Pasta, Popcorn and Korean Pancakes

I recently wrote about a hip, hop, happnin’ area of Seoul called Sharosugil. In said post, I wrote that while we were there we needed to ‘take mental notes for future date plans so we can come back every single week for the foreseeable future’. Sure enough, we went back exactly one week later for another too-adorable-for-words date. I was in a pizza/pasta or hardcore Korean set meal mood after work. I guess that’s a very vague hunger mood to be in, isn’t it? I was too afraid to rule out any tasty possibilities we may have stumbled upon so I came prepared with back-up hunger cravings.

Wandering down a small street in the university town, we saw this gorgeous little restaurant that we could have almost mistaken for an indoor plant shop and walked right past. When we sat down, we realised that it was, in fact, a risoteria and not a pasta restaurant. Never fear, according to the waitress, the chef can whip you up just about any pasta dish your hunger mood can concoct.  The name of this place is Marcus and you can click the link to find out where it is and what they sell because this Jo So Ko blog isn’t intended to be very informative or useful, it’s a hobby. I must add, the service was amazing and if Korea were a tipping country and I had a job that afforded me the luxury to be able to tip, I would have probably considered tipping them. Enjoy the pictures, the food, the neighbourhood, your life, the vibe etc.

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So, you’ve got yourself a hole in the wall? No worries, shove some corks in it! What hole?

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They should probably rename their restaurant ‘al dente AF’ because that’s exactly what this carbonara was. So good.

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Seafoody, tomatoey risotto!

Meanwhile, on the (narrow) streets of Sharosugil:

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Have you been to this area of Seoul? Which restaurants should we try next? Have the best day!

The January Newsletter

Good evening, Loyal Fan of my blog! I have decided to draw a visual, diary entry-style comic with a few of my drawings and photos from the month of January. I’m going to be doing this each month so I can have a nice little calendar of memories from ‘the year I moved to Seoul’. Who knows, maybe I’ll make them into a little zine at the end of the year? Wouldn’t that be crazy? Yes! Download the interactive PDF of my January Newsletter here and stick next to your office water cooler.

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Thank you for reading! I hope to see you next month!

Sunday Morning in Beijing or Seoul?

Here are some photographs from my Sunday morning in my neighbourhood. I loved waking up early, buying an okay-tasting coffee and walking around taking photographs. I later regretted buying the coffee because it’s not fun changing camera settings and fiddling around to pretend I know how to use a camera in the freezing cold with one hand. I live in a predominantly Chinese area so it’s confusing as to which city I am currently living in: Seoul or Beijing? It’s a great place to live for food and people watching. There’s not much point to this post, I just wanted to share some pictures. The process of walking around an area, taking photos, putting them onto my computer, editing them ever so slightly, organising them and writing silly words about them here is one I cherish dearly.

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It’s a date! 샤로수길에서는 데이트!

Over the weekend, we decided to go on a lavish date and live our lives as though we had all the time and money in the world. By that, I mean we ate three different meals within the space of about 3.5 hours with a heartfelt session of karaoke in between meals one and two to settle our appetites. The date location: Sharosugil (샤로수길) which is located near Seoul National University Entrance station on line 2. I just googled this neighbourhood to see how it was spelled in English and found out how trendy and new this it is. I am NEVER a cool and trendy person. I’m always miles behind the times but secretly think I am super trendy in my middle-age-woman-inside-a-twenty-two-year-old state of mind. This time, it’s no secret.

First order of date business: wandering the ‘hood to take mental notes for future date plans so we can come back here every single week for the foreseeable future. This is an important step when in Seoul because most eating establishments you visit are ones you only find out about from walking by and sneakily trying to see what people have on their plates through the window.

The name of this cafe we walked past translates to ‘Your small table’. How sweet is that? I love that they are so up front about the small table size. Don’t worry, I wasn’t expecting a large table, I’d barely fit through the door.

