Seoul-Diaries…and a like-new PC

So last week, I mentioned that I was making my first solo-drive into Seoul and I’m pleased to report that I put on my big-girl pants and did exactly that. Big wins in life for me in May eh?

Now, I’ve driven into Seoul before, but usually Raj is sitting next to me and directing / keeping an eye on which lane I need to be in while I chatter (he is not a chatterer, but I more than make up for it) but I decided that enough is enough and I needed to start making the journey by myself. Plus, Naver maps having a version in English (thank you Pyeongchang Olympics) is the best thing that ever happened to driving in Korea, so I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult.

So as I mentioned, I contacted Phil, of Phil’s Computer Repsitory via Facebook, after his company was recommended to me (Thanks goes to local PT Bryce!). I had previously been in touch with the Korea Mac-PC Guys (also via Facebook), but, although they were super friendly and helpful online, I preferred the thought of going into Seoul and actually speaking to someone face-to-face over shipping my poor broken PC far away from home. (Yes, I ascribe feelings to inanimate objects. All our plates and cutlery get rotated so that everyone gets used equally and nobody feels left out. It’s something you’ll either get used to or work hard to ignore about me.)

Phil is located in the electronics area of Seoul – Yongsan. From Songdo Central Park, you can take the subway to Bupyeong and then change to the dark blue line straight to Yongsan. In my very technical directional sense, Yongsan is to the right of Hongdae – along the river and then up a bit. Easy peasy. Phil asks that you make an appointment to go and see him, so I set a time for Thursday 17th and he sent me his address in Korean and English, as well as his office hours:

Address:서울특별시 용산구 한강로2가 16-1 선인상가 21동 3층 242호

Seoul Yongsan-gu Hangangro-2ga 16-1 Sunin Plaza 21 Building 3rd Floor #242

Office Hours: Monday to Friday: 2pm – 10PM  Saturday: 2PM to 10PM

Yongsan

From Songdo, Naver took me through Incheon to get into Seoul, and luckily, the weather in Korea had been pretty miserable, so there weren’t too many people on the road which meant that it was a pretty easy drive – about an hour (well, my failing phone meant it took me an hour fifteen to get there, but that’s not so bad). I parked in a random building car park that I found when Naver said I had arrived but had I driven around a bit, I could have found the car park for the building that Phil’s office is in. Anyway, the point is that parking around there was relatively painless, so I’d make the drive in the future rather than trying out the subway.

From where I had parked, I found the back entrance to the building super easily – it was right next to a HUGE NH bank. Once inside, I was already on the 2nd floor, so it was just one floor up to the 3rd. Then, I had fun trying to figure out how to get to his unit. I spent a good 40 minutes wandering around, but it was OK, I had some time to kill before his office hours technically started. Phil quickly found my message on FB messenger and got to work – scanning my hard drive to show there were no corruptions and explaining what he was going to do – in my case, it was a simple OS re-install and as all my data was either on the cloud or on my hard drive, there was nothing to recover. We even talked about future fixes that I might want – as and when my long suffering hard drive konks out, he can replace the hard drive and I can continue to use the same machine, or he’ll buy my old machine off me. He talked me through the price list and for an extra 5,000 won, offered to ship my computer back to me. With the minor fixes I needed, he was optimistic that he’d have it back to me by Saturday, or the following Monday at the latest. He even gave me some advice on Raj’s Macbook and threw in a free Korean-style plug for my laptop, so I could stop using an adapter. AWESOME.

Leaving the building, I went out through the front and noticed that it is right across the street from the iPark Mall (and so, Yongsan station.) Super easy to find, and here is a picture of the front of the building for you:

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Then, my lovely Naver maps and I made our way back to Songdo..I was keen to get out of Seoul before the post-work traffic started up! Within an hour of me reaching home, I got a message from Phil saying he had fixed my computer and it was being shipped out immediately – to arrive in Songdo on Friday. AWESOME. I’ve now had just under a week of using my as-good-as-new laptop with no complaints and I know exactly where I will go for my next upgrade! Finally, electronics in Korea that aren’t more expensive than back home… #winning.

 

 

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Happy Birthday Buddha

This year, Buddha’s Birthday falls on the 22nd May and as per every year, there are a host of festivals and celebrations in the lead up to celebrate. This year is the first year that Raj and I have been in town and able to go to the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul – one of the main celebrations that takes place and I’ve heard so much about it, and insta-envied so many pictures that I was pretty excited!

