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

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!

 

#Riverdale

I watch so much TV that it was inevitable that I would start reviewing shows and movies. The main problem with this lays with the fact that I am so behind on a number of cult shows (I only finished watching Breaking Bad in April 2017, and don’t even ask when I’m going to watch Better Call Saul) that not many people would find my reviews of any use or interest. That’s where the #netflixoriginals come in. A few weeks ago, I binged watched the first five episodes of #Riverdale and each week since, I have been waiting for the latest episode to be released – Friday America time, so it is usually Saturday morning before I get my fix.  And yes, I am hooked.

The initial pull came from the fact that it is loosely based on the Archie comics of my childhood. Hands up if one of your favourite things about a trip to India was being let loose in the bookstore to carry as many books and comics (Archie, TinTin, Asterix) as your little arms could carry? Flashback to Sydney 2016 when Raj found me after 10 minutes alone in a bookstore sitting on the floor surrounded by books and almost in tears trying to decide which ones to cull. I guess some things you never grow out of. Anyway, I digress.

So Riverdale. The show is set in the same town as the comics and the main characters share a name, and some basic personality traits with their literary counterparts but therein end the similarities. The TV show has been given a definite update for the 21st Century, with a healthy injection of film noire and modern-day anxieties and crimes running rife. Gone are the Dawson’s Creek type high school worries and in come changed identities while on the run from violent ex-partners, murder, embezzlement and psychiatric breakdowns. Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Veronica, Betty, Moose, Midge, Ethel. They are all there but fighting a whole different set of battles. Interestingly, the show has also jumped on the diversity bandwagon and many of the lead characters are #poc or at least have some ethnic ambiguity.

The first episode was a little strange I must admit. I kinda wanted to see the old school Betty and Veronica rivalry over lovable goon Archie, while Jughead sits in the side-lines  scoffing burgers and running from Ethel. Moose and Midge fighting, Reggie causing trouble, Archie’s parents being picture-perfect and Veronica’s dad being the over indulgent spoiler that every little girl deserves. But actually, whilst the sweeter than sweet version worked in pen and ink, I don’t think it would have translated well to the screen. So once I got over my expectations what I got was actually way better. Betty isn’t just the nice girl next door and Veronica is much more than the entitled rich bitch that everyone wants to be in with. They are forming the kind of ‘hos over bros’ friendship that goes beyond frenemies and you know that they have each others backs and Archie is not going to get in the middle like he always does. Veronica’s mum is totally present and figuring out how to fit herself back into her previous world and supports her daughter. Fred Andrews (er HELLO Luke Perry, your comeback to the screen is so very welcome) is figuring out life in a single parent world and the Coopers are hiding the truth about their elder daughter’s illegitimate pregnancy by calling it a mental illness. Underlying the entire series is the classic ‘Who dunnit’ storyline – who killed Jason Blossom? I’ve basically suspected every character, so I am looking forward to finding out who the killer actually is – and I really hope that they don’t make finding out a cliff hanger into Season 2.

As the episodes progress, darker issues rear their ugly heads causing concern about the newly-lovable characters but helpfully, it is a kind of concern that I can put aside for a week at a time without worrying too much. I think, given that I’m a girl who’ll read the end of the book first so that I can prepare myself for the worst, that this lack of concern is what they call progress.

I’m currently on episode 11 and we are no closer to finding out who the killer is but Polly is living with the Blossom’s (family of her baby-daddy) to do some snooping whilst it appears that Jughead’s dad has been framed for it, Betty & Jughead’s burgeoning relationship (I know!!)  has hit the rocks,  and it looks like Archie and Veronica might be taking real steps towards being together… Watch this space I guess.

If you’ve been taking a break from Netflix binge-ing, order in, get your fat pants on and binge away – totally worth it!

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.

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!

Social Media & The Expat

So at home in London, I was not quite so proficient at checking my social media (it was a task to be completed on the parts of my commute for which I had network) or uploading things to it. However, I quickly realised that we are so incredibly lucky to have such instant methods of updating and communicating with family and friends at home so I’ve become better at it. I regularly upload photos to my Instagram (which I prefer to Facebook because it has a more limited audience) and as I’ve downloaded Instagram for my mum, that means my parents can easily see what I am up to or the end results of things that we have spoken about. I’m using Twitter to find out information about things in Korea, but also as a source of news (yes, yes, I am being wary of fake news and the like). I mean, we are SO lucky not to have to wait 2 weeks for real letters to be delivered or to get a calling card and make 5 minute phone calls from pay phones with a bad connection so, I embraced technology when we moved and used the internet way more than I used to for personal usage back home. The biggest change in my social media habits is the use of Facebook. It is actually an amazing resource for getting information about different things here, and so I decided to make today’s post about the different Facebook groups that I have joined and pages I have liked since Raj signed his contract.

