Shout-Out to the Writers in Songdo

Or anyone, with a laptop and a story to tell really. Now, amidst my ramblings, you must have discerned that the purpose behind this blog was to help people making the move to Songdo with information or tips – anything that I would have liked to have known about but was unable to find online before we moved. In that vein, I realise that I won’t have made use of all the local services or things to do around here, so I invite you, the regular reader to submit a guest-post sharing your finds with whoever is out there… Now, at the risk of sounding a bit douche-y, guest-posts will be published at my discretion depending on what the publishing schedule is looking like. If I’ve already got a post planned on the same / a similar topic, then I might get in touch to do a collaboration, but rest assured – you will get all the credit for your words!

If you’re interested in writing a guest post, drop me a line with any questions, or indeed your post itself at londonerinsongdo@gmail.com. And some pictures to accompany it. Ideally one of yourself, so that our readers know who is telling the day’s stories. I’m happy to help with any editing/proofing if you want it  but hopefully shouting out to the folks with different Songdo-knowledge to me will make this space more useful to our new and existing Songdo-ites!

So, that’s sort of it for today. I met someone yesterday who will hopefully be providing out first guest-post and that prompted me to call out to others, so let’s see what comes of it. I will share one tip for the afternoon with you. Whilst I’ve been sorting out a bunch of admin, I’ve had the wonderful ladies of Fairy Cleaning Songdo (search on Facebook) whizzing around the apartment making it sparkle. What usually takes me the best part of a day to do on my own was accomplished in two hours with minimal fuss and bother. I’ll definitely be asking them back!

Right-io, time to get my step count up and make the most of today’s glorious weather… Happy Tuesday folks and get writing!

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Incheon International Airport

This post is a super short one, but waaaaaayyyyyyy overdue – I love Incheon Airport. My first trip visiting it was in December 2012, when I was in transit en route to Vietnam, so when Raj suggested we move to Korea knowing that I love the airport was a big tick in the pro-column. (Yeah, it was a pretty easy decision to move here overall.) So just in time for summer holidays, here’s everything I know about the airport:

Earlier this year, a new terminal was added to the vast expanse of land that is the airport and in various Facebook groups, I regularly see people questioning which terminal they need to go to:

Terminal 2: Korean Air, Delta, Air France & KLM

Terminal 1: All other airlines.

It’s not hard and it is clearly written on the airport website so do make sure you check before you head to the airport. It takes about 10-15 minutes longer (depending on how fast you drive) to get to Terminal 2 so you need to factor that in.

Airport Map

I haven’t been to Terminal 2 myself, but I’ve heard tell that there is a Shake Shack for all your dining needs before you go through Security, so you might want to factor that into your arrival time at the airport – I know I will be.

Terminal 1 is a major entertainment hotspot..there is a CGV, a variety of restaurants and, I’m told, a Jimjibang (spa) all before security. Once you go through security, there is the usual fare – some duty-free shopping and some food but the real secret tip in terminal 2 is this: if you have to take the shuttle to the other half of the terminal when departing (pretty much all airlines except Asiana in my experience) then if you don’t have your own lounge access, head towards the Cathay Lounge (4th floor) and instead of turning left into the business class lounge, turn right towards a whole bunch of recliners. These fill up fast so get there quick. It’s not the greatest picture that I took as I felt slightly voyeuristic with all those people snoozing, so I did a casual walk-and-snap-by to give you an idea..

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If you’ve been reading from the early days, you’ll know that when we turned up with all our suitcases and hand-baggage, we took a call-van  to our new home in Songdo, but generally, you can get a taxi from outside the airport or even the airport limousine if you don’t have a lot of stuff. Our transportation of choice is to drive though – the free parking for diplomatic plates more than make up for the 5,500won each way you spend on bridge tolls.

One thing I am on the hunt for on my next airport visit will be where visitors can rent SIM Cards/phones from…. It’s super hard to get a ‘Pay-as-you-go’ SIM card here on a temporary basis, so the options for visitors are:

(1) Use their international data

(2) Hire a Wifi-egg and carry it around

(3) Rent a SIM Card and/or phone if you need it.

