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

 

Advertisements

What (Not) To Wear

When you think about the Asian Fashion scene I am sure that the Harajuku girls of Japan (whether you know them by that name or not) is one of the first images that comes to mind. That, and impossibly skinny and impeccable women made up to perfection. I feel like Korea didn’t really make a big impact on the global fashion scene until the 00s but more likely it was a combination of watching Gucci’s S/S 2013 trunk show in Seoul online (Sidebar: I worked in a really cool agency and my boss opined that creativity begets creativity so watching a superbly produced fashion show counted as research) and the fact that Raj first planted the seed of South Korea in my mind in 2013 that made me sit up and take notice of the country.

Of course I went into overdrive researching the country, the dos and don’ts, trying to find out as much as possible about Songdo – for which there was limited information online, hence the birth of this blog – but one thing that I didn’t think about was clothing beyond the practical i.e. lots of warm layers for the ridiculous winters.  Turns out there are a lot of unspoken rules about what one should wear to minimise* the staring as you go about your business. A quick note – my tips below don’t cover a working environment be that in an international organisation where the global standard of dress tends to apply,  or a Korean organisation, where as far as I can tell high heels are the only acceptable shoes for women.

(1) Keep ’em covered.

Generally speaking, exposing one’s shoulders and anything with a low décolletage is frowned upon. Spaghetti strap tops and dresses are sold here but girls will tend to wear them over a t-shirt – and this rule is adhered to by even the youngest of society. Now I feel like the shoulders rule is of less import but if you are blessed in the bust department and a sleeveless top almost inevitably means a bit of cleavage on show, perhaps its better to keep those tops in your holiday wardrobe. You’d probably get away with it fine in Songdo due to its international composition but in both the smaller and larger cities in Korea, a t-shirt helps avoid unwanted attention. Songdo is beyond safe but many stories of local men being a bit creepy towards foreign women flood Facebook (I haven’t been subjected to this personally however, probably because I’m usually in the company of Raj / in a large mixed group).

(2) When it comes to hemlines, the sky is the limit

I have a former boss who used to say that rising hemlines are sign of a rising economy. If this is true, the Korean economy is BOOMING. Whilst knee length is probably the norm for more formal occasions, you will see women in itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-shorts, skirts and dresses on a day-to-day basis. In winter these will be paired with thick, decorative tights for warmth but short short short is still the order of the day. As it can get breezy, I’ve seen women wearing cycling shorts (or similar) under their skirts and dresses to avoid a Marilyn-moment – and if you are of average European size, this trick also helps with the dreaded chub-rub (as does hacking a pair of tights into shorts along the gusset line).

(3) Footwear is key

In summer, I am guilty of slipping on flip flops to run my daily errands but a Korean woman will always be well-heeled. Be it trainers (sneakers), pumps, sandals or heels their shoes are well cared for and chosen with care to work with their outfits. Many fancier bars (very strict on- and off-line defamation laws in Korea prevent me from naming names) won’t allow you in wearing open-toed flats (even if they are actual sandals and not flip flops) and keep a stock of heels for women to borrow.  I’ve even seen trainers for hire at outdoor festivals for women who make the mistake of wearing their heels to such events. You’ll find no end of footsie socks, cute trainer liners and fancy tights in all the subway stations to accompany your shoes too – and as with most things in Korea, the cuter the better!

(4) Game, set and MATCH

The phenomenon of couples wearing matching clothes is HUGE. It’s something that I am yet to get Raj to do but you’ll see tons of couple wearing his’n’hers t-shirts, sweatshirts, coats even! I’ve also seen a couple wearing matching skirt (for her) and shorts (for him) and taking about a million selfies to document the outfits obviously.

Now a whole separate post is needed about how women always look immaculate here but even if they are going grocery shopping in tracksuit bottoms and uggs, their faces are flawless and hair is neat and tidy. Long gone are the days that I had the patience for such things but once in a while it is fun to try 🙂

So there you have it. A simple set of tips for what (not) to wear in Korea if you want to fit in or at least, not stand out quite so much.

*Minimise. That’s all you are going to be able to achieve so it’s worth putting on your thickest skin before you get to Korea. Society here is pretty homogenous and the emphasis on how a person looks is high. Deviate from the norm – perhaps you’re bond, or tall or have green eyes – in any way and you will earn the open stares of passers by. A group of girls might look in your direction and laugh – for no reason other than you are a foreigner and  I’ve also heard tell of ajummas (older Korean Women – think your neighbourhood grandma) who thinks nothing of adjusting a bra strap/ fingering the material of a dress  on a stranger sitting next to them on the bus.

