On day two of our Chuseok adventure, we decided to split up a bit. The king fell ill, ensnared in the throes of sore throats and achy heads. He elected to rest up. We offered no protest. Only clear-headed kings are capable of clear-sighted decrees.
Nightmare planned to meet a friend for lunch. He has strange friends (including us). This friend, a native Seoulite, asked Nightmare where he wanted to meet. I would be beyond perplexed (not to mention annoyed) if Nightmare invited me to London and then asked me to find us a good pub.
His first idea was a raccoon café, which we all mocked relentlessly (from a place of love, of course). We doubled over laughing when Nightmare showed us the cafe’s website which listed the rules of proper raccoon etiquette.
No hand play.
This produced the most laughs and callbacks. The innuendo was not lost on us.
No touching of the mouth or face.
I understand the need to accept cultural differences and all, but on my list of animals whose mouth I would love to touch, a raccoon is probably #178. If the raccoon approached me with glassy eyes and a foamy mouth, it would be off the list entirely.
No manipulating the raccoons.
“Hello, my trash scavenging friend! Boy, do I have the opportunity of a lifetime for you! For the low price of $119.99 per month, you can get in on the ground floor of my revolutionary new trash digging business. All you have to do is convince other raccoons to become trash diggers too. Then they will convince their raccoon friends to become trash diggers until you are jet-setting on a trash-covered yacht raking in hundreds of half-eaten Cinnabons per month.
I’m sorry. That was a bit excessive. The point is I can’t believe a raccoon café exists. If your cafe needs this many rules, maybe pivot to a less aggressive and gullible animal.
On second thought, who am I to judge? Do you.
I chose to join Potato, who was meeting a Korean friend in Hongdae. When we arrived, I was awestruck by the sheer number of young people. Their exuberant energy coursed through my veins. After two nights of subpar sleep, I felt new life.
Hongdae is known as a university-rich district. That means a vibrant nightlife, affordable food, and many many people. Potato’s friend recommended a good restaurant (like locals ought to), but it took her a while to decide. I didn’t care. I’ve been in that position. It’s a lot of pressure.
She decided on a restaurant that served hamburg steak. I’ve eaten hamburgers and I’ve eaten steak, but never a hamburg steak. It was delicious (then again I am easy to please food-wise). I ordered a beef patty with a fried egg in a spicy Korean sauce with noodles. I would rate it 1 out of 1 hamburg steaks – would eat again.
After we exited the restaurant, Potato and her friend left to go non-flea-market shopping (gross). I ventured off on my own. One of my glaring flaws is that my stomach is a bottomless pit of unsatiated despair. I was also on vacation and finally ready to spurn my ordinarily healthy diet.
“Street food!” Anxiety-Brain and I said in unison. Lunch was already an amnesiac afterthought.
I found a stand that sold ice cream wrapped in waffles. I salivated so hard that Ivan Pavlov rang a bell from his grave.
“Wa-pul cho-ko-rat han-gae ju-say-yo” (please give me one chocolate waffle), I said. If I was going to abuse my body with unhealthy food, the least I could do was practice my Korean.
As the waffle cooked, I glanced down at the prices (translation below).
Waffle. 1 Item – 2,000 won. 2 items – 3,000 won.
“Well damn,” I thought, “I’m all about getting a good deal.”
“Actually, du-gae-ju-se-yo,” (actually, two items please) I said.
“Ne,” (yes) said the street vendor.
“Ee-guh ba-ni-ra” (vanilla for this one). My Korean is still weak, so I frequently resort to shoving English words into Korean phonology. It works surprisingly well.
As he prepared the second waffle, I wolfed down the first in a food-induced ecstasy that stopped time itself. When I returned to Planet Earth, my hands were empty and the vendor stared at me like Godzilla had just eaten a car. He wasn’t that far off.
I accepted the second waffle, said “kam-sa-ham-ni-da,” (thank you) and went off to find more diabetes-inducing street-level culinary adventures.
I found a stall selling skewered meats. I chose a chicken and vegetable skewer.
“This is a much healthier choice,” I thought.
“Who are you kidding?” retorted Anxiety-Brain. “You’re going to get fat.”
“Whatever. Those waffles were delicious,” I countered.
Next stop on my Hongdae food tour was a stand selling banana Nutella crepes.
