Sell Your Seoul Trip 2 - Day 3 - Deoksugung (Palace) - The Palace of Virtuous Longevity

Deok Su Gung. The Palace of Virtuous Longevity. Ever fearful that I will elegantly check-out from this life before my due time, I was eager to visit a place that was built to exude a vibe of continuous survival. I met my volunteer tour guide, Won Hyeon Suk, at the front gates of the grand palace. Sparking emerald ring, fancy fur coat, dangling pearl earrings: I was about to spend an hour with one of my own, a classy broad indeed.

Originally constructed in the 1400s, the palace was the home and head of government for many Kings and Queens during the Joseon Dynasty. As we entered through the main gate, Won Hyeon Suk asked me which path I would like to take across the "forbidden bridge." Made with granite slabs, the center of the path was elevated, with the left side a step down and the right side lowered even further. I have three options: high, middle, or low. For two classy ladies, I figured the high road was appropriate. As I pointed to our path, I was informed that I had selected the way of the royals. "I do believe, young lady, that I was a Queen in a past lifetime," whispered Won Hyeon Suk. "Birds of a feather flock together," I replied, as us two reincarnated monarchs emarked on our palace exploration.

Wooden buildings, a plethora of staircases, pinetree lined pathways, and traditional Korean architecture surrounded us. Twisted trees without leaves overtook the place, and as I saw my breath before me in the absolutely freezing morning air, I imagined the place in the summertime with thick foliage and flowers blossoming throughout the garden. Think warm, Sandy. As the sun began to get higher in the sky, the air warmed just a bit, yet it was not enough. My nose was frozen, my toes were completely numb, and I began to have a mini-panic attack as I remembered all of the horrible frostbite stories from a book I recently read about mountain climbers. Sure, I'm not 24,000 feet in the air, but the wind is blowing and the air is sharp in my lungs. Wiggle toes. Please wiggle. Is there a nip of whiskey in my backpack? Someone save me from this freezing cold. "I can't remember what I was saying...because my brain is too cold," says Won Hyeon Suk. Yes indeed, the royal family is on the same page.

At the end of the tour, Won Hyeon Suk and I watched the changing of the guards in front of Deok Su Gung's main gates. It was a spectacular performance: music, vibrant costumes, and overall an elaborate ceremony. We even had our pictures snapped with a guard clad in traditional Joseon fashion!

Sell Your Seoul Trip 2 - Day 2 - Jump Theater, Jongno-gu

To wrap out my evening, I experienced some VIP treatment at the Broadway of Seoul. JUMP is a non-verbal comic martial arts performance that won the Edinborough Fringe Festival several years ago. Since then, the performance has toured the world and earned their own theater in the center of Seoul. The story centers on an absolutely insane family. The clan engages in battles with burglars while setting up the daughter with a young man who morphs from a Steve Erkel (with uberdorky glasses) into a gigolo (donning a mesh tank top underneath.) "Where can I buy that tank top?," I thought to myself. I bet my friend Adam would love to rock one of those and spice up his arsenal the classic black.

These actors were insanely flexible and acrobatic. I counted six backflips in a row from the "Mom" and a double backwards tuck off the wall from the "Dad." Without trampolines. Talk about quad muscles! My regular workout team, The Fletcher Athletic Group, really has some catching up to do if we ever want to engage in some martial arts training. I was laughing, amazed, and thoroughly entertained the entire time. The show is without dialogue and so anyone can follow the plot. While I usually find jokes to be the most difficult things to translate, it turns out that humor sans words is universally recognized. This time, my tears were from laughter.

Following the performance, a physical therapist came out to help the actors who were unwrapping their legs and rubbing wounded muscles. Looking that good doesn't come easily! A big thanks to the actors of JUMP for putting themselves through such grueling training and onstage battle purely for our entertainment.

And now, for this little lady, it's lights off. Jetlag jetlag go away, please don't come back another day.

