My new friend Kristen (whom I met before I got here thanks to some crafty facebook stalking) decided that she didn't want me to be homesick on my special day, so she set up a little party for the evening. Since my birthday landed on Chuseok, however, I had a whole day to fill, not just an evening. I really enjoy exploring things on my own, so I told everyone I had plans when really my plan was to get lost and have fun. People were a little disappointed that I spent the majority of my day in just my own company, but it was exactly what I wanted. Just a little me-and-Korea quality time.
I pulled out my handy "Things to do in Seoul" book again, and this time I chose the Children's Grand Park. The book showed a picture of some kids in bumper cars and another one of kids looking at a fountain, so this seemed like an exceptional way to spend my afternoon. Also, it had its own subway stop, so the risk of getting lost was nil. I packed up my things and headed off into the unknown.
I had no idea what the Children's Grand Park was aside from a grand park for children. When I went inside, I grabbed a guidemap and nearly danced with joy - the Children's Grand Park is a zoo/amusement park/art museum/water park/aquarium/theater/kitchen sink! I don't really even know how to begin to explain it, so I'll just upload some pictures (I'm also waiting on facebook to upload the entire album, but it's going painfully slowly. I promise I'll have them up soon).
First off, I went to the little bird sanctuary.
That's right - that's me, feeding a bird right out of my hand. JUST LIKE A DISNEY PRINCESS, FOOLS.
After feeding the birds for a crazy amount of time (I was having more fun than all the kids there put together - at one point, there were FIVE birds in my hand. FIVE!), I wandered to the next spot on the map, the Anistory.
Now, Anistory isn't a word in English or Korean, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But it was six dollars and it was my birthday for crying out loud, so I bought a ticket and waited inside the theater. A precious little lady beside me asked (in English) if I was alone. I told her I was and that it was my birthday. She hopped in her seat and shouted "CONGRATULATIONS!" Then she dug around in her bag and proudly presented me with warm blueberry soy milk as a gift. I accepted it graciously and tried very hard to like it, but really guys, it was warm blueberry soy milk.
When the show started, the sweet lady tried to translate everything for me, but she didn't know very much English. I think at some points she was just making up words, but I nodded along enthusiastically anyway. Her effort was adorable and the show wasn't too hard to follow. It was CINDERELLA with ANIMALS. Holy smokes.
That's a raccoon handing the fairy godmother a plunger. Yeah, so the story wasn't spot on, but I did understand "hana, dul, SET!" (one, two, THREE!) and "bibbity-boppity-boo!" occasionally, so I'm pretty sure it was Cinderella. Well, until a monkey dressed like Snow White came out, fainted, and a monkey dressed like a dwarf pulled her off the stage. You can't make this stuff up, folks.
Looking back, I really didn't understand much of what was going on, but it was probably the coolest show I've ever seen anyway. Parrots flew over my head, a seal played the cymbals, and a monkey fairy godmother zip-lined to the stage. Honestly, I can't even put into words how much fun I was having. I might as well just stop this blog right here because nothing I do in Korea will ever top the Anistory.
After the show, I wandered around the zoo portion of the park for a while, which was fabulous, but I'm not going to explain every animal I saw because it would take forever. I will, however, upload them all onto facebook and you can peruse them at your leisure.
Just before I left the park, I noticed a section on the map called "Totem Pole Village" and knew I had to explore that too, so I hiked back across the park and took a few pictures:
There are, of course, quite a few more, but again you can refer to the facebook album for the others. I have so much more story to tell!
I reluctantly left the park in the early evening because I had to attend my own birthday party (hehe, had to). I found a much more direct subway path home, dropped off my stuff, and headed up to Kyobo to meet my friends. I haven't been here very long, so the fact that I had people willing to hang out with me on my birthday absolutely blew my mind. Anyway, so we went to this little restaurant where they cook the food at the table (which is incredibly popular here, and it never gets old). The food was delicious, and they made us wear these silly little aprons, which I loved.
Here's a picture of all of us so no one feels left out of the blog post :)
After dinner, we went to a photo sticker place. I have no pictures to document this because the whole process takes about twelve seconds and you feel a little bit like your head is spinning by the end of it. Basically it's like the regular photo booths at the mall, but everything you do is timed. You select backgrounds, take pictures, choose your favorites, decorate them, and print them in about a minute and a half (I'm exaggerating. Maybe you have two minutes.) It was hilarious and anxiety-inducing (anyone who has played Catch Phrase with me knows how much I HATE being timed. HATE IT.) but so much fun!
On the way out the door, we noticed two guys playing guitar on the street corner. My lovely friends decided that I obviously needed to be serenaded in the middle of a busy street, so they asked the boys to lead a ridiculously loud rendition of "Happy Birthday". Just in case our traveling band of foreigners wasn't sticking out enough, everyone started singing. People stopped and stared as my face turned every shade of pink, then a few drunk guys ran up to give me a hug. Because what's a birthday without a hug from a drunk Asian?
The serenaders laughed and asked us how much we'd been drinking. Um, nothin, guys. We're just that loud and obnoxious all by ourselves.
We still had another stop before the night was over - cake and ice cream! We journeyed across the street to a fancy-shmancy Baskin Robbins. The girls let me choose the cake (yay!) so I picked this one:
I mean, really, how cute is that?
My friends sang to me, yet again, inside the ice cream shop, and we demolished the cake - which was made of chocolate ice cream and something pink with pop rocks in it. Birthday bliss, I bet it was called.
On the way outside, Kristen pointed out that the poles in Gangnam take pictures. Yeah, you read that correctly. What I had assumed were digital maps are also cameras that send free pictures to any email address. Korea is ridiculously cool sometimes.
Most of you likely got here via facebook anyway, but if you didn't, here's a link to the photo album that has all my birthday shenanigans in it :)