But more on this when I figure it out..

Hmmmm, what else what else? I think that’s it, but as I travel to and from London for this year’s home leave I will pay more attention and update! Happy travelling folks…

 

Seoul-Diaries…and a like-new PC

So last week, I mentioned that I was making my first solo-drive into Seoul and I’m pleased to report that I put on my big-girl pants and did exactly that. Big wins in life for me in May eh?

Now, I’ve driven into Seoul before, but usually Raj is sitting next to me and directing / keeping an eye on which lane I need to be in while I chatter (he is not a chatterer, but I more than make up for it) but I decided that enough is enough and I needed to start making the journey by myself. Plus, Naver maps having a version in English (thank you Pyeongchang Olympics) is the best thing that ever happened to driving in Korea, so I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult.

So as I mentioned, I contacted Phil, of Phil’s Computer Repsitory via Facebook, after his company was recommended to me (Thanks goes to local PT Bryce!). I had previously been in touch with the Korea Mac-PC Guys (also via Facebook), but, although they were super friendly and helpful online, I preferred the thought of going into Seoul and actually speaking to someone face-to-face over shipping my poor broken PC far away from home. (Yes, I ascribe feelings to inanimate objects. All our plates and cutlery get rotated so that everyone gets used equally and nobody feels left out. It’s something you’ll either get used to or work hard to ignore about me.)

Phil is located in the electronics area of Seoul – Yongsan. From Songdo Central Park, you can take the subway to Bupyeong and then change to the dark blue line straight to Yongsan. In my very technical directional sense, Yongsan is to the right of Hongdae – along the river and then up a bit. Easy peasy. Phil asks that you make an appointment to go and see him, so I set a time for Thursday 17th and he sent me his address in Korean and English, as well as his office hours:

Address:서울특별시 용산구 한강로2가 16-1 선인상가 21동 3층 242호

Seoul Yongsan-gu Hangangro-2ga 16-1 Sunin Plaza 21 Building 3rd Floor #242

Office Hours: Monday to Friday: 2pm – 10PM  Saturday: 2PM to 10PM

Yongsan

From Songdo, Naver took me through Incheon to get into Seoul, and luckily, the weather in Korea had been pretty miserable, so there weren’t too many people on the road which meant that it was a pretty easy drive – about an hour (well, my failing phone meant it took me an hour fifteen to get there, but that’s not so bad). I parked in a random building car park that I found when Naver said I had arrived but had I driven around a bit, I could have found the car park for the building that Phil’s office is in. Anyway, the point is that parking around there was relatively painless, so I’d make the drive in the future rather than trying out the subway.

From where I had parked, I found the back entrance to the building super easily – it was right next to a HUGE NH bank. Once inside, I was already on the 2nd floor, so it was just one floor up to the 3rd. Then, I had fun trying to figure out how to get to his unit. I spent a good 40 minutes wandering around, but it was OK, I had some time to kill before his office hours technically started. Phil quickly found my message on FB messenger and got to work – scanning my hard drive to show there were no corruptions and explaining what he was going to do – in my case, it was a simple OS re-install and as all my data was either on the cloud or on my hard drive, there was nothing to recover. We even talked about future fixes that I might want – as and when my long suffering hard drive konks out, he can replace the hard drive and I can continue to use the same machine, or he’ll buy my old machine off me. He talked me through the price list and for an extra 5,000 won, offered to ship my computer back to me. With the minor fixes I needed, he was optimistic that he’d have it back to me by Saturday, or the following Monday at the latest. He even gave me some advice on Raj’s Macbook and threw in a free Korean-style plug for my laptop, so I could stop using an adapter. AWESOME.

Leaving the building, I went out through the front and noticed that it is right across the street from the iPark Mall (and so, Yongsan station.) Super easy to find, and here is a picture of the front of the building for you:

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Then, my lovely Naver maps and I made our way back to Songdo..I was keen to get out of Seoul before the post-work traffic started up! Within an hour of me reaching home, I got a message from Phil saying he had fixed my computer and it was being shipped out immediately – to arrive in Songdo on Friday. AWESOME. I’ve now had just under a week of using my as-good-as-new laptop with no complaints and I know exactly where I will go for my next upgrade! Finally, electronics in Korea that aren’t more expensive than back home… #winning.

