Aaannnddd Reee-lax

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, I think because he felt bad about the confusion in timing, 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!

 

Costco & Ikea

I know it has been a while since I last posted anything, but moving apartments and getting all the bits and pieces that make a house a home have taken quite a while. There is only so much I can carry in one go and quite honestly, sometimes, I just need a day to stay in the flat and catch up on some ‘me-time.’

Anyhows, on with the point of this post. At Gwangmyeong Station you can find both Costco and Ikea (the world’s largest Ikea, no less). Now here is where I admit failure. I tried to take the subway to Costco but what should have been a 1.5 hour journey ended up as a 3 hour journey and I was still half an hour away from my intended location. It might have been something to do with the fact that it was a national holiday but none of the connections I wanted seemed to be arriving and after 45 minutes sat on a very cold platform, I gave up and got a taxi.

Costco

One thing to note if you are getting a taxi from Songdo is that often, the taxi drivers won’t use the meter but fix a price in advance. I’ve paid anything between 25,000 KRW and 35,000KRW. If you book a taxi using Kakao however, they will usually stick to the meter.

Membership at Costco costs 35,000KRW for two and unless you have Samsung Credit Card, everything has to be paid in cash. They do have cash machines at Costco but these charge a small fee, so you are better off having plenty of cash on you.

Whilst you won’t find everything that you are used to in Costco, there are a lot of home comforts and, total win, you can order online. Oh, and you should always plan to have lunch at Costco – the pizza is amazing.

Update: As of January 2017 Costco opened in Songdo. Located behind the Posco Towers, it is the closest supermarket for people who live in the ArtWin building and I find that there is a better selection of goods here in Songdo than in Gwangmyeong. Yay yippee and Yay  -the proximity of Costco and having a car to get my shopping home makes me most happy indeed.

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IKEA

Across the way from Costco (Gwangmyeong) is IKEA. Make sure you get there early and do your homework online in advance.

Being so new, IKEA is a huge novelty here and as such, on the weekends, it is a very popular date place. You’ll see couples all dressed up and taking selfies in all the show rooms and it is very cute, but also quite frustrating when you are trying to test out a sofa or find product codes for something you want to order. Be a bit bolshy and push your way towards what you want to check though otherwise you will be standing around forever.

Our first visit to IKEA took several hours – having a look at the various things we had seen online and figuring out the processes of ordering and getting things delivered. However after the first trip, (as you can’t place online orders here) I went to the store armed with all the product codes that I needed, made a beeline for the assistants to place the order and was out within an hour. There is also free Wifi in the store, so you can write down all the codes when you get in if you need to.

They have all the usual market place goods however, the kitchen goods area is very limited and even when I did find things on display, I couldn’t see an obvious way to gather and buy.

Re: delivery – you can get everything delivered and you can pay an extra 10,000KRW for staff to collect the items from the racks for you, which makes it much more back friendly. If you buy small things in the market place, you pay for them as normal at the tills and if you don’t want to lug things home, then you can add them to your delivery at the counters after the tills.

Between Costco and Ikea, furnishing your home in a hurry is entirely feasible… now for the fun shopping to begin!

Itaewon

Just a quick one today about the joys of Itaewon.

Itaewon is on line 6 of the Seoul subway and a major hub for all foreigners in and around Seoul. There are lots of international restaurants – with an emphasis on Turkish (ed. meaning lots and lots of Baklava) – for when you need a dose of home and plenty of English speaking tourists around. Just wandering through the streets Raj and I were given advice on restaurants by passers-by and it was nice to hear another English accent.

One of the best thing about Itaewon is the foreign food markets – Mexican, Indian, Italian, Turkish … all kinds of yum. The three markets that we went to are around the corner from each other and I’ve plotted them on the below map. It is a bit of a trek from Songdo into Seoul just to buy one or two items, so plan ahead and get a little shopping trolley on wheels (or use a backpack, which is what we did). It is worth checking out prices for the same items in each of the markets – it can save you a few thousand won which all adds up when it comes to food shopping. Itaewon is also a good place to buy souvenirs but I’m told there are better markets with less of a marked up price – will let you know when I find them.

I’d recommend getting into Seoul early on in the day for any sightseeing/exploring that you want to do, and making Itaewon your last stop on the way back to Songdo – do your shopping, have a bite to eat and have a little snooze on the bus home.

I’m away for the next couple of weeks but when I come back I’ll have updates on Incheon – where you can find the fruit and vegetable market – and the fun that is apartment hunting to share! Happy Seollal (Korean lunar New Year) in the meantime!

International Food Shopping

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Raj’s office gave every employee a HUGE box of sweets to celebrate the new year with.. yummy!

 

Week one…

We’ve officially spent our first full week in Songdo and I’ve gathered a lot of tips that would have been handy to know. I’ve split them up into separate posts to avoid it getting too long.

First up, grocery shopping. I struggled with this and spent the first few days (well, the days I wasn’t ill and sleeping all day and night) buying bits and pieces on a meal-to-meal basis from local stores. Whilst easy, it isn’t the most budget friendly way to go.

Don’t come with preconceptions of how much things (cleaning products, produce, food etc) should cost. I find that everything, especially fresh fruit and vegetables, is more expensive here. I haven’t checked out any produce markets yet – I believe there is one not so far away in Incheon – but in the supermarkets, everything comes in huge packages and with a heftier-than-at-home price tag attached.

When you arrive, apart from the immediate necessities,  I’d actually give the smaller convenience stores a miss and head straight to Lotte, right by Oakwood on the Convensia-Dareo, when you get here. You’ll find a small piece of home, with foods you recognise, potential alternatives and the odd couple of English signs to help you get along your way.

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At Lotte, you’ll find everything you need to set up your apartment until your shipment arrives – from soaps, laundry products, DIY products to food. You’ll also find things that you didn’t know you needed – chair socks anyone?

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Important: If you are a tea drinker, then bring a big stash with you. Very few places stock English Breakfast tea bags and when you do find them, much like everything else, it’s expensive. I’m planning on having a care package from home sent over when stocks are running low…

However, don’t put all your eggs in the Lotte basket. A bit of shopping around will bring up gems in Emart (a kind of department store with a mix of everything) and Homeplus (Tesco – rebranded – with an imported goods aisle). Annoyingly, I found certain things are better priced in each of the different stores, so I think I’ll be visiting all three on a regular basis.

And just for fun, there are the more unusual products that will give you a bit of a giggle…

Obviously not everything that you are used to is available, so when packing your shipment remember the following things:

  • Seasoning packets (especially for Mexican food)
  • Cleaning Wipes / sponges / dish scrubs etc
  • Tea (I can’t say that enough) and instant coffee
  • Deodorant and other toiletries – you can get everything you need here but perhaps not all the brands you are used to

Now getting to the various grocery stores is another matter, but that’s a story for a different post… along with making stuff from scratch using the ingredients available here, finding hobbies and whatever else pops up along the way.