Sell Your Seoul Trip 2 - Day 2 - Chungmuro Pet Street & Jok Bal at Jangchung-dong

Leaving the flea market behind, I jumped in a taxi and headed to Chungmoro Pet Street. This block has about one hundred pet stores on each side of the street. Koreans, as UsWeekly would say, "are just like us!" They have dogs, cats, snakes, spiders, and other creepy crawly creatures as pets. But me? I really didn't dig this place. So many cute and adorable puppies, all crying out for my attention, and yet I wasn't allowed to touch any of them. "But he just wants to be held!," I said to the store owner about the adorable St. Bernard puppy jumping out of his bin towards me. My request was met with a stern "Aniyo" (that's no in Korean, for those without a nifty translation book). Although all the puppies were kept in glass bins with open tops and appeared to have enough room to move about, it just wasn't my scene. I like seeing dogs romp and play out in the open. I thought about scooping up as many as possible, running out of the joint at full speed, hopping on the next plane, and bringing them back to a loving home in Setauket. And then I saw the "Declaration of Meats" sign at the airport flash through my vision. I doubt my mother would be very thrilled with the idea as well. And so we left and ventured into a vet's office, in which I saw a very sick dog in need of an operation. Tears were welling in my eyes and I just couldn't take it. Images of Daisy and Tigger and Charlie and other past pets who have left me for the bone & catnip-fllled animal heaven danced through my mind. I suddenly was desperate to snuggle with our dog Myles. I had an overwhelming urge to suddenly adopt as many dogs in the world as possible. I had to escape.

Bleary eyed, I staggered into the JangChungdong area. This section of Seoul is very well known for restaurants that specialize in pork meat. Sometimes the best place doesn't have the flashiest store front. Tucked off the street and down an alley way, I fell into the loving arms of the Grandmother of jock bal (pork bits). Owner and founder of Pyung Ahn Do, she really knows what is up when it comes to cooking pork. "I look like a mess and I'm chilled to the bone," I think to myself. She shuttles me towards a seat by the heater. Thank you Grandma. Gam sa hap nee da. What better place to recenter your psyche then over a nice meal of pigs feet? Step One: pick up lettuce. Step Two: attempt to grab pork foot with chop sticks. Step Three: realize you stink with chop sticks and reach out with your hand and just grab the damn chunk of meat. Step Three: dip in a preserved shrimp and salt sauce. Step Four: add soy paste, hot yellow mustard sauce, pickled radishes, and a bit of garlic. Step Five: shove the entire thing in your mouth and realize that yes, indeed, you put way too much garlic on this thing and your mouth is on fire from the hot mustard sauce. Smile! You're on camera. To be honest, this was really delicious. Except for my mishap with the garlic and hot mustard, it tasted just like other parts of a pig but even fattier. It does not, however, compare to a nice slab of crispy bacon. Does anything?

After this experience of jok bal and a cold noodle soup that looked like brains but tasted more like refrigerated Ramen, I would like to take this opportunity to make a public announcement. Let it be known that on this day, at this hour, I challenge Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame to a duel. An eating duel of strange and rare foodstuffs of any variety. Bring it on Zimmern. I am not afraid.

Sell Your Seoul Trip 2 - Day 2 - Seoul Folk Flea Market

Another neighborhood, another market to explore. Belly full of bimimbap, I landed in front of the Seoul Folk Flea Market. This is the largest second-hand market in Korea and is fairly new on the scene. The two-story building is filled to the brim with sundry goods, refurbished cameras, old school radios, musical instruments, and some pretty ugly sweaters. From one aisle to the next, a new (yet most likely old) toy was to be discovered. I strummed a guitar, played with a classic Polaroid camera, and even bought a really unique yellow flower ring for only $25. It's a little too big for my skinny fingers, but the vendor who sold it to me is going to adjust it free of charge. How great is that?

At one point, we were attacked by a man who wanted our videocamera off. IMMEDIATELY. His intensity was a little unnerving and so I asked my lovely team exactly why he was so adamantly against the cameras. As it turns out, the man is wanted by the mafia of a to-go-unidentified Asian nation and has sought asylum in the plethora of randomness that is the Seoul Folk Flea Market. Not wanting to blow up his hiding spot, I left the man in peace and continued on my journey.

