Sunday, 21 February 2016

Renting in Korea

If you come to Korea as an English teacher, like I did, you will usually be offered housing with your job. You can find a bunch of information about this on the internet. However, instead of providing housing, many schools offer 'housing allowance' as an alternative. This means that they do not provide an apartment for you, but pay you some extra money with your monthly wages, that you can use to pay your own rent.

Personally, after a few years of living in housing provided by my employers, the decision to switch to renting by myself was one of the best decisions I made in Korea!

If you have decided to rent your own place, scroll down for my tips on renting in Seoul.

If you're thinking about renting but not sure, read on ...

There are some pros and cons of accepting housing that is provided by your school:

YAY! :)
  • You don't have to plan anything or worry about where you're going to live. Basically if you got a job, you got a home! This is really helpful if you are coming to Korea for the first time.
  • You never have to deal with any issues in your apartment by yourself. Just ask your supervisor at work to fix it for you. No need to struggle with the language barrier.


  • You will have no choice where you live, and you won't know anything about it until you actually get there. 
  • It's most likely to be a one-room. 
  • You won't have time to move in and unpack before starting your new job, and when your contract is over you'll be expected to move out immediately, i.e. a couple of hours after you finish your last work day.
  • You will always feel like your home is not your own, and your job owns your life ...

So what about renting privately? The good points are obvious:

  • Choose where you want to live. The location, the kind of building, the size; everything is your choice.
  • Have a settled place to live, regardless of whether you change jobs. Feel at home, instead of feeling like you're still living in a student dorm!

Of course, there are many difficulties too.

  • You have to do all the legwork yourself - Going to real estate agents, looking at places, negotiating and signing a contract. This can be difficult if you don't know any Korean.
  • You need to be already in Korea on a valid visa. I guess it would be difficult to arrange housing before you arrive here.
  • The biggest obstacle is the 'key money' (보증금), aka a bloody ridiculously massive deposit. Although monthly rent (월세) in Korea can be very affordable in relation to an English teacher's salary, you need to have money upfront for the huge deposit - Often more than 10 thousand dollars USD.

However, it is possible!

So here are my tips for renting in Seoul (Other parts of Korea may be different):
  • Yongsan-gu is your easiest option! I'm talking about Itaewon, HBC and the surrounding areas. Not only is it a fantastic area to live in because it's right in the middle of Seoul and full of great stuff (I'm biased), the rental market also caters specifically to foreigners: Real estate agents speak English and may write up your contract in English too, and key money can be as low as 3,000,000 ~ 5,000,000 Won (3~5000 USD). If you have that much money saved, just walk into any estate agency in the area and tell them what kind of place you want. Easy!
  • If you want to rent in another area of Seoul, you will probably need a bit more money saved up for the deposit. I think that deposits for one-room officetels start from around 5,000,000 Won, while for a two-room apartment it could be as much as 80,000,000 Won. You will also need to either know enough Korean to communicate with the estate agent, or take a Korean friend to help you.
  • If you don't have any savings to put down a deposit, a great option is to move into a shared apartment. Search Craigslist and Seoul Facebook groups for people advertising rooms to rent. A lot of people will only ask you to pay a month's rent as a deposit, and the house will probably already be furnished.
  • After moving into your new home, remember to register your change of address at your local district office (구청) or at the immigration office
  • Landlords should take care of the building for you, but they are not obliged to clean it between tenants, so you may find it's dirty when you move in.
  • Be aware that 'housing allowance' from your school is taxed. It's effectively just a salary increase.

If you are coming to Korea as an English teacher for the first time, it's much easier to take the housing that your school offers. But I would recommend anyone who has been here a year already and knows a little Korean to think about renting privately. I have loved every minute of living in my own apartment in Seoul :)

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Seoul's Doll Cafes Revisited

I did a post almost a year ago now about some of the doll cafes in Seoul (link here), and I decided to make an updated post after recently revisiting a couple of them.

