sand and slippers don’t have the best of grips. 

After the tour, on our way to the subway station we bought a snack – ham, cheese and egg toast. As simple as it sounded, it was still great in taste with the accompanying sauce of ketchup and mustard. *slurp*

While walking around an underground shopping center, we stumbled on the first shop selling k-pop goods for fans ranging from collectible albums, posters, light sticks and more. 

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We then landed back in Myeongdong again. Instead of a cat cafe, we chilled awhile at a dog cafe this time. They had quite a number of breeds and it was the first time I’ve seen a bulldog up close. The fellow was adorable. Lol. We did notice though that most dogs had a sad look on their face. Not sure why..

Well, it was time to meet up with the missus Korean friend; Chloe, and her bf. From here, we were on an eating spree with first having Korean BBQ. The samgyeopsal (pork meat) was superbly thick and juicy. Paired with other dishes like kimchi jiggae and another kimchi noodle which was served cold, it made the meal even more awesome. *om nom nom*

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Here’s something I learned Koreans do when in Korean BBQ a places, they can stuff their belongings or jackets into a plastic bag to lessen the smell from getting attached to their belongings. This makes it surprising as to why this isn’t the practice in Malaysia too. 

Once dinner was done, we headed for a friendly game of bowling. It was the first time I’ve seen a bowling alley with lanes on 2 floors. And they even had older bowling balls which likely belonged to hook bowlers previously, but now it’s used as house balls. 

After a round of bowling, we chose to either have chicken or dessert. We settled for dessert at an outlet specialized in Korean desserts – can’t remember the name. The desserts were shaved ice topped with fruits, but ours was finely grinded rice cake and almond nuts. Servings were generous and it was to be eaten with honey milk. 

Needless to say, with full tummies, we continued walking around and explored the Lotte Young Plaza. Soon enough, it was nearing closing time and we made our exit. After which, we exchanged farewells and headed back to our hotel to crash. 

It’s been a glorious day without rain. We hope the same will apply the following day. 

Day of rain, palace, protest and bus stop finding

We started the day a little later than expected after yesterday’s Myeongdong adventures. But once we managed to get off the pillows and grab some breakfast, we headed to our first spot – Gyeongbokgung palace. 

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I was very surprised to find Sakura trees just after the entrance. Whilst waiting for the free English guide to arrive, we snapped a few photos of the beautiful flowers. The visitors which formed the group grew from less than 5 to 15 or more in less than 10 minutes. Thankfully, our guide had a gigaphone and she spoke good English for a Korean. 

The guide was really worth following because she summarized the history and unique traits of the building. Plus, she did have a sense of humor as well – always a nice thing to keep everyone’s attention. It was interesting to learn the ingenuity of how old Korea made heated floors and how their King was really inspired by Confucius. Thus, influence of Chinese design can be easily found within their architecture and culture. 

Not far off from the palace grounds is the Blue House – residence of Korea’s current president. There was a designated photo zone just outside an exit and one thing you’ll notice here are the police officers standing by and what looked like secret service personnel. There was even 1 guy wearing aviator shades!

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To the president, I tabit you. 

Then outside of the main gate; Gwanghamun, across the road was Gwanghamun Square. On this path, you’ll find 2 large statues. The first would be King Sejong seated on his throne and the other is a statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin. Though another spectacle there drew our attention – protests. They were happening in front of what looked like Olleh’s headquarters and another in front of the Admiral’s statue. During the time, we even saw a large amount of police force mobilized in groups. My best guess would have to be that they were going to break-up the protesters. But we decided to not stay around to find out. 

Having walked a bit, it was time to hunt for food. If you’re a mobile developer reading this, please create a food finding app to be used in Korea. I tried using TripAdvisor, but found it not usable. It could list Korean food, but couldn’t filter to show only Korean food, but Asian food. Wha?! 

