Café Review: Soyosan Top Bakery

My friend Nora and I trekked out to Dongducheon to visit Soyosan Top Bakery, a pretty large coffeehouse and bakery in the same key as Geronimo Coffeehouse that I reviewed here.

The front of Soyosan: a large cylinder that is attached to the main wall, going up four stories.

There were a few art exhibits in the café itself, as well as a jewelry shop. You could watch the chefs preparing the pastries behind a large glass window. While there are no pour-over/filter coffee options, my iced mocha was good and the iced americano was okay, hitting more of a walnut-like flavor than I’d like in my espresso. There was also an espresso machine on the second floor that had been opened up so you could see inside, which was really interesting for me, seeing as I’ve used machines for over four years and have never seen the inside of one.

All in all, the brunch menu was tasty so it’s worth a visit.

Summer Vacation 2021: Jeju Island

Two four feet tall dol hareubang statues with masks over their faces flank a sign reading “Welcome to Jeju International Airport” in English and Korean

My co-teacher Mary and I went for a quick trip to Jeju Island for summer vacation (which was only three working-days off). Jeju, for those of you who don’t know, is a Korean island located to the southwest of the mainland and is a popular resort island. Because of travel restrictions due to Covid, Jeju Island has become even more popular this year for Korean tourists who normally might have considered Guam, Japan, or the Philippines as their vacation spot.

The flight was only an hour long, but by the time we reached our hotel in Jeju it was after 5pm and we were beat. We ordered pizza and I ran a bath–something that came with my upgraded “couples” room. It was totally worth the extra cost. I used the Temple of the Sky Lush bath bomb.

On Sunday, we went to the Manjanggul Cave, which has an impressive lava tube that is accessible for about a kilometer underground and ends with a stone pillar that is the largest in the world. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t so busy watching my feet as the floor was both uneven (thanks, lava) and wet. There were some wooden bridges over the more uneven parts, but even still, I trekked slowly and was amazed at how many people blew past me wearing flip-flops or even, in one case, platform flip-flops. The lava tube takes about an hour in and back, and going back was certainly easier than going down, although I was wheezing after climbing back up the stairs at the beginning.

What was not lost on me was the fact that there were several handicap parking spots out in front of the entrance and a ramp for wheelchairs, although the cave is completely inaccessible for wheelchair users and many others who have walking problems.

There was a memorial outside the cave that read, “Bu Jonghue and young expedition party: In 1946, Mr. Bu was a teacher at Gimnyeong Elementary School. He and 30 of his students set out to go spelunking without proper equipment. They only had a few torches and wore straw shoes. However, they were well organized into three groups each in charge of the torch, supplies, and measuring the cave. Manjanggul Lava Tube had become known to the public thanks to their numerous expeditions. It was a remarkable achievement of Mr. Bu and his little explorers, which was led with tenacity and an adventurous spirit. Mr. Bu named the cave using the word “Man” meaning long and the word “Jang” come [sic] from the name of third entrance “Manjaengi Geomeol.”

Ah, the 1940s, when you could still take your 10-year-old students spelunking without the proper equipment.

After the cave, we went to visit the recently opened Blue Bottle, located in the middle of nowhere. Having just opened on the 30th of July, there was still a queue and we had a lot of confusion about where to stand, as the information was not explained very well in English. A couple in front of us turned around and showed us their phone, asking if we had made a reservation. When we nodded our heads, they showed us how to make a reservation on an iPad that was on the other side of the line we were waiting in. Our wait from that point on was half an hour, but it would have been much longer had that couple not taken pity on the foreigners who had no idea what they were doing, so thank you kind souls!

Despite the long wait, we were able to get seats after about ten minutes. Blue Bottle is an excellent example of why cafes shouldn’t have wifi–if there were people camping out all day, sales would suffer and people would get annoyed at the lack of available seating. Without wifi, people come in, have a drink, and then leave, creating a much-needed turnover. But I digress.

Blue Bottles everywhere are all the same and yet all different. As each cafe is designed for the space in which it exists, this Blue Bottle had a beautiful open window into the Jeju countryside and a barn-like structure with a high, triangular ceiling fit with strips of lighting. All of the chairs and tables were that recognizable light wood, and there was built-in cabinetry under all of the display shelves.

I ordered an iced mocha with oat milk, a blueberry fizz, and a piece of chocolate pound cake as they were sold out of the liege waffle. Mary ordered the lemon yuzu fizz and a scone. I assisted a woman behind us who basically asked what all the fuss was about and what she should order. I sincerely hope her drinks lived up to the Blue Bottle name and was worth her wait.

I also bought two bags of the Jeju Blend coffee, which has notes of mandarin orange, rose, and caramel. I am excited to try it!