“Oh lord,” I thought, “have mercy on my body.”
As I stood in line, my ears perked up when the Asian-looking customer in front of me placed their order.
“Can I have a crepe with bananas?” she asked in strongly accented, yet irrefutably intelligible English.
“Fresh cream?” the shopkeeper replied.
“Yes, fresh cream,” the customer confirmed.
She was likely a Chinese tourist who did not know much Korean. I heard most of my life that English was the world’s lingua franca. I witnessed that in real-time at a crepe stand in Hongdae, Seoul, Korea.
After chowing down (and loving) my crepe, I decided to give my stomach a break and enter a coffee shop to write a blog post and sip an Americano. I chose Holly’s Coffee because it was close and had a second-floor sitting room. I had a grand old time gossiping about my friends in blog form, reading Helen Fisher’s Why We Love, and sipping a refreshing (though a bit pricey) iced Americano. I imagine I looked like a complete hipster switching between my Kindle and my MacBook while occasionally checking my iPhone for messages.
An hour later, I discovered via Kakao that Potato and her cute friend were finished shopping. I met them at another café and indulged in another iced Americano (my coffee tolerance has skyrocketed since moving here). Potato asked her friend for a dinner recommendation. Her friend finessed her phone for a minute and then shared the location of a sushi buffet. She also showed me how to use the Kakao Taxi app. This will come in handy. Taxis are a rare breed in Namak, especially before 6:00 P.M.
Finally, we said our goodbyes as Potato’s friend departed for the Seoul suburbs. Chuseok was two days away and most Seoulites choose to spend that time with family.
Unable to turn down such a credible recommendation, the four of us met up at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. The bottomless pit re-opened and I indulged in a feast of salad, sushi, sweet and sour pork, fried beef, and gyoza (Or was it mandu? Or pot stickers? I can’t tell them apart).
Seeing another opportunity to practice Korean, I approached the front desk.
“So-ju sel-peu?” (self-serve soju) I asked, pointing to the refrigerator.
She formed an X with her forearms – the Korean gesture for “hell no.”
“Oh. So-ju han-byong ju-se-yo. Joh-gi.” (One bottle of soju over there please).
“Mi-an-ha-mi-da. Mol-a-yo” (I’m sorry. I didn’t know.) This is my go-to phrase for cultural gaffes. It rarely fails to diffuse tension.
With full bellies, the four of us contemplated our next move.
“Nightmare, what should we do?” prompted Potato.
“Um…I mean…how long are we planning to stay here?” Nightmare politely inquired.
“Stop asking questions. Pick something,” I prodded.
“No-re-bang!” (singing room) Nightmare said with confident excitement, pointing to a stairwell behind us.
Nightmare loves the singing room. He might be the only one among us does it solo. As a Londoner who moved to an isolated island, I cannot imagine his culture shock. If I was in his position, I would grasp at any entertainment opportunity I could find. In his case, he goes to a coin-operated karaoke room and blasts Korean hip-hop songs. He recommends it for stress relief.
With two bottles of soju and a linguistically diverse selection of songs, we wrecked our voice boxes for 90 minutes (we paid for an hour but received a free half hour. I assume it was because we have the voices of angels).
I belted out my go-to song – “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by Scorpions. Nightmare performed a rousing rendition of “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen (he’s also keen on rock music). Potato sang nearly every song with an ear-deafening wail that was slightly more endearing than unpleasant.
Overall, Day 2 was an unmitigated success. I enjoyed some delicious (life-shortening) food, met a new person, and sang my lungs out. I was nearing my limit of physical and social fatigue, but for that moment I was happy.
I double as both a selfie bomber and a solid umbrella stand.
I stand a full ten apples tall. 10 apples = 192 cm = 2 Hello Kitties.
Also, was I napping against a wall? I never knew I had that skill.
My parents and grandmothers would say I’m angry because I slouch all the time. Unfortunately, I work in an office now. I don’t anticipate it getting better.
A high-sugar diet can lead to erratic behavior at Hello Kitty Island. If you look at my left wrist you will notice the early stages of my stamp addiction.
His name is JAY-G and he is, “a stylish secret agent from the underground.” He also seems to appreciate coffee and meditation. Therefore, I appreciate him.