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.

“OK?”

“Yeah!”

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

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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.”

“Oh!”

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.

Mies Container: Week 42

Chain links, steel, safety hats, men and salad. The interior of Mies Container played off the idea of a tastefully decorated construction project. It was modern and ironically deconstructed- an extremely subtle and un-kitschy Korean version of Hooters. Behind the counter an all male staff greeted the largely female clientele and periodically shouted out cheers in unison. After ordering, my friend and I took our numbered construction hat and set it down in the middle of the table.

The waiter delivered the food with a high five for the both of us. Even the men dragged there by their girlfriends could not escape the enthusiasm of the waiters. I washed down my meal with cherry lime aid and conversation. However, no amount of high fives from stylish young men could keep me from my second task of the day. Barret was returning home from his vacation in Las Vegas and the date was marked with 56 hearts on my calendar. I just simply can’t emphasize enough how much I love gluten-free cookies from America.

How to get to Mies Container: Gangnam Station, Line 2 Exit #9. Walk straight and take the second road on your right.  It will be on the left inside the 1st floor of Time Building.

Mul Gimchi: Week 40

Mul gimchi has a delicate and refreshing flavor with just a touch of sweet ginger that is balanced by a slightly spicy finish. It has become one of my favorite side dishes and after receiving a container of homemade mul gimchi from my coworker, I realized it was possible to make such a delicious thing at home. A few days later Barret and I had the translated recipe and we were ready to leap into the annals of Korean cuisine.

The first hour was spent mincing all the ingredients while the baby radish leaves wilted under a coating of sea salt and the glutinous rice powder dissolved into a pot of hot water. The operation was running smoothly and the time had come to mix all the ingredients together.

“Barret, I think the water needs to keep boiling.”

“But the directions say ‘cooled’ so we should turn it off.”

“Actually it says ‘cooled boiled’ so keep the heat on.”

“Exactly, boil then cool.”

“No, boil then simmer.”

“You aren’t following directions.”

“I don’t need too. This is like a giant bag of tea and that requires heat. Let’s add more water.”

“We added five cups already.”

“Yes, but I don’t think we are making enough.”

“This isn’t a good idea.”

“This is a great idea.”

The following day we set our full Tupperware container before a panel of judges. With a grimace our coworkers delivered the verdict- too much garlic, too much salt, too many hot peppers, too much water, not enough ginger and the radishes were too radish-y. Even though the mul gimchi was politely pushed back onto our desk, Barret remained undeterred. With the enthusiasm of a man missing all but three taste buds, he poured himself a large helping and happily proclaimed, “I can’t taste anything! Anybody else want seconds?”

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