Thursday, January 27, 2011

Delicious Poop

We've re-visited Insadong a number of times since December, and each time I've stopped in and bought some of the delicious tea on the ground floor. Across from the tea shop is a stall selling hot chocolate and pastries. But not just any pastries! These are Dong-bbang.

Dong-bbang literally means Poop Bread, these little pastries are filled with gooey red bean and they're pretty tasty. Poop is considered lucky in Korea - dreaming about poop is a good omen, and if you do have a 'poop dream' you should buy a lotto ticket. I'm not sure where it originates but I also know that poop is lucky in Japan too, as the Japanese word for poop sounds like the word for luck. 

The Poop Bread came in a paper bag, which I got my student to translate for me. In between giggles, she explained that it instructs you to eat the bread, then poop, inspect your poop, and use the stars and smiley face squares at the bottom of the bag to rate your poop quality. You can keep the bag as a reminder of your poop experience.

The guy on the bag is Dongchimee, a character who is associated with the Dalki cartoon. Dongchimee is obsessed with poop, and he collects it, draws with it and wears it on his head. His name means 'poop stick' or 'poop needle' and to ddong-chim someone is exactly like kancho-ing someone in Japan - sticking your fingers into someone's butt. Korea is weird, but dong-bbang is delicious!

Our Adventures in Seoul continue!

Along with visiting animal-themed cafes and eating delicious pancakes, we spent some time this weekend exploring Seoul a little more. After sandwiches at Amandier cafe (and macarons, nom nom!) we looked around Anguk Station, Bukcheon and Samseong and found a few gems. 

The first place we visited was the Chicken Art Gallery. I thought at first it was going to be art made out of chicken (awesome!) then made by chickens (more awesome!) but it was really a collection of art featuring chickens and it was still pretty awesome. For 3,000 won each (about $3.50) we got a guided tour through the two-story gallery. The proprietor spoke enthusiastically in broken English about the 5 virtues of the chicken and how this was significant in the Korean culture, especially during marriage and funeral ceremonies. Unfortunately I forgot my camera so I don't have any pictures, but while googling the gallery I found this article about it, featuring this quote from the owner:

"I do not buy luxuries. I don't buy cosmetics. I am only indulged in chickens," said Kim, an elegant gray-haired woman with glittering chicken earrings and a multicoloured rooster brooch. "Whenever I make money, I mostly spend it buying chicken art pieces."

I am only indulged in chickens. Marvellous!

A few streets from the Chicken Gallery is the Ice Gallery (the website's in Korean only, unfortunately). It doesn't look like much from the outside, but two floors underground there's a glittering paradise of shiny sculptures and photo ops. I'm aware that it's an atrocious pun but the Ice Gallery was really cool. (UGH, sorry about that.)

The Ice Gallery is open year-round as the basement area is permanently frozen. There are coats and boots on offer but as it was even colder outside we were rugged up enough. It costs 7,000 won ($8) to see the gallery which is a little expensive for Korea but totally worth it!

Are we in France? In Italy? No! We're in a huge freezer!

Ice Temple!

Our bathroom is about as cold as this.

Tom just needs an ice newspaper.

The coldest service in a basement in Seoul

Ice slide! Tom took a video of me scooting my fat butt down this. I will make sure it never reaches the internet.

Tom is pensive in his igloo.
After we'd hammed it up in the freezer for half an hour we went upstairs to do some ice carving. The staff set out some chisels, gloves, aprons and blocks of ice and for another half an hour we chipped and scraped until we had something resembling cups. Bending to gender norms, Tom made a sweet beer mug and I made a dainty wine glass. We then drank orange fizzy drinks from our creations, beaming like idiots! It cost an additional 5,000 won each to sculpt - also totally worth it.

Real Blogging

In an attempt to blog properly (i.e. not writing about things six weeks after they happen), I'm writing this from a Pomato restaurant down the street from the Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market. Pomato is one of several chains of small diners that offer tasty Korean food at very reasonable prices. I'm having doenjang jigae, a spicy kimchi and soybean broth with seafood and tofu. It comes with rice, kimchi, delicious crispy yellow stuff and three side dishes and costs 3,500 won (NZ$4.50). One of us will have to write about these places properly some time.

Just like a real blogger!

From the number nine subway the market is down the road and through a tunnel that goes under the (street level) number one line train tracks. The tunnel is full of ajummas selling everything from dried beans and fish to shoes and clothing. They all have metal buckets with charcoal briquettes burning to keep them warm. Through the tunnel are a few market buildings and some stalls selling the usual range of street stuff.