 

Being Humankind

It is no secret that this blog doesn’t only address how to go about daily life in Songdo, but rather, it goes where my mind does. We’ve talked about social issues affecting expats such as cultural appropriation and how shocking the treatment of women is in Korea and also the rest of the world but that’s not where the story ends. Amongst all our talk of feminism, it is easy to forget to take a step back and actually think about what feminism means, or, dare I say, should mean, in today’s world.

For me, feminism is primarily about choice and the freedom to exercise that choice. Let’s face it, despite the rollercoaster of educational paths and careers that I have followed, I now live a gender stereotypical life in Korea – My husband is the sole breadwinner and I am the homemaker. The important thing is that the decision to move was a join one. Flashback to our first wedding anniversary when he told me he had the job offer. My first question was ‘when are we moving’ followed by a sidebar ‘are you going to be ok with the fact that me being able to work there is a very remote possibility’. His first concern was whether I would be happy not being able to do the work I love. Whilst I miss it sometimes, I am great at keeping myself busy, and he is great at supporting whatever my latest project is (ed. within reason. My desire for flying lessons has been met with a most vague ‘we’ll see’. I think he is waiting for this phase to pass personally – see Mr. B, I’m wise to your tricks, I just let you think I don’t know differently.) I also know that if I suddenly decide I’m not happy here there are options we can discuss: me moving abroad to take on projects for a few months at a time, or us leaving to a country that we can both work in. Choice and freedom to exercise that choice. I don’t like the kind of militant feminism that demands every task be a shared one – if there are ten things to do, we’ll take five each if that makes sense based on our individual time commitments, rather than each doing 50% of each one. Everyone should be as lucky with the men in their lives as me – grandfathers, father, brothers and husband.

Anyway, as usual I digress. Yes, feminism is important and there is a long way to go for women but equally important, and more often forgotten, is, well, it turns out it is such forgotten concept that I’m struggling to even find a word for it – feminism for men is what I guess I’ll call it.  I’m genuinely worried for both my future-male-and-female children that the world they are being born into is far from ideal. I mentioned in a previous post that women do get the short end of the stick a lot so I won’t go into that again now, but it’s not all easy for men either. Men are often depicted as tough to the extent of being brutish, lads who drink beer and scare old people as they thunder down the street. There is an expectation that they will conform to societal norms and refuse to wear pink, won’t cry in public, won’t hug one another and generally remain aloof and distant from people around them. I mean, it would suck to be born into that reality right? And sadly, those in power do nothing but propagate the myths surrounding manhood.

I’m sure you remember when Mr Trump dismissed one of his many misogynistic comments as ‘locker room chat.’ There were many voices, one of my most favourite being Michelle Obama*, that argued that accepting such a dismissal was simply offensive to all the men in our life who wouldn’t dream of speaking about women, or any human, using the tone and words employed by POTUS. So to all those shouting that it shouldn’t be OK for men to talk like that amongst themselves (and yes, I agree that it shouldn’t) let’s remember that NOT ALL MEN DO.  And you know what’s apparent? Amongst all the noise (I use the word in the kindest possible way)  calling for #genderequality, it is those good, kind men, those fathers, brothers, husbands, sons and friends who don’t have a voice, or whose voice is discounted for the simple reason that they are men – viz: ‘How can you know what it is like to be discriminated against – you’re a man and its easy for you!’ Those men, however, are SO important if we are to ever achieve a truly equal, or anything close to truly equal – until men can push humans out of their bodies it won’t be totally equal – global society.

And it is here that we see the point of this post.  There are so many of these underappreciated men in our lives, in the world, that an attempt to help them speak out needs to be celebrated and supported. To this end, my friends in London have created “Being Mankind”  – a photo-illustrated volume that gives voices to the kind men who are real role models. Men who truly define what it is to be a man. Who can share their emotions and throw off the societal-demand that they always ‘be strong’ and ‘be tough.’ Who will be house-husbands in a world where housewives are the norm. Who we aspire to be like, or raise our children to be like. Who will always share the task of being human with women.

