Cuddling cats and dogs in Asian cafés

Cat in a cat café in Asia


How is it to visit an animal café in Asia? Are the animals well treated, what kind of animal cafés exist, and how does a visit work? I took a look and tested different cafés in South Korea and Japan.

💡 What is an animal café?
Animal cafés are especially famous and popular in Asia. It is basically what the name already tells: a café where you can enjoy some drinks as well as play and interact with different animals. The first café was with cats and was created in Taiwan in the late 1990s. Nowadays exist all kinds of animal cafés with dogs, racoons, hedgehogs, sheep, rabbits, birds, and reptiles. Animal cafés are booming in Asia and already grew far behind the usual pet variation. [Note: Usually, I do not put any opinion in the info box but this time I feel I have to make an exception: I want to underline that in my opinion wild animals shouldn’t be part of human amusement and being used as ‘pets’ in cafés.]
The idea behind the animal cafés is to give people the chance to spend some time with animals without actually having pets at home. Especially in bigger (Asian) cities, flats are often small and the living expenses are rather high. Plus Animal cafés basically only reveal the good sides of having a pet – spending time with it when you are in the mood, cuddling and playing with them, without actually being in charge.

Animal cafés are rather famous in Asia even though I know that the first cat and dog cafés did also open up in my home country Germany. I liked the idea of spending time with animals which is why I decided to visit some of the cafés in South Korea and Japan.
My visits were a few years ago and I think some things changed since then – me as well. This is also why it was important to me to write a conclusion at the end of the post and to reflect on the visits in the cafés.

8,000 residents per square kilometre

I can understand that animal cafés are especially famous in the capitals since both cities Tokyo and Seoul are on the top ten list of the biggest metropolitan areas in the world. Tokyo is with almost 40 million residents even the sole lead, Seoul is the 6th place with around 22 million. Eight countries on the top ten list are in Asia. The living expenses are quite high, the housing market overflowed, and therefore the flats are getting smaller. In Tokyo are living approx. 4,700 people per square kilometre. In Seoul, it is even more than 8,000. Either way, in most cases there is no space for nor money for extra pets.

Before entering the café…

Some cafés have an entrance fee, sometimes with a drink included or if the entrance is free the cost of the drinks is usually higher. Sometimes they also have some donation boxes where you could leave some small change for the food or the general costs of the animals.
In every café I visited, I got a quick introduction on how to treat the animals and the most important house rules. I always had to use disinfectant first to make sure my hands are clean before touching and cuddling with the animals (and this was before Corona). Some cafés had even certificates on their walls which showed a photo of every animal along with its name, and proof of vaccination.

Cat in a cat café in Asia
Cat Café

I visited two different kinds of cat cafés. The first one looked more like an actual café with normal chairs, and tables but of course also cat toys.
The second one was a really bright room with two floors as a duplex. They were connected with each other by a few ladders. All furniture, as well as the duplex itself and the ladders, were made out of wood. The room was inviting with low tables to sit on the ground. Therefore the basic lay-out could be also used by the cats. But of course, they also had their own equipment and furniture for climbing, playing, or sleeping.

I do not remember the exact amount of cats in the cafés but I would guess both times probably around eight. The atmosphere was rather calm and cosy. Both cafés had another wooden way for the cats above the heads of the guests which was not reachable by them. I think this is important for the animals because it gives them the chance to withdraw themselves.

In both cafés, the cats were allowed to move freely in the room. Some were curious and came to us and even sit on our lap to cuddle a bit. We enjoyed our time petting the animals and took really nice memories from the cafés.

  

Dog Café

Next, we visited a Puppy Café. We were first a bit confused by the name and actually really relieved to learn that the dogs were actually not really puppies but just smaller to medium-sized dogs. Because in the beginning, we were a bit afraid that it could be a café which gets new puppies every year and gets rid of them when they get too old (but as I said it is not). The system was a bit different from the cat café, here we had to pay an entrance fee, therefore, the drinks were cheaper in general.

The café did not really look like a café but more like an open, bright studio with only a few tables and a lot of free space. In the right corner were two flights of stairs, some carpets and small dog houses. The kitchen was somewhere in the corner left and not really open to the area which makes sense because of the animals. The feeling was more about getting comfy we got some slippers during our stay in the animal café.

