Interview Armoire: S(e)oul Searching

Meet Alexis! 

Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

The Urbanista Interview Armoire

The Interview Armoire is a new series where we feature fellow urbanistas who have a special story to share. These women have exciting travel tales and/or interesting takes on making the most of her city. There's something that shines about these savvy civilians, and we hope PBU sheds light on how they stand out.

We are elated to introduce our first interview feature and fellow urbanista, Alexis Jenkins! Alexis hails from the DC area and is currently a multimedia journalism student at the University of Maryland. Affectionately known to Dri & Krist as "Rapper Lexx," Alexis is truly an artist of many talents. She dabbles in everything from music and photography to film and culinary arts.

To give some background, Alexis worked for two years with The Diamondback, the University of Maryland's award-winning daily paper. She has also interned with The Baltimore Sun, Eyefull Food, and District Affiliates. Her work has been published in B, The Baltimore Sun, Vibe.com, MTV.com, the Eyefull Food App (which can be found in the App Store), Sinister Wisdom, The Diamondback, and several University of Maryland campus publications. 

Dri first mentioned Alexis as her travel partner on her trip to Seoul, South Korea. We contacted Alexis and asked for her perspective of the trip and are extremely happy to present this interview feature to our PBU readers!

Tell us what brought you to South Korea with Adrienne.

So where do I start... I've known Adrienne for 7 years - we met on the volleyball court - I call her my big sister, and when she asked if I wanted to visit the motherland with her it was a no brainer.

Adrienne's HU trip to China was the reason Korea even came into the atmosphere. Korea was a bucket list place for me like Egypt and Australia. I grew up traveling a lot as a child because my father's a military and commercial pilot, but Asia was unchartered territory.  Everything I knew about Korea came from either my dad's travel journeys or what I saw through the media. Korea was been exceptionally noticeable in recent years with the rise of K-Pop, but that had nothing to do with why I had to see it. 

Unlike Adrienne who has grown up with her Korean family, I did not.

My mother was placed in an American orphanage in Seoul at the age of three and given up for adoption within 6 months. All she knows is that her father was an African-American service member from the Korean War and her mother was Korean. She's never been back to Korea, she's never looked for her biological parents. If it wasn't for my middle name, painting of her in the orphanage, or her naturalization papers I might have never even cared to know more about Korea.

But at some point Korea became more important to my mom too. When I was in middle school my mother met someone from that was adopted from the same orphanage, five years prior.  Ms. Tamara, who is still a close family friend, is also Korean and Black. I think she made my mother want to learn more and so it became a long term journey our whole family embarked on. My mom learned to cook Korean dishes, found out the correct pronunciation of her birth name, and more.

You are a very expressive individual, using your fashion, music, photography, and videography all to make your personal statement. How expressive is the city of Seoul? What statement did its culture communicate to you?

When we got to Korea I had been traveling since 4 a.m. EST, when I arrived it was 3 p.m. the next day. I was physically exhausted, having slept less than 4 hours on the flight over, but I was so excited the adrenaline blocked everything else out. The ride from the airport to Hongdae was long, impressive, and also very elusive. I say impressive because their metro system was amazing: clean, simple, and had plenty English translations. I say elusive because at that point I couldn't tell what the trip had in store for us. 

When we came out of metro exit 9 at Hongik University, the deal was sealed. I was overwhelmed, my senses were inundated with scents of food, and there was bright colors everywhere I turned. Even as we traversed Seoul, nothing else was quite like Hongdae and the area around the university. It was young, and vibrant. At night people would come out and sing with their guitars, during the day the street was flooded with students. The area was expressive and Western in a lot of ways too. From the way that they dressed, to the vast variety of food, Hongdae was the best of both worlds. 

Metro in Seoul Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Metro in Seoul

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Metro cards! Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Metro cards!

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Hongdae  Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Hongdae 

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Hongdae Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Hongdae

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Food being prepared in Hongdae Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Food being prepared in Hongdae

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While Seoul as a whole is kind of caught between following the Western world and following tradition, Hongdae was not. It was the merger, a peak of what it meant to be Korean and still be worldly. 

When planning your trip, what was the one thing you knew you couldn't leave Seoul without doing?

When I was planning for Korea I only had two things on my agenda: to shop and to eat - which we did frequently. I have long recognized Korean casual fashion as the pinnacle of casual wear. I already shop on a lot of sites that provide Korean brands so for me shopping was what I wanted to do the most. I also wanted to eat a lot of Korean food, which was great because we lived in Hongdae where food was too plentiful. 

Myeong-dong, famous shopping district in Seoul Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Myeong-dong, famous shopping district in Seoul

Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

How were your accommodations; what was your first time hostel experience like?

As far as the hostel I was happily surprised, the place was very clean, well decorated, and fairly quiet too. I appreciated being able to go downstairs and enjoy a light breakfast every morning. It was also great having a deck on the main level and a balcony on the second level because they became my FaceTime spots. Since Seoul is 13 hours ahead of Maryland I was always talking to people in the off hours. Having a place to go without disturbing anyone else was really helpful. I'd recommend the hostel to anyone, it was in a great location, the staff was cool, and it was very inexpensive. 

