Songdo Strolls

 

I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks wandering around Songdo in an effort to get my daily step count up (More about that later) and following other people’s recommendations have found a couple of incredibly useful places that I thought I would share with you all here: A tailor (for repairs) and a fabulous stationery shop:

Joint Map

Now Songdo is replete with tailors – mostly for men’s suits and shirts, but if you are female and have a shirt that they can copy, I hear this works pretty well – but what I have needed is someone to do minor repairs. Over the last year or so, with the invaluable support of YouTube, I have been teaching myself how to do some of these repairs myself but it’s never the neatest job  – as we know, patience is not my strong point. I also had a dress that needed re-hemming, but not urgently enough for me to post it home to mum. Well about a week ago, a couple of my friends told me of this random tiny little store in a part of town that I would never really wander to where there sits a genius with a sewing machine. One even said that when her friends come visit from out-of-town, they bring all the repair and sewing work they need done as they no longer trust anyone else with their clothes. Well, I’m sold! Before I took along the dress, I thought I would wait and try something else. Raj had a tear in the leg of his linen trousers (now relegated to lounge-wear only) which was the perfect start. Off I wander with the vague directions: Across the road from Relish, up the street from the GS25 Supermarket (ed. GS25 is a convenience store, but the supermarket has a larger selection of products, including a mini-Daiso – wait, what, I haven’t told you about Daiso yet? Ok, that’s getting a whole post to itself soon. Daiso might just be my favourite thing about South Korea) into a building, next to a book store and by the pink sign. And I found it! For only 4,000 won, the trousers have been brought back into the outdoor clothes rotation – she is amazing. Next time, I went I took my dress to be hemmed and a few days later, I have a new outfit for all of 8,000 won. Seriously guys, all your mending needs will be covered here. But directions OK.

The shop is based on Haedoji-Ro. If you walk up Haedoji-ro towards Haedoji Park (on the opposite side of the road from the Korean Coast Guard and Relish). You’ll pass the GS25 Supermarket (hello red onions!) and soon you’ll come up to an NH Bank. Take a right down the little street and when you see an ‘H’ above the door, in you go. Walk all the way to the end (there is actually a HUGE pink sign outside the tailor) and you’ll see a lovely lady with her sewing machine and lots of clothes. It really couldn’t be easier!

To make sure you are turning into the right little street, across the road you will see this building:

IMG_0572

It was a little weird to take pictures of the tailor’s shop but I’ll try for one of those next time!

Now, for all your stationery needs, you need to head to The Life. It took me a few attempts to find it, but I can confidently say it is on Sinsong-ro – just around the corner from Songdo Mart and up the street from Burger Z. If you’ve ever taken 6724 bus from Seoul back to Songdo, you’ve certainly passed it. It’s on the second floor (Korean second floor, so the first floor in other countries) so, as ever in Korea, look up as you wander.

This store has everything that you need for arts and crafts-ing. Paints, paper, card, aerosols, varnish, glue polystyrene balls, brushes and so on. There is also a huge selection of ribbon and gift wrap, board games (in Korean) batteries, cleaning products and school supplies. Also, if anyone is playing cricket, huge bottles of linseed oil to keep your bat in check. Now I can’t share everything I bought because I’m in the midst of planning a baby shower and don’t want the decoration ideas to get out but I tell you, definitely worth a half an hour wander to pick up all the things that you didn’t know you wanted (sorry Raj!).

Stationery Shop MapIMG_0574

Here come the girls.. 

Here’s a post just for the girls out there – if the word “period” makes you blush more than tomatoes dried in the sun then stop reading now. If, however, you have a girlfriend, wife, daughter, female friend or relative that might visit you, stick around for the ride.

