SoKo Coffee Haus

coffee 4

When we were living in Korea, I discovered that the play wasn’t the thing, but coffee; or rather, coffee shops were the thing.

My office was/is situated in a little neighborhood near Gangnam (yes, THAT Gangnam). Surrounding said office, were three Starbucks, two Dunkin Donuts, at least two Coffee Bean & Tea Leafs, as well as the elusive Caribou Coffee.

In addition to those main-stream, corporate coffee houses, there were a plethora (and I do mean this) of smaller places. Places like Ediya, Tom N Tom’s, Coffee Factory, Seven Monkey’s, Coffine Gurunaru, Yellow Tree, and Serendipity (these last two were actually in my neighborhood specifically, while the others could also be found just about anywhere in Seoul) JUST to name a few. There are literally hundreds of these places, many of them in hidden locales, holes in the wall, off the beaten path.

A Google search of coffee houses in Seoul and there are listing of places I’ve never heard of! There is (or was when we were living there) even a bird themed house (in which live birds are free to fly about) and a cat themed house (in which coffee lovers can drink their cuppa in the company of random cats). The logistics of these two are interesting to ponder and should we make it back to Seoul anytime soon, I’ll be dragging my husband and son with me to check them out. And the one my boss would take us out to, without fail, whenever the occasion called for coffee, doubled as a flower shop.

If you find yourself in Seoul, please, please visit the local chains, you will NOT be disappointed.

Coffee

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Homecoming

Hello! And welcome home!

This is what we (Jason and I) were hearing, left and right, one year ago today. A few days before arriving home (Albuquerque) we had left Seoul, S. Korea out of Incheon International. I remember that I had mixed emotions.

If any of you read back to some of my more pessimistic blogs from 2010 and 2011, you’ll see that I wasn’t the most happy living in the foreign country. With cultural differences, as well as nearly constant uncomfortable feelings of being stared at by everyone and their grandmother, I was just so ready to come home.

On the plane that morning, as we lifted off, I did tear up though. There were, of course, things I was going to miss…things that I had actually gotten used to and even enjoyed about being there.

Nearly 15 hours later, we landed in LA and met the very first familiar (to me) faces in nearly two years. My awesome cousin and his awesome wife drove up from San Diego to retrieve us.

I was so glad to be in America, to be back amongst people who could relate easier to my cultural background, and to understand what people were saying all around me–well, this last part has its pros and cons.

My cousins put us up in a beautiful apartment for the night. Pamela shared her amazing cheeses with us and the next day we were on our way east.

From San Diego, we made our way through California to Las Vegas, where my best friend Susan put us up in her living room. I can’t tell you how great it was to not have to worry about hotels while we were driving home.

And the drive was pretty rough, I’ll tell ya. Try driving from San Diego, via Las Vegas, to Albuquerque almost nonstop while acclimating to the time change and going through the initial stages of jet lag. Not easy. I had to eat crunchy, fruit-flavored rice cakes constantly just to keep from dozing. The AC was blasting and the music was blaring.

In defense of Jason (who I’m sure all of you are wondering why he wasn’t sharing the drive time), he didn’t have a valid driver’s license at the time and he wasn’t really allowed to drive the rental, per the rental car place.

So, on August 1st, 2011, Jason and I pulled up to my parents house (my home until I moved to Korea). That was just an amazing feeling. I missed my family!

And in the year since? Well, we bought our house, got married, and are just ten short weeks from having our bouncing baby boy.

In celebration of 365 (366 since it’s a Leap Year?) of being back, we went here for lunch:

 Jason ordered their fish and chips, and I partook of their spicy mac and cheese. YUM.

Then, to celebrate further, we went to another local place, Quarters for dinner. I ordered a blackened catfish sandwich with green chili and cheddar (let’s just call it an Albuquerque Catfish Sandwich).

And so concludes another Preggo Girl’s WIAW (#6 for those who are counting).

