Ok, today, we’re packed and sent to the Ritz Carlton. Classy. My gf’s aunt hooked us up with some dude’s connect and we got 5 days in a swankfest. Well, it’s nice I guess. The hotel’s super classic/art decoey and all but they got like super cool works of art, mostly pop art or graphic stuff with poppin’ colors to offset/contrast the mostly overdressed, overlit, glossy yellowy interiors. There’s a press con for MIB III going on as well. The room itself ain’t huge but you get like a safe, laundry/dry cleaning, room service etc. All the trappings but the best part is this is Gangnam and we’re a short walk to shops and eateries and stuff.

Gangnam is like a suburb sized Orchard road. So there’s all the lux labels plus your megastores plus all kinds of shops and restaurants and stuff. It’s not hipsterville. The sidewalks are massive and endlessly crowded. It’s like 10-15 feet worth of sidewalk, very generous and yet still constantly filled with flowing human traffic. Ajummas rockin’ LVs and Chanels and Guccis and Fendis traffic.

And still there’s awesome Korean street food. All the usual suspects: tteokbokki, tempura, oden, chicken skewers… But no snacky yet cos we’re going back to garosugil to meet another friend where we dine on Korean style Japanese bentos. Which aren’t really bentos at all. There’s no box, they just cram everything onto one dish, like a chiraishi sushi don but um, with cooked shit. I opted for the tempura udon nabe, a lovely little sogfest. The “bentos” apparently, sucked. Best thing at the restaurant was this little box that invited you to place a coin at which point, the lid pops open and a cat comes out and swipes it as tips.

Post dinner, I’m still suffering from the Busan seafood fallout or what I imagine is the Busan seafood fallout. It could be anything. I was fine for a bit but I needed some rest because there’s more feasting to come.

And it appears in the form of Insadong. I was also supposed to go to Samcheongdong but let’s just keep our mouths shut. Insadong/Samcheongdong is like the old town part, the tourist exotic souvenirs joint. In Insadong, there’s this complex which slowly leads you to the top with a sloping walkway. Inside are all manner of shops and trinkets and food and whatnot. There’s even a handmade glasses shop that actually handmakes their own glasses. Pretty cool but most of it is like a touch 40something earth chic. There’s a store that sells you music boxes that you can customise. There’s these shops with like bamboo charcoal clothes. There’s a jammaker with the worst blended drinks on earth and there’s also a stall selling red bean pancakes shaped like turds.

Lunchtime is at a more traditional style place, but the interior is curious. There’s old school roof tiles next to our table. One area is like sunlit and outdoor. Others are more private. It’s quite big and it looks pricey, which it is by Korean standards. My girl just wanted to take care of me with the trad food thing. Imagine my surprise then, when told that the kings of the past used to be served what looks like a short rib hamburger. The one we got was short rib minced up and formed into a patty but with the bone from the rib in the middle, hidden until you start eating. It’s tasty, slightly sweetish and juicy and meaty but it’s also a hamburger! To go with that, we get doenjang bibimbap, rice mixed with a thick bean paste based sauce and veg and some kind of small shellfish. Quite good, except for this spinach-esque veg that packed a herbal wallop.

We walk around Insandong and I spend hours waiting at random tourist shops until we try to get to Samcheongdong but get the call! We have been summoned to the Aunt’s house in Itaewon. At this point, I have no clue what’s gonna happen and who the Aunt is except she’s rich so we cab it to Itaewon and wait at the door a bit before entering. Immediately, I get sat down and servants bring tea. A dude who’s just “helping out” is like grilling something tasty smelling on a bbq pit over coals. It looks like a patty. Like the patty from lunch. I say hello and I’m already told to eat. Uh ok. So yea, that patty? It is the same as the one from lunch. Minus the bone and the fact that it tastes better with a bit of char. The aunt asks a lot about me, like what I speak, what I like to eat etc. Then they bring out… the doenjang bibimbap. It’s like a replay of lunch all over, except the food is better and free. I swear the aunt knew exactly what we had and decided it wasn’t a good representation so she had her people fix us up. My gf’s mom arrives and I start to relax a little. I’m eating the same thing from lunch again blissfully and getting served iced americanos and tea and wraps and whatever. There was also grilled beef with wasabi and soy. Quality meat. Enjoy enjoy. The girl is trying clothes on and shit the aunt bought. I’m munching. Then we’re done. GF says, we’re finished but instead of leaving, we go inside the house. At this point, I’d just been enjoying sitting outside in the garden with the lotus flower on the water pedestal and the buddha behind and the pretty plants and stuff.

Inside and upstairs is a whole nother affair. Turns out the aunt is a psychic buddhist super priest, so famous and popular that celebs come in for help. I get smacked in the neurons when I see her consultation room. She’s sat behind a low table like one of them officials in period dramas. There’s like 5million gods in all shapes and sizes. Guan Yu, Kwan Yin, The Laughing Buddha, Genghis Khan. Everyone is repped here. My girl has a buddha made for her, glowing pink in another room. I get sat down, opposite the aunt. She pulls out some virginia slims and starts asking the gf some questions. GF pulls out an old charm, which gets tossed and burnt as the aunt decides it ain’t worth shit. So her assistant (she’s got 3 plus extras) grabs the brush, the ink and the paper and she starts mad scribbling “Chinese” characters at random. They don’t mean anything per se, I mean, they aren’t real words, she just writes what she feels according to the person she’s writing it for.

