36 Hours in Seoul, South Korea

Leandra’s travel diary


Previously, Leandra chronicled a quick trip for Paris Fashion Week. This time, she travelled to Seoul with an awkward travel partner (her brother) for only 36 hours.

In the November travel issue of T Magazine, Deborah Needleman wrote in her letter from the editor, “Traveling is artificial almost by definition: It is a way in which we step out of our daily existence and seek an experience that is distinct from our lives.” It felt very fortuitous to read this at the start of a 14-hour journey to Seoul, South Korea last week. Everything about the trip fascinated me even while our wheels were still planted on American soil; the pumpkin porridge special on the flight’s menu, the fact that Jerry Maguire was listed as “New and Noteworthy” among the plethora of even more outdated titles in inflight entertainment. Would I have cared at all had I not been in pursuit of the experience that is distinct from our lives?

I’ve been thinking a lot about travel lately — particularly because of something else Needleman pointed out in her letter. Because of the Internet, we can go anywhere and see anything without ever actually moving. So what makes travel worth it?

I went to a Thai restaurant for dinner when I got to Seoul, where I ate spicy green papaya salad not unlike a dish I typically order at a Nolita restaurant called Lovely Day, and drank a glass of Sancerre that was imported from the South of France. I could have been anywhere (only I had to point to the dish that I wanted when summoning help from the lovely server). Something about the experience felt eerily inauthentic but I’m not sure I’d have even noticed had I not felt an urgency to see everything. I’d be in Korea for only 36 hours, and I wanted the most genuine experience I could get my Snapchat on.

The following day, in the five hours that I had to spare between work (modeling in a look book, executing an appearance at a shop called Rare Market), I went to a “traditional” market to look around. Women planted themselves on the floor, cooking cocoons which are incidentally a choice protein option for Korean body builders and the like. There were seafood stands not unlike those you might find in the thick of Manhattan’s Chinatown only the marine life looked entirely alien. There were dried fish for sale on rods everywhere. Mattresses and hanboks* sold alongside one another. And there were cookies literally called “Poop cookies” being barbecued next door. I saw pig noses and horse guts and fish eyeballs — delicacies that passersby were enjoying in depth but that made me feel shallow and closed-minded because I was grossed out. Then we walked outside and there sat on the ground more women, some wearing shoes, some not, to which my brother, who had tagged along, noted, “I feel like you would wear that outfit, Leandra.”

I looked over and noticed a middle aged woman carving root vegetables on a blanket just next to another woman, selling whatever she could fit into a suitcase that was neatly laid out on the ground. The first woman was wearing a light pink hanboks* and yellow flare pants. Her slippers were neatly positioned to her left. My brother was right. I would wear that. I’d wear a lot of what I’d seen, chiefly the clothes on most of the men, who maintained a proclivity for pleated denim.

By the time night fell and my appearance was to start, I was exposed to a different genre of Koreans. These were women who lived fashion. Who appeared as though their lives were a lavish game of dress up. They took so much pride in their appearance — the hats and intricate iPhone cases and dangling jewelry and bright handbags, I was floored by the enthusiasm that accompanied their outfits. It was almost like they were playing fashion week, only all the pretension was absent. It was invigorating and reminded me what attracted me to clothes in the first place: how good they can make you feel if you just let them do their job.

Following the event, I had dinner with the owner of the store and her husband. They took me to their favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the district near an American army base. I couldn’t eat much — most of the food was lathered in meat sauce or doused in seafood juice, and I’m kosher. But they shared the story of how they met (through friends), why she wouldn’t take his last name (no one does that, what’s the point?) and what they do on weekends (work). It had been 25 hours since I’d landed in South Korea and though my peek into their culture was short and lacking nuance, what I found was this: the people are incredibly kind, I felt safe on the streets, there is a lot of respect between the people in their interactions and man, those Koreans love to party. The quality of life seems genuine, an adjective that I don’t use enough to describe mine — figuring that out made the trip so worth it.

Feature collage by Elizabeth Tamkin, lookbook images via Rare Market.

*Word changed from inappropriate use of “kimono” to “hanbok” to properly address the style of robe. 


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  • I felt woefully underdressed when I was there a few years ago. Those women (and men) sure know how to dress!

  • Brit

    I’m dying to get to Seoul! Mainly for the skincare and sheet masks.

    PS- Love your hair this length!

  • Charisse Hazlett

    I live in Seoul, and it is a very safe city full of kind-hearted people. I am so happy that you enjoyed this city as much as I do! BTW the cocoons are dried jujubes (Korean date) and delicious!

  • Hannah Lee

    Sounds like a short but sweet trip to Seoul. Hope you can come again for a longer period of time. And yes, Seoul is a city that never sleeps and can throw down a party at any time. It’s quite amazing how they function with such little sleep!

    Also, those “cocoons” are dried Jujubes.
    But they do eat small cocoon looking bugs that are boiled (not brave enough to try them yet!)

  • brittany

    wow leandra your hair looks beautiful. such luscious

  • coco

    im korean girl who is big fan of you. Im so glad that you had good time in Korea. i hoped to meet you at rare market. but i missed that. so sadddd.

    please Visit again Korea, Leandra!

    btw i think that you must have seen ‘Han-bok(korean traditional clothes)’ when you went to traditional market. not ‘Kimono (Japanese traditional clothes). i just wanted to let you know that while i read this posting 🙂

  • Cat

    Kimono – not Korean! Hanbok’s the word.

  • Stephanie
  • Lilli

    I just died because this reminds me of old school MR and I re-realised why I fell in love with you.

