IncogNewOrleans – Fancy!

Today, we planned for the very best. The top of the top, creme de la creme. Etc etc. It was also our last full day in the city so we mixed in a bit of shopping. Jumping out of our AirBnb, we grabbed a bit more coffee and then headed on a streetcar to jazz brunch at the Court of the Two Sisters. As for what that is.. Read more below! Along the way we stopped in some antiques stores, full of novelty lamps and decommissioned dollar bills.

The brunch itself was in a courtyard out back, covered in a trellis of leaves and flowers. The food was quite tasty and the champagne surprisingly good. We got there right as the band was changing so we only got tidbits of jazz, but it accented the ambience in a very nice way.

From there we headed to Southern Candy Makers for our necessary souvenirs. (We hoped that visiting after eating would limit our impulse purchases.) This mostly succeeded, as Andy and I got a gift box each and we all split one seal salt dark chocolate tortue. I’m always a fan of sea salt and caramel together, and adding pecan to the mix only improves the sensation!

From there we had a bit more time to kill before our next scheduled event, so we ambled around, shopping a bit more and peeking into the St. Louis Cathedral we walked by two days ago. While imposing from a distance, the architecture is exceptionally impressive from the inside.

One more streetcar and we got to the main event: Live jazz at Preservation Hall! As the name implies, the hall is “a historic music venue in the French Quarter working to protect, preserve and perpetuate the spirit of traditional New Orleans jazz.” On these fronts it certainly delivered. As the music came and went I had a bunch of flashbacks to high school jazz band: The freewheeling solos, the foot-tapping refrains, and of course the frequent use of plunger mutes. No pictures were allowed during the show, so you’ll have to visit for yourself!

Before dinner we stopped at Antoine’s, an ancient restaurant that remains family-owned to this day. We stopped in for a specific reason: to see and try Café Brulot Diabolique, a flaming mix of coffee, brandy, triple sec, and spices. The staff were somewhat put off that we were only there for what is normally a after-dinner drink, but we made do and tipped highly before scooting to dinner.

For dinner we made it back to ACME, the oyster bar across the street from us on our first day. We’ve gotten pretty darn good at agreeing on a suite of dishes to try, so we piled up a mix of seafood and chowed down!

After dinner, we had a few final bars to hit. First up, the The Carousel Bar! The whole bar is a carousel and rotates about once every 15 minutes. It’s not so fast that it’s unpleasant but it’s definitely noticeable. If you ask a bartender for a drink, you’ve moved 5-10ft by the time they’re done with it. The drinks themselves were very tasty, though I’m slowly learning that I’d prefer an old fashioned to basically anything else.

And finally, we stopped by The Sazerac Bar. Located in a gorgeous, historic hotel, the bar itself is surprisingly intimate. The main attraction is the Gin Fizz, which we only catastrophically mispronounced once and thankfully not while ordering. I stuck with my bourbon-based drinks and was not at all disappointed with the honey-sweet Gold Rush.

Then, we decided to head home. The night was pleasant and the wait for a streetcar just about as long as a walk anyway, so we walked our way home. Tomorrow, our final hours in New Orleans!


IncogNewOrleans – Southern Hospitality

With an easy, late wakeup, we donned clothes nowhere near our Sunday best and headed out. Today’s first item, the national fried chicken festival!

The city recently moved the event to a new outdoor venue, and for good reason: The place was full of people and only grew more busy as the hours went by. We split up to each pick a dish to try and met back under a tent to share our spoils. I opted for the 2019 award winning chicken sandwich from Southerns and stand by that choice. The chicken was juicy and the breading was crunchy, with a slight kick at the end; I’d certainly eat again!

From there we walked around the festival a bit more, playing some cornhole and winning a key pair of free sunglasses. We had one more round of food that we forgot to photograph, then headed onwards towards our next destination – Bevi Seafood Company!

We walked and, looking over the menu, were immediately extremely indecisive. The man behind the counter was extremely friendly, pushing free samples on us as we discussed various menu items. We eventually settled on another cup of gumbo, three passionfruit daiquiris, and a pound of medium crabs. The food came out in a flash and we settled down outside to chow down. Special shout out to Pop and Nanu for teaching me proper crab technique; it came in clutch today!

