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The Hello Kitty Cafe in Seoul

May 30, 2010 — I got the scoop recently about a place called the Hello Kitty Cafe in the Hongdae area of Seoul (the nickname for the area around Hongik University). Upon hearing about it, I knew immediately that the Hello Kitty Cafe was going to be a big hit with my three daughters. We set out this weekend on a journey to find, indulge and conquer.

Hopefully this information will be useful to others who might want to delight their kids, or themselves, with this purr-fectly pink experience. For other readers, maybe this is just the motivation you needed to reserve the next flight to Seoul, Korea — or maybe not. Either way, I hope you enjoy the photos.

If you take a trip out there yourself, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about your experience.

At the counter you can choose from several desserts. Be sure to get a seat first and order second. They won’t take your order unless you have a seat available. Because the cafe is small, you may have to wait a few minutes for a seat, but with the light menu, seating was available quickly on the weekend, so I’m sure a weekday will be even easier. The menu has desserts, drinks and sandwiches, including hotdog, tuna sandwich, ham and cheese and chicken teriyaki sandwich.

Even the bathrooms are decked out in Hello Kitty style.

Even the toilet seat is a Hello Kitty bidet seat.

We ordered hot choco for the kids and a cafe latte for us. We split a chocolate mousse cake. Everything was very tasty. My daughter said the Hot Choco was the best she’d ever tasted. For the Cafe’s special May promotion, we received a free charm with our purchase. The staff at the counter hands out Hello Kitty beepers which buzz when your order is ready.

The entire building is pink. The chairs range in shades from hot to light pink and some are shaped like Kitty’s head. It’s not a very manly outing, even though there were several other Korean men in the store, but my husband was a real trooper. My girls loved every second. We did see birthday party hats on the counter so I’m assuming they would host a birthday party for a little girl here too.

Getting There By Car:

As we usually do, our family likes to drive and since I’m a little familiar with the area, I felt confident that we could drive to the cafe. We were regretting the decision to do this by the third time we had to drive around the block to figure out where to park the car. As it turns out, we found the perfect spot just one block before the mainly pedestrian-only road on which sits the HK Cafe. Parking was a mere 4,000W for the 2 hours we were there.

Coming from the direction of Yanghwa Bridge, drive towards Hongik University Station. When you reach the Hongik Univ. Station Intersection (before the actual station), take a right at this intersection.

On your right you will see Omuto Tomato, an omurice (omelet wrapped rice) restaurant, and Tom N Toms Coffee.

On the left, look for Bono Bono Sushi & Oriental Restaurant next to this glasses store:

Diagonally, across the road on your left you will see the Chunggiwa Gas Station which has an unforgettable, old Korean roof architecture. [Update 8/2010: Aw, bummer. Anna says, below, that the gas station is being torn down. What a shame. It was so interesting. Well, be aware of that when you’re looking for the landmark and watch out for some of the other spots I mention below.  That’s Seoul for you — things change faster than you can find them around here!  Thanks, Anna!]

After turning RIGHT at this intersection, continue three blocks and turn right. There are a few parking slots that run down the center of the road. You can see them in the photo below. Or, you can take the first road on the right (Mister Donut is on the corner – look for the Lion and the Lamb statue) and find a steel parking structure where you can park for a very small amount. It cost us 4000W for about 2 hours.

Look for the yellow buildings on your right (This is the street you want). There is a place called Beer Space on the opposite corner. This area is mainly for pedestrians. We saw cars only in the parking spots.

Keep walking until you see the large graffiti Cat painted on the side of a building. The Luxury Ho Bar is also on this corner. Turn left at this spot and you cannot miss the bright pink Hello Kitty Cafe up this hill.

You may see this dog resting on a shop step, too. Cah-yut!

Website:  www.hellokittycafe.co.kr

For an aerial view of the entire area, check this Wikimapia link. It has a highlighted box for the Hello Kitty Cafe.

Here’s another map to the Hello Kitty Cafe from Google Maps.

Pick up a copy of Seoul Magazine’s Maps & Guides supplement for an excellent map of the Hundae area.

