Fancy Footwork

I’ve mentioned previously how the problem with pedicures here is the lack of a good foot scrub – I know that’s more than half the reason I want a pedicure most of the time – I mean, painting toenails is not that hard. Yet there aren’t scaly gross feet everywhere you look. Ok yes, most people wear covered shoes and I think even amongst the foreigner community Raj and I are in the minority wearing flip-flops whenever we can get away with it but don’t forget that in all Korean houses and even some traditional Korean restaurants, taking off your shoes at the entrance is the norm.

So apart from taking a file to your feet yourself, how can you achieve the impossible-y smooth feet that the locals have – do an at-home Foot Peel of course. I promised (threatened?) you last week with a full photo diary of how the process worked and I will not disappoint. It is gross and there aren’t really any nice words I can use to describe what happens, so probably best you don’t eat anything whilst reading this particular post.

There are a huge variety of peels that you can buy – as I like to minimise the number of different shops that I have to go to on a given day, I ended up picking up one from Tony Moly:

Although there are pictures, I did need to Google Translate the instructions which basically boil down to:

  • Wash and dry feet and place in the baggies provided
  • Pour the Solution into the baggie
  • Seal baggie up using the tabs
  • Sit for an hour and let the solution work its magic
  • Remove baggies and rinse off the solution from feet.

5. Post Peel

These are my feet immediately post-peel. Just a bit wrinkly from sitting in solution for so long, but nothing drastic yet.

The interesting thing about these foot peels is that the effect is not instant. When I instagrammed (of course) myself using the peel, my cousin wrote to me to tell me that it would take about 2 weeks for the actual peeling to take place so you have to be patient. Had I known this before, rather than waiting for Raj to travel to use the peel, I probably would have used it while he was in town and just timed it for the peeling to happen while he was away – subjecting anyone to the grossness that ensues is just not nice. Also, not a good idea to use these if your home is carpeted.  Just saying.

Now in my case, the heavy-duty peeling started about 7 days after using the pack and finished about 2 weeks later, so that’s the timeline I’d work with. One thing that I think helped things along though is actually wearing socks and shoes, rather than flip-flops. Something to do with the friction of the socks against your skin helps to slowly peel the dead crusty skin away – and its also a useful way not to trail skin everywhere you go. I liked the end result a lot – will definitely be using this more regularly – but I think every couple of months will do the trick! As promised, here’s a little photo diary of my feet… lucky readers!

From left to right, days 1 – 4 Post Peel: still nothing dramatic happening.

Day 5 saw a bit of peeling in the folds of skin around the toes

Day 6 is when the magic really started happening

12. Day 6 Post Peel

From day 7, I basically trailed dead skin wherever I went so I stuck to wearing socks and shoes.

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You aren’t supposed to pick at the skin to help it come off but I found a bit of gentle rubbing in the shower was good. After all the dead skin went away, I had wonderfully soft feet – but that’s the one thing I forgot to take a picture of! Ooops!

We’ll take it down a notch from the grossness in the next post, I promise!

 

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K Beauty: The Reprise

We’ve already talked about the immense industry that is Korean Beauty but now I want to tell you about the particular products (and where I buy them) that I have found indispensable.

You may or may not know that I am a creature of habit. I don’t like to change things unnecessarily and I did have it in my head that I would continue to bring my favourite face washes, creams and general skin care routine from home on our many visits back to London. Also, Boots has recently opened in Seoul (you can even shop online if you speak Korean) which one would think would help me (certainly it will for Soap & Glory and Boots Tea Tree Oil ranges which I will continue to purchase in tandem with the Korean stuff) but – and it’s a big one – skin care products from home don’t cut the mustard here.

On a lot of my female oriented Facebook groups, you read about women who’ve had major breakouts and issues with their hair upon moving here. Partly its the change in water, but also I think it stems from the fact that products you bring from home don’t target the specific issues that your skin will have here. It has definitely taken some trial and error to figure out what suits me and my sensitive, eczema-prone skin best, so I’m sure that you’ll go through a similar process but here’s a list of my faves as a starting point. DISCLAIMER: I don’t follow the actual 12-step Korean Beauty Regime that is famous-world over but do a bit of googling and you’ll find no end of videos and blogs dedicated to the routine!