 

 

Happy Birthday Buddha

This year, Buddha’s Birthday falls on the 22nd May and as per every year, there are a host of festivals and celebrations in the lead up to celebrate. This year is the first year that Raj and I have been in town and able to go to the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul – one of the main celebrations that takes place and I’ve heard so much about it, and insta-envied so many pictures that I was pretty excited!

There are two main Buddhist temples in Seoul, Bongeunsa (봉은사)  which is located near COEX in Gangnam – and I understand does a very nice vegan Korean lunch every day of the week, and Jogyesa, (조계사) which is in Insadong and where the majority of the festivities take place.

In the few weeks leading up to the parade, you see beautiful lanterns started to decorate the streets of Seoul (and elsewhere – I’ve spied a few of the more normal style lanterns in Incheon and around Songdo) all building up to the main event – the parade, which took place on Saturday 12th May.

The parade starts at Dongguk University around 5pm and works its way along Jongro, going through Myeongdong and winding up at Jogyesa temple. If the weather is nice, people start gathering along the route from about 4pm to get a good view of whats going on. And if you watch the parade from the start of the route, at the end of the parade group, observers are invited to join in and dance along the street with the performers! If you join un around Jonggak station, there will be plenty of extra activities to keep you occupied while you wait for the parade to come past!

Unfortunately it was pouring with rain the entirety of Saturday so we didn’t spend as much time watching the parade as planned, but we did get a good hour of viewing time in and I’d definitely revisit the parade next year when (hopefully) the weather is better!

For the days after the parade, there are lots of little celebrations all around Seoul, so it’s worth spending a few days exploring all that the festival has to offer.

Tomorrow is my first solo drive to Seoul, to Yongsan specifically, as I plan to visit Phil’s Computer Repository  (I contacted him via Facebook – obvs) to see if Phil can fix my laptop. Hopefully it’s a yes and you can expect a post on it later this month!

You Can Do It Even If you Can’t B&Q It

Yeah, I know. the title really only makes sense if you are (1) British (2) have a memory for old TV adverts and (3) over a certain age. Seeing as I fit all three requirements, I went with it anyway. Keeping it short and instructional today, but it still counts as writing a post and keeping me ahead of my fortnightly posts goal! Yay me!

I’ve been taking advantage of the glorious May weather recently and doing whatever errands I can by foot instead of driving and yesterday, as I strolled to the hardware store to buy some lightbulbs, it occurred to me that I hadn’t shared with you guys where you could do the same.

Lightbulbs are sold in most of the major box stores (aka supermarkets) as well as in Daiso, but I find that the best priced and longest lasting ones come from the hardware store. Called ‘mom&pop’ stores (Another American-ism that I am fighting to adopt) there are a few of these dotted around Songdo, but I pretty much always go to the same one. It is easy to recognise it, by the plethora of ladders, brooms and other D-I-Y-ish type things decorating the outside. The particular one I go to is by the Prugio 600 apartments (flats! I mean flats!!) and run by a very nice middle aged couple who don’t speak English. The first time I went, I took the old lightbulb with me so that they could match it to the correct one in the store, and now I still take empty boxes just to be on the safe side. They’ve gotten used to that and always throw away my empty boxes for me, so that that’s handy.

As well as lightbulbs, you can meet all of your tool needs and probably even get some ply wood or plasterboard etc for mini projects at home. I’ve seen paints and varnishes, soldering irons (Raj refuses to let me become a soldering expert. It’s so unfair. I’m currently working out how to smuggle my dad’s old solder from England into Korea so I can practice my skills anyway, but that’s another story for another day) and all sorts of other goodies. Of course, before I discovered this place we copped out and supplemented our meagre tool supply from England with a couple of Ikea sets, and to be honest, that’s fine for us, but for those handier folks among you, this hardware store is the place to go.