With a dog in a dog café in Asia

The dogs were really open and curious. Most of them came to us when we entered the café to sniff and check us out. When we were sitting down we actually had to pay some attention to our drinks (they were in closed containers) because it did not take long until the first dog was sitting on top of our table. The atmosphere in the dog café was way more exciting and loud contrary to the cat café. We switched our seats to the stairs where the first dogs were sitting on our laps to cuddle and play with us. Other dogs were even more active and one tried to nibble my camera (as you can see in the video).

❗️ my conclusions
Like I wrote in my introduction, I like the idea of the concept of the animal cafés but obviously, the well-being of the animals should be the top priority. I have to admit that I never had any pets since my sister was super allergic to all kinds of animal hair when we were kids. Therefore I am really not an expert depending on the keeping of animals.
I think the types of animal cafés went way too far. Wild animals should not be part of human amusement either in cafés or somewhere else. With pets like cats and dogs, I feel a bit differently. I think the most important is obviously that the animals are held in a good as well as accurate health way and that the café is animal friendly. This means the animals have always water and have their toys and rooms or extra places to which they can escape when they feel uncomfortable, stressed, or just sleepy. The owners have to pay attention that the animals are well treated by the guests. I think it is also important that the animals can move freely and are not forced to interact with the customers. I love the idea of adopting animals from animal shelters or just from the street and giving them a new home and some love from animal friends. I can actually say that in all cases the owners actually seemed very caring for the animals.

You have read the blog post Cuddling cats and dogs in Asian cafés on My Travel Journal-Blog.

How to see your K-pop idols for free

kpop band CNBLUE

The Korean wave and above all K-pop is conquering the world. Bands like BTS or Blackpink break new music records and conquer the Billboard charts. In this blog post, I give you some tips on how to see some of your idols for free in South Korea.

The first K-pop band I was listening to was CNBLUE back in 2011. My friend Jenni was a huge fan of Japanese and Korean pop culture including K-pop and K-dramas. As a media scientist, I was more interested in dramas. When I watched “Heartstrings” with Hyung Joong-Hwa in the male lead role, I found out about CNBLUE. But to be honest, until my exchange semester in South Korea, I was listening more sporadic to K-pop music.

💡What is K-POP?
The shortcut K-pop (케이팝) stands for Korean popular music and is influenced by all kinds of music genres and stylistics. The term itself became popular in the 2000s but was already used before. The Korean wave brought K-pop as well as K-dramas around the globe. Usually, the songs are a mix of the Korean language with some sentences or phrases in English. Most bands get cast through a tough trainee programme at a young age like the girl band Blackpink. These trainee programmes get more and more criticised, especially by Western media outlets. Other criteria of most K-pop idols, especially former trainees are the complex choreographies but also the experimental way of fashion on stage and in their videos. Usually, K-pop groups have a leader who is the oldest or most experienced one of the group.
Free Concerts for foreign residents
Kpop duo December

A few of my friends from Taiwan told me about free K-pop concerts for foreign residents. A free concert in Seoul with my favourite band CNBLUE included. Sounded too good to be true? Well it was, the tickets were already gone by the moment I heard about it (you can not imagine how sad I was). Spoiler Alert: I still saw them playing live – I will come back to this in a minute.

The idea behind the free concerts is to promote Korean culture to make K-pop as well as traditional Korean music more popular by inviting foreigners to free concerts. It started in 2015 organised by Hello K! which established itself as a cultural performance for foreigners in Korea. But since the last year, they seem to concentrate more on traditional music but this could be also because of Covid-19. I guess checking it out can not harm.

K-pop band CNBLUE
My favourite band CNBLUE on the Korea Sale Festa 2016
Festivals including free concerts

As I already mentioned, I could not manage to actually go to one of the free K-pop concerts for foreigners but I actually got another chance. During my semester abroad in 2016, I was able to visit the opening show of the Korea Sale Festa with bands like SHINee, Red Velvet, MAMAMOO, Wonder Girls, INFINITE, GOT7, B.A.P. and most importantly (to me) CNBLUE. At the opening ceremony, every band was invited to play one of their current songs. The festival is about the shopping week in Korea with a lot of different programmes as fashion shows, concerts, and obviously thousands of possibilities to go shopping. This shopping week is every year. But be warned the concerts are very popular and you have to come super early (seriously early) to get a spot. My friends waited in line seven hours before the beginning of the concert (I came a bit later because I had university) and we got in but were quite far from the stage. Anyway, I was so happy to see my favourite band, therefore, it was worth waiting for.