Face Wash & Scrub 

One of my regular beauty stops is Innisfree. You’ll find concessions at every large supermarket that you go to and there are standalone-stores in Square One, opposite Daiso Sinsong-Ro and in NC Cube. Everywhere. One of the assistants in the store opposite Daiso Sinsong-Ro speaks some English, so you can (and should) sign up for the loyalty card – she just needs your mobile and ARC to help you do it, and although I haven’t figured out how to use the points yet, I know that every time you spend 10,000KRW, you get a discount of 3,000KRW. As at many skin care stores, whenever you buy something they give you some free samples of other products in the range or things that they think you might use based on what you’ve bought so it’s a good way to try out new things!

I’ve started buying the Jeju Volcanic Pore Cleansing Foam and Scrub Foam from Innisfree. About 8,000KRW won, they do leave you feeling squeaky clean without over-drying (So important, especially in winter) and ready for the rest of the routine. I don’t often bother to Google Translate the directions for use on these things, and just use them as I would products from home and that seems to do the trick.

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Another scrub that I totally loved – and smelt good enough to eat – was the Tony Moly Black Sugar Face Mask Scrub. This one I did translate – apply to dry skin and leave on as a mask for 10 minutes and then rinse off in the shower. This scrub was really nice and exfoliating, but I found it left a bit of a yellowy residue on my face, even after rinsing. It was nothing some swipes of toner couldn’t cope with, but it probably isn’t ideal if you are in a rush in the morning. Also, a couple of the branches that I popped into recently have been out of stock – I don’t know if this is a permanent thing or not, but it might be. Apparently SkinFood do a Black Sugar Face Mask Scrub that is highly rated as well and is probably a good substitute.

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Toner 

Not a lot to say on this front – toner is toner. The simplest one that I’ve found is from Nature Republic (again, you’ll find branches everywhere and it’s a great spot for buying sheet masks in bulk – usually a buy 10 get 10 free deal to be found) that comes in a nice pump bottle. If you’re a Micellar Water fan, you can get a pretty huge bottle from Lotte for about 9,000KRW. I don’t have a picture of it as I’m still working my way through my London stock but it seems to get pretty good reviews.

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Serum

So I understand that face serum is considered a solution that is used to cure specific problem. There are some people who use it to reduce the fine lines, dark spots and wrinkles. Other than this, it is also used to prevent acne and bring the brightness to facial skin. I never used to use it and actually stumbled across this one when I was looking for a local dupe for Benefit’s Porefessional Primer and, although it doesn’t work as a primer (actual substitute found below), I don’t feel quite right unless is layered on under my moisturiser. This serum is from Etude House – more of a makeup store than skin care, but again, with some fun lip balms and nail polishes that make it worth a visit.

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Peeling Gel

Is anyone else as weirdly obsessed with Peeling Gels as I am? I am seriously fascinated by the amount of dead skin that gently falls away and it seems that no amount of exfoliating can match this simple process. Couple with the fact that, at least in Songdo, you don’t seem to be able to get proper extraction/cleansing facials, I find a peeling gel invaluable in giving your skin a bit of TLC after all the dust and pollution from the outside world. For years I’ve used Obey Your Body peeling gel – as instructed, apply to dry skin with fingertips in a circular motion, leave to sit for a while and wash off. There is debate as to whether one should use it at night, as you can end up with dead skin stuck to your face but I use it pre-shower when I am washing my hair – I figure the shower makes sure that any dead skin is washed off properly and that none of the product is stuck in my hairline. Anyway, this was one thing that when I introduced it into my regime actually gained me compliments on my skin so I was happy to stick to importing it until it mysteriously went out of stock everywhere, and seems only to be available on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Luckily the fact that Korean skin care is such a big deal means that there are a lot of reviews in English online and lo and behold, Tony Moly proved to be my saviour with this little gem:

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Primer 

So yes, Benefit Porefessional is available here, but it costs so much more than it used to at home that it hurts me to buy it. But, Primer, right? So again, I hit up the English reviews online and Innisfree seemed to stand out amongst the crowd. A little goes a long way with this guy making it great value for money and whilst it isn’t as instantly awesome as the original, it is certainly a good dupe that’s kind to the wallet and skin!