Another useful thing is that you can get, what I technically call ‘the picture hangy things’ at this store. Yo’ll find most of the apartments (flats!) have picture tracks in the ceiling, so you need to find the hanging wires that screw into the tops of frames or hook onto the back of them in order to hang your prints. I was buying these on the ground floor (Korean first floor) of Lotte for 6,500won each and the good thing about these ones, is that they came with both the screw and hook attachment and the wire is super thin, so you can hardly notice it hanging up. However, if you are less fussed about that and know whether you need screws or hooks, you can get the same thing at the hardware store for 3,000won a pop. Every penny counts and all that.

So go, check out the bursting shelves and get your step count up while you are at it.

Note: I can’t do a map today because my laptop has imploded and I’m waiting to take it to the recommended computer fix it guru in Seoul. In the meantime I’m using Raj’s Mac and although it is supposed to be fancier and better at these things, a lot of it comes down to user ability and I am firmly a PC person. So here’s a picture of the outside of the store – it’s on the corner of Haedoji-ro and Convensia-Daero.. have a wander, you’ll find it!

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Pasta & Jewelry

Two of my favourite things. I could have totally been a Roman Empress eating all the pasta in my recliner draped in jewels brought to me by my minions… **dreams about what could have been…**

Anyways, I know last week I said I was aiming for fortnightly posts, but since then I have had two new finds that I had to share:

(1) Pasta

I miss good pasta. Don’t get me wrong, the regular dried variety in different shapes and sizes is readily available in all the local stores, but fresh pasta was very nearly a thing of the past. Ravioli and Tortellini are things that I was yet to come by here, and despite the fact that last year, I did manage to make fake ravioli using frozen mandu wrappers from Emart, are things I continue to miss eating. So much so, that I have been considered buying a pasta roller and making my own (I know, I know, WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME????). Whilst doing my research, it was Facebook to the rescue, as I happened upon the amazing Homemade Pasta – Amelia Gastronomia. I can’t link to the page but seriously, log into FB and search for this group and let the pictures of the Amelia’s food speak for themselves. She even delivers to Songdo and the ravioli freezes beautifully. Dinner in less than 3 minutes? Yespleaseandthankyou any day of the week.

(2) Jewellery

Along with learning how to take care of a car myself, one of my many steps towards becoming a bona-fide adult is managing my own jewellery repairs. Time to stop handing over broken things to Amma and letting her return them to me in better than new condition. The problem is, how to go about finding someone you trust enough to leave your jewellery with, especially when communication is not the easiest, even with Google Translate? Well first, I turned to the online community on, yes, you guessed it – Facebook. And I was able to get a few recommendations but they were all Seoul-based, and I was definitely looking for something closer to home. Also, as I understand it (and I might be wrong on this front as it is all gleaned from other expats) when you leave jewellery at a jewellers, it isn’t necessarily covered by insurance in the same way it would be at a jeweller in the UK. Then I asked my trainer, in Incheon, who said he hadn’t used a jeweller locally himself, but he had heard of a place that was recommended and nearby and he offered to go with me to act as translator. I took him up on the offer but unfortunately, the jeweller was closed that day. Never mind, next time I went to the gym, I got there early and went to the shop myself. I showed them my broken necklace and the young chap declared it impossible to fix. So I walked back towards the gym and happened across another store, and thought I might as well try my luck. With a bit of charades and pointing at the calendar, I worked out that if I left the chain with them, they’d have it ready for me the following week. I took photos of my chain and the shop, got a receipt and paid my hefty fee of 3,000 won and took a chance. The VERY NEXT DAY I got a text saying it was ready to collect (thank you Google Translate – the jewellers spoke no English.) So off I popped and lo and behold, not impossible at all. I can only deduce that the first jeweller only wanted commissions of a certain monetary value, or just didn’t want to deal with a foreigner. Either way, I now have a new local jeweller, whose shop is stocked with the most beautiful pieces by the way, that I would wholeheartedly recommend!