K-pop Music Shows
Kpop band I.O.I.

Another possibility is to attend K-pop music shows which are pretty popular in Korea, for example, Simply K-Pop (Arirang TV), MTV The Show (SBS MTV), Show Campion (MBC), M Countdown (Mnet), Music Bank (KBS2), Music Core (MBC), or Inkigayo (SBS). I did not gain any experience with this but found a good article about how to attend these kinds of shows as a foreigner by KoreabyMe, click here to read it.

If want to read more tips for free events and entrances to cultural institutions then you should read my blog post about Culture on a budget – free trips, museum admissions and discounts.

You have read the blog post How to see your K-pop idols for free on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Culture on a budget – free trips, museum admissions and discounts

Fish shaped lanterns on the lantern festival in Seoul

The Culture Day in Korea offers free museum visits and discounts, the government invites foreigners to free trips, and national holidays await you with many activities and festivities. Sounds good? Then you should read the following blog post.

Korea has a lot of cultural sides to offer with its own traditions and modern pop culture – even though the country was influenced by many different Asian countries, especially China but also the USA. Particular Seoul offers a lot of museums, palaces, festivities, and events you should not miss. I have been on two free trips for foreigners and visited a bunch of museums for free. Let me tell you how.

Culture Day and free entrance to museums

Since 2014, every last Wednesday of the month is Culture Day. This particular day offers discounts or sometimes even free entrance and extended opening hours for all kinds of museums, galleries, and other cultural facilities. Usually, on Culture Day, most museums including the king’s palaces have free admission and cinemas offer a discount. I really love the idea behind it and I think it is such a good experience to explore a lot of Korea’s culture on a budget. I have used Culture Day to visit a bunch of museums in Seoul including the Seoul Museum of History and the National Museum of Korea.

Riders on horses on the lantern festival 2016
Free events, festivals and attractions
Peacock at the Lantern Festival 2016

Besides Culture Day you should also take a look for free events, festivals and attractions. Especially South Korea’s capital Seoul has a lot to offer. One of my favourite ones was the Lantern Festival at Cheonggyecheon, the little river starting at the city hall. The festival returns every winter with free admission. Another big festival is the Seoul International Fireworks Festival at the Han River at the beginning of October. Every year, two to three changing countries plus Korea create a show of fireworks. During the day, there is a programme, in 2016 there was a K-pop concert as well (with B1A4, I.O.I., 24K, and Mamamoo), and in the evening there was an after-party with a DJ. The festival was very well organised and even with traffic control on the subway to make sure that the subway is not getting too full and everyone gets home safe.

Public holidays for discounts

You should also take a look at the public holidays in Korea because they also bring free entrance, festivities or discounts. The biggest holidays are Seollal (설날) – the Korean New Year on the first day of the Korean calendar, and Chueseok (추석) – the Korean harvest festival in autumn. When I was in Korea we got a 50% discount as foreigners on Chuseok to visit famous amusement and water parks in Seoul (the downside, it was pretty full because of the holidays). Another holiday you should watch out for is Buddhas birthday in late spring. It is the perfect day to visit one of the Buddhist temples because they celebrate the day with different festivities and beautiful lanterns.

Tips for the king’s palaces

If you visit the Gyeongbokgung and Deoksugung Palace in Seoul make sure to attend the changing ceremonies of the royal guards. The shows are for free and right in front of the king’s palaces (before you enter). If you visit the king’s palaces wearing a Hanbok (Korean traditional clothing) you also get free admission. Otherwise, you can save money by buying the Integrated Palace Ticket to visit more than one sight. For more information read my post about Traditional Korea.

Free trips for foreigners

When I visited South Korea back in 2016, I was lucky enough to attend two free trips in the South of the country. The idea behind the trips is to bring foreigners closer to the Korean culture and improve tourism by offering them free tours and cultural events, which are sponsored by the government. On my first trip, we went to the Great Battle of Myeongnyang Festival, the Korean Minhwa Museum with traditional Korean paintings, and the little island 가우도 (Ga-u-do). The second trip included the visit of the Naeso Temple in Buan, the Gomso Salted Sea Food Festival, the International Integrative Medicine Expo and Woodland in Jangheung. The latter is a cypress forest and offers a bunch of activities and facilities. Apparently, it is also a known spot for TV productions as the K-drama Faith.

