BY VICTORIA KANG
This year’s Winter Olympics are being held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, so I thought I’d share a little bit about the experiences that can be had in South Korea. While this is not an exhaustive list, it contains just a couple of the intriguing items that have really made me love Korea.
Throughout Seoul, there are cafés of all kinds. I have visited cafés with dogs, cats, bunnies, meerkats, and a kangaroo, too. But there are also themed cafés: rainbows, Hello Kitty, and plenty of French cafés. These are only a few of the hundreds that can be found in Seoul. No doubt, other cities have their own special cafés to offer.
Similar to the US, if there’s a certain food you want to try, there’s either an area or a town that makes it the best. For example, if you’re feeling like eating pajeon—a savory pancake with green onions—then head to Pajeon Alley near Hoegi (pronounced like “hway-gi”) Station. It’s located on the north east side of Seoul, and there are multiple restaurants serving their own version of pajeon. Common variations are haemulpajeon (a seafood filled jeon), yukjeon (sliced beef jeon), and kamjajeon (a potato jeon). Don’t forget to order makgeoli, a sweet rice wine drink that pairs best with pajeon.
Another example is traveling to Jeju Island for black pig barbeque. The black pig species is only on Jeju Island and is known to be the tastiest cut of pork belly in Korea. If you travel to the island, make sure to try the black pig and the local soju, Hanlasan (pronounced like “halla-san”), which is extra smooth.
I could write a whole article on the foods to try and where to go for them, but while food is a big aspect of Korean culture, it is not the only thing to do in there. There are plenty of traditional culture experiences both in and out of Seoul. Inside the city, Gyeongbok-gung was, at one point in time, the royal palace of the Joseon kings and queens. Joseon is the time period prior to modern era that ended in 1897 with the intrusion of Japan’s westernization, a history lesson for another time. While most of it was destroyed during the Japanese Occupation and used as a zoo, it has been partially restored and is only ₩12,000 (the equivalent of $12) to visit. If you visit while wearing traditional hanbok, the admission is free.
Another really common place to visit for experience of Joseon Korea is the Korean Folk Village called Minseokchon. It is a similar idea to Renaissance fairs here in the US but is open year-round. Across the village you can see the varying types of architecture of houses based on the family’s wealth.
For any fans of Korean dramas, they have signs at each spot where a popular period drama was filmed. My favorite thing was the performances that can be seen. While there, I got to see pungmul, traditional dancing drummers, and a horse-riding acrobatics show. It’s located out in Yongin, a town south of Seoul. Next door, in Suwon, the Suwon Fortress can be seen. It was, at one point, intended to be the new palace, but that never happened. Nonetheless, it is well preserved and in the summer offers martial arts demonstrations used by soldiers.
Finally, I want to highlight the area that I spent the most time in during this past summer. Attending Yonsei University’s summer program, I was living in Sinchon, a neighborhood of Seoul. Sinchon was a great neighborhood and often had some cheaper options for noraebang (the Korean word for karaoke), food, and shopping. But I really enjoyed being in Hongdae.
In short, Hongdae is a neighborhood that has plenty of shopping and food options but is known best for its clubs, street performers, and young adult scene. The neighborhood even had part of a main walkway remodeled to allow for performers to be seen and make it comfortable and easy for people to watch with miniaturized amphitheaters.
In Seoul, anyone can perform on the street, so long as you arrive early enough to claim the spot. Performances can range from amateur musicians or performers trying to make a living to idols and celebrities promoting their recent songs. While there are the usual performers (my favorites were a hip-hop dance group and a comedy guitarist I affectionately called ‘guitar guy’), there’s always a new act to be seen.
Korea has plenty more to offer, and I think it’s near impossible to experience it all without taking up residence there. But, for those that can’t simply move to another country, traveling is the next best option. If you decide that you want to visit, prepare yourself with some Korean language (learn the hangeul alphabet—it’s really quite simplistic), be prepared to have kimchi with every meal, and open up to all the new experiences Korea has to offer.