Oh yes, location: Take the subway (or drive) to Incheon and get off at Arts Centre. Walk back towards the Lotte Department Store and once you have walked past it take a left (so you are walking alongside Lotte, with the department store to your left hand side) and take the first right. You’ll see a Starbucks and Krispy Kreme (YUM) on the corner and across the road, Queen Jewelery is just next to the Levis Store. If you drive, you can either park in the Lotte Car Park (and pay for it) or one of the small car parks nearby. As ever, my map isn’t perfect but if you wander in this general area you’ll find it. And if you don’t, have a donut instead.

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And I’m back

Yeah, it has been rather a long hiatus from the blog, and I’ve learnt from reading a lot of other blogs in the last few months that a few words of explanation to whatever following I have are required. So here goes, with a post that I have definitely been putting off writing – Dealing with Death as an Expat.

After the Christmas break, which we spent on home leave, I got back to Korea the day after celebrating my dad’s 71st birthday with him in London. And three weeks later, I was back in London because my dad wasn’t doing very well, and three very short, but at the same time, horribly long, days after I landed at London Heathrow, he passed away on 15th February 2018.

The next five weeks that I was in London were a mix of sadness, family togetherness and paperwork and admin speared by a constant sense of longing and loss. Everyday brought new challenges and tasks that my mum, brothers and I had to work out how to deal with – the same as anyone who has lost a central figure in their family has to do – and we learnt a lot about our resilience as a family through the process. I’m not going to bore you with all the things that have to be dealt with in the UK when a person dies, but I will say this – if you are in a position that you might have to take the lead in making such arrangements in your home country then make sure you know what is required well before. Getting off a plane and trying to find out what to do and at the same time, get it done, is hard. We, sadly, had a lot of support from family who had been through all the processes, which made registering the death and organizing the funeral so much easier and without that, we would have been lost.

One of my personal biggest challenges was getting on the plane to come home to Korea. SO. MUCH. GUILT. Leaving the country that was my dad’s home hurt. I desperately wanted to stay in London but I equally desperately wanted to come home. Wherever I was, I would be leaving someone behind and at that moment, it was more than I could bear. It was scary and hard but I’m thankful for a supportive family, in both countries, who made it all easier.

A couple of days before I left London, a friend who had gone through his own family bereavement as an expat wrote to me and shared his experiences and top of the list was that coming back to Songdo (especially as a non-working spouse) feels weird. Weird. Yeah, total understatement and it starts with the flight. Those long hours by yourself that you spend wanting to relive every memory that you possibly can but at the same time, you don’t want to think about your loss, because  doing do makes the tears come. Realising that next time you fly into the country, there is going to be a big, person-shaped hole. Feeling like wherever you are, you need to be in the other country. I personally dealt with those feelings by getting drunk in the lounge. Yes it was a morning flight and I was the only person pouring large glasses of wine at 9am, but never mind. So yeah, the flight home was hard. I landed on a Friday and straight away just threw myself into the things that needed to be done here – distraction is key and for the most part, helps. We’d also planned to spend the weekend in Seoul, and again, having things to do and keeping busy helped to settle into what feels like an entirely new life, all over again. Of course, it’s different for everyone, but here are my tips for coping with bereavement as an expat… some will say these are tips for coping with a bereavement wherever you are, but when you are far away from your loved one’s home, the isolation is real and can be harder to overcome.

Be Kind

I cannot overstate this enough. Yes, you will have responsibilities and things to do each day, but being kind to yourself is so important. Don’t let a day stretch out in front of you with nothing to do (see the next point…) but equally, don’t overload yourself and try to be superhuman. Feel your feelings whenever you need to don’t push yourself to do too much too soon.

Distract Yourself 

Have a plan. Give yourself a reason to get dressed and leave the house everyday. If you are the kind of person that can go for a walk just for the sake of it (I’m not!) then that’s great, but I can only go for a walk if it has a purpose. So I re-started my step goal (much reduced from the recommended 10,000 daily – it has to be realistic or not meeting it is another thing that will get you down) and my walking purpose is now to meet my step goal. But that’s me. You could do anything, from getting a coffee from a different shop each day, taking a selfie from a new location to send your family, getting daily groceries instead of doing a big shop, whatever. The point is, to get out and break up your daily scenery. It’s OK to have the odd day of staying in glued to Netflix, but just don’t let that become your everyday if you can avoid it.