Our hostel, Kpopstay Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Our hostel, Kpopstay

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Glimpse inside of Kpopstay Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Glimpse inside of Kpopstay

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What are your top memories from Korea?

When it comes to my favorite parts of Seoul the list is easily: BBQ in Hongdae, Spa Lei, The Korean War Memorial, and Dongdaemun. 

Korean BBQ is world renown and getting it in Korea was a no brainer. While we were there we had BBQ twice from two different places and got different cuts of meat both times. It was great because we got to see how each place puts their unique spin on it, not to mention the food was amazing. 

Korean BBQ Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Korean BBQ

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Spa Lei was an all women's jjimjilbang we spent a day at. A jjimjilbang is a traditional Korean spa. It featured several different types of pools and saunas. The hottest sauna topped out at 194 degrees! Whew. Anywho, the spa day was amazing, aside from the all inclusive elements we also had a hour long sports massage, a full body scrub, and dinner. We left the spa after 8 hours and only spent $90, something that's unheard of back here in the states. 

Now on to the Korean War Memorial, an unexpected favorite that we almost didn't get to see. The memorial is in Itaewon the International district, where the US Army base is. Therefore, there's a good amount of ex-pats there and lots of other international visitors. It was refreshing being in a place where so many people spoke English. It was so refreshing that we spent all day there walking around, eating, and browsing the shopping fare. By the time it came to see the memorial the sun had started setting. On the way there we got lost, by the time we got there we were pretty exhausted, but the memorial didn't really allow us to be. I'd never been to a memorial like it, it was a shipyard, and a beautiful tribute to the US' involvement all wrapped into one. It had tanks, planes, missiles, statues, and more. It was also moving because both Adrienne's and my grandfather had fought in the war. It was a somber moment that left me in awe and reflection of what a civil war does to a country. 

Korean War Memorial Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Korean War Memorial

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Aircraft with N Seoul Tower in the distance Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Aircraft with N Seoul Tower in the distance

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Tanks Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Tanks

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View of N Seoul Tower/Namsan Tower from the outskirts of US military base Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

View of N Seoul Tower/Namsan Tower from the outskirts of US military base

Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Lastly, Dongdaemun was one of the shopping districts. It was home to the night market, invisible yellow tents, and 26 malls. The malls are nothing like we know them in the states, in fact they're more like indoor markets. They stay open until the sunrises, and span several floors. We went into more than one mall that was 8 floors. As far as the night market, well that's what made Dongdaemun so amazing. You could find anything there, bargain, and compare prices. I bought some Nikes off the street, some wallets, and a t-shirt. Their prices were better than the mall and the selection was so vast. It was hard to not spend more money.

Dongdaemun Gate at night Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Dongdaemun Gate at night

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Cheonggyecheon Stream, Dongdaemun Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Cheonggyecheon Stream, Dongdaemun

Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Was a week enough travel time for you? Is there anything you missed out on that you must do next time?

A week in Korea was enough and not enough at the same time. For a first trip, we hit all of the Korean essentials with the exception of the DMZ (the border between North and South Korea). If we had more time we probably would have visited other cities in Korea or went to Japan for a day or two. However, I think a week was a good amount of time only because I know I'll be back. Korea was too amazing of a place for me not to see again. I was already planning a trip back before we left, so when it comes to Korea it's not "goodbye", it truly was "see you later".

Switching gears a bit and getting back to your expressive artistry I touched on earlier; why is photography important to you?

When it came to how I documented Korea via pictures my biggest goal was to capture the essence.

So many times pictures lack depth, and I didn't just want people to see a place with things, I wanted them to feel it.

Children playing in the fountain at Gwanghwamun Square Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Children playing in the fountain at Gwanghwamun Square

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Transaction at Manoffin Cafe in Itaewon Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Transaction at Manoffin Cafe in Itaewon

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Strangers in Itaewon Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Strangers in Itaewon

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Food vendors in Myeong-dong Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Food vendors in Myeong-dong

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Starbucks in Insa-dong Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Starbucks in Insa-dong

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To feel Seoul with fried street food in your nostrils, and cars honking because you decided to opt out of the nearby crosswalk. As a photojournalist, the pictures were very important to me. I'm still upset at the few days I didn't carry my camera on me, but oh well. Regardless the pictures are one of the most tangible things I brought back from Korea. I could show people where I was, what it looked like, how it felt, what I saw, and that was important to me.

Your portfolio displays really great, professional looking works of art. From rapping to directing videos, where do you hope your talents take you in life?

I hope all this art dabbling leads me back there someday and I hope my whole family can come too. As a college student I have no clue where these next couple years will pan out, but I could easily see myself back in Korea. Hopefully with an even sharper eye behind the lens, and some Korean language skills in my back pocket.

Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Source: alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com

Be sure to check out more pictures from Alexis' experience on her website: 

http://alexis-jenkins.squarespace.com/story-seoul-searching/