Shout-Out to the Writers in Songdo

Or anyone, with a laptop and a story to tell really. Now, amidst my ramblings, you must have discerned that the purpose behind this blog was to help people making the move to Songdo with information or tips – anything that I would have liked to have known about but was unable to find online before we moved. In that vein, I realise that I won’t have made use of all the local services or things to do around here, so I invite you, the regular reader to submit a guest-post sharing your finds with whoever is out there… Now, at the risk of sounding a bit douche-y, guest-posts will be published at my discretion depending on what the publishing schedule is looking like. If I’ve already got a post planned on the same / a similar topic, then I might get in touch to do a collaboration, but rest assured – you will get all the credit for your words!

If you’re interested in writing a guest post, drop me a line with any questions, or indeed your post itself at londonerinsongdo@gmail.com. And some pictures to accompany it. Ideally one of yourself, so that our readers know who is telling the day’s stories. I’m happy to help with any editing/proofing if you want it  but hopefully shouting out to the folks with different Songdo-knowledge to me will make this space more useful to our new and existing Songdo-ites!

So, that’s sort of it for today. I met someone yesterday who will hopefully be providing out first guest-post and that prompted me to call out to others, so let’s see what comes of it. I will share one tip for the afternoon with you. Whilst I’ve been sorting out a bunch of admin, I’ve had the wonderful ladies of Fairy Cleaning Songdo (search on Facebook) whizzing around the apartment making it sparkle. What usually takes me the best part of a day to do on my own was accomplished in two hours with minimal fuss and bother. I’ll definitely be asking them back!

Right-io, time to get my step count up and make the most of today’s glorious weather… Happy Tuesday folks and get writing!

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You Can Do It Even If you Can’t B&Q It

Yeah, I know. the title really only makes sense if you are (1) British (2) have a memory for old TV adverts and (3) over a certain age. Seeing as I fit all three requirements, I went with it anyway. Keeping it short and instructional today, but it still counts as writing a post and keeping me ahead of my fortnightly posts goal! Yay me!

I’ve been taking advantage of the glorious May weather recently and doing whatever errands I can by foot instead of driving and yesterday, as I strolled to the hardware store to buy some lightbulbs, it occurred to me that I hadn’t shared with you guys where you could do the same.

Lightbulbs are sold in most of the major box stores (aka supermarkets) as well as in Daiso, but I find that the best priced and longest lasting ones come from the hardware store. Called ‘mom&pop’ stores (Another American-ism that I am fighting to adopt) there are a few of these dotted around Songdo, but I pretty much always go to the same one. It is easy to recognise it, by the plethora of ladders, brooms and other D-I-Y-ish type things decorating the outside. The particular one I go to is by the Prugio 600 apartments (flats! I mean flats!!) and run by a very nice middle aged couple who don’t speak English. The first time I went, I took the old lightbulb with me so that they could match it to the correct one in the store, and now I still take empty boxes just to be on the safe side. They’ve gotten used to that and always throw away my empty boxes for me, so that that’s handy.

As well as lightbulbs, you can meet all of your tool needs and probably even get some ply wood or plasterboard etc for mini projects at home. I’ve seen paints and varnishes, soldering irons (Raj refuses to let me become a soldering expert. It’s so unfair. I’m currently working out how to smuggle my dad’s old solder from England into Korea so I can practice my skills anyway, but that’s another story for another day) and all sorts of other goodies. Of course, before I discovered this place we copped out and supplemented our meagre tool supply from England with a couple of Ikea sets, and to be honest, that’s fine for us, but for those handier folks among you, this hardware store is the place to go.

Another useful thing is that you can get, what I technically call ‘the picture hangy things’ at this store. Yo’ll find most of the apartments (flats!) have picture tracks in the ceiling, so you need to find the hanging wires that screw into the tops of frames or hook onto the back of them in order to hang your prints. I was buying these on the ground floor (Korean first floor) of Lotte for 6,500won each and the good thing about these ones, is that they came with both the screw and hook attachment and the wire is super thin, so you can hardly notice it hanging up. However, if you are less fussed about that and know whether you need screws or hooks, you can get the same thing at the hardware store for 3,000won a pop. Every penny counts and all that.

So go, check out the bursting shelves and get your step count up while you are at it.