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Face Cream 

Each to their own on this front but I’ve tried a lot of different creams – some are too watery and thin, some are too drying etc and this moisturiser from Innisfree (told you the loyalty card was worth it) seems to be perfect for me. It’s a bit on the heavy side – great for winter or when the A/C is on full blast drying you out but I use the tiniest amount post-serum and stay skin-hydrated all day. The other thing I do more regularly here is, on a day that I’m not going out, use coconut oil instead of moisturiser for some deep hydration – whilst that would have been too much for my skin in London, it is actually a good skin-boost every few weeks here.

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Trouble-Shooting

Korean women have flawless, poreless beautiful skin that you could stare at for hours (no, just me? OK then…) but in the event a blemish should rear its ugly head, spot patches are a big thing here – and available in supermarkets, skin care stores, and even Daiso! Of course it is a bit weird when you first clock one on someone’s face, but by and large they aren’t noticeable and can be covered up with a little foundation or concealer if you really want to. Especially great on the under-the-skin-cystic-acne-type spots, if you put it on clean dry skin overnight, you’ll notice the patch has gone cloudy when you take it off and the spot is noticeably reduced in size. For any white heads, my fail safe still is and will always be Mario Badescue’s drying lotion – I buy it on Beautybay.com who ship to Korea reasonably fast.

 

Makeup

Make-up is a tricky one. You do get all the big name brands here, MAC, NARS, Bobbi Brown etc and things which aren’t quite so skin tone specific are readily available – lipsticks in a range of colours, highlighter, bronzer, blusher but when it comes to foundations, BB creams, concealers etc, the Korean standard of PALE PALE PALE skin prevails and I’ve been told that even the fairest of fair people can struggle to find a true match here. In store, assistants tend to push you towards colours that make you look fairer as well, so personally, I’ve been doing my make up shopping abroad. The same products are also slightly cheaper outside of Korea, yeah, sorry, I can’t help much on the make up front!

Well that’s that for what I use from here. I am still using up my charcoal face mask from home (also, origins is available here and their Clear Improvement Mask is still the best I’ve ever tried) or I try out the various sheet masks that come free with my other purchases, so I don’t have a steady recommendation on that front… yet!

Aside from the specialist skin care stores mentioned here, you can also check out Olive Young, Watsons and LOHB for both products that you might be more familiar with from home and local goodies!

Next week…. Foot Peels – not for the faint-hearted or squeamish as I fully intend to give you a day by day photo diary of what happens to gross feet to make them beautiful again!!

Daiso

Aren’t I just on a roll with these posts **pats self on back.** Well, I’ll let you into a little secret – I’ve actually been in London since my post about going to the cinema and have pre-written and scheduled several posts to publish on set dates. I love discovering new things about WordPress that make it easier for me to see this blogging thing through.

Anyway, I actually can’t believe that I have been in Korea for 22 months and I still haven’t told you about the little slice of heaven that is Daiso. I think that it might have been to do with the fact that I believed my infatuation with the store was overrated, but time has led me to understand that everyone adores this chain of shops as much as I do, and it isn’t in fact unreasonable for me to include it on my ‘things to do in Songdo’ list when we have guests.

Daiso is actually a Japanese Store and I understand that there are branches in a few different Australasian countries – so far I’ve spied (and shopped in) those in Korea and Australia and the best way I can describe it is a Pound/Dollar store, but better. It’s a one stop shop for pretty much everything – whenever I’m in doubt as to where I can get something, the first place I will check is Daiso. Sitting at my dining table and looking around the apartment, I can see cookware, cleaning products, whiteboards, a banana stand, canvas bags… and the list goes on, that I’ve found there. It actually is a great place when setting up your home in Songdo to find all those little bits and pieces that you didn’t think to include in your container but suddenly just cannot live without.

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When I decided I was going to do a spot of crafting and make a tea light holder, everything (except the glue – this was before I found the stationery store) came from Daiso.