Free tours and silkworm pupas
Beondegi (Korean silkworm pupa)

Just a little story from one of the trips: at the Sea Food Festival, my roommate Jazz convinced me (plus two other US-Americans and two Koreans who apparently never tried it before) to eat our first (and for me at least also last) Beondegi. This is a silkworm pupa, a Korean snack. What can I say, I thought it would be crusty – well it was not. I guess the worst part was the juicy consistency and the knowing of what I actually ate. Probably I would not recommend it (little fun fact: in 2019 I became a Vegetarian).

❗️ I did the free trips with Kim’s Community Travel. As far as I know, nowadays it is a combination of free tours and really cheap trips overnight. Another fun fact: The organiser of Kim’s travels Dongryeong also founded a community house. It was a shared flat with foreigners from around the world. Given that sharing flats are not a thing in Korea the shared flat got national attention when the TV channel KBS made a reality series out of it. You can find Kim’s Community House on Facebook as well.

First written on Friday, September 16th, 2016, you have read the blog post Culture on a budget – free trips, museum admissions and discounts on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Daily Life in South Korea Pt.II

High-tech toilets, smileys which look like a butt, life jackets in water parks, funny holidays with black noodles and teaching videos in the metro, which show you how to use the escalator in the right way – that’s South Korea with part II. 

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Rarely items: tampons, sunscreen, and deodorant

That is actually a tip for whole of Asia. Especially when you are “Westerner” you shouldn’t forget to bring tampons, sunscreen, and deodorant. Because it is hard to get and in most cases really expensive. Of course, I forgot my deodorant and had to buy a bottle in Korea. Funny thing, it was German deodorant. I was lucky and got a discount but still paid five times more than I would have paid at home. Most Asians don’t use deodorant since they supposedly don’t sweat as much as the rest of the world. Another thing you should know: the perfect beauty ideal is white skin in Asia (for Asians: the perfect beauty ideal in Europe is to become brown from the sun, I know really ironical). That is also a reason why you have whitener in many beauty products but also in sunscreen. Furthermore, the sun protection factor (SPF) is really high and the cream extremely expensive. You should be aware of it. So if you are more the type of “I want to become brown in my holidays” you should bring your own.

The silent place of Korea

Actually, that’s a German thing. We call toilets “stilles Örtchen”, which means something like a “silent place”. Nothing is more ambivalent in Korea as their toilets. On the one hand, they still have some really simple toilets with a hole in the ground and flush like they have almost everywhere in South East Asia (but then most times without a flush). On the other hand, they have this really luxurious toilets with extra remote control. There you have different water flushes and shower. Once my toilet also had a button for water sounds what is really crazy, but also kind of useful. In some public places as restaurants or hotels, Koreans have extra toilet shoes for general use.

Frodo, Ryan and Apeach – the first friends you’ll have

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Con and Muzi

I felt really often that Korea has from everything kind of his own company, product or version. Everything I bought seemed to be “made in Korea” which is really impressive how one country supports itself. Korea has also his own messenger app for cell phones to chat with friends. It’s called Kakao Talk and has its own smileys which are really famous here. You can also buy merchandise article from the famous Kakao Talk friends. There are seven and a half characters, a half because Con the small Crocodile is actually always stuck with Muzi. Muzi is a yellow radish in a rabbit-looking disguise and according to the official page was magically brought alive by Con – seriously, I’m not kidding.

Other Kakao Talk friends are the fashion-conscious cat Neo and the city dog Frodo (I believe the favourite movies of the creator of Kakao friends is Matrix and The Lord of the Rings), the choleric duck Tube and according to the creators a “stylish secret agent” called Jay-G, I would say it’s a bear with an Afro and sunglasses.

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Ryan – the lion as a soft toy

Furthermore, there is Ryan, the lion, which looks (sorry Koreans) totally like a teddy bear. According to the creators, it is a lion without a mane. To be honest, I thought first that my Korean friends thought it is a lion since the “L” and “R” is really similar in Korean or actually for them it’s kind of the same letter. So when they say “Ryan” it’s more called like “Lyan” – but I took a look and unfortunately, the creator thinks really he drew a lion.

