Monthly Archives: November 2011

TRES CAFES (& SOME TAKEOUT)

I’ve spent a lot of time lately wondering if it would be possible to photograph/document every independent cafe or coffee shop in Seoul. Taking on a challenge of that scope would be painstaking and tedious and likely require a slight degree of obsession. It would have to be highly organized — notes, lists, folders, labels — in other words, the stuff of my dreams. I feel very comforted by the meticulous and methodical. I draw inspiration and creative energy from repetition and habit. If anyone could catalog the city’s cafes, it would probably be me.

And at the rate I’m going, it could happen. If you include Friday night’s chickpea salad at Cafe Sukkara, then my weekend cafe count was actually four. Dang!

Cafe latte and Dylan at MMMG, where they have the best furniture and stationery.

I tried (and loved) a new take-out place near my house. This is 참치비빔주먹밥, or (literally) “tuna mixed fist rice,” which is apparently a mouthful in any language.

I know I do a lot of hating on the cat and dog cafes. But sometimes you just need to be around animals, you know? It’s hard getting used to a pet-less life.

Daehangno was surprisingly sleepy on Sunday afternoon. All the small sidestreet cafes were closed, and when my friend and I found this place, we actually had to wait a minute to get a table. All three floors were filled up. I’m curious whether it’s always so popular or if it was just one of the few available coffee spots on a cold day. Regardless, it was a good refuge — a nice, cozy place to warm up, wind down, and nibble on tiramisu. A delicious dessert to finish off a delicious weekend.

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GOODBYE, FALL

Fall ’11 (fa’11 ?) has come and gone. When Seoul woke up Monday morning, it was with a collective “brrr.” It always seems to happen overnight like that.

There was something really special about this particular fall. Last year, the weather seemed to change straight from hot to cold. I remember being in my down-lined winter coat by late September. But this year, fall took its time and even seemed to linger a few extra weeks. I kept expecting the beautiful weather to end — like everyone else, I thought it was just too good to be true — but it lasted a few (glorious) months.

I’ve always been a summer baby. I love heat and sunshine and ice cream. But if every fall were like this one, I might have a new favorite season. Because I also really love sweaters and golden leaves and fresh pears. To commemorate the passing of this most wonderful time of year, here are some photos I’ve snapped recently with my cell phone.

At most grocery stores back home, the produce section carries all the fruits all year round. I never paid close attention to seasonality when I could pick up a Granny Smith in May or a strawberry in October. But in Korea, seasonality affects pricing and availability much more dramatically. You can buy a fruit very inexpensively in season, but if it’s out of season, even by just a few weeks — forget it. You’ve just got to be patient and wait for the next harvest. The wonderful thing about this is that each fruit becomes really special, like a “limited edition” product of nature. And fall’s limited edition produce is some of the best — apples, pears, persimmons, sweet potatoes, tiny tangerines, mmm!

I found Cafe 153 while wandering around Daehangno during this last perfect weekend of fall. I fell in love with the cat face decal on the front door and the delicious maple latte (and look at the spoon, what a good idea!). Another great thing:

In the back corner of the cafe, there was a table with some crayons and stamps and heaps of notebooks for visitors to doodle in. At first I thought the piles were magazines or comics, but actually they were stacks and stacks of (mostly filled) old notebooks. I looked through about half of one stack and found drawings up to five years old. A lot of them were really beautiful and creative. The art supplies and their humble gallery aren’t noticeable unless you’re paying close attention. I love finding spaces that encourage exploration and reward curiosity. I gotta go back again soon!

Ginkgo leaves! I love you green and I love you yellow. I even love you ambivalent half-green, half-yellow. I love you on the trees and falling from the trees and stomped into little bits on the ground. I love your fan shape and your ancient history. I love your bifurcations, too. Thank you for being a daily source of pure, unfettered, all-natural happiness.

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KYUNG PO BEACH + HERBNARA

One of my dear friends is soon to leave the country. I wish her well in England, but I will truly miss her. (If I had to pick the thing I don’t like about Korea, it’s just that good people leave it.) But before she left, she managed to connect me to another friend of hers, so neither of us will feel too lonely without our favorite lady. A lose-lose situation turned win-win. Perfect! This weekend, a group of us woke up bright and early to catch a 7AM bus for a weekend getaway full of all the bittersweetness that comes with saying goodbye to old friends and making new ones.

Our first stop was Kyung Po Beach in Gangneung, about a three-hour ride away. We walked along the beach in the grey morning light, collected shells, drank our first cups of coffee, and eventually made our way to the town’s famous sundubu (soft tofu) restaurant area for lunch.

I was most looking forward to visiting the Daegwallyeong Sheep Ranch, our second stop on the itinerary. Unfortunately, I came down with a pretty severe migraine that prevented me from squeezing the faces off some lambs (and also prevented me from talking coherently for a good bit, which was kind of funny and also scary). Rats! Or should I say: Sheep! When springtime comes around, I’ll be going back for my cuddles!

After my beautiful and talented travel companions scrounged up some medicine for me, I recovered in time to visit Farm Herb Nara, “Herb Heaven,” in Pyeongchang. It was a delightful garden full of hand-written wooden signs advocating peace, love, and the frequent ingestion of herbs. It reminded me of the little country markets you’d visit back home in Texas or Georgia.

I loved all the dried flowers hanging from the ceiling.

There was a special “Botanical Zoo” full of plants that supposedly resemble animals. This Staghorn Fern was my favorite. Too good!

This one wasn’t in the Botanical Zoo, but I think the spots on the leaves look just like the freckles on a fawn’s back. “Fawnfreckle Fern” it shall ever be to me.

On the ride back to Seoul, my friends taught me how to say “chicken-brain,” “therefore,” and the exact phrase you would use for a cute child or animal with dirt on its face.

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