 

I also love to get weird and wonderful little Korean gifts for friends and family from here. Well, I say I like to get, we’ve sort of gifted everyone to the max already but on that first trip to London last year, it was where I bought things like Korean sheet-masks, creams, spoons (yes, you read right – these are my favourite things from Daiso) and other random things.

One more great thing (haven’t I sold the store enough already?) about the store is the price. Most things are between 1,000 and 5,000KRW, although I have once or twice paid up to 10,000 KRW for something I really really really needed. (Probably didn’t need at all. But, you know, Daiso.) I usually pop in for one or two things and leave having bought a new reusable bag that I have filled and still only spent about 25,000KRW. It’s one of my shopping habits that doesn’t give Raj a minor heart attack every time he gets the text about what I’ve just spent, so win-win really.

A few weeks ago, I was perturbed to find that my regular Daiso was closed. Now, it isn’t uncommon for stores and restaurants here to shut up shop quite suddenly and be replaced by something equally wonderful or even more so. But the thing is, I can’t think of anything that I would prefer to do than stroll through Daiso but lo and behold, what returned was an EVEN BIGGER (and therefore better) Daiso. Happy Ish. We can stay in Songdo.

Right, so where can you find this wonder-place. My favourite store is on Sinsong-Ro but there are Daiso concessions to be found in Lotte, GS25 Supermarket and Homeplus Songdo (Technopark Station). Further standalone stores can be found at Incheon Bus Terminal Station, right by the ticket gates, and I’ve heard that the newly opened Daiso at Triple Street is one of the largest in Korea – I’m yet to go there, but I’ve told Raj that I’m expecting a Daiso / PF Chang Date Night once I’m back home… Last but not least, earlier this year, an EIGHT STOREY Daiso opened in Myeongdong in Seoul. A piece of advice – don’t go on a weekend, it is mental. The recommendation is to take the lift up to the 8th floor and then walk down the stairs checking out each floor on the way. When we went, the queue for the lift was out the door and even the 1st floor (Western ground floor) was so rammed with people perusing the wares was not possible. I did get a free fan with directions to get back there though… score?! (Ps. even the socks you can spy in the picture of the fan are impulse-Daiso-buys. I actually couldn’t exist without this place.)

Daiso Locations

So off you go and Daiso to your heart’s content. ♥

The Silver Screen

Recently, there have been a lot of new arrivals in Songdo and I’m realising that things I have taken for granted are things that they would still like to know about. One of these things is how and where to go to watch a movie in Songdo.

It’s worth noting here that most international movies here are screened in the original language, with Korean subtitles. However most animated movies are dubbed into Korean, so try to do your research before you book just in case!

Following a couple of new malls being opened in the local area there are a few different choices of cinemas. When we first arrived, somehow we managed to use the cinema websites to reserve tickets online. After that first experience, the ability so-to-do has vanished. Now, one of the easiest ways to book tickets, other than making the trip to the Cinema in person, is using www.cineinkorea.com

Through this website, you can book tickets at one of the following chains:

CGV

There are CGV cinemas at Square One (Incheon Yeonsu) Incheon Bus Terminal (Incheon Terminal) and even the airport for a pre-flight film. They have a helpful FAQs page and an online survey-form if you want to double-check that you are booking at the cinema nearest to you as well. If you want to look at the maps they have linked to, as with many things here in Korea, you need to open the site in Internet Explorer only – the maps won’t even work with Edge.

CGV

Lotte

This is a slightly nicer chain than the CGV usually and the closest one is in the Lotte Department Store by Incheon Arts Centre Subway Station (Incheon on the website).

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Now our most recent discovery for those important movies (Star Wars, Marvel and I will grudgingly add DC Comic but only because Wonder Woman rocked my world) is the Charlotte Theatre within the Lotte Cinema. The Charlotte Theatre is a screen within the cinema that has its own ticketing desk and is FANCY AF (sorry Amma. That’s the only way to suitable describe it.) We went to one in Myeongdong (Seoul) to see the most recent Spider-Man and it was an experience. The softest leather seats with a full recline, a free drink (well at 35,000 a ticket, it’s the least they can do) and the seats are sectioned off in pairs so that you don’t have to see other punters at all!