For anyone interested in BJD (ball joint dolls), the place for you to go is Hongdae (Hongik University area). You can visit the Volks store there, and there are these two great cafes:

1. Cafe Nine9 Style (나인나인)

This is a lovely cafe and shop with a really warm and relaxed atmosphere, and friendly staff. They have a very good selection of doll clothes, eyes, shoes, wigs, accessories and tools for you to browse and purchase, and even a few dolls available as well, including super, mini and tiny size BJDs and some Momokos.

Customers are all enthusiasts who bring their own dolls to play with. You can order drinks and snacks like a regular cafe, and you can also freely use the little set and props at the side to pose your own dolls and take pictures.

Overall Nine9 is a bright, sunny cafe with a friendly atmosphere, and it's a lovely place to spend a couple of hours with your dolls and your friends.

To get to Nine9 Style, come out of Hondae station exit 1, walk 140m and take a right at the large junction, then walk 340m and turn left just before Shinhan bank. The cafe is on the corner of the next street, on the 3rd Floor. Nine9 Style also have their office and studio on the second floor of the building.

Important note: You need to call ahead to book a table, otherwise you're unlikely to get a seat, especially on weekends. Their number is on their Korean website.

2. Cafe Zephyros 카페 제피로스 (Blue Fairy)

Good news! I posted before that Blue Fairy had disappeared from its original location, but then I recently found out that it has just relocated a few doors away, still in the Hapjeong area. Hurrah!

This was my first time spending some time at this cafe, and it was really awesome thanks to the wonderful manager. He's a really kind and friendly guy, and even speaks some English. He saw that my doll was in pieces, and straight away came over and re-strung her for me! It was really nice of him, and he showed me how to do it too so hopefully next time I can do it myself.

Cafe Zephyros has a small selection of doll accessories for sale, and a large and very nice collection of dolls displayed in cabinets around the room. They also have a couple of dolls on the counter which my friend said customers can play with, although you'd have to ask about that. Overall this cafe is great for its friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

Again, it is advisable to phone ahead and book a table if you want to visit this cafe.

Cafe Zephyros is located near Lucky Strike, on the second floor of a building near the lego cafe. The address is 서울 마포구 독막로3길 33.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Korean Weekly(ish) Vocab #3

cactus  선인장  仙人掌

I don't know why, but the word for 'cactus' keeps coming up in conversation for me. However, I still have trouble memorizing it. The characters literally mean "celestial being, palm of hand" ... so I've got no idea what that's all about ... Is a cactus the hand of a god??

ring-necked pheasant  꿩

This is a nice word to know if you are interested in historical art and design culture, as the pheasant is a motif that often appears in artwork and textiles. It symbolizes nobility and can be seen in designs embroidered on royal clothing.

pocket notebook  수첩  手帖

I'll be honest, I never actually knew this word before, because I always just call it a 노트 ...

help, assistance  협조  協助

This word I learned because I saw it on a sign on an elevator, asking people to assist disabled people.

Finally, here are some useful hanja from this week's words:

手  수  hand (손)

This character can be found in the words: 수갑 (handcuffs), 수건 (hand towel), 박수 (applause, hand clapping), 수공 (handicrafts)

人  인  person (사람)

This is a really easy beginner hanja. It can be found in lots of common words, including: 인사 (greeting), 개인 (individual), 인간 (human being, humankind), 군인 (soldier), 인생 (one's life), 외국인 (foreigner), 한국인 (Korean person)

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Korean Weddings - A Guide for Guests

I went to a wedding last week, and thought it would be useful to do a post on the etiquette of attending a Korean wedding, with some vocabulary too. So if you've been invited to wedding in Korea and you're not sure what to do, just follow these steps:

1. Check the location. You need to check not only the name of the venue, but also which floor, or the name of the room. Wedding halls are large and often have many weddings happening on different floors at the same time, so you need to make sure you go to the right one! If it isn't mentioned on the invitation, the information should be on a board or screen inside the entrance of the wedding hall when you arrive.

