Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy holidays!

As we recover from the whirlwind of visitors of the last couple weeks, we're thinking of all of our friends and family back home. Happy holidays and hope everyone has a great New Year!

(Note: the Hello Kitty cake was a Christmas gift from my boss -- it's solid ice cream with a mango topping! And despite its Asian look, it came from Cold Stone Creamery)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Just in time for visitors

My review of the latest travel guide on Seoul.

Monday, December 14, 2009


When we were living in Andersonville we basically had 2 options to get homegoods: Target or CVS.

In Seoul, however, it seems like there is an endless hierarchy of stores, and the longer we live here, the more options we uncover.

For instance, when we first moved into our apartment I got our pots and pans at a street market in nearby Ahyeon-dong. Everything at the street market was cheap and good quality, but hauling the goods all the way back home was enough to make me never go back there.

Then we discovered Grand Mart -- a grocery store/small department store in our neighborhood of Sinchon. Because of the convenience, the store has become a staple for food. We got towels and tupperware from Grand Mart too before discovering Daiso, a Japanese discount store in the subway stop near our apartment.

Daiso is an experience -- the first few times Mike went there alone he insisted that he was the only man in the store. When I went last week the Japanese workers were learning Korean over the intercom system. "Annyeong haseyo" a recording of a woman said, and then all of the employees (and some Japanese shoppers) repeated after her. Everything at Daiso is cheap (1,000 - 3,000 won, $0.86 to $2.90), but pretty low quality.

Then on Friday I had to go over to the World Cup stadium area for a story and decided to check out HomePlus -- a super supermarket (SSM) inside the stadium. Brazilian city planners take note: after the World Cup in Seoul in 2002, the government transformed much of the stadium into a mall. When we went there on the weekend it was bustling with families going to the movies, arcade, spa and, of course, HomePlus.

After having a thriving small business market for years, Seoul is now experiencing an invasion of SSMs. The government has been trying to curb their growth and they have been successful to some extent. But everyday Koreans seem to love the stores, and it's not hard to see why.

HomePlus is gigantic -- imagine a Kohl's stacked on a Target stacked on a Jewel. And they have everything at a pretty low price. Since HomePlus is jointly owned by British grocery chain Tesco, we were able to find granola, M&Ms and Dijon mustard there -- three things that are impossible to find in normal Korean grocery stores.

The service was horrible there though -- or maybe just more Western-style, when compared to the overly attentive store clerks that Korea's service industry is known for.

And although I want to try to support local businesses, I have to say that the convenience of being able to buy everything in one place and the vague familiarity of HomePlus has made me want to go back.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Seoraksan and Sokcho City

We spent the weekend in Sokcho, which sits on the East coast of Korea, in between the famous Seorak mountains and the Sea of Japan (East Sea). It was cold and quite windy, but beautiful. Plus, we had a chance to try a local favorite, stuffed squid (오징어순대). That picture still makes my mouth water.