Hiking Gwanhaksan

Yesterday, I started my day with full mobility of my lower limbs. I ended the day drunk on makgeolli (Korean rice wine), with shaky knees and frozen fingers. This is of course because we ventured to Gwanhak Mountain, located next to Seoul National University. With autumn in full swing, it was so magical to wander through a trail lined with red and yellow trees, crunching on leaves as we hiked 600m above civilisation!

I wanted to bring my fancy camera but, being a novice hiker, I decided to stick to my camera phone. I didn’t need any unnecessary weight holding me down. Hiking is incredibly popular in Korea so we had many buddies along the way. At the top of the mountain, there is a beautiful temple. Because a lot of high schoolers have their SATs this Thursday, there were prayers and wishes hanging from red lanterns. I wanted to soak in the beauty of it all but the temple was on the edge of a cliff and my hands were turning blue. I was joined on the trail with my husband, two classmates and my lovely Korean teacher (oh, and a lil puppy).

I hope to start hiking more regularly! However, it’s starting to get real chilly and there is no way I’m going up one of these Korean mountains in the winter! There was one very smart businessman selling icecream in the middle of a rather gruelling flight of stairs. By the time we saw his little esky, our sweaty bodies were ready for an icy treat and we (obviously) proceeded to buy them. Little did we know that 30m later, we would reach freezing temperatures and lose our craving for refreshing icecream. Had he sold his popsicles at a higher altitude, he would have had to carry a lot of melted bags of ice down the mountain. A very savvy businessman indeed. Enjoy some pictures! The air was not so great on Sunday so there is a bit of a fog situation! Have a happy week and go to my blog to read more about my life in Seoul, South Korea.

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Happy belated birthday, Buddha! 서울에서는 석가탕신일

On a lukewarm Friday evening in May, I summoned enough brain and leg power to wander beyond my daily work route of train station to work, work back to train station, and went to Bongeunsa Temple. This miraculous venture just so happened to be around the time of Buddha’s sweet sixteen, so there were lanterns, confused tourists and colours a-plenty. How fortunate and rare that I managed to have this combination of energy, awake-ness and a desire for socialising all at the same time?

I’m currently writing this very important blog post in mid-June and have been sitting on these images and aforementioned boring story without having any clue about Buddha’s Birthday and what it means to the Korean people. After three and a half minutes of strenuous research, I now know that Buddha’s birthday is a celebration for the founder of Buddhism and is celebrated with lantern festivals and lotus flower displays all over the country. It is a long standing tradition in Korea and is a great time for the nation’s Buddhist folk to brush up on their virtues and values and other Buddhism-related jargon. The thousands of meticulously hung lanterns and lotus flowers is a way for Korean Buddhists to light up the sky from their hearts and spread love from South Korea to the rest of the world. What a nice tradition!

If you’re planning on travelling to South Korea in the April/May period within the next thousand years, make sure to mentally bookmark this auspicious occasion in your brain diary. I read that Buddha’s big b-day bash is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the lunar calendar. Between you and I, fellow blog reader, I could not even attempt to try and figure out when that date occurs in earth-calendar times. I trust you to figure that one out on your own. Lunar calendar are riddles that I’ll never be able to solve. Here are the pictures I snapped on my phone after a long day of wrangling 5 year old Korean children and force feeding them a vast and articulate English vocabulary. Everyday is an adventure if you want it to be. Have a great day, friends!

Photos taken on my super Korean Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro 2.58^4 Genius Tennis champion smartphone.

How To: Visa Run in Fukuoka

If you’re a regular reader of this very important blog, you’ll know that my travelling ‘how-to’s’ are more like ‘loose suggestions’ or ‘visual prompts’ rather than informative guides. This post is no exception. In keeping with who I am as an amateur hobby blogger, I’ll keep this ‘how-to’ guide pretty visual and non-descriptive. Truth be told, when you go to a new city, you’re allowed to do whatever the fridge you want. Who am I to tell you how to spend your precious travel hours? The best way to explore any new city is with a pair of legs and/or your eyeballs.

Last week I had to spend some time in Fukuoka while I was waiting for my Korean visa to process. It was my sixth visit to Japan so I was happy to just enjoy the warm air and the Japanese language around me. Here’s what I found on my expedition, categorised in the following order: water, flora, buildings and signage.

Water

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Flora

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I took the above image because I could just picture 4 chubby little Teletubbies rolling around on the grass or the characters from ‘In the Night Garden’ doing whatever it is they do in that show. I mean, what? I don’t watch kids shows? I’m 23? Haha I just heard about these shows, in great detail, from a friend who has multiple children???

