7 ways a Korean Apartment is different to an Irish one.

Disclaimer: This isn’t the same for all apartments. Some are fancy but some are like the ones I describe.

1. Door Keys; “What does your door key look like?” they said. “I don’t have a key” I said. Instead I have a key pad with a security code.

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2. Shoe Area: You must take off your shoes before entering a Korean home.  It’s just how it is.

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3. Radiators; What radiators? We only have underfloor heating in Korea. I didn’t want to take a picture of the floor so I took a picture of the heating thing.

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4. The washing machines. Washing machines here are so big. And randomly you put the clothes in from the top.

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5. The wardrobe; Some people actually have wardrobes to be fair. But I don’t (sob sob). I have a rail where I just hang my clothes. Same same but different.

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6. The oven. A dissapointing one here. There are no ovens in smaller apartments in Korea. I have a convention oven.

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7. The shower: The shower is usually not seperated from the sink. It’s all in one. Just stand there and take a shower.

wpid-20140223_184942.jpgAdded bonus; The super fancy toilet seat that came with my apartment. Actually, I don’t know any other foreigner with the fancy toilet seat. It’s super fancy, heated, sprays wind and water and you can spend many happy hours on a long sitting, dropping the matter playing around with the seat.

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Made the China- The result

I’ve always thought that there was a direct correlation between mass-produced products and the words “Made in China”. Heading in to this challenge, I didn’t think it would succeed in changing my opinions on products but now that I’m on the other side, I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

When I first started, I went through the clothes in my wardrobe looking for those” Made in China”. Some of my clothes were and some of my clothes weren’t. Those that were made in Philippines or Vietnam made me wonder whether they were any better or worse than the ones made in China. Who are the real people behind the clothes?  A few years ago, I watched a fascinating documentary as they went under cover to some of the factories in England where clothes for a major brand were being made. These sweat shops were full of Asian women brought into the country to work 12 or 13 hour days sitting at machines in dark rooms to produce the clothes that we all bought for 6  or 7 times what the received in wages. So just because some of my clothes weren’t made in China didn’t mean that they were made under better conditions. But when you start to think like this, when can you stop? You can’t boycott all the clothing chains in the world because you somehow suspect that they’re labour conditions aren’t up to scratch but it certainly opened my eyes the possible conditions in which our clothes are being manufactured.

After writing my first post about the challenge, I received a comment to say that I should post my findings on this website. An entire website dedicated to products not Made in China. Who would have thought? Not me, that’s for sure. If you’re looking to boycott Made in China for longer than a month, this is the place to go.

So, after my month of no Made in China, how did I do?

Food; This was too easy. Loads of food stuffs is either made in Korea or another country but easy to avoid China here.

Clothes & Shoes; A mixed bag . It’s easy to find Korean made clothes in small independent stores. It helps if you’re the same general size as Koreans or if you’re happy with “free size” products. For fitted or Western style clothes, you’ll have to look harder but not that hard. During October, I bought a sweater dress from United Colours of Benetton. It was made in Korea. I literally couldn’t believe it. I also have a Mountain Hardware jumper that was again made in Korea. It goes to show that you don’t have to give up your labels if you’re not buying Made in China.

If you want to but a pair of shoes though, you have to look everywhere.. Honestly, every shoe shop I went in to had their shoes Made in China. Even the expensive stores. Eventually, my friend Janet, found a store  , and bought some shoes (which I then bought from her) and they were made in Korea. Woop! Success. Of course, I can’t guarantee this of all the shoes they sell, but it was the case for my pair.

Cosmetics; The easiest thing to buy. All the big brands, Faceshop, Missha, Etude House are all Made in Korea so you can buy as much makeup as you like.

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Some of my Made in Korea purchases.

Handbags follow the same line as shoes.  All the big brands make their bags in China. This really bothers me. Take an expensive bag, an Orla Kiely for example. Bags from this label are extremely beautiful, there is no question of that. The designer is originally from Ireland but now based in London. So when I thought to check, I expected that they were made in Europe at the very least. No. Made in China.  It surely defeats the purpose of marketing this well thought out, well designed bag to an audience that has money and style ( average bag is about 100$), if it’s made in China. Surely. It ultimately means that there’s no difference between that expensive bag and the one I picked up in a market for 10$ if both are made in China.