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Megabox 

Last but not least is The Megabox Cinema (Songdo), at the Triple Street Mall (behind the Hyundai Outlet Mall at Technopark on the subway). Megabox.png

The easiest way to pay for the tickets is to pop along to the G-Tower and make a bank transfer. You can pay with an international PayPal account, but following a recent change in Korean Legislation, you can no longer use a domestic PayPal account to pay for goods or services within Korea. (This was particularly annoying, as it took me 10 months to set up my Gmarket account and be able to use it, but now I rely on doing wire transfers from the ATM for most online things.)

Now if you don’t want to take the easy option to satisfy your movie-viewing desires, you can go to the individual websites and they all have an English Option. Just open the site in Internet Explorer on your PC (I wouldn’t try it on a phone or tablet for the first time) and hunt around for the “English” button at the top right or middle-bottom of the page and away you go.

Happy Viewing Folks!

 

A Beijing Mini Break: 3 Day Itinerary

Having sorted out the admin pretrip, we were ready for our 3.5 day sojourn in Beijing. First thing to get used to pretty much every flight to China from Incheon gets delayed. It’s boring but it is part of the experience. Also, a lot of passengers will have an INSANE amount of hand-baggage, so you kind want to get on the plane quickly to make sure you get some of that precious overhead storage space (this is where you want loyalty points for some essential pre- boarding.)

We landed in PEK and jostled our way through immigration. The airport is HUGE! You have to get a fairly lengthy train shuttle from just outside immigration to luggage collection and from getting off the plane to getting into a taxi, it took about an hour.

People talk about the traffic in Beijing, and the drivers there, and it sounds horrendous. Knowing our propensity to hire cars and do things ourselves, several friends warned us off driving in Beijing and said we’d be scared enough in taxis. I don’t get it personally. The traffic, although plentiful, wasn’t the worst and because there was plenty of traffic, it really felt like everything was happening in slow motion. Yes, there were plenty of cars that zipped in and out of traffic, super close to a car we were in but because of the speed every one is travelling at, it isn’t an insurmountable feat. Anyway, I digress.

We arrived in Dongzhimen around 7 and spent the evening wandering around the local area – ostensibly to find the subway station, but really just to orient ourselves as we knew we would be taxi people this trip. During the wandering, we came across the Raffles City Mall, across the road from Dongzhimen station and lo and behold, dinner was solved – Pizza Express in China (although it’s called Pizza Marzano there!)

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Day 1 in Beijing was a very rainy Friday morning not conducive to sightseeing, so we spent the day roaming (in taxis) around different areas, stopping for food as needed. I was particularly excited to find a place to get my eyebrows threaded in the CBD. Browhaus has two locations pretty close to each other, and the staff spoke enough English to make me feel comfortable. It was 98RMB for eyebrows and 50RMB for upper lip which is a bit pricey but I wasn’t so sure that I’d walk away with my face intact from some of the definitely cheaper in-mall threading places.

I went to the location in the Kerry Centre, and while I was doing my thing, Raj was busy finding a lunch stop in the same building: Din Tai Fung for world-renowned dumplings – including a veggie selection for him!

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After lunch, we headed over to the Bodhi Spa, as recommended to us, for some blissful massages which helped to while away the afternoon. http://www.bodhi.com.cn We paid 348RMB for a 1hr aromatherapy massage and you’ll find the spa just North of the workers stadium, across the road.

We spent the evening strolling through Sanlitun – known for its bars and restaurants. The food prices are pretty amazing when compared to Korea and the choice available is huge! Apparently Sanlitun used to be the soft red light district of Beijing and to this end, you still see women dancing on poles in an establishment which is right next door to a more family friendly environment. We had a nice drink at the Hacienda Rooftop bar, followed by a stroll home. One strange thing we found everywhere is that as soon as your food / order has been brought to your table, the servers expect payment immediately. If you hand over a card, they often ask for the password (pin) but we’d say no and mime signing instead. It’s almost like they expect you to do a runner so they avoid that by getting paid upfront, which is weird in the police-state that is China but you get used to it.

