Sometimes…

Even I run out of things to talk about. So one of my tasks today was to write a blog post, but sitting here (well, lying here, as today I am adult-ing from my bed) I actually don’t have a lot to tell you folks about. My draft posts either (a) bored me when I was writing them or (b) need a lot more information than I currently have to hand to make sense. It isn’t like I’ve been sitting around Netflix-ing either. I’ve actually had days where I haven’t even put the TV on. I went to Singapore for a weekend to meet a friend *Hi Raj Mistry* and last weekend there was a Ski Trip organised by IFEZ to Pyeongcang – home of the winter Olympics 2018. At the start of February I finally signed up to PT sessions (with an English speaking trainer) and am working on my strength and mobility (and hopefully some weight loss as a bonus) but that’s not an interesting journey for anybody except my older brother and my sister-in-law (shout out to my personal fitness cheerleaders in Vancouver). I recently applied for a 6 month contract position as an events consultant, but more on that if and when I find out what the process is like. The baking has stopped in honour of our ‘get healthy’ regime but I’ll pull it out for special occasions. I continue to Instagram pictures of food. Oh, and I started a secret project that I obviously can’t write about because then it wouldn’t be a secret. Also, even when it isn’t a secret I am not sure I can write about it because, well, its complicated. Let’s forget I said anything.

I guess I could tell you a little about the weekend’s ski trip to Pyeongchang, but there isn’t a huge amount to tell. As IFEZ organize everything, the sum of your responsibility is to turn up to the G-Tower for the 4 hour coach journey to Pyeongchang and choose the activities that you want to do (Ski lesson, snow board lesson, just hang out etc.) On the return, we stopped at the Olympic Ski Jump venue which was awesome but my general lack of attention span means I didn’t listen to the tour guide and just wandered about and looked at things. The main thing I learnt is that this particular resort has a high level of English, so if you wanted to book a weekend trip there, it wouldn’t be a difficult thing to do. Here’s some pictures to keep you going:

Ok, one of my daily tasks from the trainer is to get out of the apartment and hit 6000 steps daily, so I better get going on that. Luckily, it is starting to warm up outside so the thought of a stroll through the park isn’t too arduous.

Happy Tuesday everyone – and I promise I’ll come up with more interesting things to write about soon!

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Social Media & The Expat

So at home in London, I was not quite so proficient at checking my social media (it was a task to be completed on the parts of my commute for which I had network) or uploading things to it. However, I quickly realised that we are so incredibly lucky to have such instant methods of updating and communicating with family and friends at home so I’ve become better at it. I regularly upload photos to my Instagram (which I prefer to Facebook because it has a more limited audience) and as I’ve downloaded Instagram for my mum, that means my parents can easily see what I am up to or the end results of things that we have spoken about. I’m using Twitter to find out information about things in Korea, but also as a source of news (yes, yes, I am being wary of fake news and the like). I mean, we are SO lucky not to have to wait 2 weeks for real letters to be delivered or to get a calling card and make 5 minute phone calls from pay phones with a bad connection so, I embraced technology when we moved and used the internet way more than I used to for personal usage back home. The biggest change in my social media habits is the use of Facebook. It is actually an amazing resource for getting information about different things here, and so I decided to make today’s post about the different Facebook groups that I have joined and pages I have liked since Raj signed his contract.

Below is a list of the pages and groups, with links to each on Facebook. A number of the groups are closed groups, which means that you send a joining request and the page admins will accept or decline your request as appropriate. Some of the pages require you to send a message to the admin to confirm why you want to join the page (this helps avoid the inevitable spamming) so be sure to read any pinned posts and follow the instructions!Hopefully the dearth of information that is available makes it worthwhile to have a Facebook account, even if only for the purposes of joining some of these groups! And it goes without saying that all opinions on the groups mentioned below are entirely my own.