Getting There By Taxi:

Give this address to the driver:  358-112, Mapo-gu Seogyo-dong (In Korean: 서울시 마포구 서교동 358-112 )

Telephone:  02.6326.6500

Getting There By Train:

Take the Green Line 2 to Hongik University Station. Use Exit 5 and walk towards the Hongik Univ. Station Intersection. You’ll see the Chunggiwa Gas Station with its unique Korean architectural roof on the opposite corner. You want to turn left at this main intersection. Walk three streets until you see a Tony Moly Skin Care and go right on that street. Then follow the directions above and look for the graffiti cat.

You can check out some other fan photos at Wingbus.

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New Look – Same Great Taste

The title of this new post came courtesy of my 12 year old daughter. She sat with me today and helped me pick out a new look for the blog. I still wasn’t content with the old look and functionality so I’ll try this one on for a while. I love the fact that WordPress lets you preview new themes and change them with the click of a link. My hope it that, at some point, I’ll hit on that perfect combination I’m looking for. I do like the understated look of this theme, and I especially like how the categories are viewable as tabs at the top of the page. This is exactly a feature I needed.

Now, if I can just spend some hours tweaking my content and getting some things posted, I’ll be happy with the state of things. I have a ton of outings to post here: museums, exhibits, and attractions in Seoul as well as a few odd and quirky things to show you. There’s never enough time, is there?

Wishing you peace from Seoul.

New English Library in Yongsan, Seoul Korea

A new English library has opened up in Cheongpa-dong near Seoul Station in Yongsan-gu. The library has a variety of services for all visitors.

Inside the library, visitors will find the Little Bear Zone for kids 5 and under, where children can read English books with their parents.

The Reading Zone is set up for children of pre-school age to elementary school age.

The Storytelling Zone has a small fairy-tale stage.

The Multi-media Zone has a computer lab that offers E-books, DVDs and online academic courses.

The library has a Free Reading Program for children 36 months to 13. Children can read books in the library at their leisure. Residents of Yongsan can borrow books two at a time for seven days.

A Classroom Program is offered for a monthly fee. Children attend a weekly activity such as “Storytelling with Mom,” “Phonics & Tales,” “Intensive Reading Clinic,” and more. A complete list with details is available on their website.

http://www.celc.go.kr/eng_index.html

The Beginning & End of Cherry Blossoms in Seoul Part 3

When it was all said and done, I finally concluded that the best examples I saw of Cherry Blossoms in Seoul were those trees just outside my apartment. Although I did later learn about a Cherry Blossom Festival at Seoul Land amusement park, by the time I heard about it, the blooms were gone. The weather during the two weeks of blooming time turned rainy, cold and windy just as the flowers started to come out. This dampened the impact of the trees quite a bit. In some cases, petals were blowing off before the tree was even finished blooming. The season went too quickly. Even my young daughter said, “Oh it’s so sad. We won’t see them again for a whole ‘nother year!”

Here are a few photos from my apartment on April 9th, just as the pink buds sprang from the limbs of the tree:

The following were taken on April 12th outside my apartment:

By the 19th, below, green leaves were sprouting and petals were falling.

Some other of my favorite photos this year were taken around Yongsan, but most were single trees on the side of the road here and there:

And by April 23rd, (below) most blooms were gone and the petals covered the sidewalks and curbs.

Saying goodbye to the Cherry Blossoms brings a sadness. We look forward to next year when we hope we’ll be around to see them come again.

Cherry Blossom Quest in Seoul Part 2

April 15, 2010 — Still in search of the perfect place to take in the beauty of the Cherry Blossoms, we set out for Changgyeonggung Palace to the Secret Garden held within the palace walls. The palace was built in 1484 by King Seongjong. In 1592 it was destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion and was later restored in 1616. It was destroyed again in 1830 and restored in 1834. During the colonial period, the Japanese turned the palace into a public zoo and botanical garden. In 1983, the Korean government removed the zoo and restored the palace to its original state.

With all of this history, I felt sure there would be Cherry Blossoms everywhere.

Most days the Secret Garden is only accessible by guided tour, but on Thursdays, the garden is open for self-guided access. We parked, for a small fee, at the Science Museum and went in the side entrance to the palace. This is a very convenient way to visit.