Other than expanding my cocktail ring collection, the highlight of this market was finding a man commanding a tower of honeycombs and a boiling pot of water at an unassuming corner. Knowing my deep love and appreciation for the sweet nectar that is honey, my friend Kyung Il bought me a honey tea. The vendor cut some honey comb, added hot water, strained it a few times, and passed me the cup. Bits of honeycomb and gobs of the sweet goo were so fresh and sweet. Such a cold day, such a warm gesture.

Sell Your Seoul Trip 2 - Day 2 - GwangJin (Gwangjang) Market, Jongno-gu

I had some cash that was burning a hole in my pocket and so I decided to go check out GwangJin Market, the second largest one in Seoul. This place is over a hundred years old, having first registered with the city in an official capacity in 1905. It was PACKED with people and has more than 2,000 stores selling textiles, kitchen goods, and the like. But once again, I was on a mission. Before I left from New York, my friends Jess and Lis told me that I absolutely had to try bimimbap, a mixed rice dish filled with vegetables and tossed with sesame oil and hot paste. After pushing through the crowds, I found myself firmly seated on the heated bench of "Eastern A Stall #37." The head chef, Jo Hyang, is a renowned master of bimimbap. Hot barley tea, a bowl of rice, and all the Korean fixins' a girl could ask for. I stayed away from the sardines, however, because there were just too many fish heads for my taste. The dish didn't really resemble fried rice like I thought it would. More like a really good salad with some rice and spice thrown on in. Having had a lot of fried food and carbs, it was a welcome meal and "the worm" was beyond grateful. Jo Hyang was one of the nicest women I've met so far and we had a great time talking about (a) how delicious her food is and (b) how delicious her food is. She even asked to hang my picture on the stall wall - joining other fun people who have crossed her bimimbap path. I'm really glad I found Eastern A Stall #37.

I worked my way out of the maze that is GwangJin and into a taxi, where my food coma (paebulloyo in Korean) was pleasantly accompanied by Korea's version of NPR: The Single Bungle Show. Even though I couldn't understand what was being said, the soft voices reminded me of all my favorite NPR programs. I peered out the window and spotted a VIPS, the first one I've seen since my days in Madrid. For those out of the know, VIPS is an all-in-one stop. It's as if Best Buy, 7-11, and Friendly's converged into one store. Thinking of Spain, I've gotta tell you that when I try to communicate with street vendors or taxi drivers, I immediately start speaking in Spanish. It's as if my brain knows that I'm in a foreign country and so it signals that I should be speaking in my foreign tongue: espanol. Unfortunately, Spanish gets me nowhere here. Luckily, I've got Sang-In. And a knack for pantomime. It's time for me to hit the streets again, where I'll be venturing off to another market, a mysterious "pet street," and dinner with oh so exotic foods.

Sell Your Seoul Trip 2 - Day 2 - Bokjumeoni and Traditional Tea house in Insadong

After my morning coffee in a can, I packed up my back and embarked on a mission. The task at hand: to find han ji, a special type of Korean paper, and pok joo muh nee, mysterious "lucky pockets" that the Koreans distribute on New Years Day as a gesture of good fortune. Generally, the Korean elders distribute the messages of luck to younger members of the family. I have a feeling, however, that I will be handing them out to strangers later this week. I'm all about spreading the good vibe - so we'll see what the Sell Your Seoul campaign has in store for me down the road.

To get the materials, I ventured to Insadong Street, an area that was once the hub of antique trading in the city. Now, it generally sells goods to the middle class and foreigners (like me!). From what I hear, it's a pretty hot place to bring a date on a Friday night too. Couples can enjoy free music and dance classes in the plaza at the end of the street. Not this morning, however, as most people bustled by and darted inside the nearest doorway for warmth. Within minutes, I found exactly what I was looking for and ducked into "Oh, Ja Ne What Nun Ga?" What is this, you may ask? A Korean tea house, but with a twist. Inside, the place is set up like an old fashioned railroad car. Tracks run up and down between the tables and customers are free to take pen to the wall and graffiti away. As my friends can attest, I'm a big fan of writing on walls. I know, I know, it's not the nicest thing to do. But I abide by the rules and only do it where permitted - and boy is it allowed in here! Before I knew it, I had tagged a huge "Sandy Sold Her Seoul" on the wall. I had left my mark.