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We were on the hunt for a burger restaurant named ‘9 Ounces’ only to find they had stopped selling burgers by the time we reached the restaurant. We weren’t about to sit in a burger restaurant and sip on cokes while our tummies grumbled, so we walked back to another ‘Burger Joint’ that we passed along the way. It was literally called ‘Burger Joint’ which was a weird name to read in a non-English speaking country. We ordered 2 cheese burgers and a side of tasty fries. The result… well, see for yourself below. I really enjoyed eating a burger that didn’t taste like it was made 4 weeks ago (*Lotteria*). Burger Joint Review: Good burgers, good vibes, good times. My feet were slightly cold but that was not the burger’s fault.

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Second order of business: Karoke. There’s no better way to clear space in your stomach for two post-lunch meals than singing a round of songs in a Korean coin karaoke room. My personal favourite noraebang tune for clearing space is Disney’s ‘Let it Go’. That wasn’t a pun, by the way, I just love Frozen. We then went to a dessert cafe which had a crucial typo in its name and ate strawberry cake and coffees. Be warned, instagram influencers and opportunistic photographers, cafes in Seoul are hella cute and serve up tasty spreads but they’re also hella expensive. Why I regularly pay 5,000 won for a latte is BEYOND me. Here is that cafe now.

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After gorging on a whole cake (which wasn’t really Ju’s style so he had extra room in his stomach) we stumbled upon possibly the best street food ‘pajeon’ ever. Pajeon or ‘Jeon’ are Korean pancakes and they’re often served with ‘Makkeoli’ which is Korean rice wine. We ordered the squid pancake and OH MA G it was hella tasty. We’re already planning to go back there this week for round 2. Lastly, to put into perspective just how expensive coffee is in Korea, this giant plate of squid pancake cost the same amount as my latte from the previous cafe. I’m still a young spring chicken so I should probably stop complaining about the cost of everyday, mundane things. I’ve got my golden years to do that.

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Korean squid pancake and pickled radish

What do you do for dates in Seoul? Let me know! Let’s Skype about it or get our nails done.

Lost in Fruit

Yesterday, as a gust of clean Seoul air swam its way through the dusty cocktail Saturday left behind, I meandered through the back streets of my neighbourhood to go to the local fruit and veg market. To set the scene, let me just say that the back streets near my house would be the perfect place to film an (on-foot) small scale burglary chase or, I don’t know, shoot a catalogue for an elderly women’s fashion movement. It just has that kind of edgy but practical kind of feel to it. Anyway. So, off I trot to the market feeling all empowered and not at all anxious about being the only western person within a 200km radius. I wander up to the bright fruit stall opposite the equally bright fruit stall I usually go to because I thought it would be nice to shake things up a bit. I point to what looks like a basket of juicy mandarins and say (in my best Korean) ‘please give me these mandarins’. The vendor did not correct my attempt to order what was in fact not a basket of mandarins. As she piled the unfamiliar looking mandarins into a black plastic bag, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. Much to my not at all surprise, I did not protest the above average ($10) price tag for so few “mandarins” (for that matter, I would never protest anything in a second language unless encouraged by alcohol). Instead, I held my head high, faking the aura a person who just purchased exactly what they wanted might possess. I strolled on home, back through the narrow grandma/gangster back streets, past the old men smoking in their pyjama pants outside their homes and into the safety of my home that does not speak to me in Korean. The way I feel when attempting to do anything in a foreign language by myself is crippling and liberating, making any situation where speaking is required quite awkward. My brain wants to shout out random phrases I’ve memorised like ‘happy new year’ or ‘thank you for the food’, but my body just wants to pretend I’m travelling on business and therefore far too important to learn the local language. The result of these conflicting feelings is me just kind of making weird grunting noises with robot arms while I somehow simultaneously nod and shake my head when given any opportunity to speak another language. It’s very sexy.