After working through our second lunch, our next destination was Louis Armstrong Park. To get there, we navigated the local transit system and took a streetcar! Maps said it would be much slower than a bus but it ended up being about the same if not faster as we cruised by stop after stop without stopping. Once at the park we followed our ears within the park to Congo square where a group had gathered for a drum circle. The square has a history of live music on Sundays, notable especially during the early 1800s when African congregation was outlawed. The rest of the park is a series of bridges and pathways over calm waters, studded with statues to Jazz legends such Buddy Bolden, Sidney Bechet, and of course Louie Armstrong himself.

As the day began to wind down, we made our way back to Frenchman St for, arguably, New Orlean’s main attraction: live music! We picked out a pile of venues and settled in for band after band after band. First up, the Spotted Cat. There was a slight mixup with the artist’s band but we got the lead singer and the bassist, and they played a wide range of songs, from oldies to this year’s hits.

After the first show we took a break for dinner, grabbing loaded hotdogs from Dat Dog just down the street. I got the werewolf dog, on the bottom: sausage, onion, pepper, bacon, sauerkraut, and mustard! It was very tasty though I would have loved a second sausage under the generous pile of toppings. From there we continued onwards to our next band, a six-man group that centered around 90s tunes. They did play a fun number called “I’m not drunk I’m just drinking” under only marginal duress from a particularly devoted fan.

After the second show we stopped by the Frenchman’s art bazaar, an open air small business market full of custom jewelry, art, and more. Taylor picked up a ring made from a retired drum cymbal and Andy grabbed a New Orleans-inspired horror poster.

Next we headed to our final show of the night at Favela Chic. This one was my favorite as it was the closest to what we came for: Jazz! The sax player in particular was fantastic and the group as a whole was a lot of fun.

To cap off the night we stopped by Cafe Du Monde for some late night beignets. Going here late at night seems like the move; with no line you can get your sweet treat fix fast and the pastries are as well suited to night-out closer as they are to morning breakfast. Comparing Cafe Beignet to Cafe Du Monde, I’d give the victory to the latter. Though the pastries were a bit smaller, they chewier and more flavorful and, in my opinion, better overall.

We stumbled on home and hit the hay. See y’all tomorrow!

IncogNewOrleans – Bonus Stage

Well I was back in the US for a week and thought, “you know what, let’s go on another trip!” (More accurately, some friends thought that and I said yes to joining.) Taylor and Andy found cheap round-trip tickets and a fantastic AirBnb, so off we went to New Orleans!

The day started with a mad dash to get to JFK for our flights. The cheap flight we found boarded at 7:20AM so I woke up bleary-eyed just in time to miss the downtown A. With Taylor and Andy cheering me on (having not missed the train), I ran to 6th ave to catch the uptown E, circling around to make it to the AirTrain transfer at about the same time as them. With the moment of panic done we boarded and made the quick three-ish-hour hop down to New Orleans!

We arrived to a hot, dry, sunny day, a relief from the rainy cold that has recently descend on NYC. We didn’t get our AirBnb until 4pm so we spent the day traveling to major sites in the city with our luggage. First up, French Truck Coffee and Cafe Beignet on Canal St!

There are a ton Cafe Beignets around the city, probably spurred on by the nonstop flow of tourists hungry for the titular pastry. For those who haven’t visited, a Beignet is a slightly more chewy historical doughnut of sorts. It’s missing the hole but has the same texture and sweetness in the dough. Top it off with copious amounts of powdered sugar (don’t wear any dark clothing) and you get the picture. We washed it down with some chicory coffee from French Truck Coffee. It was very tasty but we wonder if we can find even better, so be on the lookout for more chicory coffee in future posts.

Our appetites were only just getting warmed up (we had missed breakfast) so we headed up Royal st to find lunch. Oysters caught our eye so we hopped into Felix’s for some, along with some New Orleans specialties.

On the right we have Oysters prepared two ways, one creamy and one cheesy. And on the left, blackened alligator! It’s somewhere between chicken and pork and very hard to describe. Taylor also got turtle soup and highly recommended it, so that’s another item to add to our list.