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Apeach

Oh yeah, and the last Kakao friend I want to introduce is “Apeach”. I think I’m not the only foreigner who thought (again, I’m sorry Koreans) that Korea has a pink butt as a smiley. But according to the creators, they draw a peach which actually likes to show its butt(s). But also the creators had to admit that especially the backside of this funny fruit reminds of something else than a peach.

Instructions in the subway – or how to use the escalator

I have the feeling Koreans really love to instruct others. A really good example is the videos on the screens of the metro stations in Seoul. There the government shows in little videos how to use an escalator in the right way – pay attention to your shoes, don’t run but use the handrail. Furthermore, you learn how to wash your hands correctly, what happens if you don’t buy a ticket, why it is important to pay attention when you leave the train (don’t hear music, sing and dance and fall in the gap between the train and the kerb), what a pregnancy seat is, how to leave the train correctly or also how to stand on the train without being in the way of others. In my opinion, some of the videos are really funny but some also have a really important message like against suicide and for situations of emergency.

The secret of the fountain of youth Koreas

The last secret I share with you is the one about the fountain of youth Koreas. Many people think Koreans look in general younger as they are. Especially, Europeans and Americans think it is hard to estimate the age of Koreans. Okay, one of the reasons will be probably that Koreans are older in Korea than in (almost the whole) the rest of the world. In Korea age starts already by one when you are born and continues counting with every New Year after the Chinese calendar. This different system makes you one to two years older than you actually are in the rest of the world (of course, there are some exceptions in East Asia as parts of China, Japan, Mongolia or Vietnam).

By the way, the argument “I’m older” is a really important one in Korea and can help you in almost every conversation. Elderly people enjoy a really high reputation in Korea and have some advantages over young people. Besides, Koreans always talk really formal to older people.

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Kimchi

Furthermore, South Korea is really famous for its many beauty products as anti-ageing-creams or also some plastic surgeries. But the mother of a friend told us she learned about the real reason by googling it. And Google says the secret of Korean women is the really healthy Kimchi which Koreans eat every day.

Click here to read part I:
Daily life in South Korea Pt.I

Daily Life in South Korea Pt.I

High-Tech toilets, smileys which look like a butt, life jackets in water parks, funny holidays with black noodles and teaching videos in the metro which show you how to use the escalator in the right way – that’s South Korea.

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I had the chance to live for four months in Korea when I studied abroad. I already learned a lot about the huge differences between the Asian and Western cultures in my first week, or to be more specific between South Korea and my home country Germany. Here I want to share my experiences with you. Maybe you already went to Korea and find yourself in the stories. Maybe you are just curious, or you want to go and find one or another tip for your travels. If you’re Korean – you will see how I saw your country and what seemed funny to me (so funny I wrote a blog entry about it). Don’t take it too seriously because I love your country a lot.

Koreans love endings

Gu, Dong, Si, Gil, Do – Koreans use endings to describe places. First of all, it seems really complicated if you are not aware of the meanings. But if you know them, it is actually quite useful since it describes which places are “what”. The ending “do” markers the province you are in. South Korea has eight provinces and one special autonomous province. The ending “si” describes a city in this province. For example, the capital of the island Jeju has the same name as its island. In this case, Jeju-do describes the whole island as one province, Jeju-si is only the capital of the island.

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Jeju-do

Bigger cities have different boroughs with the ending “gu” (towns and the countryside have the endings “eup” and “myeon”) or rural districts “gun”. One level below is the district marked with “dong”. Villages are labelled with “ri”. Last but not least, is “gil” which tagged streets.

Special holidays

Koreans love to celebrate and give each other gifts. The biggest holiday is Chuseok (추석) which is equivalent to Thanksgiving and is a celebration with the whole family. The holiday is for three days and around autumn. Furthermore, Koreans celebrate a special New Year called Seollal (설날) after the Chinese calendar. This holiday is at the beginning of the year. Valentine’s Day is always on the 14th of February and a famous day in the whole world. In Korea, it is the day where women have to bring presents for their lovers. But Korea also has the “White Day” which is the equivalent of Valentine’s Day. It’s exactly one month later and at these days women get the presents from their partners. But Korea also has a special day for singles.

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Jajangmyeon

On the 14th of April, it is “Black Day”. All single persons wear black clothes and meet each other in restaurants to eat Jajangmyeon, Black bean noodles. Another commercial and unofficial holiday is “Pepero Day”. Pepero (빼빼로) are little sticks with different flavours like chocolate, berries or green tea. It is supported by the big company Lotte and celebrated on the 11th of November since 11/11 reminds to pepero sticks.

