The Culture Vulture, Part 2

So it’s Sunday now (March 26) and i am in another Starbucks in Seoul. This one is in Myeong-dong, another fashionable area, albeit one I ended up at completely accidentally.

I got on the 705 bus near my apartment after seeing “광화문” on the bus route.

That says “Gwanghwamun,” and it’s an area I am somewhat familiar with, though it’s been 15 years or so since I spent any amount of time there.

Anyways, somehow I missed hearing the stop for Gwanghwamun on the bus — I was half-asleep for most of the ride — and when I realized we had gone past there a couple of stops, I decided to get off the bus.

Almost immediately I saw a Starbucks. Then I saw another one, and another one. Often, there would be one on one side of the street, and another across the street.

I walked a little and ended up in Gwanghwamun, and I was really hungry so I looked around for some food, specifically somewhere I could go in and eat by myself without feeling too weird about it. Lots of Korean restaurants feature at-the-table grilling, and those places generally only let you eat there if you’re in a group of 2 or more… or maybe it’s not so much that they “let you” as it is just not much fun to eat at one of those places alone. Not saying I’m above it, not saying I’ll never do it, I just wanted something quick.

After I passed at least a couple more Starbucks (and assorted other chain coffee places) I saw a Kimbap Cheonguk, which is perfect for eating solo… but it was closed.

About this time I realized that I was on a street near Gwanghwamun that I wandered to last time I came here briefly a few weeks ago, so I kept walking.

I walked through the main intersection in Gwanghwamun, passed a couple more Starbucks, saw a few other foreigners on the sidewalk, feeling more and more hungry, and I saw a bookstore that sells stickers, so I went in.

The kids that I teach love stickers, and specifically Pokemon stickers. But I haven’t been able to find any of those yet, so I went in, and… no dice.

Went back out and walked for a minute and saw another Kimbap Cheongook across the street from me, but there was no crosswalk to get there. So I went down into the subway entrance to try and come up on the side is was on, and I ended up on the wrong side.

So I went back through and ended up on another side of the intersection I didn’t try to get to, and couldn’t find the place. So I kep walking, and next thing I know I am in Myeong-dong.

There’s lots of street food vendors there, and I got some fried chicken gizzards with hot sauce. They were very tasty, but not very filling. And when I was done, I was left holding a paper bowl and a wooden stick, with no trash can in sight.

Then, lo and behold, if you can believe it ladies and gentlemen, I saw another Starbucks, about the 8th one I have seen since getting off the bus.

I got a $6-7 cold chicken sandwich that tasted like shit, and a blonde vanilla double shot latte that’s pretty good. I scarfed the shitty overpriced sandwich, wiped my fingers off with the provided wetnap, then whipped out my Chromebook and started typing this.

Gonna go wander around Myeong-dong a bit more and hopefully take the bus home. I’ve seen a couple more 705 stops since I got off of it, so hopefully I’ll find another one.

I love riding the subway, don’t get me wrong, but riding a bus (obviously) you can look out the window and see the areas you’re going through.

And the area between here and my apartment is (in my opinion) among the most aesthetically pleasing areas in Seoul, and among the most aesthetically pleasing areas I have ever personally been to.

There’s lots of trees, and they’re just starting to bud out for spring. Gonna be hell on my allergies, but it’s pretty to look at.

And there’s mountains in the background. The straight lines of ultra-modern apartment buildings set against the backdrop of mountains is something I could sit and stare at for hours, especially on a clear day like today.

And I may do that until the sun goes down, if I am back in my neighborhood by then. No sense in going home yet, my bedclothes are hung up in my apartment drying with the window open, and it’s cold in there. Plus there’s no room, small apartment that it is, with a comforter, mattress pad, and fitted sheet hanging up.

Gonna get out of here, more people coming in with fresh coffee need to sit down.

Man, I love Korea. 🙂

The Culture Vulture, Part 1

So I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Apgujeong, a fairly fashionable area in Seoul, and I’m wondering whether I should call this blog post “The Culture Vulture” or something like that.

What it all boils down to is, I like Korea quite a bit. I lived here years ago (from 2006 to 2008) and almost from the moment I first stepped off the plane, I felt at home here. Like more at home here than from the place I left.

I don’t know how to explain it any better than that. It sounds dumb and cliche maybe, but there it is.

In case you don’t know me personally, I’m a white dude, I’m heterosexual, I’m cisgendered, and as such I am the beneficiary of all sorts of privileges, both back home in the USA as well as here in Korea.

I’m aware of things like that, and I don’t want to act in such a way that makes me seem like I’m not, or that I don’t take them seriously.