For 1,000 won per adult (less than a dollar) and 500 won per child, we bought tickets and went in search of Sakura. The gardens were quiet and peaceful.The pond was serene.The Forsythia were beautiful in bloom along the large pond, but there were no Cherry Blossoms in the area. I was kind of surprised, but we kept looking. We headed towards the main gate entrance and found some pretty Sakura trees lined up along the side of a stone bridge. There were several photographers taking photos of the blooms, and we took some nice photographs of the trees. But again, this was not a spot where you could sit under the trees and ponder existence. This idea must be wholly Japanese. In fact, I remember in Japan that it was nearly unheard of to NOT participate in this kind of leisure activity in the spring. Even companies scheduled time for their business men to sit under the trees with other co-workers to admire the flowers. I remember it did seem strange to me at first, but now, I long for it. The peaceful serenity of watching the flowers fall from the trees like snow is beyond words.

We enjoyed the park, the weather was uncommonly lovely, but our search for Sakura wasn’t satisfied.

Click for more visitors information on Changgyeonggung Palace

Map of the palace grounds.

In Search of Cherry Blossoms in Seoul

April 14, 2010 — The spring is absolutely my favorite time of year — and not just the whole spring, but the very beginning of spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming in Asia. I guess, to be honest, living in Japan through the Cherry Blossom season changed me. I was wooed and romanced by the transformation of the entire country during this time of year when the world turns pink and fluffy for just a few short weeks. When we moved to Korea, I hoped that I could find a sense of that same wonder. After all, we’re just two hours by plan from Japan. But last year, the Sakura trees bloomed and faded so quickly that I barely had time to notice them before they were gone. This year, we vowed to go to Japan for spring to participate in O’Hanami again (Cherry Blossom Viewing) and the festivals that go with it. In Japan, during the Cherry Blossom season, department stores decorate with beautiful displays that incorporate the flower blossoms. Grocery stores offer special sakura-themed foods like sakura sugar, sakura mochi balls made of rice flower, or sakura ice cream. It is common to add petals from the sakura blossoms to each of these special seasonal foods which are only available at that time of year. Everywhere you go advertisements and promotions celebrate the blooming trees all around, and people’s attitudes are transformed by the beauty of the season. The Japanese seem happier and more festive at this time of year when their world becomes pink and rosy. It’s a similar transformation to the one that happens in America during Christmas time. The celebration is in the air.

So when our travel plans fell through, I set out to find the best Cherry Blossoms in Korea — although I kept my search to areas near my house in Seoul so that did limit things a bit. Still, I was hopeful and determined. I feel elated at the fact that there are several Cherry Blossom trees around the grounds of my apartment. In fact, there’s one tree that blooms just outside my kitchen window and since we’re on the 3rd floor, the top of the tree is nearly within arms length of my window. If I lean out just a bit, I can even smell the aroma of the blossoms. To say that this beautiful view delights me would actually be an understatement. It enraptures me beyond words and I secretly feel that I have my very own cherry blossom tree that was put there just for my own personal enjoyment.

Finding the perfect flower-viewing set up turned out to be more a quest in futility than anything else. I was looking for that perfect spot to lay down a blanket, eat an Asian picnic lunch with gimbap or onigiri and write Haiku under the fragrant blossoms. My first trip was out to Yeoido Park where the Cherry Blossom Festival is held each year. While the park was nice and offered beautiful grounds, a traditional Korean pavilion, a playground for the kids and some pretty walking paths, there were no Cherry Blossom trees in the park at all. The only trees lined the busy, busy road and during my visit in early April, the flowers weren’t quite in full bloom. I had heard that the festival was supposed to be cancelled due to the horrible sinking of a South Korean Naval ship, but I later discovered that the festival did go forward. Still, the walking path along the sidewalks didn’t allow for lounging around with a blanket in the busy walkway.

Here are some photos from the Yeoido Park area. Click the link for more info about the park.

Fresh green leaves sprout from this interesting-looking tree in Yeoido Park.

A traditional Korean Pavilion

The first section of Yeoido Park is the Traditional Korean Forest section.

The sign shows the various paths available to visitors.

This nice little playground was great for the kids and gave them some time to play and me time to sit with a can of hot tea from the convenience store right next to the playground.

The Sakura Trees were not quite in full bloom and the busy road way made walking along the sidewalk feel very hectic and dangerous. We were constantly worried one of the kids would step off the curb and cars were hurrying along.

We parked in the parking lot at Hangang Park along the river and walked through this underpass to cross the street and get to the park. The kids loved this part!

