Passport Photos in Songdo

Anyone else always find themselves ready to leave for the airport about 3 hours before they need to be? Just me? Ok then. Well, it gives me time to write a quick post about getting passport photos taken in Songdo. You’ll need photos taken in the last six months when you get here for your Alien Registration Card, your Ministry of Foreign Affairs Card and your Korean Driving Licence if you are getting one. We came with a few from home but have since needed to get more done for visas / general use so I thought I would share the two places that I go to when I need photos pronto:

(1) June Studio in Millennium City: 준 스튜디오

Located right next to Daiso (more on this later) they take good standard size passport photos. I haven’t had to get any awkward size photos taken but I am sure they could do it here. Been a while since I went here but I have a feeling it is on the 2nd floor, so keep your eyes trained upwards!

Address in Korean: 인천광역시 연수구 신송로 122 송도프라자 2층

Phone: 032-851-8263

Price: KRW 12000 (for four. May have increased since I was last here)

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 09:30 – 20:30, Sat-Sun 10:00-18:00

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(2) Kodak Stand in Homeplus Songdo (Technopark Station) 

If you hop on the subway at Central Park, three stops later you’ll be at Technopark. When you come out of the subway, you can either walk straight into the Hyundai Shopping Outlet or take the escalators to the right and you’ll be in front of Homeplus. Go down to the main shopping floor (B1) and as you step off the escalator, you’ll find a Kodak concession on your left. As well as passport photos, you can also get photos printed if you take them in on a memory stick. Depending on how busy they are, I’ve had photos printed within 30 minutes – or as long as it takes for me to get my grocery shopping done!  One thing I noticed about the passport photos here vs June Studios is that at Kodak, they’ll automatically do a spot of photoshopping / touching up…

Well there you have it, that should cover all your ID needs!

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A Beijing Mini Break: 3 Day Itinerary

Having sorted out the admin pretrip, we were ready for our 3.5 day sojourn in Beijing. First thing to get used to pretty much every flight to China from Incheon gets delayed. It’s boring but it is part of the experience. Also, a lot of passengers will have an INSANE amount of hand-baggage, so you kind want to get on the plane quickly to make sure you get some of that precious overhead storage space (this is where you want loyalty points for some essential pre- boarding.)

We landed in PEK and jostled our way through immigration. The airport is HUGE! You have to get a fairly lengthy train shuttle from just outside immigration to luggage collection and from getting off the plane to getting into a taxi, it took about an hour.

People talk about the traffic in Beijing, and the drivers there, and it sounds horrendous. Knowing our propensity to hire cars and do things ourselves, several friends warned us off driving in Beijing and said we’d be scared enough in taxis. I don’t get it personally. The traffic, although plentiful, wasn’t the worst and because there was plenty of traffic, it really felt like everything was happening in slow motion. Yes, there were plenty of cars that zipped in and out of traffic, super close to a car we were in but because of the speed every one is travelling at, it isn’t an insurmountable feat. Anyway, I digress.

We arrived in Dongzhimen around 7 and spent the evening wandering around the local area – ostensibly to find the subway station, but really just to orient ourselves as we knew we would be taxi people this trip. During the wandering, we came across the Raffles City Mall, across the road from Dongzhimen station and lo and behold, dinner was solved – Pizza Express in China (although it’s called Pizza Marzano there!)

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Day 1 in Beijing was a very rainy Friday morning not conducive to sightseeing, so we spent the day roaming (in taxis) around different areas, stopping for food as needed. I was particularly excited to find a place to get my eyebrows threaded in the CBD. Browhaus has two locations pretty close to each other, and the staff spoke enough English to make me feel comfortable. It was 98RMB for eyebrows and 50RMB for upper lip which is a bit pricey but I wasn’t so sure that I’d walk away with my face intact from some of the definitely cheaper in-mall threading places.

I went to the location in the Kerry Centre, and while I was doing my thing, Raj was busy finding a lunch stop in the same building: Din Tai Fung for world-renowned dumplings – including a veggie selection for him!