Past this is the market itself, a huge shed-like building, really just a big roof about three stories high. There is a deccent size market in Buan, but it would only take up a small corner of Noryangjin. The place is lined with rows and rows of vendors selling a range of different fish, many of them specialising: some selling just fish, some shellfish, some mystery seafood. One stall sold only prawns and had every size from just bigger than a shrimp to huge things seven or eight inches long. I'd heard that they sometimes have huge whole tuna, but there was none of that today, although they did have some pieces that obviuosly came from a very big fish.

One of the most interesting was the row of (mostly) women selling sliced raw fish. This is a Korean delicacy for which Busan is famous. Some of the women are incredibly skillful, cutting perfect slices super fast. I tried to take a video but my techno-mongolism made me stuff it up.
I wanted to get some salmon but I asked on of the vendors and he wanted 20,000 won for a medium sized piece, which seemed pretty high especially since I didn't know what I'd be paying to have it cooked.

After looking around the market I went upstairs to the restaurant area. There were only a few restaurants and none of them had prices up, and it wasn't clear which of them had a cooking service or what it would cost, so I left that for another time and went to Pomato. We did a simillar thing in the Philippines which I'll write about in my Philippines post. I'll do some research and go to Noryangjin again once I know more about it

Part Two

In keeping with my new timely blogging kick, I'm writing this from the subway. I went to Incheon to explore the Chinatown there and get in the mood for China next week, and now I have a long ride (thirty stations of the blue line) back to Jongno where Anna's sussing out a motel. She's been at Lotte World all day with a secret accomplice who is supposed to be working.

I did the Chinatown walk in our Lonely Planet book, which starts from Incheon Station. The first stop was the First Paeru, a big Chinese-style gate at the base of a hill opposite the station. I continued up the hill lined with shops decorated with red paper lanterns and selling all manner of tacky Chinese souvenirs. Next was a staircase with some interesting paintings on and next to it, and the Third Paeru at the top.

Further on was a pavilion with some great views over Incheon. This wasn't in the Lonely Planet walk which surprised me a bit, since it was just off the main path and really worthwhile. It also had some interesting graffiti above the stairs.

After that it was the memorial to the centenary of U.S.-Korea relations, an amazing structure made up of huge triangles shooting up into the air and almost, but not quite, meeting at the top. It made for some cool photos so I stayed a while before heading to the statue of General MacArthur.

Next it was back down the other side of the hill to the completely unimpressive Jung-gu District Hall, a building that Lonely Planet and the Incheon City Council think is worth visiting because it was built by the Japanese in 1925. In lieu of a photo, imagine any public administration building built in the 1920s. It looks like that.

The area around Chinatown was interesting though, traditional Chinese and Korean buildings jostling for room with slick modern clothes shops and seedy looking bars. Such is the variety of this fascinating mess that I walked right past Bboya, a cafe completely covered in mosaics made from bottle caps. I went back when I realised I'd missed it and I'm glad I did, the mosaics were amazing. Unfortunately it was closed so I'll have to go back to see the inside, which is apparently covered in even more mosaics. On the next street were some interesting old buildings which originally held Japanese banks when they were built in the 1890s.

Next I went up a long tall staircase with stone lanterns lining the sides and an impressive statue of Confucious at the top. The light was fading badly by this stage so I couldn't get any good photos. Then it was down the hill past a cool mural of historical scenes and back to the main Chinatown area. I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant, delicious fried dumplings and disappointing noodles. I walked back down the lantern lined hill and got on the subway back to Seoul.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cat Cafe Video

Here are a couple of videos from Happy Cat Cafe that I wrote about in my last post.

Here's Anna introducing the place. . .

And some cats chasing a toy. . .

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Fluff(y) Piece

So I just realised I haven't blogged in over a month. Sorry about that. I keep meaning to write about the Philippines but it hasn't happened yet. I'll try to get something up this week before we head to China. In the meantime, I present the following deeply serious report on two of the most pressing issues facing the world today: kittens and pancakes. This is just the kind of hard-hitting investigative reporting that made this blog famous.

We both have this week off so we've been in Seoul and Suwon. On Saturday we went back to the Suwon fortress (which I wrote about here), and after having some excellent galbi for dinner we had a bad movie festival with some friends - Theresa, Craig, and Lauren. We watched Birdemic, which is easily the worst movie ever made. The only thing more one-dimensional than the charachters is the special effects. Also, WHY ARE YOU DRIVING AROUND JUST STAY HOME AND YOU'LL BE FINE. For all you devotees of The Room out there, we watched that second and it looks quite professional and sensible in comparison.

On Sunday we went back to Dr Fish and Dos Tacos in Gangnam (see the directions at the bottom, the potato burrito is excellent.) Later on we went to Happy Cat Cafe (also in Gangnam, directions below) . Cat cafes are a concept that seems to be getting more and more popular in Seoul; it's basically a big room where you drink coffee and play with cats. There are also dog cafes, which we'll have to try another time.