Writing For Kids & Staying Current On Research

February 12, 2010

As an educator and also a children’s writer, I have found it important in my own writing process to stay in touch with things happening in the schools, libraries and homes of children. It’s easy, in the quest to “get published” to sway your writing towards what you think a publisher or editor might actually want to buy, rather than staying the course and writing what you know kids want and need. We have to remember who our audience ultimately is and trust ourselves to write or illustrate from that knowledge.

One way I stay connected, since I’m not working in a classroom right now, is to keep my membership current on organizations that compliment my writing pursuits. I frequently visit websites of several education associations, subscribe to education journals and follow the groups on Twitter. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is one I always stay connected with, as is National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

For artists, there’s also the National Art Education Association.  They have a really excellent website that always offers me something new to learn.  This is also a great site for parents because it offers many ideas for artistic activities with kids.

There are many more organizations that can provide knowledge as well as inspiration to children’s writers and illustrators, and while it’s certainly not a required thing to do, I’ve found it helps me keep in touch with learning trends, classroom needs and the latest research related to both. I think this knowledge also helps make me a better writer for children — and, after all, they are the ones for whom we write!

National Association for the Education of Young Children | NAEYC

NAEYC On FaceBook

NAEYC On Twitter

NAEYC On YouTube

NCTM On FaceBook

NCTM On Twitter

NSTA On FaceBook

NSTA On Twitter

NSTA On You Tube

NSTA Blogging

NAEA On FaceBook

NAEA On Twitter

International Reading Association

IRA On FaceBook

IRA On Twitter

Seoul’s Chicken Art Museum – A Place of All Things Fowl

One fun and interesting-looking destination on my “to do” list is a visit to the Chicken Museum in Seoul. Twice my husband, kids and I have set out in search of this place, hidden somewhere amidst the winding streets and Hanok homes in the old, historic Bukchon area of downtown Seoul. Twice, we have failed to find it.

However, recently there was a breakthrough. I found a detailed map in English with the location highlighted. I think on our third attempt we could certainly find it now. The next time we set out, I’m sure I’ll end up with some great photos, but unitl then, I found this very funny article about it posted on the LA Times website.

I love the quote from Ms. Kim, “I do not buy luxuries. I don’t buy cosmetics. I am only indulged in chickens…”

And in case you want to take a visit there before I do, you can follow this link to the website of the Chicken Art Museum in Seoul.
Here’s the full text of the article below:

South Korea museum holds an odd collection of brooding artworks

The Museum of Chicken Art in Seoul displays carvings, paintings, embroidery and other works that celebrate the hen and rooster.

The Museum of Chicken Art in Seoul has 2,000 exhibits of carvings, paintings, puppets and more that celebrate the hen and rooster. (Ju-min Park / Los Angeles Times)

By Ju-min Park

October 19, 2009

Reporting from Seoul – For years, Kim Cho-gang kept her oddball art collection out of sight, hidden away in a basement.

She admits hers is a rather unusual assemblage: wood carvings, paintings, puppets and embroidery — all celebrating the lowly chicken. There are roosters and hens big and small, birds depicted clucking, scratching and crowing.

Since 2006, these works have had a public place to roost.

Setting aside her lifelong dream of opening a child-care center, the 70-year-old former public health professor runs the Seoul Museum of Chicken Art, a private facility containing all things fowl.

Kim is crazy about chickens, including their looks and their historical and cultural significance in countries across the world.

“I do not buy luxuries. I don’t buy cosmetics. I am only indulged in chickens,” said Kim, an elegant gray-haired woman with glittering chicken earrings and a multicolored rooster brooch. “Whenever I make money, I mostly spend it buying chicken art pieces.”

In 2000, the South Korean government passed a law that opened the door to for-profit private museums of all kinds. Since then, Seoul has become the home of a wide variety of private museums containing collections of what many might consider offbeat subjects.

There’s a museum dedicated to kimchi, one of Korea’s national dishes. There’s a dumpling museum, a sex museum, and showcases for rocks, masks, owls and traditional knots — many in the same neighborhood as Kim’s museum.

“There are so many Koreans who are passionate about collecting,” said Kim In-whoe, president of the National Trust Cultural Heritage Fund of Korea. By opening a museum, he says, they can try to turn their passions into profits.

Kim Cho-gang’s gallery shows that the East and West have something in common when it comes to the chicken — an emblem of luck, fertility and wealth across cultures.

The rooster was once within a whisker of being picked as the national bird of the U.S., Kim says. In Russia, she notes, chickens signify arrogance and in China, they are a symbol of the zodiac. In Korea, they represent wealth, fertility and protection from evil.