One unavoidable fact of life is that if you are a pre-menopausal woman, you’ll have a period or two while you are here. Now I know I harp on and on about how everything is so expensive here but sanitary products are the worst. Whilst some women have said tampons are more readily available in Seoul, I’ve only seen them in Olive Young (next to Awesome International) and they cost about 70 million dollars for 5 tampons (ed: slight exaggeration but you get the point.) And sanitary pads don’t feel a lot cheaper except when they are on 3 for 2 – and then you end up being the weirdo walking down the street with 6 packets of pads in your arms because you don’t want to take a bag (go green!) and they will not fit in your already full trolley. Yikes. Recently however, Lotte Mart has launched its own brand to rival Emart’s ‘No Brand’ brand – helpfully called ‘Only Price.’ The red & white packaging can be found across a variety of items in store, including, you guessed it, sanitary pads. For a mere 2,000 won per packet – Yes ladies, English prices have hit the South Korean Peninsula! – your monthly needs are covered. Having just road-tested the ones pictured below (TMI? That’s how dedicated I am to the task of making your life easier here people…) are comfortable and pretty much the same as the more expensive counterparts found in other stores. The 41.5cm long one is HUGE and they have one more, slightly less long size not pictured here. As an aside, you want to buy your regular-day liners from Daiso – the same brand is sold in every shop, but its only 1,000 per packet in Daiso.

IMG_0518Birth Control: Now if you are from the UK and used to getting it for free, then be prepared for a shock. Or stock up from home. The pill costs about 7,000 won per month here – you can (and should) take your packet from home to the pharmacy (I recommend the one I refer to here ) so that they can match the active ingredients and hey presto you’re set. Once again, I will direct your attention to Facebook: the women’s groups (such as Expat Women in Korea, mentioned in my post about social media ) are full of information about other types of birth control and female doctors in Seoul. Use the search function / check out the files on the group before you post a question, because chances are that somebody has already asked it and all the information you need it just sitting there waiting for you! I’m yet to find a women’s doctor in Songo/Incheon, mostly because I haven’t looked, but I’m sure the Asian Tigers hotline will be able to help and there is bound to be someone at the Inha University Hospital too.

I think a separate post on the various skin care and beauty stores here is called for but I’ve had a couple of questions on periods and birth controls from readers, so I thought this would be helpful.

Happy Monday folks and speak to you again soon 🙂

An Afternoon Out: Wolmido Island

It’s a very short post today about a little gem of a place called Wolmido Island. Around Songdo, there are loads of little places that are perfect day trips (especially when you have visitors) without having to make the journey into Seoul. A few weeks ago, I took our guests to Wolmido Island. Don’t ask me for directions – I just plugged it into Waze and followed the directions – with the unavoidable u-turns included of course. You can get there by public transport too – go to Incheon Station (line 1) and from there, take one of the following buses: 2, 23 and 45.

In Wolmido, you’ll find a little promenade – small scale Blackpool for you Brits reading, with an amusement park and various street performances. It’s right by the sea, so it can get nippy – although it being May, I was perfectly happy in shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops. For the carnivorous amongst you, there are plenty of food options, but those veggie folk only really have a choice of one restaurant which has some pizza and pasta options. If you’re game to go on the rides, then you could easily while away an afternoon here, but even if you aren’t, just adjacent to the promenade is Wolmi Park. There are some beautiful gardens to walk though and if you are feeling active, you can take the short walk up to the observatory to get some pretty decent views. I didn’t make it to the observatory when I walked around – time was not on our side that day – but I definitely plan to go back.

Like I said, a quick note about one of the day trips that I’ve done. There are a bunch more than I intend to do and as and when that happens, there will follow a post. Until then, time to get exploring so that I have something to write about!

My #nuclearholiday #YVR

Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve come a long way mentally from the last stream-of -consciousness-post that I sent your way and I can now make fun of myself and my mini (ed. Ahem) panic attack. As you know, I decided that while Raj was travelling, I would travel too, and booked a trip to Vancouver to see my brother, Kesh, and sister-in-law, Rosa. Sidebar: have I mentioned recently how lucky I am that Raj is SO indulgent of me and my over-active imagination? I don’t think many people would have accepted my need (and my mother’s need!) to not be in Korea at that time and gone along with plans which were a complete over-reaction, but he did and, with regards to this, will, I believe, continue to do so. Definitely a lucky girl.

Anyway, once I landed in Vancouver, it only took a few minutes with my joker of a brother – I call him this to his face, it’s ok and truly, Kesh is the funniest person in the world – for me to accept that my panic was probably uncalled for and for him to coin the phrases, subsequently developed into hashtags for my social media needs obvs, #nuclearholiday and #falloutfun. Some might consider these in bad taste, but I defy those who say that to experience my levels of panic and then avoid attempts at humour to make yourself feel better about it.