Then she asks if I want some kinda blessing joint and I’m like, still bewildered at this point, stumbling around mentally trying to adjust to the paraphernalia but an “uh… why not?” escapes the mouth. I’m told to hang onto the ends of this cloth and then Auntie gets going, this time with a silver ink. Unlike the words she wrote before, these were more rigid, neater, organized and clean. They looked like me if I was a made up Chinese scribble incantation spell blessing. Then she does the same for another sheet with gold ink. Each character is totally different from the others. She puts the brush down, apparently very happy with what she wrote. That’s a good thing, I’m told. So they fold the scrolls up and pop it into this envelope sized golden fabric pouch with like velcro and adornments and stitching and it’s like a very pretty wallet but it’s really an incantation holder. I’m informed this will bode well for my business as long as I keep hold of it.

Then the aunt decides it’s done and we’re off. To get me my beloved fried chickin. What a cool aunt. You’re the best auntie. Before we leave, I rub the laughing buddhas and kowtow and pray and try in my weak fashion to display my profound respect but really, I was just a rabbit in the headlights.

We drive, ferried by the volunteer dude who grilled the beef patties before, to Yongsan, where we pick up some fried chickin and get dropped at the Ritz again. This chickin is highly rated by many chickin fanatics. I can easily see why because the crust is crunchy as crunchy gets. The flesh on the interior is still flavorful and the sauce to go with it, made it really tasty too but I’m a no sauce kinda guy. So I spend the evening like watching Ironman on the telly stuffing myself with fried chickin despite the fact I still had the runs and my belly was popping out and I was so full I was gonna burst. I’ve never been more obese than I was at that point and my girl has the Instagram for me to cherish the moment.

Our last day in Seoul, I managed to find the space for some bfast so we get some curry from a Japanese chain, CoCo Ichibanya, which is nice but I think I woulda preferred fried chickin. My gf didn’t want fried chickin. Anyway, we spent the last day in Itaewon, walking round the shops and stuff. Because I’m a foreigner, I don’t really feel that Itaewon is a strange place. It is for the locals. It’s like Roppongi in Tokyo or maybe Clarke Quay in SG. Anyway, there’s shops selling a lot of Americana stuff. Leather jackets, varsities, sporting apparel… Complexes full of that stuff. There’s also a CdG Play store, replete with valet parking. Then there’s Passion 5 a long way at the end of Itaewon’s main street, housed within a building that has a pastry shop, a cake shop, a macaron store and a cafe/restaurant all in one. It’s like the poncey version of Paris Croissant. You can buy your pastries downstairs and then head upstairs to eat it with some tea in a tulip chair or the lip sofa. It’s clearly a place for rich ajummas. I’m not a rich ajumma. I plan my tokyo trip here with the weak wi-fi and an iPad and eat the pastries, which are good but not better than PC/PB/Tours Les Jours.

Evening time. We go to Yongsan and hit the Dragon Hill Spa. In Korea, you can pay a small fee to enter what is known as a Jjimjilbang, a bath house/spa place which also has many other amenities such as food, games arcades and karaoke. At least the Dragon Hill Spa does and it’s the biggest. The place is like 7 stories high and there’s a rooftop restaurant/bar. You put your shoes in a locker on the ground floor. Then you go to your change rooms. Guys have their own lift. Girls theirs. Then you scrub down if you want and wash and soak in the bath or you put on the uniform and you can head to the common areas instead. Inside these common areas, everyone’s wearing the uniform and there’s no more bathing. The naked bit is same sex. In my uniform, which I wished I could take home, I went inside this pine wood sauna, in the shape of an igloo. Hot!!! Humid too. My lenses fogged in an instant, perspiration started forming in 10s and water flowed soon after. It smelled really nice but breathing was heavy and the air felt like it was gonna rain. I much preferred the ice room, where the temp dropped to like -3 degrees celsius. I actually felt good in there, like I wanted to stay. Then we went to the Egypt room, which was 38 degrees and had a smell like frankincense or myrrh. There was also a hot salt room where the floor was too warm to tread.

It was good that I got to relax and unwind at the Jjimjilbang, which is a curiously Korean kinda establishment. A communal and very social experience that has all the awkward bits ironed out by way of design, even if it makes the interiors more complicated. One cool feature was they gave you a wrist tag that you used to scan and pay for stuff, from gaming to karaoke to food and drink. Drinks come in a massive tumbler and are pretty cheap for the amount and you’re supposed to have sikhae, the trad rice drink. When all’s done, you just change back and go to the exit, pick up you shoes and pay the tab. Some Jjimjilbang even let you stay overnight, so it’s kinda like a cheap hotel but it’s dangerous to do so if you’re a girl cos you can get attacked or robbed. Going with a big group of friends is highly recommended. In Korea, there’s also something like a 4 step process to going out. Like you eat first and then you move to a second place, eat some more and drink and then you move to another place to drink some more and then you pass out at the jjimjilbang. I think it’s something like that anyway, with shitloads of soju. I didn’t get the full going out in Korea experience but I can appreciate the bonding spirit such activities entail.

For now, Korea’s on hold. I’m off to Japan but I know I’m gonna be back. So looking forward to visiting Jeju Island next time and all the other places/things I might’ve missed. I had a lot of doubts about whether I’d enjoy Korea at the start of my holiday but it grew on me in a massive way and now, I miss it already. Fried Chicken!!!

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