Suwon Toilet Museum.

There’s no way I could leave Korea without going to the toilet museum in Suwon. How many toilet museums are there in Ireland? None.

I’m not going to lie, it was a bit of a trek. The closest station is Sungkyankwan University station, 2 stops from Suwon station. From there, you can get a taxi to the museum.

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There is an indoor museum and the outdoor area across the road. The indoor part is a little confusing and really only has 2 floors to look at. If you have children, there are plenty of things to see and do, including a children’s play area.

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Unfortunately, most of the writing is in Korean so not the best if you speak another language but there are plenty of visual images to keep you entertained!

Across the road if the outdoor park, which is entertaining but a little small. We spent ages out there taking pictures and would have spent longer if the weather was a little cooler.

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Overall, this place is worth a visit, even if it’s just to say that you went. It’s a free afternoon but I’d only go back in cooler weather. Although it’s a little small, with the right group of people, this is a great experience. You can check out the toilet museum website here.

Get involved with Irish music in Seoul!

Lately, I’ve had a lot of messages and emails from people interested in getting involved in Irish music in Seoul. I definitely won’t complain about this. It’s great to see the progress that Irish music is making here. When I started playing in Seoul, we were hard set to find a place that would hold a session. Now, we literally don’t have enough time or people to keep up with the demand.

If you play Irish music, sing or dance, you’re always welcome at one of the many sessions that happen in and around Seoul. Your first port of call should be the “Irish music in Korea” Facebook page. Request to join the group and then you’ll be up to date on the sessions that are happening.

Generally, every second Friday night, there is the Tulip Session in Myeongdong.

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Once a month, we have a session in Dublin Terrace in Gangnam.

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Finally, we have the weekly Sunday Session in the Wolfhound Bar in Itaewon. It starts around 4pm and ends around 8pm. This is my favourite session for so many reasons. Some of the best sessions I’ve ever had were in the Wolfhound.

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As with the nature of these sessions, we do extra sessions, we do less depending on the time of year and so on. If you have any questions about Irish music in Korea, feel free to email me or go to this website http://www.ceoltoirisoul.com/

*This information was correct at time of posting (June 2015)

Myanmar- the country time forgot

Myanmar has been on my bucket since forever and when the opportunity to take a tour there came up, I took it. I’ve never taken an organised tour before so I had mixed feelings as to the benefits. Was it going to be all go and no down time? Were the other people going to be difficult to deal with? I had no idea and I really didn’t care that much because I just wanted to see Myanmar. The Royal Asiatic Society of Seoul organised the tour and there were two options available, long tour and short tour. I took the short option so I stayed 6 days and 5 nights in Yangon.

After arriving in Yangon, I met the other three people on the short tour as well as the guide. As we drove along, our animated conversation was interspersed by the guide; “Excuse me ladies and gentleman, I’d like to introduce to you my country………” A night at the hotel and we were up and ready for day 1.

The four of us spent our day enjoying the sunshine and touring Yangon University. This really just involved visiting all the love sites and taking a tonne of selfies.

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After lunch we joined the long tour members at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum. This is a memorial built to honour Aung San and six cabinet ministers who were assassinated. In 1983, North Korean agents attempting to assassinate the visiting South Korean president bombed the structure. He escaped but 21 others were killed. The structure was completely rebuilt and although less grand, it is still very beautiful.

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We continued by taking a Yangon Heritage Trust walking tour of the heritage buildings in Yangon. The architecture is outstanding and the buildings are generally in bad repair as they have been neglected throughout the years.

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That evening we enjoyed a buffet dinner at a traditional performing arts centre.

 

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The following day, we enjoyed a lecture by a former university professor who then accompanied us to Shwedagon Pagoda. ,Myanmar is full of pagodas but this one is possibly the most impressive. It is a 98 metre golden spire located at the top of Singuttara Hill and it can be seen from anywhere in the city.

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The next day we climbed on a boat and headed for Twanty, a town known for its pottery. We sailed across the Twanty canal and enjoyed the water taxis taking people to and from work. To get to the pottery, we took horses and carts. Possibly the most humbling part of the entire trip was the visit to the pottery workshop. Workers make anywhere from 150 to 300 pots in a day, depending on the size. The pottery wheels are spun by young girls who give up their education to do this task. The work is so menial and if they succeed in selling all their wares, they will receive just 6 dollars which must be split between them. The work area is dark and dusty but they were so welcoming and patient when we visited, even giving up their lunch break so they could show us around. Of all the things that humbled me, it was this visit.

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We also visited Bogyoke Aung San Museum. This museum was founded in 1962, 15 years after the assassination of Bogyoke. In Myanmar, Bogyoke is the term used for the general. This museum was his home before he was assassinated. No cameras were allowed inside.