We still had a few more hours to kill before the AirBnb opened up so we wandered up Bourbon st looking for live music. Thankfully, Bourbon st is packed full of it, so we immediately stumbled upon a live band and stayed through the end of their show.

We continued outwards to Jackson Square, a lovely park with an impressive view of the St. Louis Cathedral. After a brief history lesson about former President Jackson we heard chanting and turned around to find a protest behind about the situation in Iran. I found it to be a poignant contrast between old and new, while at the same time a historical echo: Could there have been protesters here during President Jackson’s term?

Looking at our watches, we decided it had been long enough and we could start day drinking. We headed back into bourbon st towards Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. The bar has been serving customers since the 1700s, including some recently notable ones judging by the pictures on the wall which included Muhammad Ali, Miley Cyrus, and the entire Manning family. We got a mix of voodoo daquris (that purple drink) and hurricanes and sat down to sip. Both are very sweet, very cold, and very strong, so we took our time and people watched. An entire wedding party came out of the back and left to cheering, and then we heard the sound of music as a marching band worked its way up the street, terminating just outside the bar! The whole city seems to be in a perpetual state of party and it’s fantastic.

We successfully made it to 4pm so we called a lyft and headed to our AirBnb. The number of people on the trip was initially in flux so while there’s only three of us actually here we ended up with a huge AirBnb that could comfortably sleep 10. We took a moment to chill and plan out the rest of our days, then headed out to dinner. With all of the planning we’ve done for the rest of the trip, one type of food we missed was BBQ. We found a place called Cochon near our AirBnb and headed there. After much deliberation we settled on a table-full of food to split: BBQ sandwiches each, plus mac and cheese, brussels sprouts, a sausage sampler, and a full round of Oktoberfest beers.

Full and happy, we started to wander back into town. Taylor and I made the mistake of not using the restroom at the restaurant and eventually found one in a movie theatre, accessible with purchase of a water bottle from the concessions stand. We closed out the night at Sucre, a french-style sweets shop featuring macarons, sparkly pastries, and gelato.

While it was still early our 4am wakeup was starting to take its toll, so we decided to call it a night. Tomorrow, it’s fried chicken time!

AlphaKorea – Insert Coin

Last day in Korea! We were all exhausted (something about getting home at 3:30am) so we opted for a chill day to wrap up the trip. After caffeinating our hangovers away we headed next door for some tasty soup! This restaurant was probably the most local of any we’ve had and we struggled a bit with our exceptionally limited Korean language skills. We eventually managed communication and were rewarded soup for our efforts.

For the day’s activity, we decided to go to Hongdae, a trendy and young district full of shopping, street performances, and all manner of games. We split into two groups, with some heading to a PC lounge and the rest of us finding a board game cafe just next door, passing the time indoors while a rain shower passed through the area. I recognized a bunch of games on the shelf, (Great selection! Dominion, teraforming mars, splendor, and agricola are particularly notable) but our options were narrowed down to those we could play without being able to read any text. Luckily, Catan fits the bill, and we had just enough time to play. I have many feelings about Catan and could easily write a whole post about it, but suffice it to say here that it’s a fun game when played casually. My “all-sheep-and-sheep-port” meme strategy ended up working as I snagged the win, just barely beating out Zack’s superior production.

By the time we finished Zack had to head to the aiport. He had some minor trouble with getting his bag out of a locker, but Kelly jumped into save the day and he made the flight on time. We continued down the street to an arcade and piled in. Rhythm games are all the rage here and sure enough the top floor had multiple Pump It Up machines. I find Pump It Up with its 5-arrow system to be significantly harder than DDR’s 4-arrow system, but it’s hard to say if it’s actually harder or if I’m just lacking the muscle memory that I have with DDR. We got through a few games before I got too sweaty to continue; playing in a mask is difficult! Ben won a prize but then lost a few thousand won on a merciless crane game.