Hang a Picture 

In Indian culture, when a parent dies, you always hang a picture of them in your house. Mine is hanging in my living room where I can see my dad everyday, and have a little chat with him as I go about my chores. Just a quick few words, rather like the WhatsApp message we would exchange anyway with what I’m up to, which makes me feel ready to start my day.

Start a Memory Box 

I have a memory box filled with random things that belonged to my dad – some that I gave him, some that have no use to anyone else but I will forever associate with him. Some days, I look through the things in my box and have a little smile. I’ve put all my dad’s old hankies into my own hanky rotation. Just a little part of him that I get to keep with me every day.

Scan Photos

If you’re not taking all your photos from home with you, make sure you have a few scanned to take with you, so you can look at the photos as you want. I recently read something that said ‘You think photos don’t matter? Wait until they are all you have left.’ So true. I was in the habit of making a photo calendar every year in any case so I had a lot of photos on my computer but now, these pictures have been so valuable.

Get Back into Your Routine 

Obviously, take your time, but getting back into your routine is so important. Mine has changed up slightly – I go to my trainer twice a week at the moment, as I recognised that I don’t have the motivation to do my homework twice a week, so it’s a good change but having the regular things to do that I would do ‘before’ helps. It’s taken me a month, but I’ve also started writing my blog again (hello!) and thinking of ideas for the next few posts. Throughout it all, remember to always be kind. I’m aiming for a post every two weeks now, instead of every week, but at least it is a start. I’ve always spoken to my mum daily, wherever I’ve lived, and we have kept to this, even if all we have to say is a three-minute ‘you ok? yeah, you ok? yeah.’ before we get on with our days. I plan my week on a Sunday evening while Raj catches up with emails and if any day is looking a bit on the lean side, it gives me a chance to think of something to do… usually going to Wolmido Island because…

Scatter Ashes 

… it is where I scattered some of my dad’s ashes. For sure this isn’t for everyone, but I brought some of my dad’s ashes back to Korea with me (make sure you have the right paperwork to do so!) and Raj and I went to Wolmido Island, walked to the top of the mountain and I picked a spot to scatter the ashes over looking the docks to the right (he was a sailor at heart) and from where he could see Songdo to the left. I’ve been back there once or twice, eaten a sandwich, read a few pages of my book and always left with a sense of peace. I know we won’t live in Korea forever, but I know that spot will always be there and I know that the international traveller that my dad was, he’d be happy knowing he makes his final home in three different countries (England, Korea and Canada, where my big brother lives.)

Take Your Time 

Last but not least, take your time. Nobody can dictate how long you’ll take to process your bereavement. Counselling is SUCH a great help, and if you are in an English-speaking country, or a country where you speak the language, you’ll be able to find the support you need through your local hospital/insurance provider. Even where speaking face-to-face isn’t an option, there are so many therapists who offer online counselling – via Skype or webcam.  It can often be easier telling a stranger about your feelings than anyone else so do you research and do what’s right for you.

There’s no magic wand that you can wave to make your pain disappear and it is SUCH A LIE that the pain reduces over time. What is true, is that your life continues to grow around your pain, accommodating and acknowledging it at every step, and one day, you’ll realise your joy outweighs your sadness. It can take a different amount of time for everyone – a month, 6 months, a year, whatever and that’s just fine. I can’t tell you how long it took me, because I’m not there yet, but, with my dad looking down at me from the wall, I can say with confidence that I will get there, because that is what he would have wanted for us all and letting him down just isn’t an option.

Anyways. That’s me and my hiatus explained. I’ve got a few different post ideas in mind for the next few months including our trip to Iceland, the changes at Incheon Airport and the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018 to name a few. So keep posted, keep your questions coming and above all, let me know what else I can research to make your transition to Songdo easier!