Dress Cafe: Week 184

Polaroids of a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

“Is it ok for Barret to see you?” Amy looked worried when she saw me come out of the dressing room in a strapless wedding gown. “He isn’t supposed to, right?”

“Nah, it’s fine.” I replied as I glanced at my freckled scoop-neck tan line in the mirror. “It’s not like it’s my real wedding dress.”

Amy, Eun Soon, Barret and I were right next door to Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul. Most good university neighborhoods cater to their student population, and in this regard Ehwa does not disappoint. Within walking distance from the hallowed school grounds are nail salons, jewelry carts, cafes, and tiny clothing shops crammed with pastel blouses and hair ribbons.

While those are all great reasons to visit the bustling neighborhood, the four of us were there specifically to visit a dress cafe.

Prior to arriving in Seoul, I had lamented the fact that the four of us didn’t have any photos together. “Eun Soon,” I declared as our flight drew nearer. “We need to go to a dress café.”

“You mean the wedding one?” She asked.

“No, just one with lots of dresses.”

Barret at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

“There are only two types,” Eun Soon quickly clarified, “hanbok and wedding.” The loose-fitting traditional Korean costumes, called hanbok, are beautiful and come in a rainbow assortment of colors. However, the idea of renting wedding dresses for a photo shoot with friends was just too oddly intriguing.

“Let’s take a bunch of wedding photos!” I decided. “Can you make a reservation?”

Tree prop at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

We were the only customers when we arrived at the café. The term ‘photo studio’ is a more apt description, but we did each order a sweet beverage. There was a large pink flowery tree behind us and over to our right was a vanity mirror piled high with makeup and glittery tiaras. The closet next to the vanity held three racks of dresses divided into four separate price categories. The most expensive dresses cost 40,000 won a session.

When I finished my drink I picked out a dress and slid the curtain across the closet. The barista helped me into my dress and afterwards asked what size shoe I wore. “Namu kun,” I replied and she laughed at the thought of my feet being too big for the 40 odd pairs of heels on the ground.

“Well,” Amy translated, “she said you should just wear your sandals.”

Choosing accessories at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

While I waited for the others I sidled up to the vanity to touch up my makeup and select a tiara. Almost immediately, the photographer came over, removed it, and put a different one on my head.

“OK?” She asked.

“Sure, why not.” I smiled. She then selected a necklace and clasped it around my neck.



A veil appeared next to my head in the mirror. Ii was long and had gauzy fabric and a lace detail along the edge.

“Heck yeah!” I wasn’t planning on saying no to anything.

While Barret was putting his tux on and selecting his bow tie, Amy and Eun Soon were curling the tips of their hair and touching up their makeup.

About an hour after we first arrived we were finally ready to go. I just don’t know if the photographer was ready for Barret.

Barret playing the piano at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

The group posing with a boquet at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

The dress cafe rose room: Seoul, South Korea

How to get to Ehwa University neighborhood in Seoul: Line 2 – Ehwa Women’s University Station – Exit #3

Sancheoneo Mountain Trout Festival: Week 46

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The crisp winter air along the river was infused with exhaust fumes, like a gas station potpourri. The noise of the go karts and ATVs dominated the ice and created a mechanical soundtrack for the festival. I found the largest helmet I could and when it didn’t fit I smiled at the ATV instructor and said “kun mari” (big head). As he tried to contain his laughter we hit the gas and inched off around the doughnut shaped track.

Brr  bbbbrrr  brrrrrrrrr. The noise was loud and our progress so frustratingly slow.

“Barret, I can’t stop skidding.”

“We’re on ice- that’s the point.”

“Well this is a silly idea.”

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A great portion of the frozen river was crowded with fishers patiently peering down holes in the ice. Using a special ice fishing rod that resembled a fly swatter, the sancheoneo (mountain trout) were coaxed out from the icy depths. Every time I saw the curved plastic rod it reminded me of an older woman I had seen ice fishing on TV. She was strutting around the hole in the ice with her friends, completely oblivious of her cameltoe.

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Further along the river people had gathered around a shallow circular pool. We took our place amongst the crowd just as a group of children emerged from a locker room wearing flip flops, shorts, and tucked cotton T-shirts. They shivered and drew their numb limbs close to their body as they stood by the pool. At the sound of a gong they flung themselves into the glacial water.

While many jumped out as eagerly as they had jumped in, there were some dogged contestants. One by one the resolute grasped the slippery mountain trout and squirreled them inside the neck of their T-shirts. The crowd cheered as they emerged with quivering bodies and wriggling marsupial pouches.

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The ice tube slide was deceptively scary. At the top, the slope looked impossibly steep and I wondered how we would be able to stop. Before I could consider that any longer the attendant pushed my tube and I was flying down backwards. Being unable to see the direction you are speeding towards touches on a primal fear inside you, and as I screamed in pure terror my eyes locked on Barret’s eyes. Once his arm curled into a fetal position against his chest I knew it wasn’t concern plastered across his face- he was dying of laughter. I didn’t need to see ahead anymore because I realized the worst possible outcome was an embarrassing video- which is something I know I can survive.