Overnight in libraries

Since I studied in Seoul I already know Koreans are really diligent and have to learn a lot. Especially before midterm and final exams, the libraries are full of students. Some of them are so into their learning period they even sleep in the library. My friend accidentally stayed overnight in our library at my university. She didn’t know the doors close at midnight, and since a lot of other students also stayed beside here, she didn’t think of the closing hours. When she wanted to leave the doors were closed and she was forced to stay until 5 o’clock in the morning to get out of the library. The students told her that they stay by their own choices in the library to concentrate fully on their exams. If necessary, they take some naps or bring blankets to sleep overnight in the library to start learning early in the morning.

Free time in Seoul

If Koreans don’t study all night and stay in libraries they of course also enjoy some free time in Seoul. One of my favourite stories is my day in a water park in Seoul because I felt like I learned a lot about small differences that day. I went with three other friends to a water park in Seoul. We are all from Western countries, so for us, it was pretty in common to wear a bikini. The thing is wearing a bikini seems not so famous in Asia. In general, I also felt Koreans don’t wear low-cut tops (miniskirts are no problem). This is the reason why I felt a bit uncomfortable in my bikini. Most Koreans wore swimsuits made out of neoprene or long shirts. In general, I was really surprised how many people wore just normal clothes as jeans, shoes, sunglasses or shirts for riding a slide. I am pretty sure in Germany they wouldn’t be allowed to wear street clothes in a water park.
Another fact is that many Koreans (but also in other countries) can’t swim or aren’t the best swimmers. That is why many people also were lifejackets. Actually, that was another fact, why we attract attention. I wondered about the girls in the water park who wore nice makeup and lipstick. Because for me a water park wouldn’t be the spot where I would wear any makeup. But my Korean friend told me the water park is also a possible flirting spot so it is important to look beautiful even there. Furthermore, people had little transparent and waterproof pockets where they carried really expensive cell phones, makeup or credit cards. More stuff I wouldn’t bring in a water park so I really had to think about the difference. Another interesting fact is that in Korea, it is completely fine to be naked in front of the same gender. In Germany, we have single changing rooms and most people would not show themselves naked not even under the public showers. On the other side, German television is more open showing naked people in movies or series. Whereas in Korea naked parts in movies and series are rare.

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A game place in Seoul

One other thing I really loved for our free time is the game places. There you find a lot of nice games you can play by yourself or with friends. Really famous is the Baseball game where the player plays the role of the Batter and hopefully hits a home run. Also famous are the machines with soft toys you have to grab in one shot with a crane to get the toy.

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Noraebang (노래방)

The most important free time activity is Noraebang (노래방) – Korean Karaoke. It is a good opportunity to meet with friends and sing favourite Kpop music, but also hits from Japan and China and of course, world hits in English. Every group gets its own room with a big screen, microphones and party lights. Noraebangs are sometimes also a good opportunity to bypass the time until the first metro is running again.

Click here to read part II:
Daily life in South Korea Pt.II

Traditional Korea

South Korea is still full of traditions and folkways. Seoul by oneself has five old King Palaces and different Hanok Villages, where the old Korean traditions are still alive.

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Hanok Village

The different Hanok Villages offer the opportunity to visit old traditional Korean houses, to take  a look at the architecture and also a look inside of the rooms. The houses are preserved from the past and more than 100 years old. dscn7868We were in the Namsangol Hanok Village. The entry is free. This village shows again the combination out of traditional and modern life in Korea, around the beautiful houses are skyscraper. I was really surprised, how small the rooms and houses were. At the entrance gates are everywhere warnings that you should pay attention because the gates are so low. Even for me, it was a problem (and I really don’t know many people who are smaller than me). The architecture is totally incredible and beautiful. You will feel like you travelled back in time. The location is so nice that also many fresh married couples come to the Villages to take their wedding pictures.

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Samul nori

In the village, they also had little straw huts which remembered to tipis. In the past the function of the straw huts were to keep the Kimchi (traditional Korean food made out of Chinese cabbage), I was told, it worked similar to a fridge. In the center of the village, they have small games. At one game you have to throw arrows in a vase. – Really not so easy. But if you succeed the reputation from all bystanders is safe. We were also lucky and watched an old traditional dance, Samul nori. I already wrote a lot about this traditional music and dance in my last post (click here to read the article My first week in Seoul). But this time they also had headgears with long white ribbons and when they moved their heads the ribbons danced around their heads. That was really pretty.

