English TV

I know this isn’t the most important thing to know about before making the move to South Korea, but Raj and I are big TV watchers, so figuring out how to indulge our addiction was important to both of us.

Speaking to our apartment manager, we quickly found out that all the basic television channels are in Korean, and even if you subscribe to a cable-esque package, there still won’t be much by the way of English TV. Compounding the problem was the fact that the DVD player  we brought over from London – so that we could watch our UK box sets without worrying about regions –  couldn’t be attached to the TV in our serviced apartment (some cable input missing somewhere.. once we figured out that it wouldn’t work, I didn’t delve too far into the why).

Now, I am a bonafide PC-user, but I have to admit that Apple saved our TV-watching lives. We had bought an Apple TV set a year or so ago, and managed to hook it up to the TV giving us access to all the films we had purchased, making it possible for us to play DVDs on the TV via Raj’s Mac/Apple TV/Wifi and.. joy of joys, access to the newly arrived Netflix!

Now you don’t get all the shows that you are used to at home – I still don’t know if the new season of House of Cards will be accessible to us here – but there is definitely enough to keep you going, especially if you are a house-wifey-type-being like myself upon arrival.

Moral of the story: Before moving to Songdo, hook yourself up with Apple TV and make sure that your initial accommodation comes with a Smart TV and Wifi. Believe me, in the cold winter months, when going out isn’t always an option (have I mentioned the -17 degree centigrade weather?!?!) the ability to stay entertained indoors is important! IMG_4214

Ps. Get some hobbies as well. I picked knitting and so ‘Netflix and Knitting’ is a regular part of my morning routine. Added bonus – there are knitting cafes in Seoul which I fully intend on visiting once I’ve got the warm back in my bones 🙂

Getting around

First let’s bear in mind that January is the coldest month (so I’m told and I really really want to believe) so I haven’t been going out too much but I have learnt a few basics so far.

(1) Don’t just Google it

As much as we may rely on it at home, Google Maps is unfortunately not the answer to looking up public transport journeys. We used it to figure out how to get from where we live to Square 1 (local shopping mall with a Homeplus, Emart and cinema) and the bus route suggested went off in quite a different direction. It wasn’t all bad, as we did go past the International Hospital but an extra mile walk in the cold wasn’t really what we needed. I’m told Naver Maps is the way to go, but I haven’t used it personally yet – expect an update once  I have!

(2) Get a T-Money Pass

These are great! You can pick them up at most convenience stores for KRW 2,500 each and I’m told you can load money onto them at the stores as well – you’d probably need some minor grasp of Korean to do this. We picked up the passes, paid in cash for a bus journey to the nearest subway (KRW1,300 each) and then loaded money onto the passes using this machine – there is an English option.

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Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go. Journeys in and around the Incheon area cost about KRW 1,250 each and if memory serves, the bus in Seoul was slightly less. You can also use the pass to pay for taxis and at certain stores where you see the T-money sign.

(2) Taxis

Taxis on the street are hard to find most of the time and whilst Uber does work, the cars are few and far between. The app to get is Kakao Taxi but you need to have a local number in order to use this. Cars seem to be plentiful and the distances to travel aren’t far.

(3) Buses

We’ve already talked about how not to use Google Maps and again, I haven’t used these apps myself but apparently Jiachul and Seoul Bus are the go-to apps.

Update: Here’s a tip that will come in handy – touch in and out on the buses to make sure that you are charged the correct fare for the distance travelled rather than the maximum fare for the entire route.

Once I figure out a bit more about getting around, I will update this, but for now, I’m relying on my own two feet and limited sense of direction… 🙂

 

Cooking.

Yup it had to be mentioned. Now it’s not that I dislike cooking, it’s just that I don’t see it as a huge deal – just something that has to be done and so will be.

I quite like trying out new recipes, especially when I have random ingredients that I am trying to use up, it just isn’t something that I want to spend all my time doing. Having said that, when it is necessary, I’ll step up (as would anyone) and never has it been more necessary than trying to feed my vegetarian husband a balanced diet in meat-loving-Korea. I guess the fact that I throw in a load of booze with every meal masks the fact that my cooking skills aren’t exactly up to scratch 🙂

I think the toughest thing about cooking in South Korea is that the ingredients aren’t what I’m used to and all the recipes I have / know require ingredients that aren’t readily available here. But you learn and you can pretty quickly start adapting things. My mum always said that as long as you know what good food is supposed to taste like, with a little trial and error, you can start to produce it.

One day last week, I woke up with a desire to make Paneer (Indian Cottage Cheese) which is not only full of protein but is most certainly not available in Songdo and is also one of Raj’s favourite foods.

Following this recipe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/paneer_86451 (Thanks BBC) I successfully made paneer with my limited resources (I don’t have muslin, or weights, or a very large pan). I also ended up with a load of whey, which I believe can be used for other purposes, but that is going to be another experiment.IMG_4201.JPG

All in all, I’ve managed to feed Raj for just over a week and he hasn’t politely suggested going out for all our meals yet.. long may it continue!