The book itself is a stunning depiction of several real-life stories that will take you through a gamut of emotions, and for every book that is bought, another is donated to a school where young men (and women) will have access to it and be inspired say no to outdated stereotypes in favour of being kind, confident and empathetic human beings. And the best bit – you can totally help!

In order to increase the print run of Vol1 and launch Vol 2 of the book, they’ve got an all-or-nothing-Kickstarter campaign that you can read about here that only has 3 days left to go. If they don’t reach their target, they don’t get any of the funding pledged to date, so it really is a case of every penny counts. Any donations, pledges or shares of the kickstarter campaign website are all welcome – you’ve got the links above, but here are the websites in full if you want to share them on!

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1914102455/being-mankind

Being Mankind Website: https://www.beingmankind.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beingmankindorg/

Let’s take a stand and make a difference that counts. #genderequality #beingmankind #beinghumankind #kickstarter

Being Mankind

*It would appear that the post script is becoming a more regular feature of my posts. Luckily I know you will only read on if you are particularly interested. Now Michelle Obama is a great feminist. Educated, ambitious and driven, but with everything she does oozing class and grace. I’m given to understand (correct me if I’m wrong)  that the First Lady (or First Husband) is required to give up her/his career whilst his/her spouse holds the position of POTUS and I defy anyone to say that this action is anti-feminist.  Never once did you get the feeling that she resented being the wife of  ‘the most powerful man in the world.’ I mean, she is his wife much like he is her husband. No ownership implied in the possessive pronouns, just a statement of fact – neither of them can be anybody else’s husband/wife whilst they are each others after all.  Rather, she supported him in his job and pursued the agenda for hers whilst together they raised two equally fabulous children all within the public eye. She didn’t eschew the need to look incredible at all times in the name of feminism and personally, I think she is everything a leader should be. If it were up to me #michelleforpresident2020 would be a given. Now excuse me whilst I go and think about my most serious girl-crush….

 

Nikko, Yamazaki & Nara

Following last night’s little rant about a mere handful of things going on in the world which all leave me indescribably sad, I thought I would lift the tone by returning to my current favourite topic. Japan.

This blog seems to have taken a turn for the travel-blog, rather than one of my musings but I suspect that as I end my missive to Japan, things will return to normal, so bear with me dear folks.

Right, so, I’m combining a few of the day and half-day trips that we did (using our trusty JR Passes) – I could quite easily wax lyrical about each place in a post of its own, but your comfort and interest is at the forefront of my mind (somewhat) and so brevity is the order of the day.

On Saturday, the sun was shining and we planned to take our first Shinkansen. Now, as much as I love Japan, I super-super love the Shinkansen. Granted I only managed to stay awake on one of the Shinkansen (I even love to say the word..) trips we did but wowowowowow. Anyhow, my first Shinkansen experience was to Nikko. We’d heard many good things about the place and it didn’t disappoint. The initial sunshine of the day waned a little, so we didn’t spend the whole day there, but we did visit the Shrines Tosho-gu and Futarasan. I can imagine that when the weather is more consistent, Nikko would be a glorious place to spend a couple of nights.. and that is on the agenda for my next trip. The evening consisted of dinner with friends in Shibuya and the all important viewing of Captain America: Civil War, followed by a little stroll and the easy-peasy reservation of our seats on the Shinkansen (there is that word again) to Kyoto from Shinigawa station.

Jumping forward a few days, we spent Tuesday visiting the Yamazaki (or Kamikaze, as i kept, rather Freudian-ly kept saying) distillery and the temples of Nara. As we only realised the distillery was so close to Kyoto rather late in the day, we were unable to get a space on the tour – this books out months in advance, so plan ahead and make the most of it. We were however able to wander through the museum and try a few of the more choice whiskeys, which made for a most pleasant morning! A word to the wise for you whiskey aficionados out there: Yamazaki 18 is near impossible to buy. A bartender in Kyoto told us that most bars send their staff out to remote countryside liquor stores on the off-chance that there is a bottle in stock and nobody has realised it’s worth. The distillery had none left to sell and nor did any of the stores or bars we went to. I believe that a few years ago there was a dramatization of the Whiskey Industry in Japan, which increased popularity and led to ginormous sales and the current low stock situation. So enjoy the drink when you find it in bars but set your sights a little lower when planning which bottle to take home!