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After lunch, we headed over to the Bodhi Spa, as recommended to us, for some blissful massages which helped to while away the afternoon. http://www.bodhi.com.cn We paid 348RMB for a 1hr aromatherapy massage and you’ll find the spa just North of the workers stadium, across the road.

We spent the evening strolling through Sanlitun – known for its bars and restaurants. The food prices are pretty amazing when compared to Korea and the choice available is huge! Apparently Sanlitun used to be the soft red light district of Beijing and to this end, you still see women dancing on poles in an establishment which is right next door to a more family friendly environment. We had a nice drink at the Hacienda Rooftop bar, followed by a stroll home. One strange thing we found everywhere is that as soon as your food / order has been brought to your table, the servers expect payment immediately. If you hand over a card, they often ask for the password (pin) but we’d say no and mime signing instead. It’s almost like they expect you to do a runner so they avoid that by getting paid upfront, which is weird in the police-state that is China but you get used to it.

Day 2 dawned with slightly more friendly weather, so we set off to the Summer Palace, up in the North of the city. The summer palace was exactly the kind of crowded mayhem that you would imagine China to be. Last summer’s desire to be a video-blogger came back for a few moments while I tried  to capture the insanity – but it was a futile attempt. We bought the artists map to try to navigate around the palace, but whilst it is a very pretty representation it isn’t the most useful to get around, so that’s where Lonely Planet comes in. This is also the place that I came round to the idea of using umbrellas as sun protection. It was hot and humid and climbing to the top for some albeit very pretty views was sticky work. I think I’d almost prefer to return to Beijing in the cold months (cold weather doesn’t scare me anymore – I live in Korea after all!) to do the rest of the sightseeing. If you have time, it’s a nice little ferry ride from the main bit of the palace to South Island too. The sun disappeared while we were on the boat but the view were still nice.  Leaving the palace to get a taxi was hard. This seems to be a recurring theme in China, so if you have members of your party who would object to walking around in search of one, make sure you get the DiDi app and have data on your phone! Even with the app, lack of language skills means that it still isn’t the easiest thing, but every little bit helps.

From the Palace, we went to a Duck restaurant – its Beijing, Roast Duck in pancakes is an absolute must – that was recommended and across the road from the hotel. It was a late lunch, so the restaurant had run out of vegetarian food but Raj patiently watched me stuff myself and then went and found some noodles around the corner.

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After a little rest (I really must invest in a hat) we headed to Houhai for dinner and a drink. The name ‘Houhai’ refers to a lake and its surrounding neighbourhood in the Xicheng District of Central Beijing and is a lovely place for a pre-dinner stroll. We ventured away from the lake down some decidedly quiet, and in any other country, dodgy, side streets which are apparently filled with market traders during the day to a quiet and quaint little Italian restaurant, Mercante, which we’ve since learnt is a gem amongst the Beijing Foodie Set. With an Italian owner, the food is impeccable and I was only sorry that I’d eaten so much duck that I didn’t have space for the rack of New Zealand Lamb that was the night’s special. (Yes, I realise most of my holiday posts revolve around food. I can’t help it, I get hungry. I’ve started planning my trip to London in September already – Nandos, Teryiaki Salmon Fishcakes from M&S, Ribs and Greggs make the top food stops). After dinner we went back to the lake for a drink at the ‘No Name Bar.’ For such a gorgeous venue, it was empty, so please do make an effort to find it and offer it your custom when in town! 

Day 3, and our last full day in Beijing. We jumped in a taxi to Tiananmen Square: interestingly, if you Google-search Tiananmen Square without a VPN in China, nothing of note comes up. There is a big ploy to make sure that people know that nothing happened there, but when you get there, security is super tight and there are supposedly plain clothed policemen at every turn. Why would you need all this if nothing happened? We planned to go to the Square first, but somehow found ourselves caught up in the queue for The Forbidden City so we went along with it. That was our first big fail of the trip. There are only 80,000 tickets sold each day for the Forbidden City and most of these are booked by tour operators or online before people arrive at the venue. The crowds to get into FC are HUGE and pushy and shove-y and gross in the heat, but there is no sign on the outside to say there are no tickets left. Once we shoved our way in only to find all the tickets were sold out, we made our way back to the front to get out, only to be turned around with no indication where the exit was. At some point I was wandering through crowds just saying ‘exit’ over and over again in the hope that someone would take pity on me and point me in the right direction!  Turns out you need to walk the length of the FC on the outside in order to get out.

