Ddo-ong (Poop) Café
We meet our cab driver the lobby of the Shanghai Railway Mansion at 4:30am. We have one hundred twenty-six Yuan left and estimate the cab ride to cost about one hundred twenty Yuan. We place our luggage into the trunk and nervously climb in. As we progress towards the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China we wait in silence as the meter slowly increases. Unable to ask the driver to stop in the middle of a deserted highway, we squirm in our seats as the meter passes one hundred Yuan. In the backseat, I use the XE Currency App to find the American equivalency of Yuan hoping the US cash I have will be accepted. Not speaking any English, our driver tries to ask us what terminal we are flying out of. After much confusion and missing the signs, we pick the closest terminal as the meter approaches three hundred Yuan.
As the cab slows to a stop, I hand our Yuan and the remaining fare in USD to the driver. Unsatisfied, he shakes his head no. Panicking, I hand him a twenty dollar bill. A smile lights up his face as he thanks us and accepts our American bills. With a huge sigh of relief, we retrieve our luggage from the trunk and head inside the airport. Looking for China Southern Airlines, we discover we are in the wrong terminal. Out of Yuan and unable to walk along the highway to the next terminal, we must wait for the first 6:00am transfer shuttle.
On schedule, the transfer shuttle arrives. We get off at the next terminal. Not seeing China Southern Airlines inside, we ask an attendant for help. She directs us the end of the terminal. After checking our bag, we follow the signs for our gate into the basement of the airport. With no WiFi, we are unable to notify Mitch’s sister our 8:30am flight is now boarding at almost 9:00am. We will not be arriving at Incheon International Airport, South Korea at the scheduled time of 11:10am.
After an hour and forty minute flight, we arrive in South Korea. Arriving about an hour behind schedule, we are very happy to see her still waiting for us at the airport. Hoping to make it to Seoul as quickly as possible, we retrieve our check bag and run to the train ticketing desk. Purchasing tickets for the next Airport Railroad Express Train, we board immediately. In about an hour we will arrive at Seoul Station.
Exiting the train station, we walk to the Koreana hotel. Pressing a small black button the glass doors of a convenience store slide open in the bottom of the hotel. After buying a bottle of Jinro Grapefruit Soju, we check in at the lobby and ascend to our room. We quickly shower after admiring a toilet with a heated seat and more buttons than an elevator. After a couple shots of soju, also known as Korean Vodka, we leave the hotel and walk along the Cheonggyecheon River to a hidden Korean treasure.
We walk up three flights of stairs to the Ddo-ong (Poop) café. A smiling, giant plush poop covered in plastic flies greets us as we open the door. Inside poop pillows, paper poop ornaments hanging from a tree, and toilet flower pots decorate the cozy room. We place our order at the counter and find a table.
Our cheesy rice arrives in a toilet shaped bowl while the cappuccino and green tea latte are served in mugs decorated with a small blue poo. After coffee, we walk around the corner to enjoy a fluffy, chocolate poop shaped pancake.
Leaving the cafe, we walk through small streets and alleys of Samcheong-dong with small shops selling soap flowers, tea, coffee, souvenirs, thimble size succulents, art, and local food. We order two honey filled hotteok, Korean pancakes, from a small shop. Only having one left, we are able to watch as the batter become a hot, delicious treat.
After a great first impression of South Korea, we head to one of the most popular palaces in Seoul, but first visiting 3355 Hanbok Rental. Now only worn for festivals or celebrations, the hanbok was the traditional Korean dress only one hundred years ago. The women’s dress resembles a bell. The jacket is fitted to flatter the upper body, while the billowing, flowing skirt covers the legs and feet giving the the appearance of floating over the ground.
Having the options of royalty, commoner, or modern costumes we begin browsing the once traditional Korean dress of a ruler. Picking out a navy skirt to match Mitch’s outfit, I unknowingly choose the hanbok of a queen complete with a long plastic sword through a fake braided hair piece at the base of my neck. Since the skirts have no pockets, we are given a small matching purse to hold our belongings. After being dressed and styled, the royal king, queen, and princess are ready to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Destroyed by fire in the fifteen hundreds, Gyeongbokgung Palace, also known as the North Palace was restored between the eighteen fifties and nineteen nineteen. The palace architecture feels as if we are in another century, but from inside Soeul’s skyscrapers can be seen towering above the roof of the Gwanghwamun Gate. Just entering the palace, we are asked for our first of many photos with other visitors dressed in modern hanboks.
Walking further into the palace grounds, mountains are visible behind the serene Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, originally used for entertaining foreign visitors. Stone animals along the bridge accessing the pavilion ward off evil spirits. The reflection of the pavilion glistening in the pond among the lush vegetation and mountains is beautiful.
Approaching 6:00pm, the palace guards begin herding visitors towards the gate and the time in our royal hanboks is nearing the end. As the sun begins to set, we walk back to return out costumes before finding some makgeolli, a milky colored Korean rice wine.
Climbing the stairs to one of the many restaurants, we occupy a window table with an open view of the streets below. Nearby, we see a table of rowdy businessmen wearing black pants and white button down dress shirts. Complying with Korean culture, we order a fruit tray with soju and makgeolli. Using both hands, we sip the makgeolli from a small bowl as a colorful arrangement of fresh grapes, kiwi, apples, and melons arrive.
Continuing to explore, we have a seat inside Beer Works. We order an Alejandro Wheat Ale and a stout. Our beers arrive with two small bowls of gummy bears and pretzels. Finishing our drinks, we walk to another nearby restaurant for our first authentic Korean barbecue experience. We sit at a table with a small grill. Pushing a small button on the table, a waitress arrives to take our order. Returning with several small bowls of kimchi, pork, vegetables, rice, and cheese, we begin cooking our dinner.
On the way back to our hotel, we see the thirty-three story Samsung Jong-Ro Tower built in nineteen ninety-nine designed to appear the top level is floating. Tomorrow morning our train leaves for Busan at 10:00am.