Happy Cat Cafe has about fifteen cats and seating for about thirty people, with a big area in the middle for the cats to play. We got the special foreigner treatment when one of the staff picked up a pillow with a sleeping cat on it, looked at me and asked "You like cat?" I nodded and he carefully placed the pillow - complete with a slightly confused but not unhappy cat - on my lap. The cat stayed there quite happily and started making some biscuits.

About half the cats were sleeping in the little cubby holes on the wall, or on cushions on the floor. The rest were wandering around talking to people or chasing the toys that the staff dangled for them. There was a variety of different types and ages of cat, including a really cute ginger Scotish fold and a tiny little white fluffy kitten that Anna had to be restrained from putting in her bag and taking home. They also had a bunch of other cats, here's some photos:

I have a video which I'll put up once Anna shows me how.

They have a list of rules to keep people from annoying the cats too much; no flash photos, you aren't allowed to pick the cats up, and you can't bother them when they're sleeping or eating. You pay 8000won (about NZ$9) which includes a drink and you can stay as long as you want. We were there for an hour or so before we tore ourselves away for more adventures.

On Monday morning we hit Butterfinger Pancakes for breakfast (directions below). I'd found this place online when we were looking for a breakfast place last time we were in Seoul but their two locations in Gangnam and Apgujeong were a long subway ride from where we were staying. This time we just stumbled on it around the corner from our motel in Gangnam. They have a huge menu (that's a normal size credit card in the photo, and there's more on the back.)

The food is expensive by Korean standards but probably about what you'd pay back home for the same thing. There were huge plates with pancakes, sausages, fried potatoes, bacon,eggs, etc for around 12,000 - 17,000 won, plus smaller items like pancakes and macaroni cheese for around 5,000 to 10,000 won. Two small Korean women sitting behind us demolished the biggest plate of waffles I've ever seen while we were waiting for our food.

We both got the blueberry pancakes (6,300 won) and a side of hash browns (about 3,500 won). The hash browns were disappointing, more like a mashed potato cake that had been fried on one side. The pancakes, on the other hand, were small but delicious. In fact they were so small and delicious that I got a second helping. They came with maple syrup, honey-vanilla butter, and a choice of fruit compote. I can highly recommend the blueberry; it was rich and full of whole blueberries and not too sweet. The pancakes were some of the best I've had anywhere: light and fluffy and perfectly cooked, with plenty of blueberries.

More blogging to come, hopefully soon.


It can be quite difficult to find stuff in Korea, and I've found other people's blogs to be some of the most helpful sources of directions. Because of this I've decided to start including directions for the places we write about. If you use our directions, please let us know if they're helpful. Cheers.

Hello Cat Cafe: Gangnam station, exit 6. Turn left as soon as you come out of the exit and walk down the alley. At the end of the alley is a street. About two buildings to the right is a 7-11, Hello Cat Cafe is above this on the fourth floor. The fourth floor is mostly a construction site but there's a sign for the cafe.

Dr Fish: I don't know the name of the cafe, but from Gangnam Station exit 6 walk straight ahead for a few blocks until you get to the HUGE BSK store. The cafe is on the second floor opposite the giant TV screen - go through the doors to the right of the BSK, there's a small pharmacy to let you know you're in the right place. The cafe has signs in English saying 'Cafe with book and spa'.

Dos Tacos: Walk straight ahead from Gangnam Station exit 6 for a few blocks. Dos Tacos is down the alley next to the Frisbee (Mac) Store. They also have a branch in Hongdae but I can't really remember how to get there.

Butterfinger Pancakes: Gangnam exit 6 again. Walk straight for one block, turn left at The Body Shop and walk about three (short) blocks. It's just after Burger King.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Photo post! - Philippines Edition

Sunset and my knees on White Beach
The boats lined up for the night, Tom reading, and some hipster.
In the middle is the most slatternly dish on the island - Wanton Noodles
A picture of other people taking pictures of the sunset!
The local rhum, which Tom assures me is good - 40 pesos = $1.20
The Hobbit House bar and restaurant. ALL of the staff are Little People. 
A blended mojito on the beach for dinner - yum!

Icecream, Filipino-style. Mine were avocado (green) and yam (purple)
Tom's were melon (orange) and CHEESE! (yellow)

A little bit of NZ with Tom's breakfast!

A chubby with a Chubby - I've sent a few of these back home!
On Saturday, kids prowled the beach selling jewellery. It made me sad, but they were experts at being annoying.
Tom and I in a tricycle on the way to the airport - scary but awesome.