From Yamazaki, we went back to Kyoto and took a local train (no Shinkansen today, sigh) to Nara. If you head to bus stop 2, you’ll get to the Todaiji Temple Complex. The main sight, the Todaiji Temple itself is of huge historical significance in Japan. Constructed in 752, it was the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples. At the time, Nara was considered the capital of Japan but the growth of the Todaiji temple meant that the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784, to reduce the influence of the temple of the governmental affairs.

We then wandered uphill to Kasuga Taisha – unfortunately slightly too late to go inside, but we hung around the front and snapped a few pictures nonetheless, and I met one of my favourite trees of Japan.

Dinner was Ramen at Ippudo (more about this in the Kyoto post) and a little wander through the streets of Gion, which evoke all the traditional feelings that one associates with Kyoto. Tonight was the night of drinks at the wonderful Finlandia, but I’ll tell you more about that next time..

 

The Start of a Lifelong Love Affair – Japan

Oh Wow. Japan. What an amazing country. It has always been a place that I wanted to visit but little did I realise how much I NEEDED to visit the country. The history, the culture, the sights, the food, the Shinkansen.. everything has just worked its way into my heart and I have a feeling will be staying put for a long time to come.

Anyhow, we planned to spend a week in Japan – leaving Songdo late on a Wednesday night and returning first thing the following Thursday and we packed in a lot, so Japan is going to be the subject of my next few posts, starting with pre-departure.

Planning the trip started off pretty easily – we wanted to visit our friends in Tokyo before they moved back to The States and to minimise the days off that Raj needed, we decided to go over the long Children’s Day weekend in Korea – but this did mean that flights were slightly more expensive than usual for this 2.5 hour flight. We later realised that our trip also coincided with the tail end of ‘Golden Week’ in Japan. It worked out great for us, as it meant that Tokyo was nice and quiet (although restaurants had a habit of closing early on us) and when we moved onto Kyoto, it was a teeny-tiny bit quieter.

We made the decision to pack in some travel and so, I ordered JR Passes from http://www.jrpass.com on Friday morning. By Monday lunchtime (for an additional fee of $19) FedEx had dropped the exchange vouchers into my hands. You need to make sure that you get the ‘temporary visitor’ stamp in your passport upon entering Japan and then take your passport with you when you go to exchange the voucher for the actual pass. You have to choose the day your pass starts and for us, we started it immediately as we had exactly 7 days to use it in. This meant that we could use it on the Yamanote Line within Tokyo as well, which definitely saved us $$$.

We also got Suica cards (The Japanese T-Money Card equivalent) for all the inbetween journies and although you can return them to get your deposit back (500 JPY) we kept ours for future visits.

IMG_5564Once in Japan, unlike in Korea, Google Maps is your friend. If you aren’t using roaming on your cellphone (we had Raj’s work phone for that) then I’d say it is helpful to invest in a pre-paid sim card / hire a phone at the airport for the duration of your stay. We also made good use of our battery pack – a must on any day trip with an iPhone.

Our friend’s in Tokyo had prepared some useful information for any travellers to have and you can access it via this link:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=193Fu1dfQwLEGz260cla0ReWeC2CwaHvFSJG30X-axDo

Anyways, as I said, we packed in a lot during our week in Japan and below is the itinerary we ended up following (we started with a slightly different one, but adapted as needed). I’ll be writing a few posts about the trip, but combining the days so that they make more sense, not to mention limiting my ability to waffle on…

Thursday 5th May & Friday 6th May: Exploring Tokyo

Saturday 7th May: Day Trip to Nikko (and my first Shinkansen)

Sunday 8th May: Kyoto

Monday 9th May: Miyajima Island & Hiroshima

Tuesday 10th May: Yamazaki Distillery & Nara

Wednesday 11th May: Kyoto and return to Tokyo for our flight the next morning

For fear of boring the reader with too long a post, I’ll continue with Tales of Tokyo soon…

 

 

 

 

 

Tourists for a day or two (part 2) 

Day two started with a wander down to the Yeouido Spring Festival (Subway: National Assembly and follow the crowds. The festical consists of a street market – a variety of food to eat, food to take away, live music, crafting and the ever-present technology under a canopy of cherry blossom.  The weather wasn’t perfect when we went, but it was still beautiful to stroll through. The festival is in a U shape so starting at one end, you can walk right back round to the subway.

One of the nicest touches that I have seen at any festival was a stall where you could hire strollers, trikes for toddlers and women’s trainers – for those ladies who picked style over function and then realised that tottering around in those 3-inch heels was not conducive to a good time!