Below is a list of the pages and groups, with links to each on Facebook. A number of the groups are closed groups, which means that you send a joining request and the page admins will accept or decline your request as appropriate. Some of the pages require you to send a message to the admin to confirm why you want to join the page (this helps avoid the inevitable spamming) so be sure to read any pinned posts and follow the instructions!Hopefully the dearth of information that is available makes it worthwhile to have a Facebook account, even if only for the purposes of joining some of these groups! And it goes without saying that all opinions on the groups mentioned below are entirely my own.

Songdo Expat Community : The very first group I joined and also the one I have used the least. I find it a difficult group to navigate and as a result, questions/comments posted often go un-noticed. When we first arrived, landing on a Sunday with a fair amount of luggage and nobody meeting us at the airport, I posted a question about the best way to get from the airport to The Prau and got no answer. I mean, sure, we worked it out, but for a group professing to make life in Songdo easier for expats, I don’t find it very helpful. Still, I’m loathe to leave it just in case I miss something golden…

Anglo Info Seoul : News, tips and advice for life in Korea. This is one of the groups that I let post to my newsfeed and I usually read an article a day. It’s where I learnt about the recent governmental troubles and protests taking place in Seoul, about the Chicken Flu outbreak of 2016 and other day to day news that I would have normally obtained from the free dailies on my commute. Similar to this group, but less active in my opinion Everyday Korea and Community Korea

Ourshop India: Indian groceries online. And before the opening of Costco in Songdo, also a useful stop for ordering a few Costco goodies online. Delivery is quick and efficient once payment is made (and they have a variety of ways to pay). There are other online Indian grocers but I haven’t used them so haven’t included them here.

Employment groups include  Jobs in South Korea , Jobs: South Korea and Non Teaching Jobs in South Korea all of which facilitate posts from prospective employers and employees alike.

Waeg Farm is a group for those of you who can’t do without your goat’s cheese – especially when it is made fresh and delivered straight to your door!

Korea International Nanny Service is not just for childcare, but cleaners / housekeepers often post here as well. Great if the 3 hour minimum call from the Incheon Cleaning Service  is too much for your needs

Korea Heritage Society  a group to share and enjoy in the rich culture of Korea, with regular posts on activities and events taking place across the country

Used Cars fro Foreigners and Koreans Check out my post on driving here for more information on why this group is so useful!

Expat Grocery Gurus Korea: New Products, Discounts And Clearance Sales featuring tips and advice on where to buy products, when there are sales etc. Everyone here is super helpful and friendly so if you are looking for the source for a particular product, don’t hesitate to ask!

Particularly useful for expats are:Every Expat in Korea,British Expats in Korea,  Indians in Korea and Expat Women in Korea. I mean, you get the odd douche (excuse my French) on all of the groups but by and large the communities are helpful, friendly and supportive.

Not one I’ve had much need to use but always a good to have around is Expat Healthcare in South Korea.

Cooking in Korea is a great resource for sharing recipes, gleaning inspiration, asking for tips and advice and, as I find when I’ve achieved something new in the kitchen, a bit of validation from others who are also navigating the world of Western Style cooking in Korea.

For Incheon/Songdo specific groups, these are a few that I have found:

Incheon Global Campus and Yeonsu, Incheon, South Korea features interesting events and information from our locality

Incheon-Songdo Photography for all the photo lovers in the area, with some really stunning shots of where we call home!

For buying and selling second-hand goods check out Songdo Flea Market and Incheon Flea Market.

Songdo Girl’s Night Group is a community for the ladies of Songdo with at least a monthly event planned

For the exercise conscious among you, check out GCF Yoga which is a beginners Yoga Class, taught in English 3 times a week at the G-Tower for GCF employees and their families and Zumba in Songdo , which is about, well, Zumba classes in Songdo.

Road Tips ideas for trips and events for the expats of Songdo, by the expats of Songdo.

I’m sure new groups will come along sooner or later, but for now, that’s all folks.