Songdo Expat Community : The very first group I joined and also the one I have used the least. I find it a difficult group to navigate and as a result, questions/comments posted often go un-noticed. When we first arrived, landing on a Sunday with a fair amount of luggage and nobody meeting us at the airport, I posted a question about the best way to get from the airport to The Prau and got no answer. I mean, sure, we worked it out, but for a group professing to make life in Songdo easier for expats, I don’t find it very helpful. Still, I’m loathe to leave it just in case I miss something golden…

Anglo Info Seoul : News, tips and advice for life in Korea. This is one of the groups that I let post to my newsfeed and I usually read an article a day. It’s where I learnt about the recent governmental troubles and protests taking place in Seoul, about the Chicken Flu outbreak of 2016 and other day to day news that I would have normally obtained from the free dailies on my commute. Similar to this group, but less active in my opinion Everyday Korea and Community Korea

Ourshop India: Indian groceries online. And before the opening of Costco in Songdo, also a useful stop for ordering a few Costco goodies online. Delivery is quick and efficient once payment is made (and they have a variety of ways to pay). There are other online Indian grocers but I haven’t used them so haven’t included them here.

Employment groups include  Jobs in South Korea , Jobs: South Korea and Non Teaching Jobs in South Korea all of which facilitate posts from prospective employers and employees alike.

Waeg Farm is a group for those of you who can’t do without your goat’s cheese – especially when it is made fresh and delivered straight to your door!

Korea International Nanny Service is not just for childcare, but cleaners / housekeepers often post here as well. Great if the 3 hour minimum call from the Incheon Cleaning Service  is too much for your needs

Korea Heritage Society  a group to share and enjoy in the rich culture of Korea, with regular posts on activities and events taking place across the country

Used Cars fro Foreigners and Koreans Check out my post on driving here for more information on why this group is so useful!

Expat Grocery Gurus Korea: New Products, Discounts And Clearance Sales featuring tips and advice on where to buy products, when there are sales etc. Everyone here is super helpful and friendly so if you are looking for the source for a particular product, don’t hesitate to ask!

Particularly useful for expats are:Every Expat in Korea,British Expats in Korea,  Indians in Korea and Expat Women in Korea. I mean, you get the odd douche (excuse my French) on all of the groups but by and large the communities are helpful, friendly and supportive.

Not one I’ve had much need to use but always a good to have around is Expat Healthcare in South Korea.

Cooking in Korea is a great resource for sharing recipes, gleaning inspiration, asking for tips and advice and, as I find when I’ve achieved something new in the kitchen, a bit of validation from others who are also navigating the world of Western Style cooking in Korea.

For Incheon/Songdo specific groups, these are a few that I have found:

Incheon Global Campus and Yeonsu, Incheon, South Korea features interesting events and information from our locality

Incheon-Songdo Photography for all the photo lovers in the area, with some really stunning shots of where we call home!

For buying and selling second-hand goods check out Songdo Flea Market and Incheon Flea Market.

Songdo Girl’s Night Group is a community for the ladies of Songdo with at least a monthly event planned

For the exercise conscious among you, check out GCF Yoga which is a beginners Yoga Class, taught in English 3 times a week at the G-Tower for GCF employees and their families and Zumba in Songdo , which is about, well, Zumba classes in Songdo.

Road Tips ideas for trips and events for the expats of Songdo, by the expats of Songdo.

I’m sure new groups will come along sooner or later, but for now, that’s all folks.

Just keep drivin’

**In Korea they drive on the right so I must drive on the right**

That’s basically what I’m repeating to myself in my head every time I get in the driving seat of the car. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, buying a used car in Korea. There isn’t a huge amount to say on this except that if you are using anyone but James Lee, you need to switch agents NOW. James is an American-Korean who just gets it and makes the process of car buying really easy. The best way to get in touch with him is through his Facebook page and he will almost immediately contact you to find out what you are after. A word of warning, don’t join the page until you are really ready to buy – this guy works fast! He’s great at working with requirements and budgets and will give you a bunch of options online before taking you to a car lot or two in Suwon. If you don’t want the diplomatic plates, you can drive away in your car on the same day. Between James and the protocol officer at the office, the paperwork, including the obtaining of Korean driving licences, was easy. Oh and by the way, to get your Korean driving licence, you don’t need to hand over your home country licence – you’ll have to give it to the protocol officer to show but he will return them to you.