Finally, we closed out the day with one last KBBQ meal on our way back to the subway. This one was, I felt, more authentic than the meal earlier in the week. Though the prices were likely inflated by the neighborhood, the various meats we ordered felt more down to earth rather than inventive, though were no less tasty for it. We must have appeared exceptionally foreign as our waitress somewhat insisted that she fully tend the grills for us and showed us how to make wraps from the lettuce, sauces, and pork belly. She was satisfied with Andy’s job with cutting the pork and Raghu’s basic Korean, though, so I’d like to think we made it out ok in the end.

With that, we bid Hongdae goodbye and headed home. While some of the crew went on to bowling, I went straight to sleep, preparing for a 5am wakeup and transit to the airport. Tomorrow, the trip comes to an end!

Today’s Korean word of the day: One / 하나 (Hana)

AlphaKorea – Lost in Translation

Today my our penultimate day and the last day with everyone still here. Our momentum has slowed a bit overall, and we got a somewhat late start heading out of the AirBnB. Our first activity of the day was actually lunch at 필경재, a traditional restaurant in Seuso-Dong – while it lacks the urban density of central Seoul, the infrastructure is still very connected and we managed to make it there in just under an hour.

The restaurant itself was very fancy, set inside a series of buildings that is not too dissimilar from those we saw on our village tours earlier in the week. We sat in a large, private room as the waiters brought in dish after dish. Everything was really tasty, and while each individual dish was small I was quite full by the end.

From lunch we continued onwards to the Olympic village. Seoul hosted the summer olympics in 1988 and the infrastructure has been preserved fairly well. Near there we stopped by an insta-famous field of cosmos, vibrantly in bloom. Not one to buck a trend, we grabbed pictures for the ‘gram and headed on our way.

Next up we went to Sincheon-Dong, boasting a huge mall and an impossibly tall tower. The Lotte tower is the tallest in South Korea and the 6th tallest building in the world, so we were pretty excited to journey to the top. At the top we shuffled in to a small movie theatre-like area and watched a short cinematic of the construction of the tower and the ride upwards. With a flourish the cinematic ended and the screen split in half to reveal an incredible view of the entire city and beyond.

We went down to the mall and wandered around for a few hours. I grabbed a real nice black denim jacket with an assist from Raghu after I had credit card issues. This brought us to about 8pm and we were starting to get hungry, so we went to Jamsilsaenae for a long-awaited meal: Fried chicken! You know it’s good chicken when, after sampling the whole menu, we all agreed that the plain chicken was the best.

The night was still young and we had big plans for the night: going out clubbing! Already drunk, we stumbled home on the subway and changed into nicer clothes, knocked back a few more bottles of soju, then headed out towards Itaewon. The first couple of clubs were a bit disappointing but the third one was fantastic, with great music and open-air access to a balcony. It was a touch overfull but that’s a vibe in its own right, and we hit a sweet spot around 2:30. Promptly at 3am the lights snapped on and threw us out into the street. We briefly debated finding another place but didn’t manage to summon the energy, so we hailed a cab and made it home before 4am.

There was a further dark spot, a lesson learned. What may be acceptable in one place is not in another, and non-verbal communication across cultures is no easier than communicating across languages. It’s a learning experience, one I won’t soon forget.

Today’s Korean word of the day: Sorry / 죄송합니다 (joe-song-hab-ni-da)

AlphaKorea – Tradition

Today ended up being a day filled with a lot of Korean tradition, in more ways than one. Here’s what happened!

Breakfast was tasty fast food fried toast sandwiches from a chain called Isaac Toast, which felt like a breakfast-themed Wendy’s with a side of christian messaging on the wrapper. Returning from that, we waited for the whole crew to wake up and get dressed, then headed out for lunch. Our lunch destination today was Gwangjang market, a famous traditional open-air market full of food, fabric, and clothes. Apparently it’s also featured on Netflix, according to signage about the market. Between the vendors selling dried nuts and those selling fried pancakes it felt very reminiscent of the Shuk in Tel Aviv, though with notably fewer calls to purchase yelled out in hebrew and arabic. I ended up having a lovely trio of a fried potato pancake, a katsu corndog, and a twisted cinnamon doughnut. All very fried and all exceptionally tasty.

