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!

Hardware Store.JPG


It’s Gettin’ Hot in Herre…

Update 01/12/2017: I’ve had feedback that there is a missing step below however, I followed my instructions exactly as written and it worked on my oven. I can only conclude therefore that as every oven is slightly different, you might have to try pressing a couple of extra buttons in between to get it working as you want!

And that is where we will stop any comparisons to the 2009 Nelly hit because cooking while less than dressed is inadvisable to say the least. Ahem.

When we were apartment hunting, having an oven was one of the overriding requirements – more so than having any furniture/white goods provided, because a life without hope of the odd Jacket Potato is not a life that we want any part of. (Raj likes to tell me I can be a bit of a Drama Queen. This isn’t true, but if it was, I would prefer Princess.) So we were very happy to learn that all the Central Park apartments have built-in ovens – but then came the fun bit, of trying to figure out how to use it. We asked our landlord to show us, but the oven doesn’t feature highly in Korean cooking, and she was only able to show us how to activate the microwave and how to use the oven presets. Now, that’s all well and good, but I had no idea what actual temperature each of the presets related to, so baking anything was a bit hit and miss.

One day, I decided that if all I achieved that day was to work out how to make the oven work, then I would have had a major Korea-win for my collection. Since that day, I seem to have spent a fair bit of time going to people’s apartments to show them how to work their ovens / have them come to mine for the same, so I’ve decided that a quick post on this probably wouldn’t go amiss.

FIrst things first: This is the basic oven setup from all the ovens in Songdo that I have seen. I’ve only labelled the buttons and knobs on the right hand side, as that’s all you need to make the oven work. I think the buttons on the left hand side are for using the presets but I can’t remember and to be honest, do perfectly well without those!

Oven 1

Step 1: Twiddle (for want of a better word) knob A until you see these two symbols in the display

Oven 2.png

Step 2: Once you have the two symbols as above, hit* button B and you’ll see the temperature in the display. You can then turn Knob A again to increase or decrease the temperature as required. Once you’re at the right temperature, hit button B again to lock it in.

Oven 3.png

Step 3: Hit button E at the end to preheat the oven. The little bar will fill up to indicate the oven getting hotter, but even when the bar is full, wait for the beeps to indicate that your required temperature has been reached.

Oven 4.png

Step 4: Once preheated, twiddle Knob C to set the required time, and hit button E to get the cooking going! If at any point you want to cancel and start over, button D is the one you need.

Oven 5.png

Another couple of features of this combination machine include:

  • Microwave: The easiest way to use it is just hitting button E repeatedly to increase the amount of micro-waving time in increments of 30 seconds.
  • Grill: Unlike grills that I am used to, this one only works when the door is closed, so be careful what pans you use in it. To get the grill going, twiddle Knob A until you see the symbol marked below, hit Button B to fix it, adjust the timing with Knob C and get the cooking going by hitting button E. Simples.

Grill 1.png

Happy Baking Everybody!

*Note from Ed: Whether or not you choose to actually hit your oven is up to you – for me it usually depends on how frustrating whatever I am trying to make is proving to be.

Apartment Hunting

We arrived and moved into The Prau straight away, as it was the recommended building, and, well, the thought of having a nice warm flat to move into upon arrival was far more enticing than staying in a hotel until we were ready to move again. It is about 20 minutes walk from The GCF and a good starting point. Most of the people I have spoken to seem to have stayed here for at least a month, depending how long their permanent home search took.  The apartments are fully furnished (a rare find here in South Korea) and with basic cookware and bedding – although you have to request these to be included in the apartment. They are also pretty flexible about timelines – we started off booking for one month but as I right, our second month in the apartment is coming to an end and we are extending for one more week. The ultimate luxury is that the wifi is up and running and there is a smart TV (remember the Apple TV post – this is where it comes in handy) set up and ready to use.

We contacted all the real estate agents that were suggested to us, but only one replied – Mr. Juny Park (  +82 10-4366-3515). He speaks English well and communicates via whatsapp so whilst you are using your home phone, it is still easy enough to set up appointments with him. I had shared our preferences for apartment (size, bedrooms, area etc) with Juny prior to arriving in Songdo and he lined up several options for us to look at straight away. You cannot overestimate how useful it is having someone who speaks the language in your corner and renting in Korea is a very peculiar beast.

Edit: A further agent that people have used more recently and really like is Mr B Cho at Songdo Homes ( Always nice to have another contact just in case! Whilst I was perfectly happy with Juny, newer arrivals have preferred Mr Cho – the choice is yours! 

Key Money vs Monthly Rent

The strangest thing about renting here is the upfront deposit that everyone is required to put down. To be completely straight up about it – monthly rents pay the landlord’s mortgage (or the Korean equivalent) and they make money by investing the deposits that they require all tenants to pay. The deposits can vary from $10,000 USD to $50,000 and the general rule is, the lower the deposit, the higher the monthly rent.  However, it is always worth seeing an apartment even if the deposit seems outrageous. On the way over to our new place (Central Park 1..more on that below) I mentioned to Juny that the requested deposit was way too high, even though the rent seemed reasonable. By the time Raj and I had look in the first cupboard, he has got the landlady to agree to reduce the deposit to a figure within our budget – all is well that ends well.


Make sure that you request the contracts in both English and Korean and if possible, ask a Korean-speaking colleague to check that the contract written in Korean matches the English one. A typical GCF clause is the ‘diplomatic clause.’ This allows the tenant to give 2 months notice to the Landlord – usually contracts are set for 1 or 2 years with no break clause. Our landlady wasn’t keen on the clause and we were happy to have it removed, but in return asked for a reduction in rent, or that some of the white goods that we were hoping to avoid buying were left behind. In the end, the clause remained and we got a treadmill out of it – no excuses for sitting around now!

Central Park

Most of the apartments in the Central Park complex are unfurnished. If you are lucky, you can get a landlord to leave behind a fridge and/or washing machine, unfortunately we didn’t get anything (except the aforementioned treadmill.) There are three mini-complexes within the overall complex – Central Park 1, Central Park 2 and Central Park 3. Each building has different sized apartments and different benefits, so it is worth going to visit one apartment in each building to decide what suits you the best. Some have gyms included, some don’t. You need to apply for parking in each one. All are very close to the GCF so expect some lunchtime visits from the spouse… What each one has in common is that utilities will be payable on top of the rent – make sure you ask about these. Whilst they are largely based on usage (eletricity, water and gas) there are some fixed costs – maintenance, service charge etc.

Household Items

Key places to get your shopping done include, Homeplus, Lotte, Emart, Ikea and Costco.

The most important tip in the first three is ALWAYS ASK FOR THE REAL PRICE. We were lucky and Juny took us to buy a fridge and TV and we learnt that the prices on display are never the ones that you will actually pay. So ask and ask and ask until you find someone with enough English to confirm the actual cost for you – you’ll be presently surprised.Whenever you buy something large from these stores, they will deliver and install as well. Ikea offers a delivery service (at an additional cost) and at a further cost, will also build your furniture for you and Costco offers a delivery service (and installation for items like washing machines).  Speaking of washing machines, if you are able to ship your own from home, I’d recommend it. If, like us, there are just the two of you, the washing machines available here are all HUGE (14kg and above) and I am really struggling to find something smaller – so much so I am seriously considering asking our landlord at The Prau if he’ll sell us the washing machine from here!

So moving day is actually tomorrow and I’ll fill you in as to how the move itself goes, as well as how we managed the language barrier when getting deliveries into the building (Language classes really could not start any sooner!)


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 🙂