After one month of living in Seoul, I’m hoping that from here it will get easier. I hope to come home with the right fruit next weekend feeling accomplished and slightly less like an alien. To be fair to myself, the fruits did all look the same, hence this illustration that I decided to draw and share with you all. I hope you enjoyed this anecdote. If you didn’t enjoy it, that’s okay too. It wasn’t meant to change your life or challenge your understanding of fruit and the earth. Have a great day and don’t forget to ‘eat your fruits and juice your vegetables’ according to that annoying guy in the movie ‘Her’. Does anybody know what I’m talking about? I guess I lost you long before that reference and needn’t worry. Annyeong!

Illustration and words by Johanna Quinn. All rights reserved. Image must not be distributed or used without artist’s consent. 2019.

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What happens in Korea literally only happens in Korea

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Hello, followers of the most sporadically updated blog in the history of WordPress. I have been working on this post since August 2017 when I spent my first week in Seoul. I’m hyper-aware of everything in my surroundings, even the things that aren’t there. I’m definitely not crazy but we’re working on figuring it all out. I wanted to compile a list of observations I made about South Korea while I was living there last year. Some of them may be common knowledge, some of them may be random, once off encounters. These are the observations of a young and energetic Australian human lady so I hope you enjoy learning more about Korea as you read!!!

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1. Oh, you want to walk through a door? Well, don’t expect anyone to hold it open for you

When it comes to door time, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Also, don’t expect people to applaud you or give you a fist bump for holding the door open for them. I’ve found that holding doors open for people is actually MORE annoying than the alternative and you tend to get in the way. Just worry about your own entrances and exits, folks. Eyes on the handle, not the crowds.

This is a tricky situation for a western person to navigate because I’m one of those people who will see a complete stranger 10m away and stand and wait to hold the door while they awkwardly shuffle inside and mumble a thank you. It’s because I just don’t know what else to do. Maybe that person was having a bad day, I don’t want to ruin it by slamming the door in front of them and completely ignoring the world around me. But in Korea, it’s just kind of expected that nobody will hold the door for you so there are no door opening expectations to be met. I really need to CALM DOWN with all of the door opening manners.

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2. So, you want to take a 30kg suitcase on the Seoul Metro system?

That’s fine, just don’t expect any elevators to be hanging around. Your broken rib cage will NOT be thanking you later. PACK light, pack like those people you see eating baked beans out of their Vibram FiveFingers sock shoes on the side of the street while wearing their 5kg hiking backpacks and 1okg dreadlocks. It’s not that there aren’t any elevators and escalators, it’s just that they’re quite tricky to find.

Sometimes you tap your train card to get into a station and realise the elevator is 500m in the other direction and you can’t figure out how to get there. It’s also super busy on the Seoul metro so your suitcase is going to really be a point of contention between you and the other commuters. I did have one experience in Dongdaemun where a man hauled my 30kg suitcase up a broken escalator on the first day that I ever went to Korea. I hope that guy is doing well and eating all of the kimchi and drinking all of the soju.

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3. Found a person you love more than you love yourself?

Well, firstly, that’s really sad, self-love is super important. Secondly, go to town on those milestones. Wear matching outfits, buy matching underwear sets or even purchase a 2 pack T Money train cards designed for couples (which I made the devastating mistake of doing). Korean couples won’t really gross you out with public kissing ordeals and excessive touching, but they’ll dress identically to show you that they’re exponentially happier than you will ever be. (Edit: I wrote this before I fell in love with a Korean man and ironically did all of the couple things with, so take Number 5 with a grain of saltiness).

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4. Helmets? Safety? Who needs them?

I know this is not unique to Korea, but people really don’t want to get helmet hair. It’s understandable that you don’t really need to wear a helmet on a university campus while peddling around, but being on a motorcycle on a busy road in Seoul, sans helmet!!!?? That makes me feel uneasy n queazy quite frankly.

5. Sorry, SORRY, sorry, I’m so sorry, oh I’m sorry, hey there I’m sorry

Do you often find yourself using the word ‘sorry’ excessively? Well, perhaps you should take a trip to South Korea and learn how to get your ‘sorry’ usage down to an appropriate amount. It’s not that people in South Korea aren’t sorry that they’ve just walked directly into you or shoved past you on a train, it’s just that they aren’t sorry enough to say sorry. This is my personal favourite because it’s really teaching me how to control my sorry’s. Sorry if this offended you.