Fast-forward from here to Silk Street. Ah yes, the infamous art of bargaining in a Chinese market. I am SO bad at haggling that I just went down the ‘speak to my husband I don’t have any money route’ and left him to it after I picked out things. There is a nice food court (veggie and non-veggie noodles pleaseandthankyou) for pre-shopping, and lots of great foot massage places for post shopping. All in all, I was happy with my spoils, which included a new pair of glasses for me, prescription sunglasses for him both for less than £100. I think I’ll get prescription sunglasses next time…

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Raj likes to check out the Indian food offering everywhere we go, so that’s what we did for dinner. The menu at Ganges in Sanlitun was HUGE and it definitely gets a thumbs up from us – sadly I ate my food too quickly before I thought of taking pictures, but it’s just an excuse to go back I reckon!! 🙂

All in all, a Beijing Mini Break is thoroughly recommended. I want to go back to see the Great Wall of China (a 70km hike in that weather was not on my list of things to do) and actually enter the Forbidden City so I’ll be applying for a multi-entry visa when I’m in London to make it possible…

 

A Beijing Mini Break: How To

One of my favourite things about living in Korea is the access to the rest of Asia. This year, a number of different factors conspired to mean that we have spent summer in Korea, and making our home leave visits later in the year. We’ve used a fair amount of that time to go into Seoul and more recently, made the 2 hour flight to Beijing, for my first trip to China.

Visa Free Layover 

A lot of nationalities (and I can confirm this from a British Passport Holder point of view) can do a 72 hour layover in China visa-free having met certain conditions:

  • You must fly in and out of the same airport around the 72 hour layover (e.g PEK)
  • You must be flying to a third country and possess a ticket to prove this journey. For these purposes, Hong Kong does count as a third country (e.g. Incheon ⇒ Beijing ⇒ Hong Kong ⇒ Incheon) NB. In the given example, if you wanted to re-enter Beijing after Hong Kong, you would need a visa for the second re-entry into China
  • You need to have your accommodation in Beijing booked, with a printed copy as proof.

If you are taking the layover option, there is a separate immigration queue that you can use – in fact there are two options here as well. You can either use the immigration queue that allows entry into the city itself, or if just transiting, there is another queue for visa-free-remaining-in-the-airport. Take a moment to make sure you are in the right queue and save yourself some time.

China-Visitor Visa 

Although pretty much everyone needs a visa to visit China, there are exceptions so it’s worth your while to check the requirements for your trip yourself.

Note: The Chinese Embassy no longer issues travel visas to individuals. One must go through one’s travel agent to get the required visas. Also, foreign nationals must now have 6 months remaining on their ARC (visa) to qualify for a visa to China.

For our visas, we went to Mode Tour, which is right by Central Park 2. The staff don’t speak a lot of English, but enough to help you get your visa. You need a passport photo, your passIMG_1359port and your Alien Registration Card as proof of residence. If you don’t have an ARC then you’re better off applying for a multiple entry visa in your home country. We had a little issue because our ARC doesn’t have an expiry date, but luckily we have Korean visas in our passports which do have an end date, so it worked out OK. The staff in the agency fill out most of the form for you while you are there, and the standard service takes about 4 days. You pay, in cash, on collection – about 80,000 per visa. You probably can get a  multiple entry visa via the agency, but we just got a single entry for this trip. The recommendation is that you have your flights and accommodation booked before you apply for your visa but the travel agents didn’t take the printed copies when applying for our visas, so I’m not sure about that. There is also an express service for the visas as well, and as expected it costs a little more.

Accommodation 

I don’t have a lot to say on this – where you stay depends on what you want to do and what your budget is, but I will say this. All visitors have to register with the local police office within 24 hours of arriving in China. If you stay in a hotel, they take photocopies of your passport photo page and visa and do this for you. If, however, you stay in an Airbnb or with friends, I think you would have to arrange this yourself – just make sure you’ve done the necessary admin. It’s also a requirement to always carry your passport (or Chinese ID if you have it) on your person, so a good cross body bag for essentials is useful.