I was spoilt in Vancouver. Rosa and Kesh live super centrally to everything – all my needs were met within a 15-minute walking radius of the house, and #keshcooks became an oft-used hashtag on Instagram. Kesh has always enjoyed cooking (you know my feelings on that already) and Rosa and I are more than happy to clean up, which he hates. The sun made an extended appearance during my stay and long walks to see the surrounding area, excellent food and copious amounts of salted caramel ice-cream were the order of the week. I was able to do the usual ‘buy-things-that-I-don’t-get-in-Korea’ easily and catch up on a couple of zombie/sci-fi films that haven’t made it out here too. I finished reading my current collection of psychological thrillers – Mr. B is SO thankful for that, as it is helping to temper my ‘what if’ scenarios that I wake him up with – and I learnt a couple of things as well.

(1) My brother and I are more alike than I realised – I have emergency plans in place, he walks a different route every day so that in the event of the Zombie Apocalypse he has escape options. I look at buildings and wonder how easy, or otherwise, they would be to scale (up or down, need-based) and he always sits facing the room in a restaurant so that he can deal with potential assassination attempts more easily.

(2) I talk A LOT. Rosa was away for the first two days of my trip, and I talked my, somewhat quiet, brother’s ear off non-stop. When Rosa returned, she and I jabbered on endlessly. Kesh said that the word count of the apartment had increased by 5,000 words a minute and he really couldn’t get a word in edgeways even if he wanted to.

One pretty important thing that came out of my trip is that I finally know what I want to do with my time here in Songdo. Apart from the obvious perks of being an expat-wife, Kesh suggested that I should put my crazy imagination* to use and do a creative writing course. I mean, it’s so simple but SO GENIUS I am surprised that none of us thought of it earlier. I’m on the hunt now for a suitable online creative writing course that I can do from Korea so that I can embrace my future career as a writer. It might even mean that some of my previous, as yet unseen by the world, musings and writings might make it into the public eye. Who knows. At the very least its a fabulous way to keep busy. So, readers, if you have any hints for any courses that I could look into, please do leave a comment with the details and I’ll get searching. This might mean that my somewhat-erratic blogging habits become even more erratic, but I will try not to let the one affect the other. Here’s a couple of pictures of beautiful Vancouver as an ending….

*Here’s another example of the way my mind works, just in case you hadn’t figured it out already: The return to Songdo has been hectic. Landing on Sunday, one overnight guest on Monday and then Raj’s cousin, wife and six month old arriving on Tuesday for a visit. We have a few fun things planned so I hope to share a bit more about the local area and things to do in the next couple of posts, but all this is by way of setting the scene for an amusing anecdote. On Monday, we borrowed a travel crib and car seat from a colleague of Raj’s for the aforementioned six-month-old. I made our overnight guest (who reads this blog – Hello!!) fix the car seat into the car on Monday night- having two children of his own, I determined that he possessed the appropriate skills to do this correctly. On Tuesday morning, I get into the car and get the fright of my life – I forgot the car seat was there and all I saw was a big red blob behind me, which became a serial-killer who snuck into the car during the night and was going to stab me and leave my decimated remains in the car park. Well, I quickly realised that wasn’t the case, and whilst waiting for my heart-rate to come down, I texted Raj. He laughed. I moved on with my day, but I will always remember the time that I was nearly a goner.

The Day of the Sun

Today, April 15th, is the birthday of the founder and first leader of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung, and is considered the most important holiday in DPRK. Every year, this is celebrated by parades, fanfares, oh and the usual missile testing / potential nuclear test hanging over the peninsula in the lead up to the day.

It’s an annual thing, and whilst many Koreans don’t seem particularly phased by it, to me it is a stark reminder that we live in a country that has never signed a peace treaty, a country that is still at war. Now this doesn’t affect day to day life usually – I didn’t even notice it was happening last year – but this year’s planned birthday celebration by our ‘friendly’ neighbours have lead to increased tensions and concerns over our safety here. On top of this, there is the fact that the annual response/show of strength from the US was decidedly disproportionate – dropping of a MOAB in Afghanistan – and well, I’m nervous.