In the Namsangol Hanok Village
Girls wearing Hanbok
 
 
 
 
 
Dancers of Samul nori
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The straw hut for Kimchi
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In the village of Bukchon
 
 
 
 

Feel like a Korean princess

Hanboks are the traditional Korean clothes. In Korea, you can borrow these clothes and wear them. To borrow the clothes you have to pay between 10,000-20,000₩ (circa 9-18.20$). Depends on which dresses you want to wear and how long you want to borrow them. dscn8051One of the most important holidays in South Korea is Chuseok (추석), it is a family celebration. And at these days the whole city was full of Koreans wearing beautiful Hanboks. Chuseok means loosely translated autumn evening. It is equivalent to Thanksgiving and takes about three days.

King Palaces

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Deoksugung Palace

In the Joseon Dynasty Seoul had six palaces. Today five of them are still preserved: The Gyeongbokgung (the biggest), the Changdeokgung, the Deoksugung, the Changgyeonggung and the small Unhyeongung Palace.  In my opinion, visiting a Kings Palace is a must-see in South Korea. The entries are really low (between 1,000-3,000₩, ~0.90-2.70$), Unhyeongung Palace is for free. Also, the architecture here is really beautiful.

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Me with the Aekjeongseo Sayak (key master) and the Seungjeongwon Juseo (delivers the King’s orders)

The roofs are painted in vivid colours. Furthermore, the Gyeongbokgung and the Deoksugung Palace offer free little shows for tourists. There they show the changing ceremony of the royal guards. There you can see the different persons of the king guard and get a feeling for Korean history. If you are a big fan of the Korean architecture and palaces you should think of buying the “Integrated Palace Ticket” it offers the entry to four Kings palaces including the secret garden and the Jongmyo Shrine. The ticket costs 10,000 Won (~9$) and is valid thee months after purchase (you save around 4,000 Won when you use all tickets). Furthermore, people who were a Hanbok get always free entry.

The king guard infront of the Deoksugung Palace.
The main entrance of the Deoksugung Palace.
 
 
 
 
 
The colourful roof of the palace.
 
Western architecture in the midst of the traditional Korean houses. The Seokjojeon Hall, you need to register before if you want to visit the rooms.
 
 
The Deoksugung Art Museum
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The king guard march to the main Gate.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Curfew. Woman’s University. Visa. And lots of preparation.

In preparation for my exchange semester in Seoul …

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Why South Korea?

“Of all things, why South Korea?” This was a question I had to answer really often when I told someone I will make an exchange semester in Seoul. I never was in Asia before (once I crossed the Asian border of Istanbul – however, I’m not sure if this will count). But I was always really interested in the culture and people of Asia. I believe one of the main reasons are the cultural differences in the opposite of Western Europe. My first contact with Korea was through a friend a few years ago. She is a big fan of Japan and once she told me she had watched a really great TV series from South Korea and – for sure – I would love it. So I followed her advice and watched my first K-Drama (this is the abbreviation for series in the Korean language). The title of the series was “Playful Kiss” (or also “Mischievous Kiss”/ “Naughty Kiss”/ “장난스런 키스“) – a clumsy girl falls in love with a handsome and clever but also sometimes really rude boy. K-Dramas are really different from American, British or German series – I normally watch productions of these three countries.

The Korean culture is different, they have a variety of Dos and Dont’s which were really strange for me (… and they censor cigarettes on TV – because nobody will understand what a person holds in their hand when smoke is coming out of their mouth). Honour is an important value of the Korean culture and of course, the tribute and respect for older people and traditions. Korea has a high hierarchically system, which is especially striking in their language – Korean has five different polite forms. I also was really surprised that living together seems a really big no go for lovers in South Korea. However, I was really fascinated by all that – for me – crazy (but in a good way) new world in Asia. Later, I watched three, four other K-Dramas and heard some Korean Songs (it is called K-Pop).

The official YouTube channel of the TV series “Playful Kiss” – The producers created seven mini episodes for YouTube after the large success of the series.