Wedding hall, event hall - 웨딩홀, 예식장, 결혼식장, 회관
2nd Floor, 3rd Floor - 2층, 3층

2. Dress Code: Smart casual, the same sort of thing you might wear to the office. Guests don't dress up to go to weddings here; in fact they usually wear very plain, dark-coloured clothes.

3. Bring cash! You have to give money when you attend a wedding in Korea. If you're not sure how much to give, ask other guests beforehand. Also check Talk to Me in Korean's website because they did a really good video on this recently. When you get to the venue, there will be a desk near the entrance. In fact, there may be two desks - One for the bride's side (신부), and one for the groom's (신랑). Depending on whether you are a guest of the bride or the groom, check which desk to go to. They will give you a white envelope. Put the money inside the envelope, write your name on it. They will check how much money you gave, and ask you to sign your name on an attendance register. Then they will give you a ticket for the buffet. Keep this because you'll need it to get food later!

Extra note: I'm not sure of the etiquette regarding this, but I've heard that many guests prefer to give money directly to the couple, to ensure that they actually receive it. Some couples may designate a family member to collect these cash gifts, but as it's unofficial, you'll need to ask around to know who you should give it to. I think you still need to give some money to the official desk to get your buffet ticket. Again, your best bet is to ask other guests beforehand.

Bride 신부
Groom 신랑
Congratulatory gift money 축의금
Meal 식사

4. Arrive early. Most guests want to greet the bride or groom beforehand, because there may not be a chance later, and you want them to know you attended! After giving your money and getting your buffet ticket, next look for the 신부대기실 ('Bride's Waiting Room' ). The bride will be just sitting in there with a photographer, so you can go and say hello and pose for a picture with the bride. If you are a friend of the groom, he should be waiting somewhere around the entrance of the venue.

5. The ceremony. Take a seat in the main ceremony room. Now you can just relax and watch the couple walk down the aisle, and all that stuff.

6. Photographs. After the ceremony, the photographer will take pictures. Usually they will do some with just the couple and their parents first, then with family, then lastly with friends. So if you are a friend, just sit and wait until the photographer calls you.

Photo 사진
Family 가족
Friends 친구

7. Time to eat! The buffet will probably be on a different floor, so just follow the other guests. Now you need to hand over the meal ticket you got earlier, and then you can just enjoy the buffet! What can I say? - It's a buffet, so expect to self-serve, and eat as much as you want. Be aware there may be guests from another wedding in the buffet room at the same time, so don't assume everyone in there is a guest from the wedding you just went to. The bride and groom and their parents may walk around the room to greet everyone again during the meal, but they will be quite busy as they also have other family-only ceremonial stuff to do.

8. Go home. After the buffet, that's it, the wedding's over and you can leave. The whole thing should only take up about 2 hours of your time.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Korean Weekly Vocab: Language Immersion

So today I attended my first class in natural textile dyeing, and I feel like I just totally threw myself into the deep end of the metaphorical pool of Korean language.

To be honest, it's amazing how long you can actually live in another country and never feel that sensation of total language immersion, because it's so much easier to just surround yourself with your own language in your daily life.

Even if you take Korean lessons, nothing compares to being in a Korean language situation where you are actively involved in doing something and need to know what's going on. It forces you to stay alert, drag everything you've learned already to the front of your mind, and memorize new words straight away.

Well here are some of the words I learned today. Actually, some of them I knew already, but hearing them used in a real-life situation made them actually stick in my mind finally.

감각 (感覺) sense, sensation, feeling

건조 (乾燥) dryness, aridity
말리다 to dry
마르다 (마른) dry

수업료 tuition fee
신청서 (申請書) written application

(絹) silk
명주 (明紬) myeongju, traditional Korean fine plain-weave silk

방충 (防蟲) moth repellent

학명 (學名) scientific name

(鐵) iron
백반 (白礬) alum (OK, now I'm getting into some specific vocab for dyeing!)
매염 (媒染) mordant
염액 dyeing solution, dyebath

Friday, 27 November 2015

Korean Weekly Vocab: Textiles and Dyes

Oops, it's been three weeks since my first 'weekly' vocab post. Maybe I should change it to 'monthly'!