Getting Around 

The subway is getting larger and is pretty easy to use. You can get a T-money card equivalent but we just did a few single journies, as taxis are really affordable in China and we were being a little bit lazy (totally allowed on holiday). When you are taking taxis, always make sure they switch on the meter (and get out of the taxi if they don’t want to), don’t take private cars masquerading as taxis and have plenty of smaller notes to pay for the taxis as well (see money, below). There isn’t a lot of English spoken, so yo need to have Chinese addresses to give to taxi drivers. To this end, Google maps isn’t 100% reliable in terms of location but you can use it to obtain said Chinese addresses. Taxis start at a base rate of 13.00 RMB and if you are spending a bit longer in China, it might be worth downloading the Didi app (available in English) to hail taxis with. We didn’t hire a local sim card as it was just 4 days so used our Korean data but this is an option at the airport I believe. One thing you will want to have set up on your phone is a VPN, as access to many Western apps is restricted in China.

Cash v Card

China isn’t as card-friendly a society as Korea is, as locals tend to load money onto their ‘wechat’ apps and use this for paying for everything – restaurants, shops, taxis, cinema etc. Foreign cards are especially hit and miss – even when it comes to ATMs. I’d recommend using cash for most transactions and to withdraw cash, your safest bets are Citibank, Bank of China, HSBC and the airport ATMs.

Cash fraud is, however, still a big deal – especially with 100 RMB notes. Our hotel (Holiday Inn Express Dongzhimen) had a little list of checks to make when money is handed back to you but I’m going to get a friend to write a little note about this as well. Watch this space. I mentioned above that you should have correct change for taxis – this is because the following scenario is pretty common:

  • Passenger hands taxi driver 100 RMB
  • Taxi driver says it is fake (when it isn’t) and hands back a fake 100 RMB note to the passenger
  • Passenger accepts fake and uses another 100RMB note to pay fare.

One taxi we got into agreed a price of 20RMB from Silk Street to our hotel, which is what we paid getting there. He immediately handed me 80RMB in change, expecting a 100RMB in return. I said no and gave him a 20 note. At this, point he said he wanted 20 euros (!) so we said no and hoped out. I can only assume that the 80 change he was prepared to hand over was fake and I foiled his plan by having change to hand. Guess we’ll never know.

Restaurants

Eating out in Beijing is great – for veggies and carnivores a like! All the menus are in English and there are options to suit every taste and budget. I’ll write more about where we ate in the next post though… 

One last thing

People talk a lot about the pollution in Beijing. We really didn’t find it to be visibly that bad but maybe we’ve gotten used to a similar level in Korea. Checking the air quality app showed that levels weren’t great, but speaking to a couple of long-term expats in Beijing, we learnt that it was the worst it had been in a while (save for 2 weeks in Winter when you try not to go outside.) What I did find however, is that my contact-lens covered eyes struggled after a day, no matter how many eye drops I used. Wearing sunglasses, even when it wasn’t that sunny helped a LOT so either do that, or give your eyes a break and wear your glasses every now and again.

 

 

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

 

The Incheon Injection

Now don’t worry, I’m not about to write a treatise on the various vaccinations that are recommended for South Korea (when we left the UK, there weren’t any but I believe nowadays they recommend Japanese Encephalitis – especially if you plan on visiting Jeju Island during rainy season). Rather, it was my not-so-clever revamp of what my South African Expat Friends in London would refer to as ‘The Heathrow Injection’ i.e. the phenomenon of moving to a new country (for the Saffas, England, for us, RoK) and putting on weight that proves hard to shift. Speaking to my trainer on Monday (Get me – I have a trainer. If you had known me in my previous London-Life you would be beyond shocked that I regularly and voluntarily work out with a trainer) he said of the foreigners in Korea he trains, about 70% put on weight after arriving here and 30% find they lose weight.