Let’s bear in mind that I have a seriously over-active imagination. Flashback to last week’s Board Meeting when I read 5 psychological thrillers. I now refuse to have a cleaner come to the apartment in case they are a serial killer/pull some sort of single-white-female action on me and I’m lucky, really lucky, that Raj is so indulgent of my crazy. Anyway,  I digress. Now that you can begin to understand that I have a slight tendency towards over-reaction, you can imagine the effect that even the smallest threat of nuclear conflict has on me.

So all of this means that today, I’ve cancelled our weekend in Seoul (we’ll still go in tomorrow for the Coldplay concert – no way in hell I am going to miss that!) in favour of staying in Songdo working on my contingency plans. Sadly, I feel like I do need my own plans as the British Embassy cancelled its LOCATE programme in 2013, so we can’t register with the embassy here, the UN doesn’t have a contingency plan because the threat of war has always been considered low and accordingly, Raj’s office doesn’t have a contingency plan in place either. [Note from Ed. Amma when  you are reading this, it’s still fine here, don’t worry, because obviously, knowing Raj, all the plans we need are in his head]

So far,  I’ve made sure that our emergency evacuation bags are packed – see below for the list of recommended items to keep packed ready to carry with you – I’ve signed up for the South Korean travel advice alert emails from the British Embassy, and I follow the British and US embassies in Seoul on Twitter for any updates. I’m keeping an eye on the UN non-family posting duty stations list and, when Raj is travelling at the end of the month I am planning to go visit my brother and sister-in-law in Canada instead of staying here alone which I would normally do. I mean, this last step is 100% not necessary but if (big, hugely unlikely IF) Raj got an email from work regarding an evacuation I’d only get the update 8 hours later due to time differences as these aren’t sent directly to family members and that would freak me out. This happened when the demonstrations in Seoul over President Park’s impeachment were at an all time high – Raj was in Europe (9 hours behind), so by the time he woke  up and saw the email advising us to avoid downtown Seoul and forwarded it to me, it was late afternoon and had I been going to Seoul, I’d have already been there. So yeah, for the moment, Raj travels, I travel.

Ok last bit of over-cautious worrying stuff from me. Here is the list of what the British Embassy recommends you keep packed in case of emergency:

Essential Items & Documentation:

  • 3 days supply of lightweight, high energy, non-perishable ready-to-eat food and water per person.
  • Eating utensils
  • Toiletries (toilet paper, soap, tissues etc)
  • 30 days supply of essential medicine or prescription drugs
  • If you have a baby, at least 3 days supply of milk formula, food, nappies etc
  • Passports
  • Local Identity Card
  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Nationality documents (if relevant)
  • Power of attorney if you are taking charge of someone else’s child or children

Desirable Items:

  • Rusksack
  • Blankets or sleeping bag
  • Extra clothing (inc. one warm item whatever the weather) and strong footwear
  • First aid kit
  • Torch and extra batteries
  • Small AM/FM radio with extra batteries. Lightweight SW radios if possible
  • Money: Local currency and US dollars
  • Insurance documents
  • Medical records including vaccinations
  • Driving licences
  • Financial documents
  • Wills
  • Address Books
  • Household inventory

Right, I’m off to bother Raj with a slew of questions and ideas for our contingency plan. Stay safe friends x

 

 

 

 

Job Hunting in Korea: A Process

I’ll begin by saying that whilst I am not actively looking for a job, I do keep my eye on several different sources and am a member of a couple of interesting mailing lists, so that if an opportunity should come up that piques my interest, I am ready to apply.

Two weeks ago, one such opportunity came up and so I spruced up my CV and portfolio, wrote a covering letter**, spell-checked, re-did the spell check changing all American English to British English (I really need to change the default on my dictionary) and sent out the email in the required format. Minutes later I received the ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you if you are successful for interview’ email (also known as the if-we-don’t-reply-it-is-because-you-suck) and patted myself on the back for getting it done 5 days before the application deadline. Then I wrote a list of questions that I had about the role, as the job description was either vague or lacking on certain basic points of information.  Later that evening I spoke to my mother – who, by the way,  I am pretty sure has implanted some sort of chip into my brain, because it isn’t normal for her to know EVERYTHING before I tell her – who said she had recently bought me a pretty ‘work’ dress and was planning on sending it to me irrespective of my non-working status so that I could wear it when I was feeling fancy. It seems however that both her and my confidence in my ability was somewhat misplaced as I am yet to hear back so can only assume that I wasn’t up to muster for the job at hand. Oh well. Time to focus on my secret-project-that-I-can’t-tell-you-any-more-about-and-really-must-stop-metioning-at-all.