Note: I can’t do a map today because my laptop has imploded and I’m waiting to take it to the recommended computer fix it guru in Seoul. In the meantime I’m using Raj’s Mac and although it is supposed to be fancier and better at these things, a lot of it comes down to user ability and I am firmly a PC person. So here’s a picture of the outside of the store – it’s on the corner of Haedoji-ro and Convensia-Daero.. have a wander, you’ll find it!

Hardware Store.JPG

Pasta & Jewelry

Two of my favourite things. I could have totally been a Roman Empress eating all the pasta in my recliner draped in jewels brought to me by my minions… **dreams about what could have been…**

Anyways, I know last week I said I was aiming for fortnightly posts, but since then I have had two new finds that I had to share:

(1) Pasta

I miss good pasta. Don’t get me wrong, the regular dried variety in different shapes and sizes is readily available in all the local stores, but fresh pasta was very nearly a thing of the past. Ravioli and Tortellini are things that I was yet to come by here, and despite the fact that last year, I did manage to make fake ravioli using frozen mandu wrappers from Emart, are things I continue to miss eating. So much so, that I have been considered buying a pasta roller and making my own (I know, I know, WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME????). Whilst doing my research, it was Facebook to the rescue, as I happened upon the amazing Homemade Pasta – Amelia Gastronomia. I can’t link to the page but seriously, log into FB and search for this group and let the pictures of the Amelia’s food speak for themselves. She even delivers to Songdo and the ravioli freezes beautifully. Dinner in less than 3 minutes? Yespleaseandthankyou any day of the week.

(2) Jewellery

Along with learning how to take care of a car myself, one of my many steps towards becoming a bona-fide adult is managing my own jewellery repairs. Time to stop handing over broken things to Amma and letting her return them to me in better than new condition. The problem is, how to go about finding someone you trust enough to leave your jewellery with, especially when communication is not the easiest, even with Google Translate? Well first, I turned to the online community on, yes, you guessed it – Facebook. And I was able to get a few recommendations but they were all Seoul-based, and I was definitely looking for something closer to home. Also, as I understand it (and I might be wrong on this front as it is all gleaned from other expats) when you leave jewellery at a jewellers, it isn’t necessarily covered by insurance in the same way it would be at a jeweller in the UK. Then I asked my trainer, in Incheon, who said he hadn’t used a jeweller locally himself, but he had heard of a place that was recommended and nearby and he offered to go with me to act as translator. I took him up on the offer but unfortunately, the jeweller was closed that day. Never mind, next time I went to the gym, I got there early and went to the shop myself. I showed them my broken necklace and the young chap declared it impossible to fix. So I walked back towards the gym and happened across another store, and thought I might as well try my luck. With a bit of charades and pointing at the calendar, I worked out that if I left the chain with them, they’d have it ready for me the following week. I took photos of my chain and the shop, got a receipt and paid my hefty fee of 3,000 won and took a chance. The VERY NEXT DAY I got a text saying it was ready to collect (thank you Google Translate – the jewellers spoke no English.) So off I popped and lo and behold, not impossible at all. I can only deduce that the first jeweller only wanted commissions of a certain monetary value, or just didn’t want to deal with a foreigner. Either way, I now have a new local jeweller, whose shop is stocked with the most beautiful pieces by the way, that I would wholeheartedly recommend!

Oh yes, location: Take the subway (or drive) to Incheon and get off at Arts Centre. Walk back towards the Lotte Department Store and once you have walked past it take a left (so you are walking alongside Lotte, with the department store to your left hand side) and take the first right. You’ll see a Starbucks and Krispy Kreme (YUM) on the corner and across the road, Queen Jewelery is just next to the Levis Store. If you drive, you can either park in the Lotte Car Park (and pay for it) or one of the small car parks nearby. As ever, my map isn’t perfect but if you wander in this general area you’ll find it. And if you don’t, have a donut instead.

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And I’m back

Yeah, it has been rather a long hiatus from the blog, and I’ve learnt from reading a lot of other blogs in the last few months that a few words of explanation to whatever following I have are required. So here goes, with a post that I have definitely been putting off writing – Dealing with Death as an Expat.