At the tea house, I tried a traditional Korean tea called Sang Hwa Cha. Filled with jujubees and cinnamon, it tasted like Christmas in a cup. Since I'm perpetually hungry due to a tape worm (unconfirmed) acquired somewhere in my many travels, I decided to give the rice cake another try. This time, I opted for the baked rice cake with honey. Once again, it was super chewy. Slathered in honey and warm on a cold winter day, it was definitely welcome in my belly and satiated the worm for the time being.

And here is where all of my years at summer camp and my addiction to perfection paid off. It was time for the ultimate arts and crafts challenge: write "In the New Year, I want you to have lots of luck." In Korean characters. Thirty times. Yes. Write this thirty times, vertically, without making a mistake. Fearful that I would accidentally wish someone bad luck or that my message would resemble that written by a kindergartner, I focused, steadied my hand, and put special pen to special paper. Let's just say that I surprise myself everyday. Who knew I was so skilled at writing in character? Sang In and Kyung Il were very impressed. Now they may just have been polite, but seriously, these are good! Check out the pictures for proof.

Sell Your Seoul Trip 2 - Day 1 - The Korea House

To end the evening, I whisked off to The Korea House Theatre in Choongmooro, where my jet-lagged mind was mesmerized by the moves of the traditional dance and music performance. Broken up into eight different sections, this hour-long show was accompanied by flutes, drums, and several string instruments that were played horizontally and plucked by what looked like a really long chopstick. Although I couldn't understand what was being said, I could clearly see how this traditional Korean dance is used, believe it or not, by today's pop stars. You see, about a month ago I attended Saturday Night Live in NYC, where Shakira was the performer. During her song "Did It Again," she and her dancers mimicked a five-drum dance that was exactly identical to the style of the Dance With Five Drums (oh go mu) at the Korea House. I was blown away. So this is where her inspiration came from! Imitation, as they say, is the highest form of flattery.

After the show, I had my pictures snapped with the stars. And then, it was bedtime for me. It's been an action packed day of shopping, eating, and playing. Who knew selling your Seoul could be so much fun?

Sell Your Seoul Trip 2 - Day 1 - Namdaemun Market

I was relieved to get to Namdaemun Market, which is a huge center for cheap shopping visited by half a million people on a daily basis. You can get everything from women's clothing and accessories to ballerina tutus. With lots of foot traffic, you have to navigate the streets like a local and then pick one of the many restaurants and food stalls in which to dine. Hint: one that is crowded is usually an indication that it is indeed delicious.

As I sat down to eat, I ordered a variety of dishes. One pretty exotic dish that I tried was called "gal chi jo rim," a hair tailed fish boiled in soy sauce with spices. I was ready. As a girl who tends to avoid spicy dishes like the plague, I did my homework before selling my soul. When I found out I'd be coming over here, I started putting hot sauce on everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. I even dashed some in a bowl of New England Clam chowder. How nasty is that? But I wanted my taste buds to be ready for battle. I'm happy I went into training. Aside from being a total moron with my chopsticks, I was able to splice the fish open, remove the bones, and actually enjoy a really spicy piece or two. It was difficult to get to my mouth (sans knife and fork), but once it was there it tasted like a really hot version of tilapia. When I dipped my rice in the spicy sauce, I got a few claps and a huge smile from my Korean crew. "Yes, Yes!" they exclaimed. I am learning to absolutely love the Korean way. The spicier, the better. Bring it on!

Having entered a food coma, I wandered around the market in a daze. Luckily, I'm a pro shopper and can find the best of deals in my sleep. Namdaemun is really well known for selling cheap optical wear. Anybody who knows me is well aware that I have a special place in my heart for cheap (and not-so-cheap) oversized sunglasses. Oliver Peoples, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel - the frames were flying off the shelves and onto my face faster then I could point out the next pair.

