A Much-Needed Break

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We all need one. With all the stresses of work, adult life, school, and other stuff, a nice change of scenery is a good way of getting away from all of that.

I was due for mine and it couldn't have been timed better.

Ah yes, the obligatory wing shot. This was taken on my flight from ICN to NAIA. I couldn't take any from my LAX to ICN flight because we were seated in the middle rows. Never again. It was more cramped and uncomfortable vs window seats. Sigh. That was a long, miserable flight that I spent either asleep or watching through the whole Star Wars franchise. (I only got through A New Hope before passing out.)

We took Korean Airlines. As much as I love flying, I officially hate airplane food. Of all the airlines I've been on, KoreanAir takes the cake (lawl) of having the worst food. I thought Asiana had awful food. Ugh, this was worse. I was tempted to request yogurt at every meal.

However, KoreanAir has one of the best services. The flight attendants were so friendly and accommodating. They spoke good English - but hey, I did my best with my classroom Korean. Both parties appreciated it. On my ICN to NAIA flight, our row got a "flight attendant oppa" that made it hard for me to take a nap or concentrate on anything. Yes, I threw all shame to the South Korean airspace and took a stolen shot of him. And thanks to my Korean language lessons, I was able to read his name in Hangul. By the end of that 3-hour flight, he remembered my preference for pineapple juice. LMAO.

(The K-pop fan in me love riding Korean airplanes. Their audio selection is close sisters with my iTunes at home. And you can make playlists! So I filled mine with WINNER, Akdong Musician, Toy, Block B, Taeyang, and 2ne1.)

I get asked by many, "What do you do whenever you go back to the Philippines? Do you visit beaches or hike the mountains?" My short answer to that is, "I eat." And that's pretty much it. See, I'm a city girl and growing up, I'm all mountain'd and beach'd out. I appreciate it but frankly, I don't care for it. (Give me an opportunity to SCUBA dive though.)

Really, I just love going to malls and eating the things that I could not get here. Even the things that I could get here are waaaaaaaay better in the Philippines. Malls there are like Westfield malls on steriods. On every corner. And er... with USD, everything there is affordable. I think I bought 8-9 pairs of footwear? Heh. Here, you have to force me to buy shoes!

But yeah, food. Malls. We stayed at an AirBNB unit literally walking distance from my favorite mall, SM North EDSA (and TriNoma). I mean... uh, yes. I can live there lol. How many vacant hours was spent there while I was in college? Too many. That meant I had access to the food court, restaurants, and all the buko halo-halo and green mango shake places the mall had to offer. Needless to say, I took advantage of it.

Diet? The country's climate is your own personal sauna. I ate to my heart's content. I was on vacation, for goodness sake!

Tapsilog. Tapa + sinangag (fried rice) + itlog (egg). I can seriously eat this every day. I think I ate this from 3-5 different establishments. I swear, this is my favorite dish ever. I know we have this also in the States but this is simpler and feels more authentic, if that makes sense. And oh, buko halo-halo is the bomb!

If you're expecting grand photos of nature and scenery, look elsewhere. I instead have for you smog and chaos of a concrete jungle. I live for this. I actually do really miss it.

These are the things they don't show on Discovery Channel, National Geographic, or the Travel Channel. Malls are sprawling buildings full of retail and appetizing fun where people go to either just cool off from the intense heat or just pass the time. EVERYONE goes to malls.

(We even chanced on seeing Jinki Pacquiao with her brood at SM Megamall.)

Every time I go back, I have a list of foods to eat and restaurants to go to. And sure, people to see. Some friends, mostly family. And I always try to drop by my beloved alma mater, UP Diliman. It's been a while since I called it "home" but walking through campus still is the most relaxing thing to do in the city. At least for me.

My mom and I tried to hit as many malls as we could. I think I made up to 7. No two malls are the same. I love seeing what changed since my last visit. The improvements of shops and everything else impress me so much. I wish I could bring even just one of them back to the States with me.

Or at least the green mango shakes. Heh.

We did go out of town on this trip. It's been almost 15 years since I last visited Tagaytay. We used to go on daytrips with my dad back in the day. It was nice going there because it was so cool and fresh. The views are still amazing this time around but the heat was just as stifling as in Manila. If not worse.

Don't get me wrong, I had fun (and I had my Mushroom Burger). But... I did get sick on this side trip. I'm still fighting off a slight cough to this day. No worries. I survived.

On the way back, we dropped by that Venice, Italy inspired place in McKinley Hill. They weren't in operation but it was pretty. I was just not in the mood because it was by far, the hottest place I've been to on the entire trip. It was so freakin' hot. I don't know how you guys can take that.

On the way back to the States, we had a 9-hour layover in South Korea. Unlike the last time, we took the free tour that Incheon International Airport offered. (Last time, we had 12plus-hour layovers both ways and we did a self-tour. I may talk about that in the future, some tips and tricks.)

Bottom line: I don't recommend it. Not if you expect to shop your heart out and if you've seen Seoul before.

I mean, it's not BAD. But the time constraints basically prevented us to do much of anything. We took the 5-hour Seoul City Tour, Course 1 which included Gyeongbuk Palace and Insadong Street. Don't be fooled by the 5-hour in the title. That includes travel time from Incheon to Seoul by bus which took 45 minutes to an hour. And then of course, you have to eat. The tour has that covered with the $10 fee, together with the palace entrance fee. I suggest to eat fast because you'll barely have time to explore and shop at Insadong.

Last time we were here, it was a free entrance day. If you watch K-dramas, this is a familiar sight. A temple in the middle of the city. It reminds me of how Central Park is in NYC. You can clearly see where nature ends and the city begins.

Insadong is what people call the souvenir street. It's a short street filled with souvenir shops. You can find the first "translated" Starbucks here. Starbucks in Hangul, I mean. And oh, one of the restaurants there was featured in Superman Is Back, episode 68. The Lee twins entertained us with their adorable cuteness and appetite.

I wish we could've eaten here but the place we went to wasn't too bad. I did enjoy the food... if only we had enough time to actually savor and enjoy it. The faster you eat, the more time you have for shopping.

If you're looking forward to K-pop albums and other Hallyu stuff, Insadong is not really that place. Or at least, not that I've seen. I only made it as far as Ssam-ze-gil. Who knows. I was so ready to get my hands on some Block B albums but alas. Look to Myeongdong for that.

Ssam-ze-gil is an interesting place. It has 5-6 stories and instead of stairs, which they do have, you can just walk on and on from ground floor to the top. It has cute shops and more souvenirs. I didn't really buy anything except for a couple of cute bookmarks and some tea.

And oh yeah... poop bread.

It's bread shaped like poop. I got one with chocolate inside. I wish I got more.

I did most of my shopping at the airport. Makeup shopping. And some very bitter coffee. I wish I had more time. Or hoped it was an actual visit to South Korea rather than just a layover.

But that's how I roll. I make most out of layovers. I prefer to have them because they make the plane ticket less expensive and they give you opportunities to explore more places. I can see myself doing more of these Korea layover tours. Who knows, maybe I don't have to schedule an actual visit.

Nah... one day. ;-)