Kimchi & Tacos

Korea—honestly, it was a country I never thought about until I was offered a free layover after completing my cat nanny job in Mongolia. With Petey now safely ensconced in his new home, I was free to roam Asia; any country I wanted that connected Ulaan Baatar to San Francisco and then Leon. However, there were only three options: Beijing (visa issues), Tokyo (the tsunami had just hit) and Seoul (perfect!).

Looking for a place to stay, I found a youth hostel with excellent reviews. I had thought my days of community sleeping were over, but the place sounded so appealing I made a quick decision—return to my roots and embrace sharing a bathroom with twelve strangers.


guests of hongdae

Entrance of Hongdae Guesthouse


Within minutes of my arrival to the Hongdae Guesthouse, I had a home and friends. In between visiting the royal palace and national museum, I spent hours talking to Mr. Kim, the hostel’s enthusiastic thirty-something manager. He had a plan—together we would build an empire of Mexican restaurants.

palace pagoda

Palace pagoda


The next day after a morning chat that lasted 3 hours, Kim insisted I check out our competition and gave me explicit instructions to Seoul’s most popular Mexican restaurant. I followed his clues with baited breath only to end up standing in front of Taco Bell. Yes, Kim was right, we would make a fortune.


changing of the guard

Palace changing of the guard


I spent my evenings in the cozy living room with Choi, the night manager, discussing our mutual love of travel. He worked at the hostel to learn about the world and saved his salary for journeys to unknown places, his family and friends chastising him for his vagabond ways. His last trip was to Canada, where he discovered that camping in non-designated areas could lead to arrest…and a free jailhouse meal. Learning the secret to hot morning coffee without ever lighting a match, Choi strategically planned where to pitch his tent every night.


market stall with seaweed

Seaweed stall at the market


I ate an incredible meal of grilled pork (incorrectly translated to “small fried hog”) with a variety of condiments, many seasoned with kimchi: spinach with soy bean paste, radishes and boiled cabbage, bean sprouts with shredded carrots.


small fried hog

Small fried hog


I rode on the cleanest, most efficient subway I’d ever seen. It was a futuristic world of spotless bilingual trains and small subterranean cafés with piped-in Mozart and Illy coffee. Some stops even had sitting areas with park benches and potted plants.

Who knew this world existed?

My stay in Korea was brief, but I will return. And when I do, I’ll look up Mr. Kim, for I plan to give Taco Bell some serious competition.


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One Response to “Kimchi & Tacos”

  1. Kris Says:

    This is mary meade

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