Asia,  Seoul,  South Korea,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Lost in Translation: Seoul version (South Korea)

Since our arrival in Seoul, we seem to be homesick… not for France, but for Japan 🙂 As South Korea and Japan are the two most developed countries in Asia, we tend to compare the two, whereas we should ABSOLUTELY not compare them like that

In any case, I think that after perfection in Japan, you should not expect to have another country as perfect, even if South Korea tends to follow the Japanese model

It’s hard to return to the normal world after Japan

However, we think that fortunately we visit South Korea after Japan. If we had to return to Paris just after Japan, the contrast would have been more violent and it would have been gone for 3 years of depression:D

Our Airbnb is in a rather local area, near a huge shopping mall and the Yongsan train station, not far from the US military base

And we have a small problem to find something to eat

All you find appetizing and not spicy is Japanese!

First attempt to eat in a restaurant frequented by the locals. There is no menu, the waitress points to the table next door. OK we take the same thing. Finally, it is a fish soup (with 1/2 fish inside + giblets) + rice + the usual side dishes (kimchi)

Problem: it’s so spicy that right after the meal, I really felt that there was a hole in my stomach. So I took care to alternate rice and spicy soup

We then test the Korean snacks: bottom right, a kind of pasta, I asked for “not spicy” and I was still served something all red, on the left an equivalent of black pudding, but there are more transparent noodles than blood inside. And at the bottom, chicken rice with a ton of mayonnaise. There, my stomach doesn’t cry right away (I’ll suffer from it a few hours later, yes, the same unpleasant feeling of aholey stomach ), but my palate doesn’t like at all what there is to eat

This time, we spot the only 100% traditional restaurant in the mall. I test, delighted, their barbecue pork and immediately regret it because it is smoked pork. Nothing like what I had eaten in Paris

JB’s bibimbap is very correct though.

Another attempt to eat local: this time in Myeongdong, a tourist area where one will have more chance to eat good typical Korean food. Trial of the day, the jjajangmyeon, noodles bathed in a black sauce. It isn’t spicy, but the sauce has NO taste. Meanwhile, the soup and the bibimbap spit fire

Last attempt: ice cream put in a fish-shaped cookie, served with green tea powder and a real piece of honey. Conclusion: Koreans don’t know how to make ice cream, it has no taste

BRIEF, I think we really screwed up. We’re just going to stop wandering the streets and pick out a restaurant frequented by locals. We’re going to use our old methods: look on Tripadvisor, and alternate between “adventurous” and “risk-free” dishes (because for the moment, we’re in 100% adventurous mode)

Besides, we learn to say “not spicy” in Korean, but the side dishes, which have been prepared for a long time (pickled vegetables) are spicy at the base and they can’t help it

I think we still need some time to adjust to our new gastronomic life in South Korea, but we’ll get there!

Climate and fine dust

The climate? Hateful! So changeable, it rains, it’s hot, it’s cold. But when it’s hot, it’s quite dry, I understand better why Korean women want to moisturize their skin thoroughly because the air is super dry, my hands screamed for help as soon as we arrived, and I hurried to buy a moisturizer

Seoul is also affected by fine dust, not due to pollution but sand from the Chinese desert. Before, there was some in March-April, but now the phenomenon lasts until May. Koreans are very careful about this and look at the pollution reports every day. When the fine dust is particularly present, we can see a lot of Koreans with their anti-pollution masks in the street. These masks can be bought for a few dollars in convenience stores

The trash can

There are very few garbage cans in public spaces, as in Japan. Therefore, you should always walk around with a trash bag and be sure of what you buy (ex. JB found himself with an ice cream that he doesn’t like but that he can’t throw away because there is no trash can, so he had to eat it all)

Also, at home, you can’t throw the garbage in just any bag, you have to buy a special government bag. There are different colors for the different garbage. It’s a form of tax that encourages you not to generate too much waste, not stupid

Problem: we’re too lame and we can’t find garbage bags larger than 5L. We went around several convenience stores, and only the one in our building sells them, but only 5L. And I can tell you that a 5L bag fills up in half a day

Note: We have since understood our error. In her instructions, the owner of the Airbnb had written to us in Korean the type of bag we should ask for. It is by showing this term to the salesmen that we recovered bags. When we did a Google Translate search, we understood that she had specifically indicated “5 liters” when there are up to 50 liters 😀 #fail


On the shopping side, I am surprised to discover that the prices are really higher than in Japan. In Japan, I could easily find quality things for 7€, here, it’s minimum 10€ and not that good quality

Cosmetics are cheaper, compared to France, but again, compared to Japan, it is 20% to 30% more expensive. I was too spoiled in Japan, where cosmetics were only sold in two types of stores: department stores, or drug stores. As a result, shopping there was much simpler: 2 stores and it’s over

Here, as in all other countries around the world, there are products that are sold only in their official store (like Banila Co.), those that are only available online (most COSRX products), those that are only available in ONE department store (whamisa), those sold in the local Sephora (Olive Young)… fortunately in Myeong-dong, almost all the stores and famous brands are there. And afterwards, we can finish in beauty at Lotte (a department store of several buildings and floors)

There is a store that sells ONLY sheet masks

To give you an idea of the bullshit you can buy in Olive Young and department stores in South Korea, here’s a haul video of a beauty guru, who just spent $1000 there. Beware, among the products purchased, there are quite a few that are Japanese products

I had a hard time finding clothes in cotton, linen or silk. The fashion at the moment is transparent or floral polyester tops, very nice but it stinks as soon as you sweat a little

So after a whole afternoon strolling around the stores, I was able to buy only a modern cotton/silk hanbok for $169 (hanbok is the traditional Korean clothing) as on the picture on the left. And two clothes on the right, in light cotton and linen (top 36$, pants 19$). Most of the clothes I’ve seen are one size fits all – i.e. the equivalent of size S-M in France (I do XS to S)

Clothes are cheaper than in France. We will say that we can pay the price of a Zara top for a design and quality equivalent to Sessun

To give you a better idea of Korean fashion, here is a haul video of an Australian beauty who bought clothes on yesstyle for over 1500$. Note that tops always cover shoulders and chest, but Korean women wear mini shorts and miniskirts of 15cm without any worries. It’s like the Indian women who carelessly reveal their stomach and back, but absolutely hide their legs. Each one has its own definition of the “sexy zone”

There you go, we’re a little lame right now. Maybe we’re moving around too much, we’re tired and it’s harder than usual to adapt to a new environment. In any case, we still have a lot of other areas to discover in Seoul, and we still have more than a month and a half to do it.

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