This week I have been learning a lot of new vocab related to textiles. The reason for this is that I am working on a lot of design work at the moment, and hopefully about to start a course in tradtional natural dyes. So, this is quite a personal post and the words are very specific! But maybe somebody else out there might find it useful too.

직물 (織物) textile, textiles, fabric
원단 fabric
옷감 dress fabric, cloth

면 (綿) cotton
가죽 leather

심지 interfacing (interlining)
접착심지 fusible (adhesive) interfacing (interlining)
thread, yarn
cord, twine, strap, thong, (shoe)lace, string

누빔 quilt wok, quilting (누비다 to quilt)
자수 (刺繡) embroidery, needlework (also called just 수)

천연 (天然) nature (Another word for nature is 자연 (自然) )
천연염색 (天然染色) natural dye

Here are some natural dyestuffs. Some of them are ones that don't seem to be common outside of East Asia, so I had a little difficulty figuring out what they were! Others are popular traditional dyes around the world.

아선약 (阿仙藥) cutch
울금 turmeric
홍화 (紅花) (잇꽃) safflower
꼭두서니 madder
오배자 (五倍子) gallnut
치자 (梔子) gardenia seed pod
괴화 (회화나무 ) Pagoda tree (Sophora japonica) flower buds
소목 sappan wood
자초 (紫草) (지치) Lithospermum purpurocaeruleum or Purple Gromwell

Monday, 16 November 2015

Goguryeo Blacksmith Village, Achasan

A few months back I posted about Achasan (아차산), a mountain in Eastern Seoul, and mentioned that I was hoping to go back to visit the historic village there. This weekend, I did, and it was great!

Goguryeo Blacksmith Village (고구려 대장간마을) was built as a set for filming the TV drama '태왕사신기' ('Legend'), and replicates a Goguryeo era working village, complete with a large water mill wheel and a brick oven. Although originally built for film, it now serves as a historical attraction and has exhibiton rooms with various Goguryeo artifacts on display, including many that were actually excavated at Achasan. It's actually really cool and interesting, and I didn't even have to pay an entrance fee!

Inside one of the houses
Goguryeo (고구려) was one of the ancient 3 kingdoms of Korea, from 37 BC to 668 AD. The significance of building this village here at Achasan, is that the ruins of several Goguryeo era forts are located on the mountain. So if you want to do the historical trail and visit the fort sites, the blacksmith village would be a great place to include in your trip, just to see the era 'brought to life'.

To get there, take the subway line 5 to Gwangnaru station (광나루역), come out of exit 3 and walk straight a few metres to the bus stop. Take bus 1, 9, 15, 92, 93, 95, 96 or 97 to 우미내검문소/고구려 대장간마을 (only 2 stops away, but takes a few minutes). Then cross the main street and follow the signs.

Alternatively, you can go there at the end of your hike by following signs from up on the mountain.

If you want to hike the mountain after visiting the village, just walk across the car park, and you will see a trail entrance with a sign to 'Stone Face' (literally a big face in the stone). You can follow the sign to see that easily, or pick another trail. Personally I went to see the Stone Face and then just continued up towards 대성암. The trail was very easy and gentle, quiet with not many other hikers around, and absolutely beautiful with views of the river visible after only a few minutes hiking upwards.

A better translation would be 'Big Rock Face'
After passing 대성암, the trail got a tougher with a steep rocky part, but that was only for a short way and then I found myself on a popular main trail that was very busy with other hikers, but which offered some more beautiful views of the city. I saw signs to all the fort ruins, but just headed down back towards Gwangnaru subway station.

When I got to the bottom of the mountain, I found that Achasan had another surprise for me - an 'ecological park', which looked absolutely splendid in vibrant autumn colours! Seriously, for such a small mountain, it really is packed full of hidden treasures and just keeps surprising me with something I didn't expect every time I visit! I think it's becoming my favourite mountain in Seoul.

