This past weekend I went to Seoul on a very short notice to visit my host family from when I did the NSLI-Y program in 2015-2016.
As soon as classes finished on Friday I took a taxi from campus to the 고속버서터미널 (Express Bus Terminal). It cost 6,800 won, or about 6 U.S. dollars, which is considerably cheaper then taking a taxi in NYC for about 20 minutes. Before I boarded my bus I ate 떡만두국 (rice cakes and dumpling soup), one of my favorite Korean comfort foods. The bus ride from Gwangju to Seoul was about 4 hours, most of which I spent sleeping and looking outside at the Korean countryside and rice patty fields.
Being back in Seoul was amazing. It is weird, but I had these feeling of relief like I was simply returning home. The speed of the people, the packed sidewalks, the SUBWAYS, everything was just as I remembered. After I got off the bus, I walked towards a subway station and took the subway a few stops, transferred, rode it some more until I met my host mother at the stop nearest to their apartment.
The last time I saw my host family was one year ago when they came to visit me in the U.S. I wrote a whole series about their U.S. trip which can be found here on the NSLI-Y interactive website…. Anyhow, we kept remarking how it felt like I had been in Korea all along this past year. It was easy to just be ourselves in front of each other and the year apart did not create any awkwardness.
On Friday night we ate 삼겹살 (Samgyupsal, pork) and 김치 (Kimchi) among many other side dishes at home. Once it got a little cooler outside we went to walk along the 청계천 (Cheonggyecheon River). Jeongyoon and I walked and chit chatted for about an hour and a half, while my host mother went to this public dance event by the water (they were dancing to Single Ladies by Beyonce!) and then to do some errands. Here is a report I wrote a little over a year ago on the 청계천 if you are curious.
Saturday morning I woke up around 7 o’clock naturally, or simply from habit because of my school schedule in Gwangju. Once my sisters woke up around 9 o’clock we had 순두부찌개 (soft tofu stew, spicy) and 밥 (rice). We then went to go explore Seoul!
My host sisters really worried about where to take me in Seoul this weekend, which I felt bad that they were so anxious about. When I came to Seoul in 2015 I took the subway and buses EVERYWHERE and explored so much. I even went to the outskirts of the massive city (10 million people) and met street side food vendors who had never interacted with a foreigner in person before. I used to exit at a subway and walk for up to four hours just exploring. It seems that I have experienced more parts of Seoul than my sisters sometimes, even though they have lived there all there life.
We ended up going to 북촌 (a traditional 한옥 hanok village) and then to the Seoullo Sky Garden which was recently built. It did not exist when I was in Korea last, but it reminds me a lot of the High Line in NYC. I put a lot of photos below.
For lunch we went to 홍대 (Hongdae) which is where I used to go three times per week during the NSLI-Y program to learn Korean. 홍대 is where all the young people, college students, and many tourists go because it is full of interesting restaurants, a park, many stores, street performances, really just about anything. We initially wanted to go to this Japanese restaurant but the line was super long to even get inside, so we then tried to go to a Thai restaurant which had the same situation.
By that time it was about 2 o’clock and we were hungry, so we stopped at this little famous 만두 dumpling place where the owners spoke Chinese. We got two different dim sums which were way way way better than anything I have ever eaten in a U.S. Chinatown. We finally ended up eating at a different Japanese restaurant and I had 돈까스 카래, a breaded and fried pork cutlet with a side of rice and curry. It also comes with soup, salad and other side dishes. A photo is also below. Best 돈까스 I have had yet in Korea, but also the most expensive 돈까스 I have ever eaten at about 11,000원.
After lunch we were pretty tired, so we took the subway back home. I fell asleep on the subway which reminded me a lot of being a high school student in Seoul two years ago. I would have to leave the house at 6:40 am to catch the right subway and make it to school, so I would often sleep on the way.
Saturday night I went on a two and a half hour walk with my host mom and we walked all the way to the 한강 (Han River). Again, I was reminded of my time in Seoul as my host mom and I used to have long conversations together at the dinner table each night and sometimes on the walk home at night from the subway to the apartment. That was something I especially missed when I left Seoul last time.
Sunday, before I had to leave back for Gwangju, I went grocery shopping early in the morning with my host mom while my sisters were sleeping. We then went to Seungyoon’s university, 서울과학기대, where she is studying pottery and art design. The very last few photos below are of us at the fountain by her school. The school is gorgeous and many dramas have been filmed there. After, we had planned to go biking by the 한강 but the forecast did not look so great. So instead I suggested we go ice skating and we went to the Olympic training facilities where we got to skate on a speed skating track. Super cool and a first for both me and my host family.
By the time we returned home and ate lunch it was time for me to get on the subway and head back the bus station so I could return to Gwangju. I plan to visit Seoul another weekend in July so I can visit other family members, and I look forward to seeing the city again!