From there we dove into Korean history with a tour at the Gyeongbokgung palace – but first, we have to look the part! We stopped by a rental store nearby to checkout hanbooks: Traditional Korean robes and dresses dating back to the three kingdoms era (57 BCE – 668 CE). Not only is it encouraged for tourists to dress up, you get free entry to the palace tour if you do! Not one to pass up a deal, we went for all the bells and whistles and came out looking fresh as hell.

Walking around the Palace, full-scale thrones, idyllic man-made lakes, and green gardens. The palace itself has a storied past as a former center of government, burned down in war, rebuilt, conquered again, then rebuilt.. again. As with everything, the world we see today is built on layer upon layer of history.

Exiting the palace grounds we found ourselves at the Blue House. Once the residence and executive office of the acting president of South Korea, the house was opened to the public as a park and tour grounds earlier this year. (The move was a political one, apparently: The president moved his office into downtown Seoul in an effort to be and/or appear more in touch with the country in its modern state.) Regardless of the exact reasons, the change is notable to locals, and apparently everyone is lining up to get in. In the interest of tourism, foreigners can get in immediately and for free, but Korean citizens need to enter a ticket lottery. We opted not to leave Kelly behind, so we snapped some pictures from the driveway and headed onwards.

Our next main plan was to meet up with some friends of Kelly’s for a second palace tour, but we had an hour to kill first. We made our way to Jongno for the second tour and stopped nearby for some donuts and coffee to keep us awake. Once the sugar and caffeine kicked in we headed out, making it to the Changgyeonggung Palace and meeting Kelly’s friend Hyeju and her husband Du at the entrance.

This place tour was similar to the first, though as the sun had set the palace grounds took on a distinctly tranquil and mystical feel. I particularly liked the walk around a lake at the back, the path lit with periodic lanterns.

With all of our walking, we worked up quite an appetite! Capping off our day of tradition we made our way to Bukchang-dong for Jokbal (pig’s feet), along with a spicy seafood soup, vegetable pancakes, and cold noodles! The table overflowed with food and we accrued more and more dishes, interspersed with bottles of soju that stacked up at a similarly rapid rate.

We finished up our food switched into full drinking mode, playing a number of drinking games and going through a bunch more bottles of soju. We played a few rounds of “bottle cap game” (an improvised title, as it seems there’s no official one) where you take turns flicking the metal spiral left at the end of a soju bottle cap trying to be the first to break it, then a few rounds of categories mixed with a hidden timer. I suggested a variant of rage cage with 100 won coins and shot glasses, which worked well enough until we lost one of the coins in a dish of sauce. As we went through “one more bottle” about four times, I learned that I am no match for Korean drinking culture. The soju goes down far too easily and the company is far too much fun! At some point we reached our limit (or our more sober-minded members noticed the staff was starting to get sick of us, whichever happened first) and we stumbled out, bidding goodbye to Hyeju and Du.

In our final stop of the night we went to Gwanghwamun square where there are huge statues erected to ancient Korean figures. The first, Li Sun-Sin, was an admiral who defended Korea from Japanese naval attack and, legend goes, never lost a single battle. The second, King Sejong the Great, was an ancient king who created the Korean alphabet, a point of pride for a culture historically pervaded by external influence.

We made it all the way home and passed the heck out. Goodnight!

Today’s Korean word of the day: Cheers / 건배 (geonbae)

AlphaKorea – Heyyyyyy, Sexy Lady

We woke up in waves the next day, a bit hungover from many hours of beer and soju. We knew full well this would happen so we made only light plans for today. The couples went off on their own and the remainder of us, after grabbing some pastries and coffee next door, took stock of our options. After a few moments we realized we were the set of people who wanted to visit the Seoul Google office, so that’s where we started!

The Seoul Google office is located in Gangnam, a wealthy financial district south of the river and about an hour’s travel from our AirBnB. We made our way through three subway lines, making it just in time for lunch. The Google office is on the 20th-24th floors of the GVC tower, offering yet more amazing views of the city.

After lunch and about an hour of messing around in the game room and poking our heads into random common rooms, we headed out towards our next internationally recognizable destination. If you had asked me to name districts in Seoul before the trip, I would have only managed “Gangnam,” and that one only for a very particular reason: Psy’s 2012 hit single “Gangnam Style.” For those who missed it, or for anyone else who wants a blast from the past, here’s the original video, the very first to hit one billion views on YouTube!