  • Megan Werther

    Isn’t it also great how unique their way of dressing is? I thought about this during Tokyo fashion week in October. I mean, every city obviously has its own signature when it comes to fashion. But whereas an “outsider” can easily mix up French, American and British style, Asian fashion is just so different – you can easily tell it apart I guess.
    And isn’t it amazing how effortless they seem to incorporate their culture? You see manga- and doll- and Kanji- inspired elements, while still being incredibly progressive. A exceptional way of mixing tradition and future I think!

  • JK

    Sorry to ruin it, Leandra… but it seems like jujube is labeled as cocoon on your photo. They do look similar though.

    • Leandra Medine

      I was told they are cocoons by a local!!!!!!

  • Claire

    Did you use a film camera? What type of camera did you use for those awesome pix?

  • SarahQ

    Seems like your short trip didn’t allow you to pay much respect to your hosts and employers… Or learn the proper names of items you photographed. As previously mentioned, jujubes and hanbok. The condescension comes across loud and clear in your descriptions though.

  • Jen

    Hanbok is what you call traditional Korean clothing, not kimono. Kimono is a traditional Japanese clothing. Please be culturally aware, especially if you are writing about another country.

  • ck

    i wanted to like this piece, but ended up hating this so much. you didn’t know or take the time to ask what korean ‘hanbok’ is? it’s not a kimono and, quite frankly, it’s pretty culturally tone deaf to call it that. and the first thing you did was to eat at a thai restaurant when you’re talking about wanting to immerse yourself in the country as much as possible? r.i.p. my subscription, my follows, my likes. sorry man repeller. i just expected better (which, given where the bar was apparently set, is not very high) from you.

    • Leandra Medine

      Hi Ck,
      I’m really sorry that you were offended by my misrepresenting a garment — its been changed to reflect the appropriate title given the comments here. Eating at the thai restaurant was not necessarily a meditated decision to skip Korean food (a challenge for a kosher vegetarian) — our hosts took us there straight from the airport, but I’m mostly upset about this comment because I obviously failed to convey my fascination and enthusiasm for the very brief time — which was mentioned as not enough to immerse myself in such a layered and textured culture. Either way, I’ll be sad to see you go.

      • ck

        hi leandra — appreciate the thoughtful response. i took a little more time to reflect on your post and my reaction to it. what got to me more than anything is that i feel (and perhaps wrongly/mistakenly) that korean culture is pervasive enough that this sort of thing shouldn’t happen — especially when the person behind the pen is someone as savvy, intelligent, observant, and thoughtful as you. i am admittedly still not thrilled/comfortable with the post, as i think there were a few lost opportunities (note: korea has amazing buddhist/temple food — which, despite the carnivore that i am, i relish eating when i am back home). but, i appreciate you taking the time to write. i’ll be back. and i hope that you’ll make it back to korea, as well.

        • Leandra Medine

          I plan to — And actually! I ate a vegetarian Japanese restaurant that was popular among religious buddhists because of its vegetarian options. It was hands down our favorite and best meal (you had to order the good 20 min before arriving because it takes that long to steam) — anyway, grateful for the comment and reply here. It’s always a learning process and I feel like the best part of this job is that I get to connect with people who won’t tolerate…what doesn’t deserve to be tolerated

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  • Angie Yoo

    Those are not cocoons! They are dried dates, fantastic for your health – usually mixed in ‘Chinese’ herbal meds. Has an amazing earthy, sweet flavour.

  • yk

    last word on kimono- given the history between japan & korea, mistaking hanbok for kimono is a big faux pas, a big one. but leandra is like 20 right? so she can be forgiven for not knowing about all that. dont mean to sound snarky.

    • Leandra Medine

      no i dont i can be forgiven, i’m 26 and also have access to the internet like everyone else so a little bit of fact checking could have gone a long way in attempting to not make me sound like a dumb ass

  • Sarah

    You should know that the owner of Rare Market is the sister of G-Dragon, an insanely popular Korean idol. Anyways, hope you enjoyed your stay!

    • Leandra Medine

      ONE of the owners — the owner referenced here is her partner, who used to have a shop called “Shop Fashion Week”

  • YOMama

    You look drop-dead gorge!!!! Wayne said it best, “We’re not worthy!”…The outfits, the fresh face, the SHOES!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

  • dina

    Can you please change the caption on photo 29 to correctly label the food that is shown in the photograph? Even after four people have commented about them being juju berries and not cocoons, I’m shocked and insulted that the misinformation about your trip to Korea still remains and no change was made.

  • Ciccolini Ricearoni

    You know Leandra, you look marvelous in a host of vestments and accessories, but I must say that your modelling these tasty bits from Korea were truly resonant. Between when I first read this post and now, a good three weeks have past… I still remember how I felt when I saw this and have returned to enjoy it yet another time. Very fabu and totally kool.

  • cheryln

    Was that Eric Nam at the end of the video?

    • Leandra Medine


  • Shabrina Choirunnisa
  • indeed a pleasant tourist trips, meet with new, different habits in other countries which can not be found in our country. I wanted a vacation to south korea. you be the lucky people who can get there.

    best regard

  • Ncky

    I’m so glad that you had a good time. Fashion and Beauty in Korea is really popping, so I bet you will go to Seoul again soon.
    Next time, to take your experience to the next level, immerse yourself with other Koreans in their 20s. The whole visiting traditional markets, and eating something ‘crazy’ isn’t real Korean life any more. More about modern Korean & Seoul culture on http://www.neonbutmore.com

  • Lily

    The article itself is brilliant, but it’s these photos that get me… Here lie some of the greatest images known to man, and the first MR article I ever read. And my favourite outfits of yours, EVER. I’m still not over the sleeves thing

  • wow south korea, how beautiful north korea ??