Anyway, we were quite hungry and lucky enough to end up in a Japanese fusion shop specialized in katsu. I say lucky because there were a few newspaper articles highlighting the outlet between 2000-2005. The food was decent and price was about the expected range for Japanese food.

Once lunch was done, we decided to head down for a stroll along Cheonggyecheon stream. You definitely won’t find a similar setting in KL without murky waters and garbage afloat. 

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It was a pleasant and relaxing moment, until you see grey clouds and strong winds blowing. As a Malaysian, you’d know this signals the possibility of rain and it did, heavily. So we dashed to a nearby covered spot and watched it pour. Then, decided to step into a cafe called; Coco Bruni. A very elegant and classy place with coffee and cakes. 

When the rain slowed, we headed towards the subway station which would take us to Seoul Station. From there, we took a exit 9 and needed to get onto the Namsan Sunhwan Shuttle Bus No. 3. But the problem was, where did we have to wait for the bus? This critical information was drastically missing from even the Namsan Seoul Tower website. 

We ended walking to where we saw a lot of busses stopping. And it rained, again. Oh, I did not mention – we didn’t bring an umbrella with us. Sigh. Thankfully, we had many bus stops to provide cover. Alas, we still couldn’t find out where we had to get onto the needed bus.

Resorting to more luck, I asked the reception inside an office building – hoping they understood English. She understood and shared with me it’s a spot between their building and the police station. With this clue, we walked up and down the area she mentioned and managed to find the stop – which we thought should be right. In the end, we didn’t wait for the bus there because we were unsure whether it was the right spot – inconsistency of the map at the spot and website information wasn’t comforting either. Hence, we decided to go elsewhere to hop onto the bus. This other spot was much better and it at least referenced a building we could look out for when we were there. 

Though we couldn’t ride the cable car up to the tower base, we were still glad to have made it. Walking up from the bus stop to the tower caught us a little by surprise. It was a path which felt steeper than 45 degrees. By the time we reached the top, we needed to catch a few breaths before buying our tickets. 

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Viewing the city on a cloudy day wasn’t fully satisfying, but we still managed to do the couple’s lock and enjoy a meal. The rain was definitely stalking us because as we latched the lock, it started to pour. Thankfully, all we had to do now was enjoy a hot meal near the window of a cafe and gaze upon the night city lights. 

Tomorrow, it’s going to be another battle of rain. But this time, I’m bringing my Japan umbrella. Ha!

Landing right into Myeongdong

Before our plane landed, a Korean stewardess was handing immigration cards and her first response to me answered the aged question some friends have asked previously; you look more Korean or Japanese ?

When the stewardess asked whether I would need an immigration card naturally in Korean, my guess is my first impression to her was that I’m Korean. And since a Japanese stewardess didn’t ask me this question while in Japan, it concludes I’m more Korean looking. Moving on. 

Hotel check-in time was only at 2pm. With time to stray, missus and I walked around the area for the hunt of our first meal. Passing several small shops along the alleys, we digressed to a skincare shop. And very surely, customers who purchased were rewarded handsomely with freebies – they even gave a can of coffee. *sweat* As I observed the cashier person, she was digging out almost anything she could find from her freebie drawer and giving it to us. I guess this was one of the perks shopping skincare in Korea. 

When we were back on the food track, we finally settled at probably the most unlikely place – a food stall. Lol. 

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With chilly winds penetrating through our layers, warm food like deokbukki, omuk and some soup was a fine choice to chow down. The price of 3 fish cake sticks, a stick of some meat and a bowl of deokbukki totaled 8000 won (approx. MYR 25) – a little pricey, we thought. 

Once we refueled, we decided to walk along the road to explore nearby areas. The sight was pretty plain, so we opted to step into a nearby Lotte mall. Clothes and shoes from what I consider indie brands were priced between 40,000-100,000+ won. *gulp* After using up the time, we headed back to the hotel to check-in and rest a bit before heading to Myeongdong. 