But at the same time, when I start writing anything like this, I feel like I might be venturing into “culture vulture” territory, like one of those people who appropriate other cultures and look like idiots.

So maybe it’s appropriate that I am writing this from a Starbucks. This is, no joke, about the 8th Starbucks I have been in since returning to Korea a little less than a month ago. And for sure, Starbucks here has a slightly different menu than Starbucks back in the US (I assume, there aren’t that many of them where I am from) but it’s an American chain, and so by virtue of that, I’m culture vulturing from a place that represents my own culture (such that it is) here in Korea.

Just to get to the point, man, I love Korea.

It’s such a great place.

Seoul is a huge, sprawling city, and it’s got one of the biggest metro train systems in the world connecting all the various districts together. Just about an hour ago, I left my apartment in Samsong and got on the subway. For about one US dollar, I traveled halfway across Seoul to Apgujeong, so I could sit in Starbucks, type this out, and steal glances at pretty Korean women.

See, here we go again.

White guy in Asia, talking about the pretty Asian women. Red flags all over the place, from a sociopolitcal perspective.

But what can I say? I like looking at pretty women. I can’t and won’t apologize for that. I’m not objectifyling anyone, I am just stating a true fact about myself. Pretty women come in all shapes and sizes, and for better or for worse, there are a lot of pretty women in Apgujeong.

There are a lot of good looking people in Korea in general. Fitness and “well-being” is pretty big here, and people (male and female) tend to take pretty good care of themselves.

Where I live — near Bukhansan, a popular hiking destination — there are lots of older people walking around decked out in hiking gear basically all the time. One of these weekends I’m going to hike Bukhansan myself. If not before, when one of my good friends from 2006-2008 comes to visit this summer. He, I, and another fellow partially hiked Bukhansan in 2007 (or maybe early 2008), but we started too late in the day. Plus I was in awful shape at the time, being more into the prominent drinking culture here in Korea than the also prominent fitness culture.

At any rate, man, I love Korea. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that.

I don’t believe in reincarnation, and I don’t literally think this next thing I am going to write, I just wanted to record it for posterity.

A while back, I got the idea for a piece of fiction, or a screenplay, or something, about an American who, somehow or other, discovered that in a previous life, he (or maybe she) was Korean, and in this previous life, he (or she) always wanted to leave Korea and go to the US, but he never got to.

Might have something to do with Pure Land Buddhism, where adherents pray to be reborn in a “Pure Land.” As a sidenote, many Buddhists consider all lands to be “Pure Lands,” it’s only our perception of them that makes it seem otherwise.

But at any rate, this person is reborn as an American, but ends up wanting to return to Korea.

And like I said, I don’t believe any of that stuff. But I was here last about 15 years ago. For many people walking the earth today, that’s their entire lifetime, or even more.

So, in a sense, I myself was here a lifetime ago, and I wanted to come back but didn’t until now.

And anyway, I’m enjoying being back.

Man, I love Korea. 🙂

Blah Blah Blah

I think it was “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” that did it.

In case you haven’t seen it, that show is a Korean Netflix drama about the (fictional) first autistic attorney in South Korea, named 우영우.

As mentioned, she is autistic, and the only thing she likes to eat is 김밥. And anyway, I guess it was watching that show that got me to thinking about 김밥, and at first it was like “oh yeah, I remember eating that stuff, it was pretty good” and then it was like “it would be nice to have some of that some time” and then before I knew it I was out and out craving the stuff.

I mean, when I was here before, 15 years ago, I ate it every now and then. It wasn’t (and isn’t) my favorite Korean food by far, but after seeing it on basically every episode of that show, I got to thinking about it, and how it’s basically a full meal wrapped up in seaweed, and how it’s delicious basically any time of the day…

And the next thing I know, I’m sending off documents and looking for another teaching job. And about six months later, here I am.

I’m not gonna mention where I work, or even where I live. But it’s a nice area, and I’ve been eating 김밥 like crazy since I got here. Over the space of a little less than 2 weeks, I have become a regular at the 김밥나라 closest to my work. It’s like a block away.

My apartment is about 2 miles away, and there’s a pretty nice walkway between my apartment and my work. It’s about 40 minutes one way, and I usually walk to and from work. I’ll continue to do that as long as the weather permits… it gets pretty hot here in the summer, so I may start taking the subway then.

There’s a subway station close to my apartment, and from there you can go basically anywhere in Seoul for a couple bucks, and get a ticket to basically anywhere else in Korea for pretty cheap as well. So I intend to do some traveling while I am here.

Anyway, 김밥 is delicious.