6. People in Korea brush their teeth anywhere at any time of the day

I have actually adopted this habit since starting this blog post. Maybe it’s because I experienced living at a university and people study really hard and rarely sleep, but people were just brushing their teeth all over the shop. Walk into a classroom, BAM, you’ll hear the “ch ch ch” of a set of pearly-Korean-whites being scrubbed. I love this. Koreans eat a lot of garlic and kimchi so #8 is admirable. It’s also a sign that people in this country actually take care of themselves and employ impeccable hygiene strategies just about anywhere they go.

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7. The Hiking get-ups are no joke

If you fall over in a Korean forest, and nobody can hear you, did you really fall? YES! You did. The combination of leopard print, fluoro yellow, pink and orange will be audible from SPACE. I LOVE Korean hiking fashion. Please refer to my personal fave snap from our Gyeongju trip last October!

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8. Korean people are nocturnal

Ew, did you wake up before 10am and leave the house? Okay, you need to work harder. Okay, so this one might just be applicable to university students. If I went for a run on a Saturday morning, the streets were as quiet as dead moose. Silent. No people. Meanwhile, standing at 2am at the ramen vending machine was like being on a crowded train carriage during peak hour. Damn, do they know how to STUDY. It’s just so safe in this country! The image above is Seoul at night: couples, beers, a river you’re not allowed to swim in which is a law people actually obey and smooth live music from various buskers. What a life! You just couldn’t have a place like Cheonggyecheon in Australia. People would completely disobey the no swimming rule, there would be public urination, people would throw shopping trolleys in there, there would be graffiti everywhere and silly drunk people would be a danger to themselves.

9. People are chilled out

Probably due to their Jimjilbang (sauna) culture and readily available Soju.

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10. Korean spicy does not feel like other spicy

We’re talking 1 minute of ‘Oh yeah, this isn’t too bad, omg this is not spicy at ALL ahahah are you joking omg you’re crazy, you completely underestima…..’ to an entire night of ‘WATER. MILK. CTRL + Z. Please knock me out cold so I don’t have to be conscious for this ‘. (I’m not a spice lass so please acknowledge the exaggeratedness of this).

Image Above: It may not look like it but this was the spiciest meal of my life. 감자탕 (gamja-tang) is a Korean pork bone soup and it is normally one of my fave meals but this bad boy you see here was like eating a small chilli farm.

11. Learning Korean is hard 

It’s a language. It’s hard. This is not a revelation. Fortunately there are many amazing resources that can help us in our struggle to learn Korean. I love Talk To Me In Korean, watching YouTubers who speak Korean and also, Netflix. I have a blog post coming up about my favourite Korean things on Netflix that you must watch!

12. Singing is a completely normal thing to do

So it should be? Korean Noraebangs (translates to ‘song rooms’) are ubiquitous on the streets of Korea and are also part of people’s lives. You will often see a group of friends or even a solo song lover wander into a Karaoke room like it ain’t no thang. This is not a thang in Australia but it SHOULD be.

13. Google maps and the whole Google family is redundant in Korea

Use Naver. Don’t bother with Google. You’ll get lost. However, Google works wonders in Japan.

14. Appearances are everything

You can’t stereotype a country and all of its citizens by generalising that every human in that country cares collectively about ONE thing, that’s just not a thing you can do. Not everyone cares about their appearance in Korea. However, from what I have observed and may be well known to the outside world is that skincare, beauty, fashion, cleanliness, politeness and respect are all important aspects of Korean life. The way Korean people value their appearance and allow their external and internal selves to look respectful and put together is a great thing. It’s something I am sure Koreans are very proud of.

Appearances aren’t always just about how beautiful you are or about trying to make yourself aspire to a certain beauty standard. There is more to appearance than just aesthetics and I think western culture could possibly learn a thing or two from this Korean philosophy. Be the best version of yourself. Be polite. Make an effort. Be proud of yourself. These are not bad things.

