Monthly Archives: December 2010

MMMG

I am such a sucker for some good paper products. The stationery stores here are my weakness—sometimes I spend hours just looking at the notebooks and planners and stickers, even if I don’t buy anything. I miss the rush of back-to-school supply shopping! I want an excuse to spend all my money on stationery, specifically from my favorite local company, Millimeter Milligram. I recently discovered that MMMG has a cafe/store under their headquarters near Insadong. Yesss!

I wish I were better about keeping a planner/agenda, because MMMG makes the BEST ones. They are simple, clean-looking, and fresh. If any of you guys need one for the new year, let me know and I’ll ship one your way!

The cafe also has this shelf of beautiful design, photography, and art magazines from around the world. Most of them are super expensive, but they’re nice to flip through. One of them was all wrapped up in plastic, but it had a custom-sewn fabric cover with un-hemmed edges. The fabric was supposed to unravel and tear with age, so each copy would be different. I wish I could have seen what was inside!

Love these wine labels.

Drooled. I drooled over this shelf of wonderful paper goods.

You can also buy the furniture in the cafe.

These are two of the things I bought there. The left is, duh, a pen/pencil case, and the right is a card. I haven’t decided who to give it to, but it makes me smile every time. Not quite a compliment, but still? I also bought a super nice, large, spiral-bound book made of recycled paper with pink hexagonal print on every other page. It’s simple, but it’s elegant and sturdy—it inspired a photo project (obession) over the past few days. Who knew printing photos in a foreign country would be so complicated!

Why is it already Wednesday, y’all?

PS: Here is a link to an interesting article about South Korean towns using robots for English teachers. The robots look like eggs with human faces (uh?), and satellite teachers in the Philippines control them. The Engkey robot talks, dances, and sings. It’s already being used in Daegu. Glad I got here before the robot school takeover!

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ROBOT MUSEUM

Yesterday I ventured to a new area in Seoul called Daehangno. It’s only four subway stops away, so I can’t believe I had never checked it out before! It’s Seoul’s theater district, and it’s filled with art centers great and small, as well as actors and actresses lining the streets actively, desperately promoting their upcoming shows. It’s nearly impossible to walk through without having a flier shoved in your hand, and I love that energy. It was wonderful to see so many young, passionate artists.

Really, everything about the area was incredibly charming. The architectural differences between Daehangno and the rest of Seoul were jarring. It was nice to escape the neverending concrete and see some aged brick and even wooden buildings. This street scene may not seem so beautiful to the Western eye, but after being surrounded by industrial gray buildings for months, it was refreshing to see a place like this.

The area also has lots of quirky, touristy spots like a robot museum (see below!), a Sunday Filipino market outside the Catholic Church, a former neo-Baroque hospital functioning as a museum, and a lock museum. There’s also a visually unimpressive but delicious 1950s style American diner with the greatest philly cheesesteaks, where I had lunch before the museum. With all those things and the many art houses, Daehangno is definitely a neighborhood I’ll revisit soon.

A funny play poster. Read it twice if you don’t catch the mistake.

The original reason I went to Daehangno was to see the Robot Museum! I was not disappointed. It had two floors of collectible robots from the early 1900s to the present. I loved the campy, kitschy feel of the whole place. In a nutshell, it was exactly how I expected a Robot Museum to be. It was educational as well. Things I learned: Adam and Eve, Joan of Arc, and Superman were all robots.

That is one sad little Argentine robot. ILU Argentina, but stick to making empanadas and beautiful shoes.

There was a whole display on “sexy” robots. Uh, ew?

THERE WERE THREE LONGLONG SHELVES OF DOG ROBOTS. It made my heart so happy. Unfortunately, my camera died before I got there, so I was limited to cell phone shots. But trust me, envision any kind of dog robot you can think of, they had it. Tin wind-up flipping spaniels; fuzzy, stiff-legged walking poodles; and the more modern, digital ones (anyone else remember Poo-Chi?!). I would have paid the $8 admission fee just to see that case. Srsly. DOG ROBOTS!

Check out that box. Have you ever seen anything creepier? A lot of the toys were strange, but this was the the best.

Nearly forgot about this gem, but it might be tied with the dog robot (DOG ROBOT!) case for my favorite thing about the museum. A lot of the displays were about space travel or aliens and had only a tenuous relationship to robots. I quickly forgave them for this when I saw the above 1960s poster. Absurdity in purest form. It’s a Korean man on the moon. With cats. On the moon. WHAT. Please enlarge and see the cat on the far right putting a mousetrap in the crater (For moon rats? Moon is made of cheese?) and how srsly frightened the cat with the briefcase looks about this. Enlarge the picture, look at his face, enjoy.