The area has a few callouts to the hit pop song. There’s a stage at a major intersection where you can take your picture doing the iconic “horse dance” as well as a monument of the same outside the Starfield Coex Mall. While it feels a bit odd for a fairly serious and wealthy financial district to have callouts to a somewhat silly pop song, I think it makes sense through the lens of regional pride. The closest equivalent I can think of in the US is the Rocky Balboa monument in Philadelphia: Both are internationally recognized cultural touchstones of fiction that in some ways represent the city they are set within. I noticed some of the locals bopping when we hit the button to play the song in its entirety, quite loudly, from one of the monuments, so it seems the song has enduring appeal. Oppa Gangnam Style!

Leaving the world of 2012 pop music behind, we took a dramatic turn to Bongeunsa, a large Buddhist temple. Set in the nearby area of Cheongdam, the contrast between the tranquility of the painted wooden temple against the steel and chrome urban sprawl around it was stark. After walking only a brief ways into the temple you could easily forget that you’re still within the borders of a huge, wealthy, modern city. It took me a moment to figure out why the change was so sudden: Essentially no one honks their car horns. So once the road is out of sight, it’s out of mind as well.

Jumping back into the city, we then ventured into the Coex mall. The mall claims the title as the largest underground mall in Asia, and it certainly looks the part. The clean, flat light gives the area a Vegas feel as you walk past row upon row of storefronts. The most impressive part, however, is the Starlight library. The library spans two stories under a huge glass roof, with books from floor to ceiling. We made it there as the sun was setting, the perfect time for the library to live up to its name.

The day was fading fast, so there’s only one thing left to do: Go out and drink! We hit up a sports bar first, ordering by pointing at the menu and sipping our beers and cocktails while watching Korean baseball on TV. (Did you know that the Korean Baseball Organization’s championship trophy is a giant sword? Step up your game, America.) From there we met back up with Kelly and Raj for a very fancy dinner at a modern Korean restaurant. I liked the Korean sashimi the best, but the beef tartare was also fantastic. Paired with a tart and somewhat carbonated rice wine, I left very happily full. Our final stop of the night was at a wine and whisky bar, where we discussed the finer points of scotch while playing hangman on the table with erasable markers.

A quick bus ride, significantly less crowded than last night’s, and we’re back home!

Today’s Korean word of the day: Oppan (오빤), meaning “Older Brother,” but can also be used for one’s boyfriend, as it is in Gangnam Style. (According to the internet, anyway.)

AlphaKorea – We Sing Sometimes

Today was a full day! (Actually yesterday at this point, but more on that in a bit.) With Kelly in our party our navigation and interaction speed increased tenfold. In exchange, we tried to keep our loud American tourist on the subway to a minimum, and Kelly only needed to pretend she didn’t know us a few times.

First up, we visited the Namsan Tower! It’s a major tourist attraction, and for good reason: the tower gives a wonderful view of the whole city and beyond. I was particularly impressed with the areas of green mixed in between dense urban sprawl; it certainly puts Central Park to shame. We met up with Kelly’s family at the base and her siblings and friends accompanied us for the rest of the day.

Along the way we stopped for coffee in a very cute and highly rated cafe with a rooftop. The waitress was a bit overwhelmed with the sudden burst of traffic right at opening but made it out ok.

The tower is on a mountain top and we took the fun way up – a gondola! It’s always fun to take these out of ski season. The tower lobby is covered in locks inscribed with the names of couples. It’s very cute, though at this point newcomers may be hard-pressed to find a free inch of rail space.

With all the views viewed, we descended the tower and hiked all the way down the mountain. From there we moved to Yongsan-dong, a trendy area with lots of cafes. Our first pick had a line our the door but we found another nearby and had a drink and a sit in the lovely air conditioning. From there we split up to look for food – Andy and I ended up circling back to Kelly and her siblings and friends for three ones of tasty katsu. (Who needs to translate numbers greater than one, anyway.)