bertie So this is Bertie. Full name: Bertram Park Bavishi. He is named after one of my all time favourite literary characters (thanks Wodehouse) with a little nod to his Korean heritage. Obviously the naming was all me, I think Raj would be happy to call him ‘car’ but I’m lucky that he is so indulgent of my whims. We opted for the Diplomatic Blue Plates (the 137 denotes The GCF) and he is a joy to drive. He came with lots of fun extras too – a rear camera, a front camera and a navigational system that we don’t know how to use yet. Also, FM radio 102.7 is the local American Military radio station for when you want to listen to something in English that is more current than what is probably (judging by my iPod) on your iPod.

INSURANCE

Again, I don’t have a lot of information on this other than that James gave us a number for a company with a 24 hour English help line (Tip: Save it in your phone, as well as a picture/copy on Dropbox of your insurance policy). Raj set up the insurance quickly and initially we took the insurance that allows anyone over 30 yrs, with either a Korean licence or International Driving Permit to drive the car. This was needed so that the protocol officer could drive the car to the various offices to complete the necessary paperwork/get the updated licence plates. Now that all that is done, there is the option to downgrade to main driver plus Spouse, which is a bit cheaper but on balance, we’ve kept the everyone insurance in preparation for visitors coming to town. The recovery service is amazing here. When we came back from Australia, Bertie’s battery had gone flat, probably due to the extreme cold. Luckily, I’d saved the English phone number so we called and they said they would send someone to us within 20 minutes. There was a bit of back and forth via text during that 20 minutes to find our policy (I had it saved on dropbox so I sent screenshots to the company and that helped) and within 30 mins of placing the call, the service truck had come and gone and we were on our way home.

DIPLOMATIC vs REGULAR PLATES

As with anything, both options have their pros and cons:

Diplomatic Plates: When you have your blue plates, you are exempted from the bi-annual road tax and you get free parking at the airport. This might not seem like a huge deal, but its a saving of a few hundred dollars on tax and for the airport – it depends on how long you have to park for. When we parked for 3 weeks for Australia, our bill would have been $500 plus so that was a definite win. The downside is that it takes longer (about a month) for you to be able to drive off in your car as the car needs to be registered with immigration etc and if you want to sell it on, you either have to sell it to someone on a similar visa type or go through the process of de-registering it and making the plates regular again. We opted for the Diplo plates and having waited for 10 months to buy a car in the first place, the extra one month of waiting didn’t make a difference.

Regular Plates: If you take this route, you can drive away in your car much faster (same day in some cases) and re-sale is easy. There is still a bit of paperwork but in both cases, the team at the office at super helpful in getting it all done.

PETROL & CAR WASHING

Ok, driving fail – I’ll admit that I haven’t figured out how to fill petrol (diesel. Must remember that we have a diesel car. diesel.) yet. I mean, I know the mechanics of putting the pump into the car obviously, but before you can lift the pump, there is a series of buttons to press on the self-serve pumps in Korea. Now I’m told that most petrol stations (I will not say gas. Petrol). have someone on hand to fill your car for you, but at some stage, I’ll take some pictures of the buttons and the order in which they need to be pressed to make the whole thing work. Most petrol stations have a car wash and air filling station too – again, use a bit of charades to get across what you need to and there are plenty of helpful staff around to make it all happen! Haven’t yet seen anyone who hand-washes cars in shopping centre car parks, but I am sure there will be some when spring arrives.

ROAD RULES

So this was fun. We’re now in a country of “right on red” U-turns and multiple traffic lights. In all honesty, Songdo was a great place to practice driving on the wrong side of the road, as the wide roads with multiple lanes and limited traffic meant that I could safely make a few minor errors and get away with it.