Korea: A Retrospective

Today, three years ago, I was Korea-bound for the first time. After six months of emails and phone calls with Jason, who’d been there already for four years, the reality of the next leap was not only hitting me, it was engulfing me.

There were so many things that worried me about living abroad. What would I eat? What would I wear? How would I communicate? What was I going to do there? How were Jason and I really going to get along; together; in person; after not physically seeing one another for four years?

What would I eat?

For those who know me, this was a big fear. A big hesitation. I pretty much don’t like anything. I don’t like most veggies, I don’t like most seafood. In fact, a big part of my diet up to this point had been beef or chicken, potatoes, and one of three kinds of canned vegetables: Peas, corn, green beans. My mother and I thought for sure I would lose weight from the mere fact that Korean cuisine was based solidly around the foods I didn’t eat. I was so sure, that I packed all my skinny clothes in anticipation of fitting into them in no time.

But I wasn’t going to the 3rd world. I was going to Seoul. And Seoul is like going to the opera. The variations of sounds, smells, foods all co-mingled in the atmosphere. They didn’t just eat squid or noodles or mushrooms; they had everything. They had restaurants  serving American food I’d never heard of. (Restaurants I’d never heard of, that is) To my chagrin I wasn’t going to get skinny here. I actually gained a lot over my two years there. Very disappointing.

I did find A TON (by my standards) of food that I have since fallen in love with. Well, three dishes in particular. But I also discovered a heartfelt love for fresh broccoli (gasp) and cooked mushrooms (double gasp). There were also snack options that blew my mind.  See? I wasn’t going to starve. And when were weren’t eating those things, we could easily pop over to BK, KFC, Micky-D’s, and other fine dining establishments. And the grocery stores had pretty much everything we could possibly need to make ‘home-cooked’ meals. And if the grocery stores didn’t have it, Costco did.

What would I wear? 
Plus-sized clothing in Korea is pretty near impossible to find. At least for me it was. I went to the Gap and found a few things, only tops, and generally had to beg my family to send me clothes or buy online from LL Bean. And I survived for two years on four pairs of slacks from NY & Company, two pairs of jeans from Torrid, and about 15 shirts from random places like Target, Wal-Mart, Old Navy, and Torrid (again). The situation was far from ideal, and would have been better had we been able to get back to the US at least once in those two years. Oh well.

How would I communicate?

This was easy. Pantomime. Actually a good percentage of the people in Seoul speak English or broken English and we were able to ask for basic items. And most of the menus in chain restaurants were partially in English, so we made out OK. Subways and taxis had a good amount of English as well. My coworkers were always helpful, as were Jason’s, when we needed to make bank transactions, call the electrician, order a special pizza from the place around the corner, or order chicken deliciousness for delivery.

What was I going to do there?

Aside from starting my job as an editor for a Korean-based publishing company, we did all sorts of touristy things. We went to temples, visited museums, went shopping. When the newness of being there wore off, we bought bikes and went on rides, we went to an indoor amusement park, we checked out the zoo, bussed down to Andong for our friends’ wedding, flew down to Jeju for a long weekend.

How were Jason and I really going to get along; together; in person; after not physically seeing one another for four years?

If you’re not into mushy, romantic gestures, skip this part. The very first thing Jason did when we saw each other outside of the security check and customs area was kiss me.

OK, you can resume your enjoyment of the blog now.

We had our ups and downs. Jason and I had each other for support during our time in Seoul, and I think that from that we’ve been able to build something that few people have. The shared experience of living in a foreign country, while struggling with the day-to-day stuff of creating a foundation for a lasting relationship was something I think we’ll both cherish forever. After a year and a half of living together, Jason took me up to Seoul Tower, got on one knee, and asked me to be his partner in life, to be his wife.

I said yes. You can read more about that story here.

