A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
There’s something about Seoul that makes me feel alive – there’s just so much going on around you at any given time. Sometimes too much.
Apart from getting a tattoo and going to the DMZ, I spent my last visit in Seoul doing some things I hadn’t done before.
I celebrated my birthday on one raucous weekend in Hongdae. For some reason I wasn’t really in the mood to go bananas in the club so I was pretty keen when one of my friends mentioned a hookah bar.
A hookah, for those who don’t know or are my Mum, is a simply a sort of elaborate smoking device commonly used to smoke flavoured “cones” (not those kinds of cones). It’s not drugs and it’s perfectly legal. So you’re really just tasting fruity smoke. The bar was beautiful, like a luxurious spa, and served a potent sangria.
This island in the Han River used to be a sewerage treatment plant, but was transformed into a botanical garden. I expected perfectly immaculate sculpted hedges and manicured lawns like other parks in Korea. This one looked more like the plant was abandoned and nature had taken over, though all the gross parts were cordoned off and cleaned up. It really made you forget that you were in the middle of a huge, busy city.
Bauhouse Dog Cafe
This dog cafe in Hapjeong followed me on Instagram a while ago. I followed them back because their dogs were… well… look at them.
I was really impressed with this dog cafe. It was spacious, had separate areas for the dogs to rest, the owners were kind and – best of all – there was an area just for puppies!
Itaewon during the day
Itaewon is like that seedy nightclub part of every city in the world. But it’s perfectly fine during the day. I had a hankering for foreign food so I went and bought the first kebab I’d eaten for a year. I was fascinated by the Turkish staff who switched between Korean, English and Turkish in a blink of an eye. Itaewon is one of the most diverse places in Korea. It was originally a sleazy American GI town but now people from all over the world live there.
Up the road from the kebab shop was the infamous “Hooker Hill”. I’d never been there during the night for obvious reasons, but figured it would be okay during the day. For some reason I was afraid of getting in trouble for being there, until I saw some grandmas carting their groceries through the street.
At the risk of sounding like a pervert, the red light district is weirdly fascinating to me. Brothels exist in Australia, but they’re usually hidden away. In Korea, they’re on the street and bright red! The hill was pretty dirty in the literal sense – buildings were crumbling to the ground. I felt sorry for whoever works there.
I walked down the big stairs from Hooker Hill back to the street and lo and behold, I found my favourite ice cream place in Korea – Soft Tree Ice Cream! The liquid honey flavour tastes like icy, smooth condensed milk.
Mad og Hygge is the brainchild of AK Salling, a Korean Danish adoptee I met on my first trip to Korea. Most Koreans don’t own an oven aren’t big on baking, so AK started this cooking studio to teach Koreans how to bake European-style breads and cakes. Mad og Hygge is located down a quiet, unassuming street full of art studios and quirky pop-up shops in Sinchon. Try her Danish cake – it’s amazing.
Chicken One Animal
On my last night in Seoul, my adoptee friends suggested going to Dak Han Mari – “chicken one animal”. I’d never seen it before. In the middle of our table was a big cooking pot. The ajummas at the restaurant plopped in a whole chicken, green onions and potatoes and instructed us to wait for 15 minutes. At the end, the ajummas scooped off the fat on the top and invited us to eat. Served on the side was your usual Korean banchan like gochujang and garlic, but with the addition of a delicious spicy soy and garlic dipping sauce. It was the perfect thing to eat on a sleepy summer’s night.
G-Dragon is one of my favourite Kpop artists. He’s an ace producer, pushes the boundaries of fashion and is also very attractive. Most importantly, he doesn’t fit the mould of most Kpop artists here – he’s not cutesy and his onstage persona is big and bold and eccentric. So what kind of art does he make?
G-Dragon wasn’t the artist so much as he was the curator, gathering his cool artist and designer friends together to present work based around certain concepts. The first room I saw was a selection of bizarre sculptures, photos, and props and costumes from G-Dragon’s music videos.
The other rooms were filled with eye-popping art that I spent ages looking at, simply trying to figure out how it was made. There was something disturbing about the garish imagery and darkness presented before me. Much like Korea itself at night, with its neon lights and dirty underground noraebangs.
Some artwork featured G-Dragon himself – the most disturbing being a sculpture of G-Dragon stabbing himself in a mirrored room where everything looked like it was melting.
The last part of the exhibition was a dark room with projections on glass panels, which projected a video of G-Dragon walking in such a way that it looked like he was walking down the room on each panel. He whispered one word each as he walked, like a digital ghost. It was dreadfully narcissistic, but it was exactly what I was expecting from G-Dragon.
Walked the Cheonggyecheon
The Cheonggyecheon is a stream running through central Seoul. There actually used to be a village along its banks, but it was deemed an eyesore by the Korean government and a highway was built in its place. Years later, the highway was demolished and the Cheonggyecheon simply became a nice pedestrian walkway through Seoul.
I walked down the Cheonggyecheon several times during my stay in Seoul – once by myself, another time with my cousin and the third time with some adoptee friends. It’s a tiny slice of nature in the concrete and glass machine that is Seoul, quietly tucked away from the madness of the packed subways and crazy drivers.
As I took a taxi to Seoul station, it suddenly sink in that it would be my last time in Seoul for a while. For the last year, Seoul was my exciting weekend escape from Jeonju. I didn’t live there and it’s not my favourite city in Korea, but it felt like home. Sometimes I forget that I spent the first 4 months of my life there, until I am shaken by deja vu as I walk through the crowded markets and narrow alleyways. I’ll miss the palace and big gold statue of King Sejong looming towards me as I catch the bus, the colourful changing of the guard ceremony outside the Deoksugung, the little song the subway sings when it arrives at the station, the bright lights, the impossibly beautiful people.
Til next time, Seoul.