EDIT: 03/03/2017: Apparently it isn’t unheard of for the process to take up to 6 months just to reach interview stage so I am told that I should learn to be more patient and not jump the gun. Sounds like an unlikely thing for me to do however I can but try **puts patient hat on and waits**

Of course, in the last two weeks I’ve had a couple of other interesting emails and messages as well – one I missed simply because I hadn’t switched on my UK phone in a while and the other two were more calls to make certain agencies aware of one’s existence as they host worldwide events and having a database of event producers around the globe is always a good thing, so let’s see what comes of these.

Anyway, for those who are actively looking for work here, a few things I have learnt. Of course, this is entirely dependent on your particular industry, skill set, years of experience and so on so proceed with a pinch of salt (by the way – Pink Himalyan Salt is now sold in both Homeplus and Emart. YAY).

Language and location are key factors in the job hunt. Even when a job description requires English, it is always English as a second language. Where this isn’t the case, several people I have spoken to have found that their lack of Hanguel means that they can’t even write a short covering email to which to attach their CV. I believe the area around Songdo is big in the bio-med/technology fields so perhaps you’ll have better luck if you are in those fields. It seems to me that there are many more opportunities in Seoul that would not require Hanguel but then comes the question of whether you want to make that commute daily (or twice weekly, or whatever) which is a matter of personal preference. There are some people who wouldn’t mind this, but after year of 4 hours roundtrip commuting in London, there is little that would make me want to do this again.

Another obstacle can be in finding the openings in the first place. There are, as I mentioned in a previous post, as few facebook groups that you can join to keep an eye on openings but I’m yet to be able to sign up to any local recruiters. IFEZ has a couple of initiatives in place to assist and in a couple of weeks, they are holding a workshop to help spouses network, provide information about the visa process (not such an issue for a GCF spouse any more) etc. The best source I have found is still LinkedIn. I’ve had a couple of people contact me through my LinkedIn Profile and one skype-interview progressed very well, until I had to turn down the role due to the vagueness surrounding my visa situation. Fortunately, that has now been cleared up and upon receiving a formal job offer, getting a work permit is easy-peasy-consider-it-done (so I’m told, I guess the reality still has to play out).

For the teachers amongst you, opportunities are more plentiful. There are plenty of Hagwons nearby and of course, Chadwick International. You can also do your TEFL or equivalent online in order to open this door to you. The one thing I have found is that when people are advertising for English Teachers, there is usually an overt preference for North American or Canadian accents, which puts paid to me applying. I don’t get why the Queen’s English would be eschewed for its less correct younger sibling (and a lifetime of Zee not Zed) but never mind.

Anyway, that’s me and the job search for now. To sum up: It is hard for most people to find work in Songdo and also in Korea in general. Make sure that you have that conversation with your partner before you make the decision to move here and keep expectations realistic. It is certainly possible to find a job out here but the process is going to require proactivity and perseverance so GOOD LUCK!

** OK. Here comes a bunch of personal opinion but this business of a covering letter for the events industry is HILARIOUS to me. In the UK, the events industry is a personal one, relying heavily on making contacts. Every job, whether permanent or freelance, that I have had has been because I’ve known someone who is hiring, or a friend of a friend was looking. In one instance, the interviewer knew a former teacher of mine and after giving me the usual chat about taking time to meet other candidates called me up on Monday morning – I had interviewed on Friday late afternoon – to offer me the job. When you work in events, you need to be personable because you will be dealing with clients, suppliers, colleagues and staff all in the space of 10 minutes. Yes, you need to write clearly and efficiently – I always follow up a phone call with an email detailing exactly what has been discussed and agreed…. what good would a 2ft square stage be when I need  12ft square to fit a band, backline etc – but in the first instance, you have to build a rapport with your production team. Once you get on site, if you can’t talk to the people you work with you are screwed. Anyway, as I said, that’s just my opinion and as I believe a picture is worth a thousand words, I always send a copy of my events portfolio (selected case studies) to convey the scope of things I have worked on. But that’s just me.  **

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!