For dinner on Sunday, we went to a spot along Black Pork Street. The black pig is a domestic breed native to Jeju Island, and apparently was kept as a means to dispose of human waste up until the mid-century. In the restaurant we chose, the worker refused to let us just buy one portion of pork belly as we were two people (but Mary doesn’t like pork so she wasn’t going to eat it) but that ended up being just fine as I ate enough for two and also had an entire bottle of beer myself.

Normally I don’t like the fatty bits on meat and will sometimes leave it on my plate at lunch. However, black pig fat makes me understand how some people say that fat “melts in the mouth.” The skin was chewy, and the meat was juicy. The attending kimchi was perfectly sour instead of mind-numbingly spicy, which I prefer, and the ssamjang was excellent on the perilla leaves, which normally I do not like as it tastes too much like herb (it’s related to the mint family). I dipped the perilla leaf into the ssamjang, dipped the pork into a little mixture of salt and pepper and oil, added a string of kimchi, a little rice, wrapped it all up and ate it for one amazing flavor bomb unlike any other. It was easily one of the best meals I’ve had.

That night I ran another bath, this time using the Rose Jam Bubbleroon. In retrospect, I probably should have broken it in half as the entire bar made a bit too many bubbles.

On Monday, we went to the Gwaneumsa Buddhist temple, the oldest on Jeju Island. This wasn’t the temple we were going to originally see, but one that was closer to us so we decided to visit it instead. After the first gate, you’re greeted with a large statue of the Lord Buddha off to the left, and if you continue further ahead, there’s a beautiful path lined with hundreds of various Buddha statues, most holding prayer beads that worshippers have given to the statues.

Further on, there is a small cave. By this time, it had started to drizzle a bit, and upon entering the small cave, one was taken aback by just how incredibly warm the cave was, owing to the hundreds of candles that had been lit inside. (Don’t worry: there was a fire extinguisher inside as well.)

There was a giant gold Maitreya Buddha statue, behind which were thousands of smaller Buddhas. There was the pot-bellied, laughing Buddha of wealth with some coins sitting atop his belly. There was a Buddha statue in the middle of a pond with a small bridge atop a goose’s body. It was a very lovely temple site, with a rich history that tells of Korea’s tumultuous past, as well as the tumultuous path of Buddhism in Korea.

And just like that, the two days in Jeju were over. We left early Tuesday morning as we had to be back at work Wednesday. It was way too soon, in my opinion, but still a relaxing and interesting break. It was the first “proper” vacation that I’ve had since moving to Korea and I plan to make my way to Jeju another time and checking in a cart of fruit for the flight home like all the other Korean tourists.

One thing I really enjoyed was how Jeju does its contact tracing program. We have to pull up our QR code in the KakaoTalk app and scan it in, which sometimes takes several tries. In Jeju, after we downloaded the app, we essentially took a picture of the QR code the business had, and our phones would beep right away. It was much easier to use.

A High-Schooler, Delivery Driver, and Hagwon Teacher Walk into a Vaccination Center…

On Saturday, the director picked up the foreign teachers at my hagwon and drove us to the vaccination center, which seemed like some sort of general meeting area that had been cordoned off into different sections for the vaccination process.

The vaccine roll-out did not go smoothly as planned, as many foreigners complained that “glitches” in the system didn’t allow them to register for the vaccine. Fortunately, our director handled our registering so we were all registered and given vaccination dates and times based around our ages. We were able to go all at once to get injected instead of going at various times throughout the week.

We got to the center around 8:30 and were out by 9:40. We were given disposable gloves and had our temperature taken by a machine that you put your hand under and it dispenses hand sanitizer as well as taking your temperature (we have the same one at school now). We filled out some forms and were given a number and sat down in some seats that were socially distanced from one another. I was number 51. There were a lot of high schoolers in the center, as well as delivery drivers, who had all parked their delivery trucks in the parking lot.

They called the numbers and you saw someone that went over the form with you and sent you into the next room, where you sat again and waited to see yet another person who went over your forms. From there, you moved a little further into the room and finally saw a nurse.

The injection itself is a piece of cake, and we were given a sticker with a time on it and sent to sit in another part of the conference room with a projected clock that must’ve been at least ten feet tall. At your designated time, you could take off your now sweaty gloves and leave the center.

I had some minor muscle pain later that day, but nothing since. We’ll go back sometime mid-August to get the second dose. We all received Pfizer which were part of a vaccine swap with Israel.

As far as everything else goes, South Korea has seen a huge jump in number of positive Covid-19 cases, and our level is now a 4. Under it, places must close at 10 pm and there can only be a gathering of two people after 6 pm. Oh, and gyms can’t play music with a bpm higher than 120. That’s a bit ridiculous, but oh well.

I hope everyone is keeping safe and continuing to wear masks and socially distancing!

