Toolbox (툴박스) 2nd is absolutely the best burger place in Korea. I even fantasize about traveling to Ulsan just to experience one more bun and patty combination. I feel like it’s worth the trip. The chef seems to put a lot of effort into his food, and only cooks an item if he has all the ingredients available.

Toolbox offers burgers, sandwiches, and salads. I love the interior. With black walls and wood tables, it feels open and welcoming. Lots of cute touches like record coasters and animal salt and pepper shakers.

Open Tuesday to Sunday 11am to 10:30 pm in Seongnam-dong (Shinae/Old Downtown). From the Shinae Clock Tower (Shigae-tap), with your back to the river/walking street, walk against the traffic flow for one block, and then turn right. At the next intersection, turn left. Just past the alley to JJ’s, Toolbox is on the right-hand side of the street.

If you’re looking for something to outdoors in Seoul, from May to October, you can check out the Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain (반포대교 달빛무지개분수). It’s a light and water show (with music!) in Banpo Hangang Park, which is a pretty fun place to hang out anyway. Lots to do there, such as ride bicycles, have a picnic, fly a kite, or throw a Frisbee.

The 15 minute show is free, and you can check it out at these times:

May-June

Weekdays : 12:00, 20:00, 21:00

Weekends : 12:00, 17:00, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00, 21:30

July-August

Weekdays : 12:00, 20:00, 21:00

Weekends : 12:00, 17:00, 19:30, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00, 21:30

September-October

Weekdays : 12:00, 20:00, 21:00

Weekends : 12:00, 17:00, 20:00, 20:30, 21:00, 21:30

Directions: Walk from Dongjak Station (subway line 4) Exit 1 or 2.

Since moving back to Busan, I had to find a new dentist, because Chicago Dental in Gwangan is gone. I’m happy to report that I had a good experience with Dr. Kwon in Yeonsan-dong.

Some of the staff speaks English, but drop-ins and scheduling in-person is not a problem. Monday and Tuesday seem to be their busiest days, so I would go another day of the week if possible. They are open Monday to Saturday, starting at 9:30 am and then closed 12:30pm-2pm for lunch. Prices were explained upfront and very reasonable if you can pay in cash.

Dr. Kwon’s English is great and his demeanor is very gentle. He took special time to explain what my treatment and care would be, and even sent text messages to my phone to check on me. I plan to go there every 6 months for preventative and orthodontic care.

Directions: Yeonsan Subway Station, exit 16. You will walk forward for 10 minutes, and find Dr. Kwon’s located on the 2nd floor of the Samik Building. 

Julio Mexican Cuisine in Gangnam, Seoul has the best Mexican food in Korea. I would argue that it’s some of the best Mexican food I’ve had anywhere. Every time I’ve gone, they’ve been really busy, and I usually have to wait at least ten minutes to be seated —but it’s so worth it.  The food is just amazing, and the service is on point. The tacos are definitely my favorite.

I have been told that there are two more restaurants, one in Hongdae and another in Jongno, but I have never been to those locations.

Directions: Gangnam Subway Station, Exit 11. Take a right at the Papa John’s sign. Keep walking and the restaurant will be on your right.

Address: 강남구 역삼동 619-1 강남역본점
Phone: 02-568-5324

Do you ever wonder why milk tastes different in Korea? It has to do with the pasteurization method. North America uses the HTST method (high temperature, short time), while Korea has, for the most part, used the UHT method (ultra high temperature).

HTST kills spoilage microorganisms, and consists of heating the milk to 74°C for 10-20 seconds. With correct cooling, and chilled distribution, it has a shelf life of 1-2 weeks.

UHT kills microorganisms AND spores in milk, giving it a shelf life of 6-9 months (until opened) without refrigeration or preservatives. UHT consists of heating the milk to 138° C for 2-3 seconds.

For regular style HTST milk, you have two choices in Korea: 상하목장(Sangha Farms) or 파스퇴르 (Pasteur). Pasteur has a more typical taste, while Sangha Farms uses Batch Pasteurization which consists of an even lower temperature of 63° C for 30 minutes as well as a micro-filter process that I believe gives it a “tinny” taste.

If you can read Hangul, you’ll also be able to choose the fat content, but beware: there are no industry standards of what is considered “low-fat.”