After the Christmas break, which we spent on home leave, I got back to Korea the day after celebrating my dad’s 71st birthday with him in London. And three weeks later, I was back in London because my dad wasn’t doing very well, and three very short, but at the same time, horribly long, days after I landed at London Heathrow, he passed away on 15th February 2018.

The next five weeks that I was in London were a mix of sadness, family togetherness and paperwork and admin speared by a constant sense of longing and loss. Everyday brought new challenges and tasks that my mum, brothers and I had to work out how to deal with – the same as anyone who has lost a central figure in their family has to do – and we learnt a lot about our resilience as a family through the process. I’m not going to bore you with all the things that have to be dealt with in the UK when a person dies, but I will say this – if you are in a position that you might have to take the lead in making such arrangements in your home country then make sure you know what is required well before. Getting off a plane and trying to find out what to do and at the same time, get it done, is hard. We, sadly, had a lot of support from family who had been through all the processes, which made registering the death and organizing the funeral so much easier and without that, we would have been lost.

One of my personal biggest challenges was getting on the plane to come home to Korea. SO. MUCH. GUILT. Leaving the country that was my dad’s home hurt. I desperately wanted to stay in London but I equally desperately wanted to come home. Wherever I was, I would be leaving someone behind and at that moment, it was more than I could bear. It was scary and hard but I’m thankful for a supportive family, in both countries, who made it all easier.

A couple of days before I left London, a friend who had gone through his own family bereavement as an expat wrote to me and shared his experiences and top of the list was that coming back to Songdo (especially as a non-working spouse) feels weird. Weird. Yeah, total understatement and it starts with the flight. Those long hours by yourself that you spend wanting to relive every memory that you possibly can but at the same time, you don’t want to think about your loss, because  doing do makes the tears come. Realising that next time you fly into the country, there is going to be a big, person-shaped hole. Feeling like wherever you are, you need to be in the other country. I personally dealt with those feelings by getting drunk in the lounge. Yes it was a morning flight and I was the only person pouring large glasses of wine at 9am, but never mind. So yeah, the flight home was hard. I landed on a Friday and straight away just threw myself into the things that needed to be done here – distraction is key and for the most part, helps. We’d also planned to spend the weekend in Seoul, and again, having things to do and keeping busy helped to settle into what feels like an entirely new life, all over again. Of course, it’s different for everyone, but here are my tips for coping with bereavement as an expat… some will say these are tips for coping with a bereavement wherever you are, but when you are far away from your loved one’s home, the isolation is real and can be harder to overcome.

Be Kind

I cannot overstate this enough. Yes, you will have responsibilities and things to do each day, but being kind to yourself is so important. Don’t let a day stretch out in front of you with nothing to do (see the next point…) but equally, don’t overload yourself and try to be superhuman. Feel your feelings whenever you need to don’t push yourself to do too much too soon.

Distract Yourself 

Have a plan. Give yourself a reason to get dressed and leave the house everyday. If you are the kind of person that can go for a walk just for the sake of it (I’m not!) then that’s great, but I can only go for a walk if it has a purpose. So I re-started my step goal (much reduced from the recommended 10,000 daily – it has to be realistic or not meeting it is another thing that will get you down) and my walking purpose is now to meet my step goal. But that’s me. You could do anything, from getting a coffee from a different shop each day, taking a selfie from a new location to send your family, getting daily groceries instead of doing a big shop, whatever. The point is, to get out and break up your daily scenery. It’s OK to have the odd day of staying in glued to Netflix, but just don’t let that become your everyday if you can avoid it.

Hang a Picture 

In Indian culture, when a parent dies, you always hang a picture of them in your house. Mine is hanging in my living room where I can see my dad everyday, and have a little chat with him as I go about my chores. Just a quick few words, rather like the WhatsApp message we would exchange anyway with what I’m up to, which makes me feel ready to start my day.

Start a Memory Box 

I have a memory box filled with random things that belonged to my dad – some that I gave him, some that have no use to anyone else but I will forever associate with him. Some days, I look through the things in my box and have a little smile. I’ve put all my dad’s old hankies into my own hanky rotation. Just a little part of him that I get to keep with me every day.

Scan Photos

If you’re not taking all your photos from home with you, make sure you have a few scanned to take with you, so you can look at the photos as you want. I recently read something that said ‘You think photos don’t matter? Wait until they are all you have left.’ So true. I was in the habit of making a photo calendar every year in any case so I had a lot of photos on my computer but now, these pictures have been so valuable.