At Myeongdong, we were looking for NANTA theater because hearing the recommendation of a friend, it was to be worthwhile. And dear readers, it was a good amount invested in the VIP seats to experience an awesome performance of music with kitchen utensils.

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The thumping sounds thundered through the floor and you could’ve really seen how much heart and effort the cast put into their performance. If you’re into musicals and creativity, this is an act you’ve to experience. 

After we were done here, we waked around the area, had some 32cm tall ice cream and looked for a cat cafe we wanted to visit. While we weren’t sure whether it was the Lilly cat cafe, we still really liked it because the variety of cats were aplenty and they looked quite big. 

When we started feeling hungry, we explored the streets of Myeongdong further. By this time, food stalls had opened along the walkways and we passed various eateries too. However, food stalls weren’t really attracting us and most eateries seemed like their prices were a little on the high side. Thankfully, we discovered a local eatery and paid 5,500 won for kimchi fried rice. 

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Myeongdong was a really excellent place for NANTA, buying clothes and skincare (again) due to variety and competing promotions. At night, it transformed into a similar scene like Japan’s Shinsaibashi – maybe narrower walkways. But if you’re not into the shopping, you’d probably not want to spend too much time walking around there. 

Here’s to tomorrow, more blue skies and chilly winds!

Seoul Searching

The missus and I are doing some Seoul searching – that’s what she wants to call it. To be honest, I’ve not the slightest clue what to expect in this country; all I know is it’s only probably filled with k-pop madness, korean food and crazy fans. But I suppose getting away from the current heatwave and being distracted in a foreign land from the inevitable GST would be a good thing. 

It’s funny having thought to myself, I’m writing in my blog again because I’m traveling. Maybe that’s what I could do, maybe it’s a phase. Whatever it is, I’m adding new entries again into this space. That is a good thing. 

Here’s to some Seoul searching. And if we’re lucky, bump into some celebrity or get picked to be on Running Man. Fighting!

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The deity army and ninjas of Toei

First stop of the morning today was a Buddhist temple called; Sanjusangen-do. The primary reason for tourists to visit this spot is because in the long (approximately 120 meters) wooden hall, it houses more than 800 statues and 1 very huge version.

The special characteristics of the statues is it has 1000-arms and 11-heads atop of its own, as if wearing a crown. Furthermore, when you read its history at the Genjusangen-do, you will learn there were more than 1 sculptor who created the 800 statues, as it took around 100 years to complete them.

Photography and any form of recording, including mobile phones, are prohibited inside the hall. Warnings placed before entry mentions the devices can be confiscated later.

The next time I visit Sanjusangen-do will be to witness an annual archery event adopted from the old Toshiya tradition. Back in the day, only men (I believe) were participants. The version of today; Oh-mato Taikai, draws male and female participants from all over Japan. The best part is most women will be dressed in kimonos when they take part. Beauty and brawn – check.

The next stop we decided on was the Toei Kyoto Studio Park. Also maybe known as the ninja village.

Inside the park was a variety of entertainment areas ranging from ninja schools, ninja theater, behind the scenes filming (pictured above) and many others. But I do have to stress this, entry fee is not the only fee you will have to pay because selected areas like the ninja school will demand you pay an additional amount too. The free entertainment (as I recall) apply to the cinema, theater and outdoor performance.

Though to get your money’s worth, be on the lookout for staff cosplaying as samurai or elegant women in kimono. :P

On another side of the park, there’s also a mini Toei anime museum to explore their previous works such as Dragonball and One Piece to name the few I remember.

Besides the above, there’s apparently also a cinema or something like it on the 2nd floor of the building. We didn’t go up there but I think they screen some movie / anime done by Toei.

And that’s pretty much been Kyoto for me. Maybe I’m missing on some other experiences here, so I guess until next time Kyoto, during the Oh-mato Taikai – if I’m allowed to witness it. :)