So, right on red. That’s obvious. Even if the traffic light is red when you have a clear opening, you can still turn right and continue on your merry way. A lot of road have dedicated right turn lanes which ever get backed up because of this. If there is a pedestrian crossing upon turning right, obviously let the people go first before continuing… but then, if you didn’t have that much common sense, you probably shouldn’t be driving here.

3-lights So this kind of 3-light traffic light is easy and universal.  When the light is green you can go straight, U-turn, turn left etc. Just remember to check the road markings to make sure you are in the correct lane and it isn’t a no turn road that the maps are trying to direct you into.

4-lights

KEY:

a. These are all the lights that show up on a 4-light traffic light. Just for reference.

b. Nobody can go (except for those turning right)

c. Get ready to go

d. Those people turning left or u-turning in the dedicated lanes can go (and the right-turners)

e. Only those going straight (or right) can go

f. Left, U-turn, straight and right can all go.

roadSo, in the left hand lane, where there is a dotted line, that’s where you can carry our your turn. To turn left, you can go a bit further or be in the second to left hand lane. Sometimes there will be a left hand turn lane, which also has a straight arrow on it, which (duh) means you can turn or go straight but be careful – some of the turning lanes will have the straight arrow crossed out so if in doubt and you want to go straight, stick to a middle lane.

Like I said, Songdo is GREAT for getting used to the different road markings and signs so give yourself a few practice drives around here before taking on the drive to Seoul (the drive is fine, but some of the road signs are worse than Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction so it can be a challenge figuring out your route).

TOLLS AND HI-PASS

Several roads have tolls of varying amounts on them – for example from Songdo to Incheon Airport is 6,200 KRW each way. Here to is Gwangmyeong (IKEA) , two lots of 1,100 KRW each way and so on. So its worth keeping a bag of change in your car, although many of the tolls do accept card payments too. The best option is to get a Hi-Pass. This is like a T-money card for the car – you fix it into the car and you can use the automated payment lines (denoted by the thick blue line painted in the middle of the lane) when approaching tolls. I understand that you buy your first card from the offices located at the side of the toll stations during working hours and from then, can top up in convenience stores. I haven’t done ours yet but I’ll let you know what the offices look like once I do!

NAVIGATIONAL APPS

So we already know that Google Maps is not a reliable source of navigation here in Korea. The good news is that in the last couple of months, Apple Maps has started working well here. Some of the pronunciation of the road names can be a bit confusing (Senturello, for Central-Ro) but once you get used to it, it is a nice and reliable way to get around. The only downside is that it does not reflect current traffic on any route. So whilst the drive to Myeongdong in Seoul shows up at 30 minutes, the reality is that you’ll be in the car for at least 1.5 hours. A lot of people really like to use Waze. Now this does accurately reflect traffic but personally, I find the app itself a bit confusing when it comes to which lane I need to be in etc. What I tend to do is find my preferred route on apple, check the traffic on Waze so I can plan how long I need to leave to get somewhere and then use Apple Maps to direct me in the car. I got a little phone holder thingy from Daiso (where else) and am good to go anywhere that I can find an address to!

Last but not least, parking. Most places in Songdo have underground parking so that’s a no-brainer. Sometimes the Diplomatic plates confuse the automated payment systems too much so the parking winds up being free, but by and large there is a person around to help out. I haven’t figured out the rules for street parking yet but from what I can see in Songdo, people park wherever they can fit. I’m sticking to single yellow lines for the time being but as and when I find an update, I’ll let you know!

So that’s all I can think of for now. Like I said, having the car really has made life easier here and we’ve got road trip plans a plenty for the future months. Well, at least I do and lucky Raj just gets to come along wherever I make him go. In the meantime, repeat after me ” In Korea they drive on the right so I must drive on the right, In Korea they drive on the right…”