Day 2 dawned with slightly more friendly weather, so we set off to the Summer Palace, up in the North of the city. The summer palace was exactly the kind of crowded mayhem that you would imagine China to be. Last summer’s desire to be a video-blogger came back for a few moments while I tried  to capture the insanity – but it was a futile attempt. We bought the artists map to try to navigate around the palace, but whilst it is a very pretty representation it isn’t the most useful to get around, so that’s where Lonely Planet comes in. This is also the place that I came round to the idea of using umbrellas as sun protection. It was hot and humid and climbing to the top for some albeit very pretty views was sticky work. I think I’d almost prefer to return to Beijing in the cold months (cold weather doesn’t scare me anymore – I live in Korea after all!) to do the rest of the sightseeing. If you have time, it’s a nice little ferry ride from the main bit of the palace to South Island too. The sun disappeared while we were on the boat but the view were still nice.  Leaving the palace to get a taxi was hard. This seems to be a recurring theme in China, so if you have members of your party who would object to walking around in search of one, make sure you get the DiDi app and have data on your phone! Even with the app, lack of language skills means that it still isn’t the easiest thing, but every little bit helps.

From the Palace, we went to a Duck restaurant – its Beijing, Roast Duck in pancakes is an absolute must – that was recommended and across the road from the hotel. It was a late lunch, so the restaurant had run out of vegetarian food but Raj patiently watched me stuff myself and then went and found some noodles around the corner.

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After a little rest (I really must invest in a hat) we headed to Houhai for dinner and a drink. The name ‘Houhai’ refers to a lake and its surrounding neighbourhood in the Xicheng District of Central Beijing and is a lovely place for a pre-dinner stroll. We ventured away from the lake down some decidedly quiet, and in any other country, dodgy, side streets which are apparently filled with market traders during the day to a quiet and quaint little Italian restaurant, Mercante, which we’ve since learnt is a gem amongst the Beijing Foodie Set. With an Italian owner, the food is impeccable and I was only sorry that I’d eaten so much duck that I didn’t have space for the rack of New Zealand Lamb that was the night’s special. (Yes, I realise most of my holiday posts revolve around food. I can’t help it, I get hungry. I’ve started planning my trip to London in September already – Nandos, Teryiaki Salmon Fishcakes from M&S, Ribs and Greggs make the top food stops). After dinner we went back to the lake for a drink at the ‘No Name Bar.’ For such a gorgeous venue, it was empty, so please do make an effort to find it and offer it your custom when in town! 

Day 3, and our last full day in Beijing. We jumped in a taxi to Tiananmen Square: interestingly, if you Google-search Tiananmen Square without a VPN in China, nothing of note comes up. There is a big ploy to make sure that people know that nothing happened there, but when you get there, security is super tight and there are supposedly plain clothed policemen at every turn. Why would you need all this if nothing happened? We planned to go to the Square first, but somehow found ourselves caught up in the queue for The Forbidden City so we went along with it. That was our first big fail of the trip. There are only 80,000 tickets sold each day for the Forbidden City and most of these are booked by tour operators or online before people arrive at the venue. The crowds to get into FC are HUGE and pushy and shove-y and gross in the heat, but there is no sign on the outside to say there are no tickets left. Once we shoved our way in only to find all the tickets were sold out, we made our way back to the front to get out, only to be turned around with no indication where the exit was. At some point I was wandering through crowds just saying ‘exit’ over and over again in the hope that someone would take pity on me and point me in the right direction!  Turns out you need to walk the length of the FC on the outside in order to get out.

Fast-forward from here to Silk Street. Ah yes, the infamous art of bargaining in a Chinese market. I am SO bad at haggling that I just went down the ‘speak to my husband I don’t have any money route’ and left him to it after I picked out things. There is a nice food court (veggie and non-veggie noodles pleaseandthankyou) for pre-shopping, and lots of great foot massage places for post shopping. All in all, I was happy with my spoils, which included a new pair of glasses for me, prescription sunglasses for him both for less than £100. I think I’ll get prescription sunglasses next time…

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Raj likes to check out the Indian food offering everywhere we go, so that’s what we did for dinner. The menu at Ganges in Sanlitun was HUGE and it definitely gets a thumbs up from us – sadly I ate my food too quickly before I thought of taking pictures, but it’s just an excuse to go back I reckon!! 🙂

All in all, a Beijing Mini Break is thoroughly recommended. I want to go back to see the Great Wall of China (a 70km hike in that weather was not on my list of things to do) and actually enter the Forbidden City so I’ll be applying for a multi-entry visa when I’m in London to make it possible…

 

A Beijing Mini Break: How To

One of my favourite things about living in Korea is the access to the rest of Asia. This year, a number of different factors conspired to mean that we have spent summer in Korea, and making our home leave visits later in the year. We’ve used a fair amount of that time to go into Seoul and more recently, made the 2 hour flight to Beijing, for my first trip to China.