Four more days til vacation, y’all.

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BIRD FLYING TEA SHOP

Another Thursday night, another Insadong cafe! This time, another animal-inhabited eatery—with birds! This brings my total count of animal cafes to three (cats, dogs, and birds). I wonder how many of these places there are in Seoul? I heard there’s a restaurant in Itaewon with a baby lamb tied to a string in the middle, but that sounds really sad, so I don’t think it will make my fourth.

When I heard about this place, the only detail I had was that a friend told a friend of mine there was a cafe somewhere in Insadong that had birds flying around. I imagined a big, chaotic, noisy tourist trap, covered in bird poop and with crazy pigeons or parrots or something flying around. (Of course, I really wanted to see it anyway!) But when we walked up this tiny little alley to get to the place, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a little backstreet hole-in-the-wall place, as of yet not overrun by foreigners.

Inside, it was super cozy and low-lit with some soft traditional music playing in the background. There were a few private little booths and nooks and lots of mats on platforms, so you could take off your shoes and have a good sit. As with many places I hold closest to my heart, this cafe is filled with lots of junk (Is there any other way to put it? It is absolutely, undeniably junk, but I love it). Lots of paper lamps and paper walls, porcelain, stone statues, candle holders with half-burned candles, miscellanious miscellania. The table in this picture is actually a large porcelain bowl with large goldfish inside. I love to go to places like these filled up with junk and think about all the years it must have taken to collect and arrange it all. I dream of having a room or a home or even a tea shop like this–filled with tons of charming junk!

Another pleasant surprise about this cafe is that it wasn’t absolutely filled with crazy birds flying and pooping everywhere. When we first walked in, we wondered if there were any birds at all. Then we started to hear them chirping and realized there were a handful of small songbirds, nestled up together in the back corner on this tree.

Can you see the bird?

How about this one?

After we settled down in our little nook (being the only ones there when we arrived, we got the best seats, yes!), the birds started to sing. It was so peaceful and relaxing to sit on our mats (there is something very homey about sitting indian-style and sipping tea) and just watch and listen. The atmosphere was incredibly warm and comfortable, and I could tell that preserving that calmness meant a lot to the woman running the shop. When a group of noisier customers came in, she kindly asked them to sit in the corner furthest from the birds’ tree, so they wouldn’t disturb the animals.

There were lots of teas on the menu that I have never tried before, so I definitely need to go back and try more. Many of them were herbal or medicinal, good for digestion, hypertension, or relieving stress or exhaustion. I tried the maeshil-cha, plum tea, “made from honey coked [sic] plums and little bit sour taste helps your digestion.” It smelled like Robitussin, but it tasted wonderful—can’t understand! I didn’t have the fabulous BM I was expecting to have last night (TMI?), but I can’t complain since it was yummy.

My friend ordered the ssanghwa-cha, Double Harmony tea, a blend I actually drink at home! A student brought it for me as a Chuseok present a few months ago, and I’ve got so much of it now, I’ve actually been giving some away. It’s got lots of healthy stuff in it like medicinal roots (ginger, liquorice, and some others I don’t recognize) and cinnamon bark. The kind I drink at home is spicy enough to burn your throat, like a really gingery cookie. But the kind at Bird Flying Cafe was a bit more herbal-tasting. It wasn’t bad, but I would recommend the plum! Although, it had mine beat in the presentation. I love those blooming pieces of root (?) and seeds floating on the top.

“Holy Mushroom” and Jujube are on my list to try!

After we had been sitting for a while, the birds started to get more comfortable with us, and this brave little one came over and started eating our rice cakes! He came back again and again for some nibbles and was so undistracted by us that we probably could have touched him.

After several solitary snacks, he decided to bring over his friend.

Another noteworthy feature of this place–the bathroom! It is every bit as tiny as it lookes in the photo, and that is indeed a goldfish bowl on the ground. Right near the toilet, so you have to inch around it (not easy on a gravel-covered floor) and pray you don’t fall in before you can pee. Hands down the most interesting, inconvenient, and all-around puzzling bathroom I have ever visited.

http://www.vimeo.com/17402667

Here’s a short stop-motion animation I threw together last night from some pictures I took.

Come visit me! I’ll take you here!

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