Café Review: DAWSt Coffee

Korea has a lot of cafés. They are literally on every corner, and seem to be popping up even in the midst of a pandemic.

That’s the case for DAWSt Coffee, which opened in December of 2020.

This was actually the second café of the day, and the one I preferred due to it being a specialty roaster and not just your average cute-af café.

The café was simple, decked out in dark colors and mid-century modern furniture. They had a string of empty coffee bags in the back of the shop which was really cool, and they offered two distinct pour-over and espresso options. The Kenya Gititu AA pour-over that I had (iced) was amazing, easily one of my top coffees of all time. (And only for 4,000 won!) The espresso was also smooth and nutty, and the barista sweetened the deal with 서비스 –a fresh cream pastry to share.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to the barista but noticed that they were testing some coffee when I left, which makes my heart happy. These are the kind of cafes that are really needed in the world–not the gimmicky, instagram-worthy ones, but the ones where serving great coffee is the priority. These are someone’s dreams, and dreams that they must keep rolling and evolving, and dreams that need support from people who enjoy good coffee and good people.

Follow them on Instagram: @dawst_coffee

Address: 경기도 의정부시 송현로82​번길 73 1층

Café Review: Geronimo Coffeehouse

Geronimo Coffeehouse in Yangju (Gyeonggi-do) is an absolute must-visit. They took what looks like an old warehouse and transformed it into a massive, two-floor coffeehouse with a full menu, lots of flowers, and a lot of charm.

Geronimo Coffeehouse exterior, a large red-brick building with lots of windows

What makes it an unique experience is that some of the seating in the café is shoes-off-sit-on-the-floor, but there are plenty of chairs around (even a few swinging ones) if you don’t want to take your shoes off.

I like to order the pancake breakfast set (15,000 won) which includes 3 pancakes, assorted fresh fruit, syrup and whipped cream, a mini salad, and an americano (although the americano can be subtracted). (I’ll take mine iced, thanks.)

The coffee menu is something different. Coffee snobs, listen up! You’ll want to take notes.

A simple Yirgacheffe Elris pour-over from Ethiopia will cost you 9,000 won (that’s roughly $9 US.)

It goes up from there:

  • Red Plum from Colombia–12k
  • Mocha Mattari from Yemen–15k
  • Hawaiian Kona–17k
  • Geisha Lake from Panama–18
  • Blue Mountain from Jamaica–20k
  • Loscabos Coffee Blend–22k
  • Geronimo Coffee Blend–25k

$25 for a cup of coffee? Did I do it?

You bet I did.

Sweet, glorious bean juice in a navy blue mug with gold detailing on the rims and handle

Was it worth it? I mean, it was a damn good cup of coffee but I’d probably recommend something else. I had the Mocha Mattari from Yemen twice (both iced*) and really enjoyed that, but I know that I like coffees from Yemen. (Previously, the most expensive cup of coffee I’ve ever bought was the Yemeni coffee Blue Bottle served for $16 + a complimentary sesame cookie for pairing purposes. I got the coffee half-off since I was a Blue Bottle employee.)

In addition to the great coffee, they’ve got a great pastry selection which is self-serve and self-pack-for-takeaway.

Even though the space is large, it fills up fast so I would recommend going as soon as they open to snag those cute instagram photos.

Follow them on Instagram: @geronimo_coffeehouse

Address: 경기 양주시 화합로1597번길 3 제로니모 커피하우스

*Some may come for me for this, but good coffee is going to be great both hot and iced. It is worth noting that the Geronimo Blend is only available hot, which means that you’re paying for a premium cup of coffee that they’ve tested and only want to serve to you in the parameters of what they’ve tested, which is, duh, a hot cup of coffee. Maybe you’re more likely to drink a cup of hot coffee black? All I know is: science and psychology, it’s there.

Café Review: Greem Café, aka Cartoon Café

My friend Nora took Mary and I on a super exciting trip for my birthday back in January. Up first was a stop at Greem Café, also known as that instagrammable cartoon café in Korea.

a four-layered tulip heart in a latte on a black and white table

We ordered breakfast and drinks and everything was lovely. We got two free mugs because we ordered a certain amount, but I was a little disappointed that they weren’t the mugs that were being used in the cafe. (I would have paid extra for one of those 2D mugs.)

My advice would be to go when they open, as once they get busy, your instagram shots are going to be harder to take since you can’t roam around the cafe.

Follow them on instagram: @greem_cafe

Address: Seoul, Mapo-gu, Yeonnam-dong, Seongmisan-ro, 161-10 카페 1.5층


What Happens When a Student Tests Positive for Covid

Back in March, myself and the other foreign teachers at my hagwon had to submit to a Covid test mandated by the government. Not too long afterwards, the government withdrew their order to test all foreigners and decided to test only those “foreign workers at high-risk workplaces, such as those in close, dense and enclosed work environments.”