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We also got to see the National Museum and got a guided tour through this 4 floor museum.

The reclining Buddha was HUGE. Honestly, so impressive but the most impressive thing I saw there was this monk. Some serious monk swag happening here.

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One of my favorite places was the Bogyoke Market where you can buy ANYTHING you so desire. It is crammed full of jewellery, art, clothes, fabrics and so many other items. This was also a great place to go people watching and there was a great feeling of the local life here.

On the final day we were free from any timetabled events to go wherever we wished. A small group of us headed across the river to a small village where we took trishaws and saw more pagodas and generally just interacted with the locals. To see them continue to wear their traditional clothes is amazing. The skirts are called Logyi’s . They are so easy to wear and I came home with three of them.

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As it turns out, my group were the best craic ever and they made the trip. Upon reflection, if the same person organised another tour, I’d take it in a heart beat. One day I will hopefully be able to return to Myanmar and visit other cities like Mandalay and Bagan. Myanmar was truly fascinating and a trip here is not to be missed. It still hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world in many respects and now is the time to go there before all the tourists arrive.

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You can find out more about the Royal Asiatic Society in Korea from their website http://www.raskb.com

 

Some tips;

 

*Bring US Dollars- We arrived on a late night flight from Seoul. If you don’t have dollars, you won’t have any money until you can make it to a bank. Make sure your dollars are crisp and clean.

*Wear pagoda appropriate clothes. There are so many pagodas so be sure that you wear clothes that cover the shoulders and go below the knees. Also, there are no shoes or socks allowed so carry some wet wipes in your bag.

*Ask questions. The guides are only too happy to be explaining about their city and country so be sure to ask if you have a question.

*Go with a tour or get a guide and driver. I like to think that I’m fairly capable when it comes to travelling around a new city. However, there is literally no way that you will be able to tour Yangon unless you have a guide and driver.

* It’s extremely safe there and we didn’t have any incidents. However, as with all trips, don’t do something you wouldn’t do at home.

 

Registering for a race in Korea

I LOVE doing races in Korea but registration is usually in Korean so I thought I’d do a blog with some vocabulary and instructions.

 

1. First, decided which race you want to do. Head over to marathon.pe.kr. You should see this home page;

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2. Across the top, you’ll see the different tabs. You should press the second from the left. It’s called 대회일정 (tournament schedule). Then you’ll see this;

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3. Now you should choose the location you want. Races happen all over Korea. Personally, I stick to the ones in Seoul and there are always a tonne in 여의도 (Yeouido). Choose your own and click on the link to be brought to this;

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4. Near the bottom of that page, you’ll see a link. That brings you to the home page which is where you need to go. The home page might look something like this;

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5. Now you have to look for the registration are. Some home pages make it really easy and others make it a mission.  Look for 참ㄱㅏ신청 (Application for registration). When you click on it, you’ll probably see some of the following;

개인: Individual

단체: Group/team

신청조회: Inquiry

Click the one that suits you and then you’ll see a registration form maybe like this;

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Here is the vocabulary you need to know;

ㅇㅣ름: Name

생년월일: Date of birth. ARC first 6 numbers

성별/남/여: Gender/male/female

주소: Address

연락쳐: Contact number

ㅇㅣ메일: Email

참가종목: The race you’re doing. Half, full, 10km etc

기념품: Gear

사이즈: Size

쿠폰입력: Coupon details

입금ㅈㅏ명: Name of person who will send the money

비밀번호: Password

비밀번호확인: Retype password

확인/최소하기 : Enter/cancel

Once you click “enter”, you’re done. Just transfer the money into the bank account. You’ll find the bank details on the home page of the race.

About a week or so before the race, you’ll get your package with your gear, number and chip.

 

Apologies if there are mistakes in the Korean. Any questions, just ask!

 

Left Coast burger~ a review

When I heard we would be dining at a burger joint, I had my doubts. I mean a burger is a burger, right?

With an ideally convenient location and a great menu, Left Coast Burger in Itaewon can count me as a fan.

Location;
Itaewon Station (line 6) Exit 4. Turn left. Walk about 100 metres. The restaurant is on the 2nd floor.

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Ambiance: It looks like you need to be a cool kid to get a job here. Even the chefs looked uber cool. They all speak perfect English and it’s quite a relaxed feeling in the restaurant.

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This was when we arrived but by the time we were leaving, the place was packed.

If I could add one negative thing it would be the music. It was so loud that we had to raise our voices to hear each other.

