The exact origin of the phrase, “your neck of the woods,” isn’t known. Researchers date it back to the American Colonial period, where a “neck” referred to a particular geographic region. Therefore, “your neck of the woods,” was taken to mean an area to where one was traveling. In the 21st Century, travelers have a vast array of resources to assist in planning their journey: countless blogs, high quality videos, and an assortment of professionally written travel guides. However, many of these guides lack the insight a local resident can provide. This month, The Korea Blog begins a new series exploring what it’s like living in modern Korea by those who know it best – residents intimately familiar with their neck of the woods. In this first story, featured writer Steve Miller visits Graham Palmer, an American living in Gangbuk-gu (Mia Station, Line 4) who first came to Korea as an exchange student at Yonsei University. After falling in love with the country, he stayed to teach English and pursue learning more about the nation he had come to love.
After meeting Graham the first time, I could tell straight away he loved his area. When asked for a lunch recommendation, Graham had a favorite place he couldn’t wait to showcase. While many guide books will list restaurants, locals get the inside scoop on establishments, since they return time and time again, if they are worthy. When I asked Palmer what the name of the restaurant was, he drew a blank. Despite dining there repeatedly, he couldn’t recall anything other than the “cartoon pig” on the restaurant’s sign. Had one been relying on a guidebook, the search for food probably would have ended in disaster, but Graham knew of more restaurants. To get to them, we’d have to pass through his street local market, where I learned that it was his preferred place to buy fruits and vegetables.
Located about five blocks from Mia Station, the Sooyoo Golmok Market has just about everything. As with most local markets, the venders sell items for far cheaper than the big box retailers (Lotte Mart, eMart, and Home Plus). Palmer stated that he tried to buy as often as he could from these vendors to help support the local economy and business owners. On the off-chance that an item he needed couldn’t be found, he was able to get it inside the LotteSuper, a small neighborhood version of Lotte Mart.
Graham’s home wasn’t grand by any stretch of the imagination, but what it lacked in space, it made up for in views. From the rooftop, one peered down on the winding streets of Seoul or gazed on the beauty of Bukhan Mountain. Since his first choice for lunch still wasn’t open, Graham decided on taking me to the restaurant directly across from apartment building. It was a small family establishment, not included in any guidebook. It’s the place that only a local can take you and demonstrates the power of reaching out to Seoullites via social media and getting recommendations – they know the best places.
The final location Graham showed me was Hwagye Temple. It’s not one the major temples in Korea that tourists visit. The temple serves local residents and rests at the base of Bukhan Mountain. Graham found the temple by doing what he loves most – going out and purposefully getting lost in the hopes of finding something new. Hwagye Temple was built nearly 400 years ago and brilliantly represents traditional temple architecture. Taking the time to do such activities allows residents to find such hidden gems and develop relationships with those at the temple to learn more about Buddhism on a more meaningful level.
Next week we continue the series and get an insider’s look a Daejeon.