Hangul and Coffee shops which sound like “copy shops”

However, when I decided to make my Master Studies in Berlin another aim was to make an exchange semester abroad because this was something I missed during my Bachelor Studies. You have three choices for the stay of an exchange, I thought I had to pick three countries (for real you have to choose three universities) – so I prepared myself for a counselling interview. I chose Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea. The consultant was happy I named Korea and totally ignored the other two countries. She encouraged me to go to South Korea and told me that every student, who was in Korea, was highly satisfied with their choice. That was the decisive reason why I picked South Korea and applied to three universities in Seoul. In 2010 – when I was highly addicted to Korea and watched the K-Dramas for the first time  – I would have given everything to get the opportunity to go to Seoul. So six years later I wanted to take this chance. Actually, the only reason I didn’t choose South Korea on the first side was because of Hangul (this is the Korean alphabet). I was afraid I wouldn’t understand a word and couldn’t even buy Ramen (Ramen is a noodle soup and a famous Asian dish) in a supermarket because of the missing vocabularies. To be honest, I still don’t speak Korean. I can only say some useful words as “saranghae” (I love you) or “keopi syob” (coffee shop but sounds like “copy shop”).

Much preparation stuff

After I wrote motivation letters, collected thousands of important papers and provided all kinds of evidence, I finally got my accommodation letter. I decided to go to the EWHA Womans University in Seoul because it has the largest and the best offering for my field of study – Media Studies. At this point started my preparation time: I needed a visa, a place to stay, a flight, inoculations, health insurance, apply for a scholarship and other financial facilitation, I had to freeze the contract of my cell phone, needed a backpack… thousands of stuff.

The visa is relatively easy to get for Germans because the countries have a good relationship with each other (and it’s free). The inoculations are really expensive and there are a lot of recommendations about immunisation protection. If you don’t want to pay more money for inoculations than for the flight, it is impossible to get inject against everything. The flight is one other problem. My plans are to travel a few months after my exchange semester that’s why I don’t know yet when I will come back to Germany. However, it is cheaper to book a return flight right away. That’s why I would recommend searching for a flight with nice rebooking options. One other problem will be the luggage. I have to left some stuff in Korea while I’m travelling around. I also have just 23 kilogrammes of free luggage from Germany to South Korea. A friend gave me a piece of really nice advice. She loves backpacking journeys so she is kind of an expert. She always takes some old or washed out clothes to her travels or just outfits she doesn’t like anymore, so she can throw them away and has more space for clothes, souvenirs or just food. I believe it is a bit of really useful advice.

Immaturity in Seoul

Flats and rooms have – at least compared to Germany – really high rents. Some cheaper flats have a higher deposit of up to 5000 Euros respectively Dollars. This is one reason I really wanted to rent a room in a dormitory (and there you still can pay over 500 Euros/ Dollars). Unfortunately, curfews are a common thing in the dormitories of Seoul. I knew that South Korea is more strict with the separation of sexes. However, the curfew shocked me a little bit. I read that not all universities have stringent conditions. However, one article (here) from October 2003 from the English newspaper of the EWHA Womans university – the university where I will study – discourage me a little. But perhaps something changed meanwhile because the article is 13 years old by now. The curfew is just in some of the dormitories in the EHWA, however, in my opinion, the rules are very strict. The curfew is from midnight until five o’clock in the morning (12pm-5am). The article talks about black marks: Three for being tardy, five for staying out without permission – the students who collect ten marks have to leave the dormitory. If one wants to stay out, they need to sign up hours earlier. The process is even more complicated at the weekend. Then students need the permission of their parents.

I read that some reasons for the curfew are the responsibility to take care of the students. The curfew would help the students to go to bed early and stay healthy. And also to maintain their regular daily life.  Actually, to me, this sounds really unbelievable. Don’t get me wrong, however, in my opinion, at an age of 20 or older you should be able to organise your daily routine on your own. But perhaps some don’t want this and it is one of the differences between the cultures. I also read that some people like the rules and feel more organised and save with them. So it perhaps depends on the person which dormitory is the best for themselves.

By the way, the International House of EWHA hasn’t a curfew and I’m so glad I got a place there. Because in my opinion, dormitories are in general a perfect decision to live for an exchange semester. The dormitories are near the university on the campus, you meet really fast other students, you already got the most important furniture, the period and costs are complementary. Therefore, we will see how it will work for me. I am very pleased to get the chance to study in Seoul. For sure I will tell more about South Korea from time to time because the adventure has just begun.