Good to know:

Pasteur (파스퇴르) brand:
후레쉬 (Fresh): 2% (blue)
저지방 (low fat): 1% (green)
무지방 (no fat): 0% (pink)

Sangha Farms (상하목장):
Standard (no specification): Whole milk (blue)
저지방 (low fat): 2% (green)

지방 = fat
저 = low
무 = none
저지방 = low fat
무지방 = no fat

(Information from Joe Zellers. Feel free to share this information, just as long as he is credited.)

Getting your drivers license in Busan, Korea

I recently went through the stressful experience of obtaining a drivers license in Busan, without trading in my US driver’s license. If you want to trade in your driver’s license, that process is explained on another blog.

If the DMV is one of the most hated places in the US, the Nambu driving center (남부운전면허시험장) near Kyungsung University is one of the most hated places in Korea. No one spoke English and hardly anyone was kind or patient with me. I’m going to provide you with as much information as possible, in hopes that it helps someone, because it definitely would have helped me.

I tried calling beforehand to make an appointment, but they told me that wasn’t possible and that there would be no English service available for me. They told me to arrive at 9:20 a.m. on any weekday to start the process. Bring 60,000₩ in cash and three smaller than passport size photos.

I walked there from KSU, exit 5, following directions on my iPhone. It took about 20 minutes, and the only tricky part was taking a left at this GS25.

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Or, you could just take a taxi from the KSU subway.

You’ll get dropped off here:

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Enter the first building on your left.

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Start filling out some papers in Korean at 9:20 a.m. Glue two smaller than passport size photos onto your paperwork. Someone may help you in Korean.

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Pay 5,000₩ to take an eye exam.

Then, go to the second floor and fill out another form. You’ll scan your left thumb into a machine. You’ll be given a plastic card with a number. Go to the room on your left and sit it in the desk with your number. Then, an employee will come into the room and have you go scan your card and left thumb into a machine, like so:

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A safety video will start around 9:45 a.m. with no English subtitles. Another employee will lecture in Korean after the video finishes. You’ll be directed to scan your thumb once more and then turn in your plastic card. They will give you a form to take to the next building.

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Be sure to grab a number for the left side of the lines.

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Once your number is called, they’ll take your form and put some more stamps on it. You’ll pay 7,500₩ and then proceed to the PC room on the third floor for a written test in poorly translated, broken English.

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You’ll have 50 minutes to answer 40 questions. I had absolutely no idea how to answer questions regarding the penalty point system, “invisible” children, or stopping involving the metric system. Lots of leeway for incorrect answers. I recommend just picking the no-brainer safe answers and you’ll probably pass.

Then, go back to the first floor and take a number on the left side again. I was here around 11:45 a.m. and they scheduled an appointment for my driving test at 1 p.m. that day. It cost 18,5000₩.

So, walk outside to another building where you hand someone your paper. They’ll tell you a number in Korean. Mine was 22.

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Watch another safety video. Then, take a driving test on the designated course.

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This is a bit stressful, as there is no one in the car with you, and the directions are in Korean. Basically, the speakers in the car talk to you, directing to you do a number of things, such as turn on the lights, use your blinkers, drive, stop, use the emergency brake, etc. You’ll have to do them within 5 seconds after the car directs you to do so in Korean.

Finally, go back into the building to get another number, and then talk to booth three. Pay 3,500₩. Then, pay 25,000₩ for the on-road driving test. These may be scheduled later in the day, if you’re lucky, or the next week.

Keep in mind that you can amuse yourself by charging your phone:

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…or consuming liquid confidence from the vending machine:

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I recommend arriving to the on-road driving test earlier than they tell you to, as they always seem to start the safety video early. This one has English subtitles though! And, they detail the driving test and the four possible courses you could experience. Go to this room by the bathroom:

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After the safety video, you’ll get in a car with the employee and one or two other people taking the driving test. When it’s your turn to drive, the employee will sit in the front with you, but the car speakers will direct you where to drive. Testing will include completing a U-turn and parallel parking. Don’t feel bad if you don’t pass the first or even second time, as I have been told that that is common in Korea. You’ll pay 25,000₩ to retake the test.

