Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Swattie Reunion in Busan

The Swatties strike again! I had the pleasure of meeting up with Kevin ('11) and Natalia ('12) this weekend in Busan. Kevin is teaching English at a rural elementary school on a TALK (Teach And Learn in Korea) scholarship, and Natalia is studying Mandarin Chinese in Beijing. Because Natalia has a week-long break following the end of her first semester, she flew over the East China Sea to Korea to visit some of the dozens of Swatties who are here. (To fly from Beijing to Busan takes about two hours.)

Galmaegisal (skirtmeat) barbecue at Seolae.
On the first evening, we met up at Gwangan (neighborhood of the famous Gwangalli Bridge) and got dinner at a great barbecue chain restaurant called 서래 (Seolae). The place was busy and the space inside was pretty cramped for our group of five, but we got some delicious barbecue. The specialty of this restaurant chain is 갈매기살 (galmaegisal), which is called "skirtmeat" in English. This is the meat around the diaphragm and liver, and it's the kind often used in fajitas. Our meat that night had been marinated in something special that made it very tender and very spicy. 억수로 맛있다! Seoul Food has a more comprehensive review here. The price came out to about 10,000₩ (<$10) per person, including drinks (소주 and 맥주, which gave me some embarrassing Asian glow). Great restaurant, right by the beach!

That was our next destination, chilling on Gwangalli Beach just to see the lights on the bridge and cool off after a spicy meal. It was nice to catch up with Natalia and Kevin, chatting about Swat news, of course, among other things.
Swatties at Gwangalli Beach! Me, Natalia, and Kevin. (taken by Jamie)
Natalia and Monica at noraebang.
Later, when Kevin and some others in our group left, Monica, a Fulbrighter in Busan, joined us and we went to a 노래방 (noraebang) for everyone's favorite: karaoke! This 노래방 was right on the beach; I forget its name, but it was just 15,000₩ for an hour, no drink purchase necessary. In fact, we got some free apple juice just for the heck of it. (서비스, or service, is a Konglish word that means "complimentary stuff".) I totally sang Starships. And Mrs. Robinson (Swatsick...). And Beyonce. And I even tried a G-Dragon song and butchered it. It was a blast!

It was around midnight when we finished, and I had already missed the last regular bus back to Busan by several hours. Fortunately, Natalia's couchsurfing host was incredibly gracious and said that I could crash the night at her place, as well, on a spare air mattress she had. I was extremely thankful for this. We talked all night about Korea, weddings, and Glee. I slept well, and we left at noon the next morning.

People have been talking up couchsurfing like nothing else recently (especially my globe-trotting friend Miyuki, and my first experience with it was so generous that I've decided to sign up for it and see where else I can travel. I would gladly host anyone coming through Changwon if only I lived in my own apartment, but unfortunately, that's not really the case right now.
Street food: 호떡 (hotteok), which is so incredibly nommable. Deep-friend pancakes filled with melted cinnamon sugar, pine nuts, and peanuts. This particular vendor had a long line of people waiting, which doesn't mean slow service but instead top-notch quality.
Sunday was a laid-back, drizzly day. Natalia and I took the subway to Seomyeon, the downtown area. At the subway station, we had a "stupid foreigners" moment and I accidentally made Natalia buy a multiple-trip card instead of a one-trip ticket. To our surprise and amazement, we were very quickly and efficiently helped out by some of the workers at the information office, who 1) gave Natalia a refund on the card that she shouldn't have bought and 2) walked us through how to use the correct ticketing machines (which we had not noticed before going to the wrong machines). Three cheers for patient, polite, and helpful Korean public service workers!

Woojung's Bibimbap in Seomyeon.
At Seomyeon, we met up with Kevin again and had lunch at Woojung's Bibimbap, and then chilled the afternoon away at an adorable cafe called Tokyoloose. Perks of the bibimbap restaurant included the cheapest 돌솥 비빔밥 (dolsot bibimbap, or stone bowl mixed rice) that I've had in Korea, at 4,000₩, as well as good service, its plain interior and staff of irritable ajummas notwithstanding.

Tokyoloose, on the other hand, is the very paragon of Korea-cute. Stuffed animals, lacy place mats, decor that looked like we landed in France in the '40s... As Kevin described it, "Like Japan's interpretation of an antique French country house." Really, all you need are some photos in order to understand what I mean. Oh, and the drinks and desserts were just great, with almost everything on the menu in the 4-6,000₩ range.
Cafe Tokyoloose, located on the second floor of a building somewhat far from the main bustling streets of Seomyeon.
The surprisingly large and spacious interior, well-lit and overwhelmingly cute. Light jazz playing on the radio.
Natalia and Kevin at Tokyoloose. Note the lacy place mats, the antique clock, large windows, and the enormous stuffed giraffe.
So there was a "Dress Shop" inside the cafe with clothes that you could try on... but they weren't for sale... And  there was a mirror, so I guess the whole point was just to try on cute clothes and silly hats while you waited for your green tea latte?

Oh, yes, and there was also food. A lemon tart presented to us with instructions on how to properly eat it (squeeze the lemon slice over it first, and then alternate small bites of pie and ice cream).
Banana chocolate roll, with truffles and almonds!
I'm planning to write reviews of both of these places on Fulbright Infusion's city guide soon, as they were both fantastic and deserve a bit more attention. As you can probably tell from all the photos I took at Tokyoloose, I really loved it and would definitely go back again. Besides the cafe itself, though, it was a wonderful afternoon spent with friends. As I've said before and will say again, I really enjoy getting together with Swatties in a place that is not Swarthmore. The farther away from Swarthmore, actually, the more fun it seems to be.

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