Since then, our lives have pretty much been a whirlwind of moving back to the US, buying a house, getting married, and starting a family. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Only the Best Galbi for This Girl

I didn’t want to bore you all with more Wedding Wednesday amazingness, and I did promise to share a few of the things I’ve been eating while here in Seoul.

I have been reading a few people’s WIAWs over the last few months. So, I decided that today would be the day I share a pretty awesome meal Jason and I indulge in often (like twice a week sometimes).

This was today’s dinner:

Any questions?

So this is spicy marinated chicken (boneless) mixed with cabbage, leek, tteok (little rice cakes), and ramen noodles.

THEN, we order bap (rice) and cheese. The waiters do all cooking and mixing. All we have to do is watch the show and then eat the amazingness.

Walkin’ on Empty

WHAT a day.

I should actually begin with yesterday. At around 4pm Jason skypes me to let me know that the landlord has put our apartment up for rent. OK. Right at the moment, there were people at our front door calling to get the pass code for our Seoul-standard electronic door lock. Not OK. First of all, hello short notice. And as such, there are clothes, dishes, even cash kinda lying around. The place is far from tidy.

Second, I don’t know these people, Jason doesn’t know these people… and we’re suspicious. So, no, we don’t want strangers (even if brought over by a realtor because we don’t know her either) walking about in our house without some sort of warning.

So, HOORAY, were packing up everything by the end of the weekend. Calling the shippers on Monday, and sending all our stuff, except clothes and some other essentials like toiletries, home ASAP.

Back to today…

I was up at 5:30 am to do my long walk. My regular week-day walks take me about 45 minutes. I figured today’s would be about an hour, which was pretty dead on.

I had originally estimated my Monday, Wednesday, Friday walk at 2 miles. When I came home this morning and told Jason that I did 3 miles at an hour, I was happy. He was…concerned.

“That’s a long time for just 3 miles, Babe.”

“Oh…yeah, I guess it is. Let me check it.” So I log into this site (which I LOVE) and find my neighborhood.

Oops...

So yeah, not three miles, but just under five (I say five because this wasn’t as accurate as I could have made it, with the few additional side streets I needed to navigate before getting onto the bridge).

This also means that my weekday walks are not actually two miles, but three and a half. And my time is not a 20-minute mile, but a 12-ish-minute mile. These new developments make me happy if I can up my speed before my “race” in October. That would give me a better finish time than when I ran it the last time, or the one previous in 2008.

A few hours later we were on the bus, to Gangnam to run some errands and snag a quick brunch before meeting some of Jason’s co-workers across the river. We were going to see Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D.

The movie was cute. Seeing it with a writer (Jason) and a designer (Karen, one of Jason’s Korean co-workers) was a trip…well afterward it was fun hearing them discuss the creative aspects of the plot and animation.

The theater was inside a mall/train station, so the building was HUGE. After seeing the movie, we had lunch at some fusion place called Pasta Amigo. Randomly, and without reason, I ordered the Salmon Fettuccine. It was really tasty. The Alfredo sauce was a bit sweet because of the onions and fishy (obviously) because of the salmon. The pasta was actually spinach pasta, and therefore it was green… a nice touch.

After leaving Jason’s co-workers to wonder the giant mall, we found a few items at the E-Mart there, and made our way home.

So, what began at 5:30 am with a 5 mile walk, turned into a very long day of more walking with a cute movie and a nice lunch thrown in the middle. It’s also VERY hot these days, and while it’s still not as humid as it could be (think walking though a heated swimming pool while staying mostly dry), it’s pretty miserable none the less when you have to hike back from the subway to the apartment.

Don’t worry. We bought giant bottles of water (will be recycled) and popsicles to help cool us off.

 

Cheetos

Chester really has nothing on the stuff they think of out here in Korea.

How many of you love or just tolerate a good bag of Cheetos? Do you like the puffy ones or the more dense and crunchy ones? Does it even matter? The cheese to finger ratio seems to be the same.

