Off to South Korea with Eggsbert!

coffee walking emoji and bread

Recently, my friend, Eggbert, recently came back from South Korea and Japan and I wanted to hear about his experience there so I asked if it’s okay to interview him for chickenstarrocket.com. He was with Eggs Benedict so I decided to focus the interview primarily on his experience while in South Korea. Also, I am going to use an alias for all interviews.

Let’s start off with the basics. How long were you in South Korea and Japan? What areas did you visit?

Eggsbert: I had 10 days per country. In South Korea, I stayed in the Seoul area with my aunt just outside of the main city. However, we would go to downtown Seoul every day. 

Which areas did you visit and which country was your favorite?

Eggsbert: I visited Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Himeji. I especially liked Himeji castle. It’s a great sightseeing place and it’s very important to Japan.

I can’t give an honest answer to my favorite country as I have ties to South Korea and Japan was a pure tourist destination.

What was your first impression walking out of the airport for both countries?

Eggsbert: When I got to Narita airport in Japan, I was shocked at how old and run down the place was compared to Incheon airport in South Korea. 

(Fun fact: Incheon is the only airport able to handle international flights).

What did you do in South Korea?

Eggsbert: My mom and I went to a few local museums, a palace, the Demilitarized Zone, and a local market. 

Museums in South Korea:

For the contemporary museum (the new one), only two of the four floors were complete so the English support was not complete. Normally the English support in the museums is good.

Gyeongbokgong palace had two major museums. It was an all-day affair to visit both museums and the palace itself. Going to the museums was a good experience as it’s all funded by the government so it’s free and well put together. Going into the palace was about $2-3 but it was well worth it.

They have contrasting museums at this palace, the National Folk Museum–which holds the history of farming, industrialization, and items for the everyday man located on the Northeast corner of the palace–and the National Palace Museum–which holds all surviving artifacts of Joseon dynasty located in the Southwest corner. The royal artifacts varied from royal seals to cars of the last Korean emperor.

Overall, all of the museums are excellent (also did I mention free?). You don’t even have to enter the palace grounds to get to the museums. One popular activity I didn’t do was rent Korean hanbok (Korean traditional dress) and wear it to the palace. 

DMZ in South Korea:

We also visited the DMZ and the border of North Korea. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Panmunjom (the blue houses everyone sees in the news) because the tour was closed despite the tour itself being incredibly popular. Now authorities are starting to limit the number of people because it’s heavily military-operated. That and the UN can cancel tours whenever they want. So if you go, be prepared to cancel. Our tour guide told us they have seen people cry because they weren’t able to go. Don’t worry Sunny, I didn’t cry.

If the tour to go to Panmunjom is closed, the tour goes to an observatory right on the border and then to the Third Tunnel of Aggression which was used to ambush South Korea. There’s a sense of irony that the tunnel is a major tourist attraction now. I will say that the DMZ is one of the few places to get North Korea souvenirs. I bought blueberry wine and it was $20 for about 20 ounces and it was absolutely terrible. The labels are already peeling which is just as disappointing.

The market in South Korea:

We also went to a market and entertainment district. I got a hand-drawn painting for $25. We also saw a play in Myeneong called Nanta. Nanta was at one point an off-Broadway play in New York for a number of years. It has been played continuously since 1999 and it’s great for kids. There’s also really great food here. We had Kalguksu soup with special Korean noodles at a place called ‘Myeongdong Kalguksu’.

Why did you go to South Korea?

Eggsbert: I went to visit family and check out the tourism. To clarify, this isn’t my first time in Korea. The first time was in 2007 and the last time I went was in 2017.  Between 2017 and 2019, there has not been a lot of change, except there weren’t a lot of foreign tourists due to the North Korea crisis. Now tourism is exploding. 2019 was the first time I went to the DMZ because in 2007 I was too young and in 2017 I was done with the North Korea/South Korea/United States saber-rattling and had no interest in it.  I went there with a very open-ended plan and despite that my mom and I went out every day.  

The most important reason why I went was to visit my grandma who is 95 years old. This isn’t so unusual since she didn’t have kids until later in life and my mom also had kids later in life too. She’s in pretty good health but broke her hip in the early 2000s and she visited the US but her health hasn’t been the same since. 

So funny story, I don’t actually know all of my mom’s side because my mom is very secretive about it for no reason. However, those I have met I get along very well.

A Common Family Dynamic:

One thing about my aunt is that she’s not my mom’s direct older sister, she’s my mom’s half-sister. My aunt was born before the war. Her dad is a man who was killed during the war and my grandma remarried my grandpa who had my mom and my uncle. My grandma and grandpa are very traditional and kept trying until they got a boy. Even though she’s my mom’s half-sister, it doesn’t change anything, I only bring it up because it’s a common family dynamic. Personally, I love her. She’s a great cook and a nice person overall.