Sell Your Seoul Trip 2 - Day 1 - Namsangol Hanok Village

I have had years of practice hailing a NYC taxi cab. My perfect form, leg cocked just so, lengthy arm extended directly towards two o'clock...I was in a taxi in a matter of minutes. And off to Namsangol Hanok Village I go! After being inside of a museum, it was a joy to step outside into the Seoul sun and explore these replicas of traditional upper-class housing from the Joseon Dynasty. Although I jumped on the tail end of an English-language tour, I quickly realized it would be way more fun if we just explored the village on our own. It was time to get active. From toe-stand yoga poses in front of archways, ssi reum (traditional Korean wrestling) with my friend Kyung Il in front of a crowd, jumping for joy, or simply doing some classical ballet pirouttes across a stage, we really took the Namsangol Hanok Village by storm. The place was beautiful and had a really tranquil vibe to it. The way that Seoul balances the traditional with the modern is truly stunning and impressive.

Hungry for a snack, I picked up some dduk, a Korean rice cake sprinkled with soy powder. This is not a cake. Let's just say this reminded me more of a really really chewy fruit rollup, sans the fruit flavor. Emphasis on chewy. Luckily, you can snag dduk with a variety of different powders. So while the consistency was fun, the soy powder...not so much. Next time, I'm going to grab the rainbow ones.

Sell Your Seoul Trip 2 - Day 1 - Interview & Bank of Korea Museum

. The Bank of Korea Museum was opened in 2001, on the fiftieth anniversary of the bank. The place is free to enter (score!) and holds old and new currencies from around the world. Some of the traditional currencies were so beautiful, they looked more like necklace pendants than coins. One highlight of the museum was when I stumbled upon millions and millions of faux won in the vault. There is something about being surrounded by that much cash, even if it is fake, that makes me feel as if I'm about to film bank heist scene in a Hollywood film. Break the glass, grab as much as you can, and run! I also found a really cool intergalactic type of display in which currencies "floated" (no pun intended) down a long table. When I held my hand over one, all of this information about the note would pop up. As a pretty big economics and finance (its pronounced finANCE) dork, I had a ton of fun sitting in a space of floating currencies and playing around. After I jumped off the table, I was kindly informed that there is indeed a sign that reads "please do not sit on the table." Some rules, my friend, were made to be broken.

Before I left the museum, I held firm to my pledge to check out the toilets outside of the hotel. And to my surprise - what is this! When you lock the door of the stall, the light above the bathroom turns on. Talk about energy efficiency! For an energy dork, this is huge! I mean, it really isn't as exciting as a heated seat, but it's pretty smart if you ask me.

Sell Your Seoul Trip 1 - Day 3 - Apgujeong, Hangang Park & Sindang-dong (Dukbokki Town)

Dinner was in the densely-packed Apgujeong district, a neighborhood where pedestrians shared narrow streets with small Asian cars. There's a technique to navigating Korean traffic that I haven't figured out, and I often found myself blocking a taxi or delivery scooter trying to squeeze by me. Having a vehicle pass within inches isn't uncommon, but accidents don't seem to happen very often. Somehow, they're able to make it all work.

We ducked into a few stores along the way to find gifts for friends back home. Like shopping in the trendy Myeongdong neighborhood, Apgujeong had strong Western trappings, albeit seen through Korean eyes. Shirts, bags and paper goods with bizarre, broken English were the norm."That's very useful," remarked Sang In as I examined an inspirational calendar with YOU ARE NOT SO UGLY printed on it in glowing letters. A few seasonal items had found their way into stores, and I picked up a paper reindeer decoration with "Rah-Rah Christmas!" written along the bottom.

We made one last stop that evening, heading to Sindangdong, a neighborhood famous for dukboki. Dukboki, a popular street food, is primarily made up of rice noodles and a meat I couldn't identify. Individual vendors may add in other ingredients like eggs or ramen noodles, and, like nearly everything else in Korea, it's served spicy. It was one of the better things I've eaten, but after three straight days of some of the hottest food I've ever had, I could only manage a few bites.