Visa Free Layover 

A lot of nationalities (and I can confirm this from a British Passport Holder point of view) can do a 72 hour layover in China visa-free having met certain conditions:

  • You must fly in and out of the same airport around the 72 hour layover (e.g PEK)
  • You must be flying to a third country and possess a ticket to prove this journey. For these purposes, Hong Kong does count as a third country (e.g. Incheon ⇒ Beijing ⇒ Hong Kong ⇒ Incheon) NB. In the given example, if you wanted to re-enter Beijing after Hong Kong, you would need a visa for the second re-entry into China
  • You need to have your accommodation in Beijing booked, with a printed copy as proof.

If you are taking the layover option, there is a separate immigration queue that you can use – in fact there are two options here as well. You can either use the immigration queue that allows entry into the city itself, or if just transiting, there is another queue for visa-free-remaining-in-the-airport. Take a moment to make sure you are in the right queue and save yourself some time.

China-Visitor Visa 

Although pretty much everyone needs a visa to visit China, there are exceptions so it’s worth your while to check the requirements for your trip yourself.

Note: The Chinese Embassy no longer issues travel visas to individuals. One must go through one’s travel agent to get the required visas. Also, foreign nationals must now have 6 months remaining on their ARC (visa) to qualify for a visa to China.

For our visas, we went to Mode Tour, which is right by Central Park 2. The staff don’t speak a lot of English, but enough to help you get your visa. You need a passport photo, your passIMG_1359port and your Alien Registration Card as proof of residence. If you don’t have an ARC then you’re better off applying for a multiple entry visa in your home country. We had a little issue because our ARC doesn’t have an expiry date, but luckily we have Korean visas in our passports which do have an end date, so it worked out OK. The staff in the agency fill out most of the form for you while you are there, and the standard service takes about 4 days. You pay, in cash, on collection – about 80,000 per visa. You probably can get a  multiple entry visa via the agency, but we just got a single entry for this trip. The recommendation is that you have your flights and accommodation booked before you apply for your visa but the travel agents didn’t take the printed copies when applying for our visas, so I’m not sure about that. There is also an express service for the visas as well, and as expected it costs a little more.

Accommodation 

I don’t have a lot to say on this – where you stay depends on what you want to do and what your budget is, but I will say this. All visitors have to register with the local police office within 24 hours of arriving in China. If you stay in a hotel, they take photocopies of your passport photo page and visa and do this for you. If, however, you stay in an Airbnb or with friends, I think you would have to arrange this yourself – just make sure you’ve done the necessary admin. It’s also a requirement to always carry your passport (or Chinese ID if you have it) on your person, so a good cross body bag for essentials is useful.

Getting Around 

The subway is getting larger and is pretty easy to use. You can get a T-money card equivalent but we just did a few single journies, as taxis are really affordable in China and we were being a little bit lazy (totally allowed on holiday). When you are taking taxis, always make sure they switch on the meter (and get out of the taxi if they don’t want to), don’t take private cars masquerading as taxis and have plenty of smaller notes to pay for the taxis as well (see money, below). There isn’t a lot of English spoken, so yo need to have Chinese addresses to give to taxi drivers. To this end, Google maps isn’t 100% reliable in terms of location but you can use it to obtain said Chinese addresses. Taxis start at a base rate of 13.00 RMB and if you are spending a bit longer in China, it might be worth downloading the Didi app (available in English) to hail taxis with. We didn’t hire a local sim card as it was just 4 days so used our Korean data but this is an option at the airport I believe. One thing you will want to have set up on your phone is a VPN, as access to many Western apps is restricted in China.