We filled our bellies and hopped on our first bus of the day. Being quiet here is even more important than on subways. We did a… passible job.

We arrived at the National Museum of Korea for a much needed history lesson, helping us put everything we’re seeing in context. We only had time to explore the first floor, but even from the limited scope I learned a lot. Some particular tidbits include:

  • Only Homo Sapiens skeletons have been found on the Korean peninsula; evidence of older evolutionary human ancestor species (Homo Habilis, etc) have not been found here so far.
  • Part of the spread of Buddhism in Korea was an intentional import by ruling kings hoping to solidify their rule. The existing wealthy class resisted until the pressure became overwhelming.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of the modern history is of conflict between Korea and its neighbors, both near and far. Many of these events are fairly recent and still somewhat unresolved.

From the museum we took a short walk to Kelly’s house! Her family welcomed us with a tasty spread of fruit and extra deserts from the recently finished harvest festival. Despite the language barrier we managed introductions and some communication, with Kelly and her sister acting as interpreters. It wouldn’t be an a cappella vacation without some music, so at Kelly’s parents’ request we put on an impromptu concert. I was really happy with our run of No and Andy and I managed to hold our own through the BTS mashup despite never actually learning it.

Bidding goodbye to the parents, we took a bus to Myeong-dong for Dak-Galbi. This is spiced meats and veggies surrounded by a ring of melted cheese and is the most unique dish I’ve had so far. You scoop out the meat and veggies, then swirl them into the cheese and enjoy! We cooled off the spice with a mix of beer and soju, drinking with conviction and only breaking one glass in the process.

Our singing appetites weren’t quite sated, so there was only one way to end the night: Karaoke! We found a spot right by dinner and sang our hearts full for over three hours. Alphabeat comes alive when we sing and it’s such a blessing to be part of a wonderful, zany, and fun group of singers <3.

We headed home on our final bus of the day, squeezing among the commuters. Despite being wall to wall with people, the bus was silent. To say this would never happen in America is a bit of an understatement; I was impressed, once again, with the public courtesy that surrounds the country.

Stumbling through the door, we passed the heck out. Tomorrow may have to be a bit more chill, I think!

Today’s Korean word of the day: Pretty / 예쁜 (yeppeun)

AlphaKorea – Good Fortune

Another day, another exploration! Our jet lag is slowly wearing off as we continue to wake up late and stay up later. Today we headed out for early for coffee and to pick up some household supplies, and this time I made sure to purchase a drink with actual coffee in it, which gave me a much needed caffeine boost.

Today we went to Insadong Street a fairly touristy area positively covered in food and shops! First we visited The National Folk Museum of Korea for some more history and exhibits. This one included a section of Seoul in the 1970s, including vintage cars, tech, and entertainment!

Feeling a bit hungry, we continued onwards. After being indecisive for a while, we settled on a restaurant, struggled to explain that we were a party of six, and grabbed some food. (Soon we’ll have a native Korean speaker to help! But not yet.) Today, lunch was Bulgogi, and was fabulous. Fed’s dish was extra spicy, and the waitress, thinking he was struggling with chopsticks rather than the heat, brought him over a fork unprompted. We had a laugh about it, then finished up quickly to free up the table.

After lunch we continued down through the area, following the crowd. We found our way to a beautiful open-air, multi-story shopping area and window shopped our way up all four floors.

Of all the stands we passed, the most interesting was the fortune section. For the low price of 1000 Won (as of now, about 75 cents), you can purchase a very special, very individual and not at all random red rubber ball. You can get a fortune for your zodiac sign, your love life, or a throw of stick-shaped dice. My fortune is below; I’ll leave native speakers to guess which category I picked.

We weren’t sure exactly where to go next, but thankfully Zack took the wheel and said, “We need to be doing more day drinking.” We all heartily agreed and made our way to the nearest bar we could find. One more quick menu navigation later and we found ourselves in possession of a comically large pitcher of beer and a slightly smaller one of strawberry soju.