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How to get to the Hwacheon: From Dongseoul or Sangbong Terminal catch a bus bound for Hwacheon. You can also take a bus or the Gyeongchun metro line to Chuncheon and then catch a bus to Hwacheon. (Buses run more frequently between Hwacheon & Chuncheon than between Hwacheon & Seoul)

Chuncheon: Week 45

Chuncheon is at the end of a long ride on the metro. The stops are frequent and the longer we rode, the more uncomfortable the seats became. However, the reward at the end of the journey was a dedicated street of dalk galbi restaurants. Dalk galbi is a scrumptious mixture of chicken, red pepper paste, soft yam and fresh vegetables that is cooked at the table. Each bite is a little piece of spicy heaven hot off the grill. The gimchi and side dishes are plentiful and when the chicken ran low we ordered bowls of rice topped with dried seaweed. The rice is mixed into the remaining dalk galbi and the result is some of the best fried rice in Asia.

As we were all from Las Vegas we decided to visit the local dam afterwards. While not nearly as impressive as the Hoover Dam, the views were pleasant and the air fresh. After a quick stroll across we escaped the cold wind and got back on the metro. It was a long journey back, but we left incredibly satisfied in the clutch of a food coma.

How to get to Chuncheon: Catch a bus from Dongseoul Bus Terminal or take the Gyeongchun metro line to the end- Chuncheon Station. Stop by the tourist desk outside the station for directions and attraction information.

Noryangjin Fish Market & Live Octopus: Week 44

Seafood was everywhere- overfilled buckets and congested fish tanks were stacked one on top of another. In between the precarious arrangements merchants bustled around clad in parkas and rubber aprons. It was a bitterly cold winter afternoon and a steady flow of water was underfoot. As my friends and I wandered down the rows, people called out to us and poked their snapping ‘low-priced’ crabs with cleavers.

The variety was just as impressive as the quantity. There were entire sharks, shrimp, stingrays, shellfish, octopus that could fit on your palm and some longer than your arm. We had the choice to either eat sashimi cuts prepared on the spot or take our seafood purchase to the second level where a restaurant could prepare it for us.

Not confident about our ability to select fish, we decided to try sannokji instead. It is a small octopus that is chopped apart and delivered to the table still wriggling across the plate (thus the English name “live octopus”). From a small plastic bucket on the floor we picked the four liveliest critters and hoped we wouldn’t choke on their suction cups.

Upstairs the restaurant was filled with customers eating their freshly killed food. After a few minutes our octopus was delivered to our private room looking pretty sinister. The legs were flaying about and highly responsive to the touch of a chopstick. It was very difficult to pry their suction cups off the smooth plate, like pulling a bath mat off the shower floor. Even when they were dipped in sesame oil they still adhered to my cheek and took a long time to chew because they were so rubbery. My coworker had been unlucky enough to start his experience with the octopus head. After swallowing the chunk five minutes later, he had a disgusted look on his face.

“I really thought I was going to like this. Let’s go get some real food.”

How to get to the Fish Market: Noryangjin Station, Line 1 Exit #1. Follow signs and cross over the bridge.

Artisan Implantable Lens: Week 43

“Don’t look away.”

This is very good advice to follow when your eye is sliced open.

The first time the elevator doors opened on the 12th floor, I was surprised. Instead of being a drab optometrist’s office, Eyence was hip and appealing. Over the course of the next four hours I was excited to stick my eyes in front of everything- that terrifying puff of air on the eyeball never felt so cool.

On my second visit lasers burned a hole through each iris. The procedure sounded like a game of billiards and the resulting hole functioned as a pressure release.

A week later I was on the operating table with my head in a silicon mold and a needle plunged into my eye. It was difficult to focus on the green light straight above because the image moved every time the doctor pressed against my eye. After fifteen minutes behind the microscope, the doctor had miraculously attached the Artisan Implantable Lens to the front of my iris.

After a short rest, my right eye was checked and with a few short strokes my left eye was marked for astigmatism correction. When the doctor pressed the marker against my eye the squeaky tug reminded me of the times I had written my student’s names on their erasers.

When the procedure was completed I rested in a small recovery room. I had been really nervous I would flinch and mess something up during the operation, but it turned out the most difficult part was communicating with my nurse. When she tried to tell me we shared the same birthday she ended up hitting her head repeatedly and groaning, “Uhhhhh. I don’t know. Uhhhhhhhhhhh.” So the second time round I tried to make small talk in Korean:

“I made mul gimchi.”

“Really?” The nurse seemed very surprised.

“Yes, but it tasted bad.”


The conversation seemed to pacify her as there were no more displays of self-flagellation. With a smile she told me, “finish” and snuck a few cookies into my palm.

It seemed strange on the bus ride home that something so monumentally different in my life was completely unobservable to the people around me. Within the span of a few hours I went from an operating table to a bus seat. Change was in the air and I could finally see it coming.

How to get there: Gangnam Station, Line 2 Exit #10. Walk straight and Eyence is located within the Pagoda English Building on your left.

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