Get Back into Your Routine 

Obviously, take your time, but getting back into your routine is so important. Mine has changed up slightly – I go to my trainer twice a week at the moment, as I recognised that I don’t have the motivation to do my homework twice a week, so it’s a good change but having the regular things to do that I would do ‘before’ helps. It’s taken me a month, but I’ve also started writing my blog again (hello!) and thinking of ideas for the next few posts. Throughout it all, remember to always be kind. I’m aiming for a post every two weeks now, instead of every week, but at least it is a start. I’ve always spoken to my mum daily, wherever I’ve lived, and we have kept to this, even if all we have to say is a three-minute ‘you ok? yeah, you ok? yeah.’ before we get on with our days. I plan my week on a Sunday evening while Raj catches up with emails and if any day is looking a bit on the lean side, it gives me a chance to think of something to do… usually going to Wolmido Island because…

Scatter Ashes 

… it is where I scattered some of my dad’s ashes. For sure this isn’t for everyone, but I brought some of my dad’s ashes back to Korea with me (make sure you have the right paperwork to do so!) and Raj and I went to Wolmido Island, walked to the top of the mountain and I picked a spot to scatter the ashes over looking the docks to the right (he was a sailor at heart) and from where he could see Songdo to the left. I’ve been back there once or twice, eaten a sandwich, read a few pages of my book and always left with a sense of peace. I know we won’t live in Korea forever, but I know that spot will always be there and I know that the international traveller that my dad was, he’d be happy knowing he makes his final home in three different countries (England, Korea and Canada, where my big brother lives.)

Take Your Time 

Last but not least, take your time. Nobody can dictate how long you’ll take to process your bereavement. Counselling is SUCH a great help, and if you are in an English-speaking country, or a country where you speak the language, you’ll be able to find the support you need through your local hospital/insurance provider. Even where speaking face-to-face isn’t an option, there are so many therapists who offer online counselling – via Skype or webcam.  It can often be easier telling a stranger about your feelings than anyone else so do you research and do what’s right for you.

There’s no magic wand that you can wave to make your pain disappear and it is SUCH A LIE that the pain reduces over time. What is true, is that your life continues to grow around your pain, accommodating and acknowledging it at every step, and one day, you’ll realise your joy outweighs your sadness. It can take a different amount of time for everyone – a month, 6 months, a year, whatever and that’s just fine. I can’t tell you how long it took me, because I’m not there yet, but, with my dad looking down at me from the wall, I can say with confidence that I will get there, because that is what he would have wanted for us all and letting him down just isn’t an option.

Anyways. That’s me and my hiatus explained. I’ve got a few different post ideas in mind for the next few months including our trip to Iceland, the changes at Incheon Airport and the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018 to name a few. So keep posted, keep your questions coming and above all, let me know what else I can research to make your transition to Songdo easier!

It’s Gettin’ Hot in Herre…

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

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

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

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

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

Oven 1

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

Oven 2.png

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

Oven 3.png

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

Oven 4.png

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

Oven 5.png

Another couple of features of this combination machine include:

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

Grill 1.png

Happy Baking Everybody!

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

How To: Use Kakao Taxi

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Korea, you’ll know that Kakao is a way of life. If you are like me, perhaps you’ll even start to say ‘kakao’ in a similar tone to the message notification instead of replying to people in the affirmative – no? Just me then *sigh*.

Anyhow, since I briefly mentioned the app in an early post I have avoided using Kakao Taxi altogether by relying on other people or taking the car everywhere I go, but one of Raj’s delightful colleagues recently sent across a little ‘how to’ guide for non-Korean speakers, so I have no excuse now. Well, actually I do – I still can’t really figure out where I am on a map and where I want to get to, but that’s a separate issue. As this post largely consists of someone else’s writing (Cheat! Cheat! I hear you scream…) I’ll be following up with another one shortly… Happy wandering folks.

Step 1: Sign in

The sign-in page will greet you. You can automatically log in with your KakaoTalk account once you press the button on the button of the screen

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 Step 2: Agree to the T&Cs
Make sure you agree to all the statements, then hit next.