It started to drizzle while we drained the pitcher so afterwards we made our way back to the AirBnb. In the meantime, Tiffany and Chris landed and met us there. We rallied and made our way to dinner at a restaurant right around the corner, chowing down on tteokbokki and various fried entrees. The warm stew hit just right on a rainy night and I remain impressed with the light and crunchy fried foods I’ve had so far!

As of now, it seems like we’re staying in as more people roll in. Till tomorrow!

Today’s Korean word is: Soju (소주), a clear and colorless Korean distilled alcoholic beverage. Today’s was strawberry flavored!

AlphaKorea – Subquests

I woke up today trying to insist that I’m not jetlagged. I mostly succeeded, jumping out of bed at a cool 8:30AM feeling fresh and ready to start the trip. Leaning into the vibe, Raghu and I decided to walk around a local park, getting in some steps along the way.

For the next 8 days – Home sweet home!

Making our way to Sungin Neighborhood Park, we found ourselves going further and further uphill. The streets became quite steep, yet most driveways had a car nestled in a driveway, precariously positioned like sleeping mountain goats. The park itself is at the top of a huge hill, offering particularly great views of the city.

A sunny, warm day in Seoul

Walking around the park, we found children, cute dogs, and groups playing badminton. One group even had a referee! Most fun, we found a huge swing, which I rode for a few minutes before some children arrived and laid a much more relevant claim.

The kids came by and ruined my fun approximately 90 seconds after this picture was taken.

Walk accomplished, we headed back towards the Airbnb. Along the way we found a coffee shop and purchased a large pile of pastries, plus a few drinks. A while later, we made it out of the airbnb, ready to hop on the subway and tour the city!

Just one problem – To start to tour, we need to get a subway card, called T-money. To load it, we need more cash. And to get more cash… we need another ATM that accepts foreign credit cards. If you think we’ve learned our lesson from our ATM struggles last night, you’d be very wrong. Kicking the multi-step quest off, we walked about half an twenty minutes to an ATM in a Marriott that that would take our cards.

Along the way we came across the original Seoul city gates! Today it is a stark historical monument in the middle of a busy intersection, illustrating the duality of a modern city with a rich, ancient history.

Money in hand, we turned back towards our lodgings. Along the way, though, we found ourselves hungry, and stopped for lunch. Google translate came in clutch as we struggled to communicate our desired dishes to the waitress. We managed to get there and enjoy the fruits of our labors: Hangover soup!

Delicious pork bone in a spicy broth, plus a host of tasty sides. If this is fast food in Korea, I’m here for it.

We headed home and completed our journey, purchasing T-Money cards from the 7-11 near our Airbnb. There are lots of drawings to pick from, all of cute animals in a pastel palette. I’m very happy about my choice: A tiger hiding under a blanket and watching videos on their laptop.

Equipped with T-Money cards and ready to go, we hopped on the subway to Namsangol Hanok Village. The site hosts traditional Korean houses and cultural activities, making it a prime spot for tourists. Even further, this weekend happens to be Chuseok (the autumn harvest festival) so we were in for a treat when we got to the Village: A traditional performance called Samul Nori (사물놀이). We arrived just in time, though prime seating was long filled with locals and foreigners alike. Even still, the performance was great fun!

The drummers drummed, the dancers danced, and the people with long ribbons on their heads really twirled those things

This performer flipped and climbed his way to the very top of the performance, IMHO

We joined up with Janice, a friend of Andy’s and an exchange student studying here in Seoul. She lent her knowledge to the group, directing us to delicious food in Myeong-dong, an area of the city that would be open despite the holiday. After a bit of wandering through the beauty-product-lined streets, we supped on wonderful Korean BBQ and beer mixed with soju. I didn’t expect to enjoy the combination quite so much as I did, though I’m sure it would be even better with a bit more conviction.

Myeong-dong: New Orleans weather with Las Vegas lighting, but a menu that can only be Korean!

To close out the night we grabbed some desert: Green tea and mango ice cream over shaved ice and condensed milk! A cool meal accompanied by a heated discussion of plastic surgery, tattoos, piercings, and the societal norms of body modification.

I will never not love Green Tea

A quick ride home, and we’re off to bed. Till tomorrow!

Today’s Korean word is: Thank you / 감사합니다 (gamsahabnida)