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Archive for September, 2016

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Who’s popping the popcorn?

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Politics? Do not bring this subject up with me in the office while I have a blade in my hand. JUST KIDDING. Will the Donald say something completely offensive? Will HRC cough or worse? My dad always said I could be President one day. Now I know why so many doctors run for office. Is it too late for law school? :) One thing that both sides have in common is that many of our Presidents have had skin cancer. Here’s the link to my Twitter blurb on that one: Cancer doesn’t discriminate

Just as I was writing this, a baby mouse? rat? just skittered by me on the floor in my home office. I ran to get something to trap it and all I could find was a garbage bag. It was actually quite cute and now I know why my cat likes to scamper around at night. Nonetheless, picture me trying to grab the thing with the bag. As I grabbed it, I freaked out from feeling it squirm, my glasses fell off, it ran over my foot and I scream. Nobody in my house gets up, windows open, no one calls the authorities. It was paralyzed with fear (and maybe, yes, this could be a projection). I did get it and was still freaked out while not trying to hurt it. I brought it downstairs, while looking at it breathing upside down and moving its mouth. I then chucked it out the door to be back with nature-feeling both proud and cruel at the same time. I have no idea how it ended up upstairs, and there must be more. Just don’t ask me to do this with the scorpions we find in our house also!

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Seoul Searching

Friday, September 9th, 2016

Dongdaemun Gate


At night


Gyeongbokgung Palace


Door at the Palace


Breakfast at Tavolo 24


got socks?

I returned from a trip to Seoul. It had been nearly 40 (?!) years since I’ve visited here. This was pre-1980’s Olympics, pre-subway. It was wonderfully familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It reminded me of NYC but everything in Korean, and it looked even more dense and immense. Unfortunately, it took a family tragedy to bring me here, as I offered to take my mom to see her brother who wasn’t doing well. I was supposed to have a stay-cation, but duty called and I’m glad we were able to be there and see family. Unfortunately my dad was going to go, but had to stay behind for work. Yes, he still practices law well into his 80’s! Given he is the second Korean lawyer in the US, and first native-born Korean lawyer in the US, I’m fairly confident he is oldest practicing one as well!

It was also good to explore the city. At first, i was a bit intimidated as I do not read, speak or understand Korean (and the few Korean words and phrases I do know wouldn’t get me very far). I really liked the JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square. It is one of the newest hotels in town and has an incredible gym, breakfast, and executive lounge. If I could choose one place to eat for the rest of my life, I think it would be that breakfast. There was such a wide variety of fresh-squeezed juices (of which you could make your own blend), Western food (roasted meats, waffles, pancakes, cereals and pastry) and Eastern food (pho, kimchee/banchan, Korean soups, sushi). It was to die for and I highly recommend it regardless of where you stay. The hotel was well-located also, right on top of 2 major subway lines (1 and 4) which was highly convenient, although not in the middle of all of the typical sightseeing areas.

Some tips: the ATMs are really hard to use. I was hoping for an option in English, but most of them do not have them and don’t bother! Find a bank (better deal) or change at the hotel. To ride the subway, you buy a T-money pass from any 7-11 or store that has the logo. It costs 2500 Won and you can load it up when you buy it or reload it at the machines in the subway. I gave the store a 20,000 Won bill and therefore had 17500 loaded up on my card. I went all around the city for 2 days and still had nearly half my card’s credit left. In terms of the subway map, download one onto your phone before you leave. Keep in mind some are much more easy to read than others.

Before you leave, I found it helpful to write down the lines, stations and transfers before I left, as the names of places are, well, foreign! You need to know more than the subway station. You need to know the Gate exit for whereever you are going. Seoul subway stations are immense and have numerous exits (sometimes 10!). Most online references will tell you which “Gate” to exit, and there are signs in English in the stations. You also need to know the next subway stop as well as the last stop of your line to assure you don’t get lost. This is similar to my experience driving in France. You needed to know the final stop in order to know the right way! You also need a good detailed tourist map. Luckily my hotel provided one. The streets are hard to figure out and it is very easy to get a little lost.