Food: The menu has something for everyone. It’s not just regular burgers, you can get.mini combinations and lots of sides, salads, a veggie option, quite a variety.

The size of the portion is a little on the small side. Usually, I can’t finish an entire burger in a restaurant but I wiped the plate here. The burger was the perfect size for me but for those with a larger appetite, I fear they might be left wanting more.

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Price: Side dishes were 5 or 6,000won with the mains being 11,000won upwards. I thought the pricing was fair for the portions you got so definitely no complaints.

Staff: They know their stuff. They were super helpful in explaining the menu, made recommendations and were attentive. Almost too attentive. We were a group and the staff might as well have joined us for there was barely a second when they weren’t topping up the water or clearing the dishes. Personally, I would have preferred a little space but they were still great.

Bathrooms: The great door sign was enough;

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The bathroom was large, clean, had plenty of tissue and soap and I had no complaints.

Overall opinion: I will definitely eat here again. It’s a clean, well run restaurant. The food is great, the atmosphere is relaxed, it’s reasonably priced AND it’s in Itaewon.

7/10.

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Tips for surviving your first year in Korea

Two of my friends are getting ready to come to Korea. They asked me to write a blog on how to survive your first year here. It’s been a while since it was my first year so I took to Facebook to ask my friends. I was astonished at the replies I got back. There are so many things that nobody tells you before you come here. Hopefully we can sort some of that in this blog.

1. Language: Although English is widely taught and spoken by some people here, you should learn Hangeul. You simply won’t survive without it. And the best thing is that so many words are the same in English and Korean, you just need to be able to read out the Korean to understand.  You can learn your letters and a few basic words before you arrive. Although it looks super complicated, you can learn your letters in a number of hours. Here are some useful websites;

http://www.talktomeinkorean.com/

http://rki.kbs.co.kr/learn_korean/lessons/e_index.htm 

2. Culture: Know what’s expected of you in the workplace, when you visit someone, greeting people etc. A simple Google search will provide plenty of articles to read on this issue.

3. Supermarkets: The good news is that there are small supermarkets everywhere but for the bigger things there are two big supermarkets Emart and Homeplus (in Korean). You can buy everything from clothes to household items in these two places.

A tip is to buy with your card. I don’t know the ins and outs with this but it’s preferred to avoid the taxman.

Other tips from my friends include;

“You need to get stickers on your fruit on veg bag before you go to the register” (talking about loose items)

“Know the seasonal fruit and vegtables”

3. Transport: The bus, subway and train system here are excellent.

Subway;To make it easier for you, it’s a good idea to download the jihachul app so you can navigate the subway. system. You can figure out running time and waiting times for subways on this app. And yes, it’s in English.

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For those not living in Seoul, remember that the subway finishes well before midnight so if you live outside the city and you stay out, you should consider alternative transport home.

There is a jingle at transfer stations and end of line stations.

A Tmoney card is the name of the transport card in the Seoul and surrounding area. You can buy them for a few thousand won in most 7-11 and convenience stores. Then use the machines at the subway systems to load them with money or at a convenience store. The average cost of a journey can be calculated approximately using the jihachul app.

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Buses: There are different colour buses depending on where their destination is. Here is a site that explains just about everything transport related, http://www.kias.re.kr/sub06/sub06_06.jsp

You can also download the Seoul Bus app. Unfortunately, it’s in Korean but if you know the bus number you can check where on the route the bus actually is.

You can use your T Money card on the buses also or pay in small cash or coins.

Taxis; Taxis are EVERYWHERE. The regular ones are silver or orange. The should have a meter and the drivers information visible.

The black ones are more expensive. Supposedly they are more luxurious.

In Seoul, you can use your T Money card or a bank card to pay for the fare. You can also get a receipt. Outside of Seoul depending on the place, you can’t use a T Money card. You should have some cash to pay for the journey.

Here’s a nice little article on the whole thing, http://www.visitseoul.net/en/article/article.do?_method=view&m=0004007002011&p=07&art_id=39543&lang=en

4. Banks 

Everyone wants a bank account straight away because they come loaded with money. It’s always preferable to wait until you get an Alien Registration Card to do this. The main banks in Korea are;

Nong Hyup

Shinan

KB*B

KEB

Woori Bank

Some schools make you open an account in a particular banl to avoid transfer fees etc.

Banks are opened from 9-4 Monday to Friday. The exception are the expat banks like KEB who have branches open on Sundays for certain hours.  You should consider this if you have a 9-5 job.

At least 2 of these banks have excellent expat services (KEB and Shinan). You can set up internet banking and download an app on your phone to check your balance etc.

Most banks have someone that speaks English especially the ones with expat services so don’t fear going in alone to set it up.