Cash v Card

China isn’t as card-friendly a society as Korea is, as locals tend to load money onto their ‘wechat’ apps and use this for paying for everything – restaurants, shops, taxis, cinema etc. Foreign cards are especially hit and miss – even when it comes to ATMs. I’d recommend using cash for most transactions and to withdraw cash, your safest bets are Citibank, Bank of China, HSBC and the airport ATMs.

Cash fraud is, however, still a big deal – especially with 100 RMB notes. Our hotel (Holiday Inn Express Dongzhimen) had a little list of checks to make when money is handed back to you but I’m going to get a friend to write a little note about this as well. Watch this space. I mentioned above that you should have correct change for taxis – this is because the following scenario is pretty common:

  • Passenger hands taxi driver 100 RMB
  • Taxi driver says it is fake (when it isn’t) and hands back a fake 100 RMB note to the passenger
  • Passenger accepts fake and uses another 100RMB note to pay fare.

One taxi we got into agreed a price of 20RMB from Silk Street to our hotel, which is what we paid getting there. He immediately handed me 80RMB in change, expecting a 100RMB in return. I said no and gave him a 20 note. At this, point he said he wanted 20 euros (!) so we said no and hoped out. I can only assume that the 80 change he was prepared to hand over was fake and I foiled his plan by having change to hand. Guess we’ll never know.

Restaurants

Eating out in Beijing is great – for veggies and carnivores a like! All the menus are in English and there are options to suit every taste and budget. I’ll write more about where we ate in the next post though… 

One last thing

People talk a lot about the pollution in Beijing. We really didn’t find it to be visibly that bad but maybe we’ve gotten used to a similar level in Korea. Checking the air quality app showed that levels weren’t great, but speaking to a couple of long-term expats in Beijing, we learnt that it was the worst it had been in a while (save for 2 weeks in Winter when you try not to go outside.) What I did find however, is that my contact-lens covered eyes struggled after a day, no matter how many eye drops I used. Wearing sunglasses, even when it wasn’t that sunny helped a LOT so either do that, or give your eyes a break and wear your glasses every now and again.

 

 

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Designed by Zaha Hadid (no relation to Gigi & Bella as far as I can tell) and typical of her designs I’m told, Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a great place for a day out in Seoul. We only made it over for the first time three weekends ago and have ended up going there three weekends in a row.

Here’s a picture I’ve stolen from the interweb – I couldn’t get a great one of the entire building on my phone :

DDP.jpg

DDP, as it is colloquially known, is made up of five halls: Art Hall, Museum, Design Lab, Design Market and Dngdaemun History & Culture Park. Located at the centre of South Korea’s fashion hub, it is a popular place to visit with locals and tourists alike and super easy to access – the subway station Dongdaemun History & Culture Park leads straight into the plaza. There are pretty gardens surrounding it, as well as numerous malls, and in the past few weeks we’ve visited in rain and sunshine alike.

 

The Art Hall is known as the primary space for the Korean creative industry, and we visited it to check out “Volez, Vougez, Voyagez,” The Louis Vuitton Exhibition. The exhibition is a free one and on until the 27th August 2017 and if you haven’t been already, it is definitely worth checking out! You can reserve a space online, so that you don’t have to stand in the queue – we didn’t do this but were still in within 15 minutes and spent a happy hour wandering through various stages of LV’s history, checking out the designs, patterns and collaborations that make the brand so well known today. For a free exhibition, the accompanying brochure and app were amazingly produced and full of information.

We also visited the “30 Years of Pixar” exhibition in the Design Exhibition Hall – it is only on until the 8th August so get your skates on! Tickets cost 13,000 KRW per adult and inside you will find lots of background information on how some of your favourite Pixar movies are made and the incredible initial sketches and colourscapes that go in to each and every scene. It is SUCH a treat for any Pixar fan and the little gift shop is a great bonus at the end!

DDP is also the location of one of three Shake Shacks in Korea – and yes, we’ve eaten there every week for 3 weeks now (they even have a mushroom burger for the veggies)!

All in all, you should definitely have a look on the website regularly and keep heading on down (up) to see what DDP has to offer: http://www.ddp.or.kr/main?hl=en_US