I had amusement seeing the Mandarin-speaking female tourists going in groups dressed up in Hamboks, the traditional Korean dress, and posing in front of the Palace. There are also a plethora of Chinese tourists everywhere, often donning surgical masks. Are they hiding their plastic surgery, worried about viruses or about pollution, I don’t know!

In terms of shopping, well, it’s definitely a shopping and eating (and drinking) culture. Malls are everywhere and stay open until 5 AM! There are markets everywhere and shops even in the subway stations. I found the quantity immense, but the quality, not so impressive. I don’t enjoy bargaining either. Mind you, I stayed away from the big department stores on this trip. The clothing fabrics are often the kind you’d find at Zara, kind of rough and see through, and quality of shoes not great. I liked Doota Mall though. I didn’t find the shopgirls nice at all, but I loved this mall because of all of the independent stores and designers found here. Most pieces are not over 60000 won either (about $50 +).

The Global Tax Refund set up at the airport, though, I found a nightmare. It is confusing. Basically you check your bag with the airline, then have to go to a customs desk (where no English was spoken), drop your bag back off wherever your airline tells you, then you still need to go to another gate inside past security. They have automatic machines, but it just didn’t work for me and the woman at the station was only there to speak Mandarin. Ugh, not really worth it.

Some areas that I found interesting to walk around and chic were Bookchon Village and Garosugil. Unfortunately all of the big names have driven out the local designers out of the latter area. Apparently Hongdae is fun also, but I didn’t get out there. I did a hell of a lot of walking, and I’d strongly recommend wearing running shoes. I thought that would be too unfashionable, but believe me these Seoul women are practical and you’ll see tons of women wearing athletic wear with their dresses and skirts. I must’ve walked 4 miles a day at minimum. It was refreshing to not see the perfection I see on Korean TV. Most Korean women appear to have had their eyelids done, but many are not as perfect looking as the ones on TV!

There a number of other areas I didn’t get to see, there’s a lot to pick from. One place I’d like to go next time is the seafood market. But if socks, blankets and toys are your thing, check out the Dongdaemun area-you’ll get dizzy, and most likely,overwhelmed. Thanks to a British You Tuber, I learned about the toy market which was helpful finding gifts for my kids. There is also a new arts center in that part of town and I was fortunate to have seen a Nam June Paik exhibit. The restaurants there are also good. But I strongly recommend taking a break at the JW Marriott there if you spend time in that area. I also liked ArtBox which is a store good for getting kids and young ladies cute gifts-there was one in Garusogil and in the main Myeongdong shopping district.

It’s a buzzing metropolis, 4th largest in the world. Worth seeing once in your life! I look forward to returning again and seeing more of my parent’s country. I’m proud to be Korean, but there is no doubt after this trip (and after the previous) that I’m Korean-American. (If you want a funny story, have me reenact my charades at the community hospital looking for the ICU. I guarantee laughter).

I’m so grateful to all of the Americans, Puerto Rican, and other veterans who sacrificed their youth to bring this wonderful country to life and to give my parents the opportunity to prosper here in this country. I was brought to tears when I returned after finding out one of my patients was a POW there and I had not known.

Other tips: do not try to go while it is totally hot and humid in summer, or freezing cold in winter! I lucked out and had weather karma the week I was there. Also when you have the choice between Korean Won and US Dollars when using a credit card, pick the Won. I didn’t realize their is a 3% conversion rate on top of the one from the US credit card company. Obviously check out which of your cards have a foreign transaction fee, or lack thereof, and warn them when you’ll be in Korea-I did lots of my transactions in cash. Korea is a no-tipping culture! As for a cell phone, I preferred my own phone and I paid for a plan from ATT to allow for unlimited texting and calls if necessary. Otherwise you have to rent a phone, or unlock your phone before going, pop out and SAVE your US SIM card and buy a Korean one. I didn’t take that chance.

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