What is food like in Korea?

Eggsbert: Generally, we had one meal a day made at home with my aunt. Generally, she made a lot of side dishes and soup. She could have been trying to go all out for us but for breakfast we had:

  • Kimchi
  • Dried anchovies and pecans
  • Korean style pickles

After breakfast, we would have assorted dishes and fruit, rice (white/brown/barley were common but my aunt would rotate different rice with different meals), and soup.

For lunch, it would depend on what was immediately available. If there was one thing that is common, it’s rice bowls. You could get cold or hot noodles. Cold noodles are really popular during the summer as the weather can be well over 90 degrees with ~70% humidity. It comes in broth with veggies and hard-boiled eggs. Another common lunch item was Korean-ized Chinese and Japanese food.

(Fun fact: I had katsu chicken in Korea before I had it in Japan.)

There was one day we went to lunch with my 95-year-old grandma, we were supposed to go for Korean BBQ but we had kalbutang instead since Korean BBQ isn’t open for lunch. Kalbutang is a soup with beef ribs, noodles, and veggies. Typically, you take the ribs out, dip them in a light mustard sauce, and eat them with your hands before consuming the soup. It was my first time having Kalbutang and I loved it.

For dinner, we had Korean BBQ on two separate occasions: once the first night I got there and once with my grandma. It’s a very special dish, like getting steak dinner in the US so it’s not cheap. We also had Korean fried chicken which is only just starting to make its way over to the US. You can get Korean fried chicken everywhere in Korea. I had one chicken coated with a red sweet sauce, one lightly seasoned, and one that was baked. One of the places we went to that was a little unusual because it had french fries as well as the traditional Korean side dishes. With most restaurants, they offer palate cleansers in the form of pickled radish which is kimchi. If we didn’t go out for dinner, it was a similar menu to breakfast at home.

(Fun fact: kimchi can be pickled radishes, cucumbers, or cabbages. They were a food that would last through the Korean winter–which is bitterly cold so nothing grows– and doesn’t need to be refrigerated.)

One of the final notes I have about food is the bizarre fad where they have french style pastries (Paris Baguette Tous Les Jours). It is worse than Starbucks in the US since Korea has a pedestrian economy. The coffee shops are just as bad and outlandishly popular. I saw four coffee shops in the same plaza; Starbucks, Ediya Coffee, Hoky’s, and one more I can’t remember all looking at each other. There was even a coffee place in the National Folk Museum.

In the French bakeries, they have Korean-ized french pastries. So they have classics like croissants, but they also have red bean paste, pumpkin bread and all of it is very adapted to the Korean taste.

“If you throw a stone in the air, it’d either hit a coffee shop or a french bakery.”

A joke made regarding the frequency of coffee/French pastry shops by Eggsbert.

What’s the influence of KPop like in Korea?

Eggsbert: There are lots of ads. A lot of K Pop artists are also actors and do sponsorship deals which are everywhere. They are just as big in Korea as they are in the US.

When I was young, I remember a K Pop selling more tickets than anywhere in the world. They sold out in 10 minutes. This was around 2008/09? Koreans are fanatical about it which is what I think made them be able to go international. I saw a lot of ads for K Pop in Japan as well. It wasn’t unusual to hear songs translated from Korean to Japanese. As for myself, I don’t listen to lots of K-pop.

Would you go back to live/visit?

Eggsbert:  I’m going back two years from now. I want to live there for ~2-3 years but nothing super long term. My biggest obstacle is language. I can read it but there’s so little I actually know. You can live there without knowing the language but you’ll be miserable. Koreans are kinda xenophobic and they don’t want to communicate with outsiders.

Advice for those who want to go:

  • If you go and want souvenirs, go to Insa-dong. It’s where I got the hand-drawn painting.
  • If you are going to visit Myeong, you need to understand that everything is becoming clean and safe. Don’t worry, there are still open-air markets with street food and great deals on clothes. I think you should go there as it’s just as authentic as a fancy mall.   
  • Bring good walking shoes. There are no cars so there’s walking, public transportation, or taxis. Taxis are absolutely suicidal. Korea may have been the third world until the ’80s but one thing that’s not the first world is the taxis drivers.

Final thoughts?

For the future of North and South Korea, I will say the following:

“Mr. Bones wild ride never ends.”

-internet meme/Eggsbert

Thank you for reading my Korea travel interview! Check out my other travel interview here.

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