28/01/2016:

Just a couple of updates to add here:

(1) One great thing about the South Korean supermarkets is the sheer number of samples you can have (presuming that, like me, you’ll eat anything at least once) whilst shopping. It’s helped me to figure out what certain items are, and also, kept the hunger at bay so I don’t buy things based on my stomach!

(2) One tip – when you find something that you like (either you’ve used it before, or it is something from home) and it is on promotion – buy it! Prices change all the time, seemingly without any reason, so use that storage space and buy the long lasting items whilst the going is good!

That’s all for now folks..

05/04/2016:

I’m getting more adventurous in my Iyengar (my community in India) cooking to varying degrees of success. Sometimes I’ll throw everything away in a fit of anger that it doesn’t taste like my mum’s food and sometimes I’ll persevere and get somewhere close. Alongside amma’s recipes, she suggested I use http://www.malas-kitchen.com/ as a guide and it is such a great help and thoroughly recommended, especially if burning toast is about as far as your cooking skills go!

 

Week one…

We’ve officially spent our first full week in Songdo and I’ve gathered a lot of tips that would have been handy to know. I’ve split them up into separate posts to avoid it getting too long.

First up, grocery shopping. I struggled with this and spent the first few days (well, the days I wasn’t ill and sleeping all day and night) buying bits and pieces on a meal-to-meal basis from local stores. Whilst easy, it isn’t the most budget friendly way to go.

Don’t come with preconceptions of how much things (cleaning products, produce, food etc) should cost. I find that everything, especially fresh fruit and vegetables, is more expensive here. I haven’t checked out any produce markets yet – I believe there is one not so far away in Incheon – but in the supermarkets, everything comes in huge packages and with a heftier-than-at-home price tag attached.

When you arrive, apart from the immediate necessities,  I’d actually give the smaller convenience stores a miss and head straight to Lotte, right by Oakwood on the Convensia-Dareo, when you get here. You’ll find a small piece of home, with foods you recognise, potential alternatives and the odd couple of English signs to help you get along your way.

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At Lotte, you’ll find everything you need to set up your apartment until your shipment arrives – from soaps, laundry products, DIY products to food. You’ll also find things that you didn’t know you needed – chair socks anyone?

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Important: If you are a tea drinker, then bring a big stash with you. Very few places stock English Breakfast tea bags and when you do find them, much like everything else, it’s expensive. I’m planning on having a care package from home sent over when stocks are running low…

However, don’t put all your eggs in the Lotte basket. A bit of shopping around will bring up gems in Emart (a kind of department store with a mix of everything) and Homeplus (Tesco – rebranded – with an imported goods aisle). Annoyingly, I found certain things are better priced in each of the different stores, so I think I’ll be visiting all three on a regular basis.

And just for fun, there are the more unusual products that will give you a bit of a giggle…

Obviously not everything that you are used to is available, so when packing your shipment remember the following things:

  • Seasoning packets (especially for Mexican food)
  • Cleaning Wipes / sponges / dish scrubs etc
  • Tea (I can’t say that enough) and instant coffee
  • Deodorant and other toiletries – you can get everything you need here but perhaps not all the brands you are used to

Now getting to the various grocery stores is another matter, but that’s a story for a different post… along with making stuff from scratch using the ingredients available here, finding hobbies and whatever else pops up along the way.

It starts…

I must find something to replace the use of the old ‘…’. Let me know if you have suggestions, but for now, it will do.

We left London on a rather miserable 2nd January 2016 with our very own entourage – 3 cars, 7 family members, 2 passengers, 6 check-in suitcases, 2 hand baggages and 2 rucksacks. I’d imagine we were a bit of a sight in the airport. Goodbyes ensued, tears flowed – mostly mine on realising this is the furthest I’ll have ever been from my baby brother – but luckily Raj quickly filled my empty hands with champagne which certainly softened the blow and we were off… Cut to 3rd Jan when we landed at Incheon International Airport.

Having successfully navigated use of the diplomatic channel to clear immigration [ed. dreams can come true it appears] and the retrieval of all baggage, it remained to be seen how we were going to get everything home – and now for the first tip:

Located between exit 12 and 13 of Terminal 10c, is the call van desk. This is basically a large taxi service for anyone with lots of baggage. Beware of the taxi drivers wandering around by the exit offering you a large taxi, as these can often be costly. It cost us KRW 57,000 from the airport (including tolls) to our front door and, as I’ve read elsewhere, Korea does not have a tipping culture.

Now, being a Sunday, nobody was available to meet us at the apartment. Fun and games were had when trying to enter the building – the security guard insisted that we couldn’t, so we had to sneak everything past him and in and it was only later that day we realised he just wanted us to use a different entrance. Oh well.

We were in and it was time for a quick cuppa – you can take the Londoner out of London and all that – before braving the cold.

Airport Call Van Location