Achasan Ecological Park (아차산생태공원)
I really recommend this mountain if you want to hike in Seoul. You can pretty much just go there with no plan and start walking on any trail, and I'm sure you'll find something fantastic wherever you end up.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Korean Weekly Vocab

I've hit a point in my Korean studies where I'm needing to memorize big chunks of vocab at a faster rate than I'm able to actually put the words into practice in daily life. So I thought it would be helpful to me if I make some vocabulary blog posts, and I hope some of you out there may find it useful, too!

Here are this week's words:

살인 (殺人) murder, homicide
The hanja is literally 'kill person'. I learnt this one by looking over the shoulder of a fellow commuter who was reading the newspaper on the subway. There is some news story out now about some guy who killed someone in Itaewon years ago.

호흡 (呼吸) breathing

단전호흡 (丹田呼吸) A kind of healthy breathing technique where you inhale deeply through the nose, feeling your belly expand, then breathe out slowly through the mouth. I learned this in 판소리 (singing) class.

흡연 (吸煙) smoking (tobacco)
I had just learned '호흡', and I already knew '금연' meaning 'no smoking', so I was able to put the characters together to understand this word when I saw it on a big anti-smoking banner. 흡 means breathe or inhale, and 연 means smoke. Duh!

미로 (迷路) maze, labyrinth
This one I learned at work from my kindergarten kids. Really interesting because 로 means road (really common in street names and things), and 미 means confusion or misleading, so together I guess it means like 'lose the way' or perhaps 'bewildering path' or something.

금일 (今日) today
Very simple Hanja, literally 'this day'. I went to a cafe and they had a sign saying 'Only serving coffee and beverages today' with this word 금일 for today. Too bad because I wanted to order food ㅠㅠ

통증 (痛症) pain
I keep seeing this word on advertisements on the subway, like for painkillers and slipped disc surgery and stuff. I guess a lot of people are in pain ... :(

외우다 memorize
Ugh. I have had to memorize so much recently - Songs, gayageum music, a speech, exam vocab ... So finally after hearing it a billion times from teachers, I have memorized the word for memorize!

Wow ... I didn't do what I set out to do in this post at all! I was going to include just a bunch of theme words from my textbook, because it's what I need to learn and it's what I'm having difficulty learning .... But I ended up just including words I've learned actually in real life outside of lessons! It's just so much more interesting. This is why I will never learn all the textbook stuff lol.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Bukhansan Hike Video

I haven't had time to post much on here recently, but we did film a short video while hiking a few weeks ago. Enjoy :)

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Dongdaemun Shopping

A few weeks ago I went fabric shopping with my vlogging partner-in-crime, Megan. We filmed a little bit while we were there and put together a short video:

Basically, if you need to buy fabric or any kind of sewing supplies in Seoul, Dongdaemun is THE place to go. The indoor market is a mega 5 floors packed full of every kind of print, lace, ribbon and bead you could imagine. Personally I find it suuuuuper daunting and difficult to navigate, but it is amazing. Thread is on the basement level, trimmings on the first and top levels, and fabric everywhere in between.

You can get there by coming out of Dongadaemun subway station exit  8 or 9. The fabric market is inside the massive building behind the fancy new hotel which is right outside the station.

While we were in Dongdaemun we also had a look around Doota, which is a very popular store for designer fashion. There are a lot of different brands there, some of them more interesting than others. A lot of people like it, whatever.

Dongdaemun is full of fashion markets, including the ones that open all night, but many sell only cheap quality clothes. Shopping has always been a big reason for people to visit the area, but now of course there is also the Design Plaza, which is a pretty cool building to look around and they have some exhibitions and events there. You can also walk to/from Dongdaemun along either the Cheongye stream or the old fortress wall, which is nice.

Anyway this was a kind of half-hearted post for our half-hearted video! But if you are into sewing and making stuff, do go and check out Dongdaemun fabric market, because it's awesome :)