Kim got her start as a chicken icon collector decades ago when she came to the conclusion that the bird’s image wasn’t fully appreciated. She was taken aback to see puppet roosters burned as firewood in the countryside. Those roosters were originally attached to a traditional Korean funeral casket.

“I saved a few of the unlit puppet roosters and brought them to Seoul,” she said.

Kim collected chicken art while on vacation and during her academic travels. When she retired a few years ago, she decided to share her acquired knowledge of chicken culture.

Scholars say her fascination with chicken art is far from outlandish.

“The chicken is one of man’s universal livestock, absorbed in various cultures, but barely known,” said Kim In-whoe of the National Trust Cultural Heritage Fund.

The tiny Museum of Chicken Art, in a fashionable neighborhood not far from South Korea’s Constitutional Court, contains 2,000 exhibits. Many artists have donated or lent their works on the winged creature to the museum.

The art is not for sale, but Kim Cho-gang charges a small admission fee and sells souvenirs and postcards.

A brace of chicken sculptures from Mexico seems to cackle in a doorway while a roomful of chicken-shaped charms from Europe reflect light nearby.

There’s a display of bronze, wooden and porcelain fighting cocks from countries that ban cockfighting and those that regard the battles as national sport.

And there is a collection of the wooden roosters that got Kim started as a chicken arts expert: A showroom features kokdoo, bright sculptures that were once a common decoration on Korean funeral biers.

Yu Yeon-joon, a former art magazine writer and freelance photographer, marveled at the range of color at Kim’s museum. “If Picasso was alive, he’d extol flamboyance of chicken arts,” said Yu as he took in the gallery one recent morning.

But not every visitor to Kim’s chicken menagerie gets the point.

One walked in with an unusual question: Does the museum serve chicken soup?

Park is in The Times’ Seoul Bureau.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Book Giveaways at Harper Collins Children’s Books

Wow, this week at the Harper Collins Children’s Books website, there’s a lot of great book stuff going on! First is a series of give-aways for the Awesome Adventure! Sweepstakes. For the next 10 weeks (through March) HC is offering up a weekly give away of a book from their book list coupled with either an iPod Touch or a Nintendo DSi. Totally cool.

This week’s prize is a copy of the book, The Shadow Project by Herbie Brennan and an Apple iPod Touch 8GB. In order to participate you’ll have to spend some time playing games on their website, but if you have the time to spare, go for it. I doubt I’ll be able to put in nearly enough play time, but I suppose I’ll keep it in mind when I need to do something mindless to clear my head.

Anyway, just thought others would like to know about it. Maybe I’ll see you on the leader boards!

http://www.awesomeadventurebooks.com/sweepstakes.aspx

Another giveaway at Harper, enter for a chance to win a prize pack featuring Flat Stanley’s latest adventures! I just love Flat Stanley.

More cool stuff at Harper, get a sneak peek at The Thirteenth Princess, a new fairy tale from Diane Zahler.

The Thirteenth Princess

Read the full version of Duck at the Door by Jackie Urbanovic online with Harper’s “Browse Inside Full Access.”

Duck at the Door

And last, see how your child can enter to win a tour of NASA’s Space Center Houston and Johnson Space Center in the Cosmic Sweepstakes in honor of the new book from New York Times bestselling author Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Cosmic Sweepstakes

I think Harper Collins has a fantastic website and they offer a ton of stuff for parents, teachers, librarians and writers. After you spend some time exploring the links, be sure to sign up for their online newsletter so you can be informed of new stuff as it comes out.  And, let me know what you think of the site!

Chung, Kyoung-Yeon Art Exhibition

January 18, 2010 — On our trip to the Seoul Art Center to see the “Science In Art” exhibit, we happened to pass this wonderful gallery exhibition by Kyoung-Yeon Chung. We happened upon a wall of tie-dyed gloves and were compelled inside to see more. The exhibit was free, which is always a plus. What I loved about the show was the unexpected feeling that all the hands gave off. The gloves were stuffed making it look like there were actually hands inside. The way the artist intertwined the fingers and put hand upon hand made it feel like a loving, supportive, compassionate gesture. It gave off a sense of acceptance, of all these hands joining and supporting each other.

Her more monochromatic designs with shades of brown and cream were also fascinating. Here are some photos from the brochure.