The 30% are usually people who ate unhealthily in their previous country and relied heavily on cars as their means of transport and find that their arrival in Korea means eating better (if you aren’t vegetarian, Korean eating can be surprisingly healthy) and not owning a car means that simply increasing the walking they do means they are a lot more active.

Unfortunately, we fell into the 70% category when we arrived. The world-over, people put on weight in the winter. Comfort eating during the long dark nights and hiding behind lovely big sweaters and jumpers. Now take two Brits turning up in Korea (remember how cold I said it gets?) in January. No Hangul skills and they don’t know anybody. Raj would at least go to work every day – but as we lived a 30 minute walk from the office, he’d either take the shuttle bus or, more often than not, a taxi to avoid the biting cold. Once we discovered the convenience store in the bottom of our building, that was usually the furthest I walked (the occasional walk to Lotte didn’t count) so my activity levels really dropped  – London meant at least 2 hours commuting to work each day and walking around the office / meeting friends in the evening etc so even if I didn’t do any actual exercise, I was at least hitting the 10,000 recommended steps daily. So lower activity, coupled with a drink almost every night with dinner and eating ‘winter portions’ of our meals, which were limited in their variety while we were at The Prau didn’t make for the healthiest of starts here.

Once we were settled in our current home, we tried to stick to healthy eating plans and to be each others conscience when it came to eating well but we’re both too soft on each other. So we checked out the gym in our building, which felt expensive (some buildings include use of the gym when you live there, but not ours.) Along with that, we also didn’t really know what we were doing in a gym, don’t enjoy working out and the trainers int the gym didn’t speak enough English for me to be comfortable (all my various aches and pains mean that I need a lot of hand holding when trying to build strength.) I also worried that Raj and I wouldn’t be motivated enough on our own to make use of the gym. So we pottered on with our own attempts without a great deal of success.

Fast Forward to Feb 2017. A bunch of our friends had been seeing a trainer, Bryce,  in Incheon who is Australian but lives here and has done for 9 years. Bryce’s training style is mostly mat work with weights in the form of Kettlebells thrown in, focusing on movement, flexibility and strength. Now here was something I could get on board with. Before he moved to Canada, this was my older brother’s training style too and the few sessions I did with him really helped me. I think Raj was a bit more sceptical of it, as he prefers sports – football, hockey etc but he was willing to give it a go (it was either that or put up with my nagging. Easy choice really.)

So we went for our consultation and came away with our targets – primarily strength building for me, and flexibility for Raj and our weekly sessions were booked in. Our exercises in the gym vary between weights, stretches and also just moving more. Once you start to make progress on one target, Bryce will add in others – for both of us, this was weight loss. He helps with diet and nutrition and keeps tabs on activity levels as well. Alongside the weekly sessions in the gym, he also sets homework – two workouts at home a week and daily stretching / walking to increase movement generally. Now I try to be pretty good about doing all my various exercises each week, but he understands that people who are working might not always do this, so he works them a bit harder when they are in the gym instead.

6 months later, I definitely see and feel the difference. My most recent pain issues have all but gone and although the back still plays up from time to time, Bryce works with me and my limitations so that I’m always taking two steps forward, even when I take one step back. The accountability and motivation he provides means that I now have the strength of a normal 30-something adult and Raj is beating his personal bests every week. The weight loss isn’t instant but my sister-in-law (yes, my brother and his wife are both disgustingly fit trainers – Keeping up with the Raghuveers is not an option) always promotes ‘strong not skinny’ and she has always said that when you train for strength, your shape does change and she is right. Apparently men lose weight more easily than women (obviously. I mean, why should women get a break when it comes to our bodies right?) but we are getting there.

The studio (which is also a Yoga Studio) used to be in Songdo but they needed a bigger space, so are now in Incheon, near the Lotte Department Store/ in between Incheon Bus Terminal and Arts Centre stations on the subway. It takes about 20 minutes to drive to, traffic permitting and there are two reserved parking spaces for the gym round the back, that are available on a first come first serve basis. Bryce always says his website needs work but you can check out the gym on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/powerbalanceyoga/

One of my favourite things about coming to Korea and being a housewife? The opportunity to get fit, healthy and strong!

Power Balance Map

 

 

 

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!