There are two main Buddhist temples in Seoul, Bongeunsa (봉은사)  which is located near COEX in Gangnam – and I understand does a very nice vegan Korean lunch every day of the week, and Jogyesa, (조계사) which is in Insadong and where the majority of the festivities take place.

In the few weeks leading up to the parade, you see beautiful lanterns started to decorate the streets of Seoul (and elsewhere – I’ve spied a few of the more normal style lanterns in Incheon and around Songdo) all building up to the main event – the parade, which took place on Saturday 12th May.

The parade starts at Dongguk University around 5pm and works its way along Jongro, going through Myeongdong and winding up at Jogyesa temple. If the weather is nice, people start gathering along the route from about 4pm to get a good view of whats going on. And if you watch the parade from the start of the route, at the end of the parade group, observers are invited to join in and dance along the street with the performers! If you join un around Jonggak station, there will be plenty of extra activities to keep you occupied while you wait for the parade to come past!

Unfortunately it was pouring with rain the entirety of Saturday so we didn’t spend as much time watching the parade as planned, but we did get a good hour of viewing time in and I’d definitely revisit the parade next year when (hopefully) the weather is better!

For the days after the parade, there are lots of little celebrations all around Seoul, so it’s worth spending a few days exploring all that the festival has to offer.

Tomorrow is my first solo drive to Seoul, to Yongsan specifically, as I plan to visit Phil’s Computer Repository  (I contacted him via Facebook – obvs) to see if Phil can fix my laptop. Hopefully it’s a yes and you can expect a post on it later this month!

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. ♥

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 :

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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

 

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.

 

Aaannnddd Reee-lax

UPDATE: As of 30th September 2017, Mr Kin has closed his shop and now only does House-calls. You can use the same contact details as before…

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a bunch of stereotypes in your mind before you make the move over to Songdo and you’ll very quickly be disabused of most of those. I mean, some of them – Asia being the land of multi-story buildings with lots of bright lights for example – do prove to be true in Seoul, and even other areas of Incheon (Bupyeong comes to mind) but not so in the manicured streets of Songdo. Dream city is the closest that you get to that view of Asia in South Korea, but even still, its pretty tame – at least compared to my imagination.

I also expected cheap mani/pedis – **imitates buzzer** and in fact, the nail treatments here are more expensive and without all the nice soak in warm water / foot scrub elements that you have come to expect from home. And massages. I really thought we would be able to get good, firm massages regularly without paying an arm and a leg. Well, yes, places exist, but to be honest, when Raj and I went to look at them, they all felt a bit on the seedy side and we weren’t so comfortable trying them out. Plus, all my back issues mean that I need a reasonable level of English to be spoken so that I can make the various aches and pains clear. The other option, massages at the spa in the Sheraton, are supposed to be good, but definitely comes at a price.

Well not so any more. Through all my various Facebook group memberships, I glean a lot of (not entirely always useful) information but then popped up this gem:

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I had heard about a place near Cinder Bar / The Prau that was good for massages, so when I saw this post, I decided it was meant to be. Post-board-meeting-massages here we come. I called Mr. Kim and made the appointment for a Saturday morning at 1030. Now, whilst his English is excellent, there was a bit of confusion about the timing, as when I showed up for my appointment, he thought I had said 12. No matter, he rallied and was there with his partner in about 10 minutes but knowing this, I’d probably advise people to send a text or Kakao to confirm the appointment.

We had opted for 1 hour Swedish Massages and, he threw in some hot stones as well – Uh-May-Zing! I didn’t even realise how much time was going by and really felt thoroughly beaten into shape post massage. You can specify whether you want to be in a single room or don’t mind sharing and as promised on the poster, there was a 10% discount for having a morning appointment.

So what are you waiting for? Get on the blower and book a massage – you’ll thank me later I promise!

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We followed our massages with a weekend in Seoul – the Louis Vuitton Exhibition at Dongdaemun Design Plaza, burgers at ShakeShack, Dinner at Julios, a movie at the Charlotte Theatre in the Lotte Cinema (Myeongdong) and a visit to an 8 STOREY DAISO made for a great weekend… and another post for another day!

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!