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Buildings

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Signage

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There you have it, folks, Jo So Ko’s exclusive, comprehensive ‘How-to’ guide for getting a Korean visa in Fukoka. Also, Fukuoka ramen and udon is pretty famous according to my taxi driver on the way to the airport during my final hours of the trip. I can’t tell you how great it is to get a local’s travel advice on your way to the airport. So helpful. At least I was able to practice my Japanese again. Maybe it wasn’t travel advice, maybe he was complaining about Fukuoka and I completely overestimated my language skills. Oh well. Guess I’ll never know.

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!

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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Highway Rest Stops, Korean Style

I wanted to use this powerful blogging platform to share with you one of my favourite tourist attractions in South Korea: the humble highway rest stop. I don’t know if it’s because of the relief from getting out of a car during a long trip to stretch your legs or the delicious offerings that they have but somewhere in the middle is sweet, sweet paradise. In Korean, these little pockets of roadtrip heaven are called a ‘Hyugeso’ or 휴게소 in Korean!

You can only really access these stops if you’re heading out of town. Most bus trips that are long enough will take a 15 minute rest at one of these places. My face literally lit up when I heard the announcement that we were about to pull into a Hyugeso over the weekend. We travelled from Yeosu to Seoul which is about a four hour drive so a stop for hotdogs and walnut cakes was a necessity! However, the short allotted time period will make you feel like you’re on a reality game show where you have to see how much street food you can consume in 15 minutes with a toilet break thrown in somewhere. Continue reading to see the rest stops in all of their glory.

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It is widely known that when the sun starts to set in the mountains, it is time to stop at a ‘Hyugeso’ and eat until your heart’s content. It’s a very famous proverb first used during the Goreyo dynasty. That’s a ‘chicken or egg’, ‘car or rest stop’ question we don’t have time to answer here today and I am obviosly joking.

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So, let me introduce you to the main reason I love Hyugeso’s: walnut cakes. In Korean they’re called ‘hodu gwaja’ which translates to walnut snacks. (The word ‘cracker’ really undersells the soft pockets of heaven that you will find in your $3 bag that you will inevitably buy after reading such an influential blog post as this). The walnut cakes are filled with sweet and silky red bean paste and are best served hot, fresh from the Ajumma selling them to you. These are tricky to find beyond the confines of a Korean highway rest area but, in my not so humble opinion, it’s worth organising a quick bus/car getaway to try them out. Or even worth an impromptu South Korea trip you didn’t know you needed. Not really. But really.

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Have you tried anything at a Korean highway rest stop? Let me know what your favourite snacks are and I’ll be sure to give them a try! Leave a comment below!

Summer in Seoul: Royal Food

We ate Royal Food like a couple of Royal Korean Emperors and Empresses and boy did we EAT. We ate a LOT. I’m not exaggerating. So much so that, as the meal went on, my enthusiasm for photographing the food faded as my belly became fuller and fuller… and FULLER. Also the images look hella yella (=really yellow toned in Australian) so please excuse the weird colour of these images.

I could not tell you the names of all of these dishes. I mean, I could go and look the names up on Google and write them down beneath each picture… but we all know that we will NOT remember the names and it will be a huge misuse of my precious holiday time… just take my word for it, it was all delish.

At the end of the meal, the lovely Ajumma serving us kindly offered to roll us out of the building and onto Cheonggyecheon like a pair of royal bread rolls. We gracefully declined her offer out of politeness and concern that she would crack a hip. Fortunately, the restaurant overlooked Cheonggyecheon (a masterpiece in landscape architecture and urban planning), and we were able to walk off our enormous meal without any additional rolling assistance.

Round 1:

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Okay, this was the best Japchae of my entire life:

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Okay, I’ve lost track of the rounds…

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Final round aka “sorry, no crib for his bed, food consumption does not compute”

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Is it legal to leave yet? It should be like when you get a vaccination at the doctor and they make you wait for 5 minutes to make sure you don’t pass out. I feel like there should have been a lounge for a post-royal food siesta to make sure we didn’t plummet to our deaths on the elevator ride.

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Cheonggyecheon!

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There is a law in Korea that states ‘thou shalt not sit on the banks of any Korean river (or in any open space for that matter) without a lover by their side’. I wish I was joking. This is a real law and the punishment for all you single rulebreakers is a lifetime of loneliness.

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Misty clouds to cleanse the palate after what felt like a 300-course meal. I highly recommend a Royal Food experience if you travel to Seoul and you want to taste all of the flavours of Korea in one sitting. It was the tastiest night of my entire existence.

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