KEB also have an account called an Easy One that will lodge money straight to your overseas account.

* I should note that other banks potentially offer the same service but I have my account with KEB. You should bring all the details of your home account for registration.

Bank Transfers; You can transfer money from your account to another Korean account  by using either online banking or going to a bank machine. It’s very easy and the machine has English language so you can’t go wrong.

Paying your billshttps://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/pay-your-bills-at-the-bank-machine-in-korea/

Insurance: Should you need car insurance, travel insurance, health insurance etc, you can contact the Samsung Insurance rep who can speak with you in English. You can reach him at byung625@gmail.com and his name is Byung. I have my car insurance with him and travel insurance and it’s always great value and he speaks perfect English.

5. Apartments; Apartments here are generally a one room or two room for single people. Unless you really luck out in which case you’ll have a few rooms.

You will have a washing machine and  heating to navigate in Korean but fear not, I already have blogs done on how to use them.

https://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/use-a-korean-washing-machine/

https://whatawaygook.wordpress.com/how-to/use-the-heating-in-a-korean-apartment/

6.Rubbish disposal; This is a tricky one. Every place and every housing complex has a different system. If you live in a huge housing complex, they have one day a week where everyone leaves out their rubbish. This rubbish is separated by recycling, food and other.

If you live in a random apartment this is how it usually works;

1. Go to the supermarket or local shop and buy the rubbish bags. The yellow ones are for food rubbish. The bigger ones (blue in my area) are for general waste. Then I also have recycling. I leave recycling out in a box or a paper bag.

2. Look on the street for other rubbish that is waiting to be picked up. Leave your rubbish here and it’ll get collected.

If you have a bigger item like a chair that you want to get rid of you can either 1) Leave it out and let someone else take it and use it or 2) Go to the supermarket and get a sticker for it. Put the sticker on it and leave it outside with your rubbish.

7. Post Office: The postal system here is extremely efficient and safe. If you wish to send something in country then just put the senders details on the top left corner and the receivers details in the middle. Then send it either the quick way or the regular way. It’s pretty cheap.

If you want to send something home, there are two options 1. Land 2. Air.

Land will take between 3-6 months to reach it’s destination. It’s cheaper than sending it by air and it’s good to send home clothes and other items that you don’t want but are in no great rush for.

Air takes only 7 or so days to get to the destination. It’s the fastest way to send things home.

The Korea Post website is in English so you can go ahead and check the rates and fees etc…..http://www.koreapost.go.kr/eng/sub/subpage.jsp?contId=e1010601

The post office is open from 9am-6pm .

8. Alien Registration Card

Your alien registration card is the card you get when you become officially registered with immigration. You will need this card for the following;

  1. Visit to the hospital
  2. Visit to the dentist
  3. If you’re stopped by the police
  4. Entering and leaving the country
  5. Opening a bank account
  6. Making a loyalty card
  7. Getting a phone contract

It’s so important. If you lose your ARC you must immediately report it missing with the police and then go to immigration and apply for another.

9. Expat websites and finding groups

There are some seriously useful websites out there for expats. I’ll list a few here;

http://seoul.angloinfo.com/

http://www.korea4expats.com/

http://www.iherb.com/

http://global.gmarket.co.kr/Home/Main

http://english.11st.co.kr/html/en/main.html

http://www.thearrivalstore.com/

For the teachers among us……

http://www.waygook.org/index.php?wwwRedirect

For the Irish;

http://iak.co.kr/

http://seoulgaels.weebly.com/

https://sites.google.com/site/busangaa/home

https://www.facebook.com/daegu.fianna.3

Also USE FACEBOOK! So many areas have their own Facebook pages. In my area we have Geumchon Crew, Ilsan have their own page and so on. You get the drift. Google it or Facebook it and you’re bound to find some groups.

10. Random tips;

You have the option on taking over a phone contract from someone who is already here. Keep that in mind before going off and starting one of your own.

Olive Young sells lots of foreign brand cosmetics.

Don’t open your gas valve all the way. Open it just enough so the meter turns otherwise you’ll have a big bill.

Bring a huge towel with you.

Go to cineinkorea to find out what movies are showing in a theatre near you.

Just go with the flow if you have no idea what’s happening.

You can call the tourist information people on 021330 if you need some help.

In the deep winter, don’t leave your heating completely off if you leave for over a week. If your pipes freeze and burst, your entire floor will have to be taken up and replaced. No one wants that………..

Never trust the green light when crossing the street. Pedestrian crossings are out in the stupidest of places so always look left when crossing and don’t take the chance if it’s a bus approaching.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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*If you want to add something to this list, leave a comment below.