Yes, South Korea is known for its plastic surgery and its extreme beauty standards but, HELLO, have you seen an old person in Hollywood? Korea just decided that if they’re going to do something, they’re going to do it really well and be renowned worldwide for it. In Western culture, plastic surgery is seen as this secret little demon that must never be mentioned in the light of day. To keep this sort of physical body change a secret is to deny that you are trying to feel better about yourself. It instead teaches young women that they can be beautiful and skinny and sexy with minimal effort.

We may not be as vocal about it as Korea but we all have unattainable beauty standards embedded within our cultures. Even people who say they don’t care about the way they look are putting effort into making it known that they don’t in fact care about how they look. That seems like a lot more effort in my opinion. Either way, you’re giving a fork about some kind of appearance philosophy and I am so fascinated by Koreas openness about this. However, it can be disheartening to hear people say that the more attractive you are, the easier your job and life prospects will become. It is also rather disturbing to see perfect K-Drama stars attain the lives of their dreams effortlessly and without much of an inner struggle. I think in the future, Korea will figure out how to balance this incredible ideology with the way it is portrayed to the masses. In the meantime, I shall continue to take care of myself and my appearance and not give a shiz about who knows it.

 

15. Koreans don’t do drugs (This is a great thing). It’s incredibly illegal and frowned upon

Instead, they do K-DRAMAS. K-DRAMAS may as well be drugs, people! Those shows are more addictive than any street drug I’ve heard about on Vice. K-Dramas will make you want to stay at home, order-in, sit in your pyjamas and completely immerse yourself in a fictitious Korean political scandal or impossible unrequited love situation (that 9/10 times has a happy ending).

16. South Korea is gosh darn COLD in winter

I was not aware of this last fact. They get this bone-chilling wind known as the Siberian Anticyclone and it is particularly problematic in December and January. Be warned, intrepid travellers.

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Do you have any more observations you’ve made about Korea? Let’s discuss below!

Don’t forget to follow my instagram for more snaps and drawings!

I went back to Korea a few weeks ago and didn’t blog about it… Hongdae + Lotte World

I am currently in my final year of university and squeezing in trips to South Korea here and there has been my number one motivation to work harder! Although the workload is challenging, what is important to me is this new life I’ve discovered in Korea. About three weeks ago, I slipped away to Seoul for a week right before my final honours presentation for the semester. We stayed in Hongdae and Jamsil and managed to cram a whole lot into a very short space of time! Here is a collection of really random photos taken on my phone and my small tiny point and shoot that doesn’t take very good photos despite being less than a year old and not very cheap…yay cameras.

Hongdae streets at night!

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Naengmyeon (vinegary noodles), BBQ, Kimchi Fried Rice and other yummy things that I don’t know the names of!

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In Korea, fans pay to celebrate the birthdays of their “idols”. It’s like a Kickstarter but for birthday advertisements. I’m still trying to grasp Korean Idol culture…will keep you posted (will literally keep you posted in a blog post…)

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Yellow stairs and mirror situation. Seoul is a giant city but everyone is so chilled out (in my opinion..)

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Lotte World Yes, we wore a couple outfit and I bought bunny ears that I will never get rid of (I’m not putting these pictures on the internet, I like to keep SOME of my pictures private…).

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After exploring Lotte World and becoming delirious with motion sickness and the realisation that we are adult-sized children, we ate potentially the spiciest gamjatang (pork-bone soup) of my entire life. We had to constantly pour water into the pot and look around the room to make sure people couldn’t see us being spice-wusses.

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Our Seoul trip was short and very sweet. We managed to go to an amusement park, a water park, eat a 4-million course Royal Food degustation, go clubbing in Hongdae, eat every tasty Korean dish available, visit our Kakao friends in Hongdae and have an amazing dream-like experience (in 3.5 days). For any long-distance lovers out there, you must know the thrills and joys of being able to spend even just a silent moment together. Time is precious and we certainly don’t have time to waste on super spicy pork soup or bad sushi!!!