Here in Seoul, you’d be hard-pressed to find the cheesy greatness of the American version of Cheetos. Instead of plain ol’ cheese, you will find other savory flavors like BBQ Steak and Spicy Galbi (Korean marinated meat). These two flavors are actually put out by Cheetos (Frito-Lay).

Now, prepare yourselves. Korean snack-makers have also cornered the market on sweet flavored Cheetos, or rather, Cheeto-like puffs. I offer you two varieties: Chocolate and Banana.

Banana & Choco Cheeto
Not your typical Cheeto

“What?!” you exclaim. Yes, they make chocolate Cheetos and they make banana flavored Cheetos. They are amazing. I love them. I will miss them immensely when we move home.

The chocolate ones really remind me of Cocoa Puffs, only in Cheeto form. The flavor and hearty crunch with each bite is pretty dead on.

The banana ones are a lot sweeter, but only subtly. It’s really like they took the plain Cheeto and glazed it with a synthetic banana flavoring instead of dredging it in cheese powder. While that may sound horrible, if you are ever able to try them, I guarantee you will have a happy mouth.

As a side note, if you live in a high-humidity region and have these snacks exposed to the air for much longer than a half hour, the moisture in the air will affect the crunch factor.

En Situ

Things are starting to really fall into place for us as we get closer and closer to our TOD (time of departure).

First of all, our baby kittens have reached Albuquerque. They are spending the night with my aunt, uncle, cousins, three cat cousins, and three dog cousins before reaching their final destination at my parents’ home. There they will be greeted even more animal siblings. They weathered a journey west from Korea (over two and a half continents!) to Denver via cargo plane, then a 7+ hour drive from Denver to Albuquerque. Kudos to our very well-adjusted boys, for not only did they ride separated (first time they have been apart in their entire 11 months) on the planes (plane change in Frankfurt, Germany), they met a myriad of new animals along the way. Still, they come away unscathed. This makes for two very proud and happy pet owners.

Getting Abner and Ebenezer back to the states was probably our biggest concern. We can go ahead and cross that off our list.

Yesterday I managed to find two very inexpensive airline tickets for Jason and me to Los Angeles. Air China departing from Seoul on July 30th, short hop to Beijing, then on to LA. Because LA is about 16 hours behind Seoul, we land ten minutes after we depart. In the general scheme of things, I think this idea of gaining a whole day is pretty awesome. We are probably going to crash at a Marriott that night, because … after 16 hours of travel, we’ll be jet lagged, and Jason doesn’t want us to end up burned to death in a heaping wreck of a rental car. I still have to make our reservations, but I plan on doing that next month (one major expenditure at a time, please).

I also (because I am super awesome) managed to secure a rental car for our drive from LA to Albuquerque. Now, a quick note… the reason we’re driving from LA is (well, there are two reasons) 1. it’s cheaper to land in LA, rent a car for two days and drive that it is to fly to ABQ by about $400. and 2. after spending 12 hours on a plane, 2 hours in china, 2 hours on the plane before that, we won’t really be in the mood for getting accosted by the security check points between terminals. Thanks, but no thanks.

What is left?

We need to begin shipping things home; this includes various art, clothes, shoes, small furniture (like an Asian table that folds smaller and the parts to a cat scratching post), and a few minor things. We need to buy two bike bags so we can get our bikes onto the plane as checked luggage. We need to find homes for all our furniture (a couch, a bed, shelves, armoires, dressers, coffee table, vanity…), electronics (oven, coffee maker, TV, alarm clocks, hair equipment, computer monitors, etc.), and a variety of housewares and spices. We plan on having various foreigner co-workers take what they want. I say foreigner because usually the Koreans don’t do “second-hand.”

Then we go. We will have to buy a pre-paid cell phone in LA as well, but that shouldn’t be too difficult to find. We’re also making our stopping point on driving  day 1 be Las Vegas so we can visit a friend who’s offered to feed us… can’t say no to that!

I think we’re well on our way to getting things wrapped up out here in Seoul.