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Step 3: Confirm your Korean phone number
In order to use this app, you will need to have a working Korean cell phone number. The app will instantly send you a verification code and you must input the code into the KakaoTaxi app within the specified time limit.

 

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 Step 4: Input your location and Destination
Input your starting location in the top box and destination address in the bottom box. You can also click on the “starting location” box to be given the option to select your current location
*Scroll down to the bottom to view the diagram of Korean taxi types*  

 

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Swipe down on the map so that it enlarges to your entire phone screen. You can also type in the locations in the boxes. Once you input the information, the screen will close the map and give you an arrival estimate of your taxi. You can also click to see the map once more.

Step 5: Give them a “call”
Simply press the yellow button on the bottom and your request is sent to a nearby taxi. The app has real-time location, destination and travel time that you can send to family or friends through KakaoTalk, so that they can follow your journey on your phone.
Step 6: Pay at the end & give your driver a rating!
“We hope you had a pleasant ride”
You have the option of paying with card or cash once you arrive at your destination, much like a regular taxi. A screen should also pop up asking you to rate your experience with KakaoTaxi.
In short, as long as you can figure out a map, you can now use KakaoTaxi – Hurrah for this much-needed information and thank you PKC for sharing this with everyone!

 

 

Fancy Footwork

I’ve mentioned previously how the problem with pedicures here is the lack of a good foot scrub – I know that’s more than half the reason I want a pedicure most of the time – I mean, painting toenails is not that hard. Yet there aren’t scaly gross feet everywhere you look. Ok yes, most people wear covered shoes and I think even amongst the foreigner community Raj and I are in the minority wearing flip-flops whenever we can get away with it but don’t forget that in all Korean houses and even some traditional Korean restaurants, taking off your shoes at the entrance is the norm.

So apart from taking a file to your feet yourself, how can you achieve the impossible-y smooth feet that the locals have – do an at-home Foot Peel of course. I promised (threatened?) you last week with a full photo diary of how the process worked and I will not disappoint. It is gross and there aren’t really any nice words I can use to describe what happens, so probably best you don’t eat anything whilst reading this particular post.

There are a huge variety of peels that you can buy – as I like to minimise the number of different shops that I have to go to on a given day, I ended up picking up one from Tony Moly:

Although there are pictures, I did need to Google Translate the instructions which basically boil down to:

  • Wash and dry feet and place in the baggies provided
  • Pour the Solution into the baggie
  • Seal baggie up using the tabs
  • Sit for an hour and let the solution work its magic
  • Remove baggies and rinse off the solution from feet.

5. Post Peel

These are my feet immediately post-peel. Just a bit wrinkly from sitting in solution for so long, but nothing drastic yet.

The interesting thing about these foot peels is that the effect is not instant. When I instagrammed (of course) myself using the peel, my cousin wrote to me to tell me that it would take about 2 weeks for the actual peeling to take place so you have to be patient. Had I known this before, rather than waiting for Raj to travel to use the peel, I probably would have used it while he was in town and just timed it for the peeling to happen while he was away – subjecting anyone to the grossness that ensues is just not nice. Also, not a good idea to use these if your home is carpeted.  Just saying.

Now in my case, the heavy-duty peeling started about 7 days after using the pack and finished about 2 weeks later, so that’s the timeline I’d work with. One thing that I think helped things along though is actually wearing socks and shoes, rather than flip-flops. Something to do with the friction of the socks against your skin helps to slowly peel the dead crusty skin away – and its also a useful way not to trail skin everywhere you go. I liked the end result a lot – will definitely be using this more regularly – but I think every couple of months will do the trick! As promised, here’s a little photo diary of my feet… lucky readers!

From left to right, days 1 – 4 Post Peel: still nothing dramatic happening.

Day 5 saw a bit of peeling in the folds of skin around the toes

Day 6 is when the magic really started happening

12. Day 6 Post Peel

From day 7, I basically trailed dead skin wherever I went so I stuck to wearing socks and shoes.

13. Day 7 Post Peel.JPG

You aren’t supposed to pick at the skin to help it come off but I found a bit of gentle rubbing in the shower was good. After all the dead skin went away, I had wonderfully soft feet – but that’s the one thing I forgot to take a picture of! Ooops!

We’ll take it down a notch from the grossness in the next post, I promise!