We got up early and our director took us to the testing place, a parking lot across the street from a health clinic. They had set up several tents and were very thorough. You got a pair of disposable gloves while waiting in line (socially distanced of course) and wore them throughout the entire ordeal, which involved going and filling out some minor paperwork to being handed the two vials and ushered up to a booth where a health professional stood, only their gloved arms protruding from two holes.

a long line of people waiting in a socially distanced line

The test was not like the test I’ve heard some people in the US have gotten. This was not a mere nasal swab; this was a brain poking. I was honestly shocked that someone could stick something that far back into my sinuses. It wasn’t painful, just really uncomfortable.

All of us tested negative, fortunately, and it was back to business as usual.

a Covid testing center, with several tents

The question that has always lingered in my mind is: what happens if one of the students gets Covid?

Unfortunately, a little over two weeks ago, a student did test positive, albeit asymptomatic. Her father had tested positive and when they tested the entire family, she was the only one who also tested positive.

I feel really bad for this student because she had already missed two weeks of school because there had been a positive case at her elementary school, and now she would be missing yet another two weeks of school.

It was determined that only a few of us would get a Covid test: her immediate classmates (there were three) and her two teachers, which included myself. CCTV footage showed that she and her classmates remained masked up the entire time they were at the hagwon, which no doubt helped keep everyone safe.

We were closed Wednesday through Friday of that week, and on Wednesday I went by myself to get tested for Covid again. I had been informed that the center opened at 9 but when I got there at 9:30, I discovered that they actually open at 10, so I was the first in line to get swabbed. It went super quick and was only a little more uncomfortable than the last time.

Fortunately, everyone tested negative and we could open up school the following Monday.

a yellow and black paste-up of a Stop sign to socially distance those waiting in the line to get a Covid test

This week we closed Wednesday through Friday because the neighboring town of Okjeong has a massive outbreak involving at least 20 students in a high school. There was also an outbreak in the neighborhood of Hongdae in Seoul that was linked to foreign instructors, including one at another branch of the hagwon I teach at. That outbreak was confirmed to be of the Delta variant.

I’m hoping that all of this can be held at bay and we can reopen on Monday–if not all the way, then at least kindergarten can be in person and we can do online classes in the afternoon. With every day that the school is closed, we lose one day of our holidays, and as selfish as it is, I don’t want to have to lose my summer holiday that I’ve been looking forward to (as I didn’t have any holidays last year because of Covid).

a poster in a bus that has multiple squares of excuses illustrating that Corona19 likes “it’s okay”, as in, “we know each other, we can get together” and “the vaccine is coming soon, it’s okay”

Keep washing your hands and wearing masks.

Book Review: “King Sejong the Great,” Joe Menosky

I’m abandoning this book at page 100 because I have plenty more books I’d like to read and not only is this book not that interesting, the editing makes it unbearable to read.

Not only are there multiple spelling errors and missed periods, the sentences don’t flow at all, leaving the reader to be jerked back-and-forth trying to simply understand what they’re reading. This also leads to quite a number of sentences that are not even proper sentences.

“His joints ached from yesterday’s all-day and all-night event. Which he hid as best he could. Lest any hint of discomfort let alone infirmity prompt a nagging lecture from the eunuch.” (The sentences should have been combined.)

“The face was a mask of carved wood–staring eyes, gaping mouth, rosy cheeks–worn by a female shaman–a Mudang. As she gyrated in a small spiral across the dirt floor, reciting an off-kilter chant. As Sejong’s eyes…” (“As she gyrated” has no follow-up action.)

I worried that this would be a self-serving book, something hastily written and produced for an audience that would hopefully overlook the editing mistakes for the lackluster imagined story of King Sejong, and unfortunately, I seem to have been right.

Kpop Music Monday #33: Red Velvet, “Psycho”

Another girl group that epitomizes the “girl crush” concept is Red Velvet. Red Velvet is a hit both with Korean and international audiences–once when I was playing a Kpop channel at work, someone squealed, “Oh my god, it’s Red Velvet–I love them!”

Red Velvet takes risks as a group, notably with fashion, but also in music, shying away from the softer melodies and more “manufactured” sounds and styles of other groups. They all have killer pipes and there is no lead vocal within the group because they’re all just that good. (Check out those high notes!)

Member Wendy had an unfortunate accident during a rehearsal back in December of 2019 and broke her pelvis among other injuries she sustained. She was only able to return to the stage in late August of 2020. Apparently, a set of steps were not where they should have been, and she fell off of the platform.

I chose “Psycho” simply because it’s their best work–a little dark, a little edgy, but with all the lace and sparkling diamonds that their entertainment company could afford. I will give “Peek-a-Boo” an honorable mention because who doesn’t love a tortured pizza delivery man in their Kpop videos?