Next stop was Itaewon, again, mostly to do a bit of grocery shopping and we unwisely took a taxi from the festival to Itaewon. Traffic was horrendous and it took a lot longer than the subway, however I used the time to have a little nap and rest my feet given that we had more walking around to come later in the day.

Circumstance today meant that I was in a really bad mood post-Itaewon, which meant no notes or pictures taken at Deoksugung Palace, or as we wandered through Insadong, but I promise I will go back to both and make up for it another day!

Tourists for a day or two (part 1) 

Now that the weather is improving (slowly.. the nights are still jacket-worthy) we thought it would be a nice plan to spend a night in Seoul so that two full days of touristy activities could be completed.

Staying in one of the two business districts of Seoul meant that we were walking distance from the first point of interest – Gyeongbokung Palace (in Korean, the ‘kung’ at the end actually means Palace, so calling it Gyeongbokung Palace is somewhat redundant but anything else sounds strange in English). One of the two largest Palaces in Seoul, Gyeongbokung is a must-see on your to-do list.

Tickets to enter the palace are 3,000 KWR per adult – there is a combination ticket as well, 10,000 KWR for four palaces and a shrine. I’m not sure which shrine and they wouldn’t let me buy this ticket at the Gyeongbokung ticket counter. I was in a bit of a hurry so didn’t push the matter. The combo ticket only permits entry once into each of the palaces, so do your research and figure out how to buy it! It is also worth visiting the websites of all the palaces at least a couple of days prior to your visit, as you can book access to some of the restricted areas of the palaces as well.

IMG_4963

There are English language tours taking place throughout the day too, so it is worth timing your visit according to the season – there aren’t tons of explanation boards around, so having someone share  history definitely adds something. You’ll see a lot of people in local dress (Hanbok) in the Palaces – these will just be visitors to the Palace like you or me. Wearing local dress gains you free entry to the Palace, so don’t make the mistake of some tourists of stopping these people for a photo – imagine how you would feel. However, the tourguides are happy to stop for a photo if you ask nicely!

IMG_4937

Here are a couple of interesting tidbits learnt on the tour – one reason that you will see so much Chinese Writing on all the old Palaces is that prior to 1443, Korean was only a spoken language and any writing was done using Chinese characters. The King developed the Hangeul characters to consist of 10 vowels and 14 consonants in the grounds of Gyeonbokung, to ensure that “even a stupid person could learn them in 10 days.”

Also, the Palace was entirely rebuilt in 1867 and with the rebuilding, came under floor heating – keeping Royal toes toasty for over a century!

If you leave the Palace through the North Gate, you can pop outside the grounds and see The Blue House – where the current President of South Korea lives. Re-entry into Palace grounds is possible as long as you’ve kept hold of your ticket.

Your palace ticket also gives you admittance to the Folklore museum, which we didn’t have time to visit this time.

Leaving the Palace through the main gate leads you directly onto Gwanghwamun Square, displaying a glorious statue of the King of Signs. The square symbolises the new direction of the country, towards humanity, openness and mutual  ticket you can gain admittance to the folklore museum as well (we didn’t have time)

When you come out of the main entrance you’ll immediately find Gwanghwamun square, with a glorious statue of the King of Signs -the square symbolising  the new direction of the country – towards humanity, openess and mutual respect 💖

Gwanghwamun is also the start of the hop on hop off city bus tour – we didn’t do it this weekend, but I have done it previously. It isn’t like the tours that you would go on in other cities – there are headsets on the bus and you get a brief history of the sights, but to actually catch a glimpse of the various sights, you have to get off the bus and continue on foot.

After a visit to the D-Tower and the BEST pizza we’ve eaten in Seoul (Big up Paulies…) we made our way over to Namsan for a cable car trip up the mountain.

The cable car costs 8,500 KWR for a round trip. It was super foggy, so the views weren’t great and in the tower, the ticket clerks (going up to the observation tower is a separate ticket) advised us not to go to the tower. Instead, we wandered around the Gift Shop – which was awesome. Nice qualtiy and interesting items – I’ll definitely be going back before I make a trip back to London! The queues to get down the by cable car were pretty long and we just made it onto one of the last cars. Getting a taxi from the cable car station back to the hotel was easy enough, but the non-metered taxis wanted to charge a huge mark up on the metered taxis, so be careful!

All in all, a successful day one in Seoul!