I had points deducted on my test for not putting the car in neutral when it was idling, using my turn signal too frequently (such as for changing lanes), and waiting too long to complete a U-turn. Seemed kind of silly to me, as I have been driving without incident in the US for ten years, but I’ll laugh it off. Now, I have my Korean drivers license for ten years!

Jirisan National Park (지리산국립공원), May 3-6, 2014

This year the holidays, Children’s Day and Buddha’s Birthday, occurred quite conveniently to award us in Korea with a four-day weekend. My boyfriend and I decided to camp for four days and three nights in Jirisan National Park (지리산국립공원).

One can catch a bus from the Sasang Bus Terminal in Busan to several different spots, but we decided to camp closest to the highest peak at the Jungsan-ri Camping Area (중산리야영장).

The bus that leaves directly for Jungsan (중산정류장) from Busan doesn’t leave very often, but it’s not difficult to go from Busan to Jinju (진주시외버스터미널), and then buy a ticket there to Jungsan. A one-way trip costs approximately 13,600₩ (Busan to Jungsan).

Once you arrive in Jungsan, you can hail a taxi to the camping grounds for 5,000₩. Camping costs 2,000₩ a person. Yeah, that’s right, I said 2,000₩ a person. Reservations cannot be made in advance; first come, first serve. We arrived on the Saturday afternoon of a four-day weekend and had no trouble finding ample room for our tent and hammock.

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This campground is great. It has lots of trees and a creek nearby. There are clean restrooms and water facilities. There were signs warning of snakes, but I didn’t see any. There are also signs advising no campfires, but people still have campfires at night. Do it at your own risk.

There is food a short walk from the campground, but the selection is limited (e.g. samgyeopsal and kimchi jigae) and expensive. There are also marts that sell all Korean camping necessities at an inflated price, such as ramen, Pocari Sweat, and makgeolli. My boyfriend made the smart decision of bringing a lot of our own food, including bread, jam, peanut butter, pasta, hot dogs, cheese, eggs, butter, fruit, tuna, drinks, and fancy foil packets.

We had a really, really good time. If you’re comfortable without showers, one could stay for a long period of time. Or you could rent a pension (or minbak), as there are many around, but I don’t know how much they are or what they look like inside.

Once you’re ready to leave, take a taxi back down to the bus terminal for 5,000₩. You can buy bus tickets at the mart.

The bus leaves for Jinju 14 times a day, from 6:10 am - 7:40 pm. The bus leaves less frequently for Busan, during the same hours, just eight times a day. There is a bus schedule under the covered area where the bus picks you up.

Just a year old, Cantina (캔티나) is easily becoming a regular restaurant and hangout for those that live in Cheonan, foreigners and Koreans alike. It’s the only Mexican restaurant and bar in town, located in Buldang-dong (불당동). 

It is owned and operated by foreigners, Dylan Ruhe and Jenny Mun. They previously owned an English academy in town, which was successful and short-lived, but not their passion in life. Dylan and Jenny used to live in Southern California and wanted to bring “California Mexican” or “Baja Style” food to Cheonan, where Jenny’s mother also owns a Korean restaurant.

Go for the food, fun cocktails, free pool table, Happy Hour Specials, or cool atmosphere.

Hours:
CLOSED ON MONDAYS
Tuesday - Friday 5pm-Midnight *Happy Hour 10pm-Midnight
Saturday & Sunday: Lunch 12pm-5pm, Dinner 5pm-11pm

Address:
천안시 불당동 1363번지

Directions: Located in the neighborhood directly across from the Galleria, directly across from CU store. If you’re coming from Ssangyong-dong , it’s located on the last street by the bridge over the Jangjaecheon River (장재천)

My favorite place to eat pizza in Cheonan was Sinore (시뇨레) Pizza in Ssangyong-dong (쌍용동). It was real oven-baked Italian style pizza, either thin crust or deep dish, with no random Korean toppings (e.g. corn, sweet potato, or shrimp).

Directions: Walk down the alley across the street from Lotte Mart, between the Holic and the bank. Take a right at YuNa Hair Leader, walk past Mammoth and Angel-N-Us. It will be on your left.

My favorite Italian food restaurant in Cheonan is Dono Marco. It’s located downtown, in Yawoori. Across the street from Shinsegae, go to Dunkin Donuts, and walk straight down that back street for about 3 or 4 blocks. It’s on your right side.