The greatest disappointment of the project was this computer I’m writing on.  I bought it a few weeks before the challenge started, its a Samsung Ativ. Being Samsung, a Korean brand, I looked at the tablet and keyboard dock expecting to find them made in Korea, only to find that they were both, Made in China. The disappointment almost made me give it back for a refund. Almost.

In good news, I rediscovered that Baush and Lombe contact lenses are made in Ireland. Hurray for Ireland! In all honesty, I’m glad this challenge is over and that I did it. I’m much more aware now than I was at the start.  While Made in China is not as prevalent as I expected it to be in Korea, there are still products out there that you would struggle to find made anywhere other than China (cups, plates, socks)

As ever, feel free to leave your comments below.

8 habits I’ve picked up in Korea.

Can I kick these habits when I go home?

1. Bowing; When first I came to Korea, I would stare in amazement at all the people bowing at each other. They bowed all the time, to say hello, goodbye, sorry, the list goes on.  Then I started doing it.  Turns out it’s really fun.  It completely takes away the language barrier, I bump into someone and I just bow.  They know I’m sorry.  I smile and bow, they know I’m happy to see them.  I bow several times while back away towards the door, they know I’m leaving.  Brilliant.  Now, almost four years later, I bow all the time.  I even bow to my foreign friends.  Yes, it gets kind of awkward but whatever, bowing is bowing.

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2. Shoes; Before I came to Korea, I saw shoes as shoes.  Now, I look at shoes and buy them according to how fast I can get them on and off.  Since we take our shoes off when we go into a lot of places, this is essential. You do not want to be slow as a wet week getting your shoes on after you’ve all eaten.  Chances are your party will already be sitting down for beer by the time you get your ridiculously complicated shoes on.  Or worse is at the airport. Sometimes they make you take your shoes off at the security clearance.  The last thing you need is to be holding up the whole line because you can’t get your shoes off.  Fact.

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3. Replacing my ‘v’s with ‘b’s; Possibly my worst habit.  I can’t help myself.  Four years of hearing it day in day out will do this to you.  Koreans have difficulty saying the ‘v’ sound so it usually comes out like a ‘b’. Now, I’ve started to it as well. It’s a bery bery cold day today.  Mostly on the word ‘very’. I’m bery happy!

4. Saying things twice; I have no idea where this one came from, but I say things twice.  For example in a normal school day, I might say, “clean up clean up, hello hello, goodbye goodbye, hey hey, why why thank you thank you”

5. Speaking louder when people don’t understand what I’m saying; When I speak in Konglish and someone doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say, I repeat the sentence a tone louder.  I can’t help myself.  It’s possibly to do with the fact that my Korean skills suck or that my English has gone down hill (refer to points 3 & 4). I must remember that if a person does not understand me, it’s not because they’re deaf , it’s because the sentence itself didn’t make sense.

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6. Making a V when taking a picture; For this one, I think I’m going to need years of therapy to help me stop. When someone takes a picture, or there’s a camera is the vicinity, my fingers automatically make a “v” beside my face.  Every time.  It gets pretty awkward when I’m at an event where doing the V is really not appropriate, in which case, I spend the entire night telling myself not to do it .

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7. Looking at myself in every reflective surface; Korea is the land of mirrors.  There are mirrors EVERYWHERE, elevators, bathrooms, toilet cubicles, handbags.  The list goes on.  People in Korea are always looking at themselves in reflective surfaces and now I’ve joined them.  I’ve got a pretty mild case and I’m not one of those girls who takes 5 million pictures of herself on the subway (that’s random as hell) but I do use the elevator mirrors and other convenient reflective surfaces to make sure I’m still foreign.

8. Brushing my teeth after lunch: I never did this in Ireland. Now, it’s a habit and if I don’t do it, I can feel the guilt gnawing away at me. Must….brush…..teeth…….

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If you’ve got something you’d like to add, leave it in the comment section below!

What NOT to bring to Korea

My good friend Brian over at http://thebrianhealy.wordpress.com/ and his girlfriend, Edel, are coming to Korea! Horray! Over a conversation on whether Pepsi Max was available here or not, Brian gently slipped it in that perhaps I could do a “what NOT to bring” blog. So here it is.

There are just too many times that I see people who have just arrived with a years supply of things that we have in abundance here. Three years ago though, I was one of them and if truth be told, my suitcases were a mess when I arrived. If you’re coming from Ireland, you probably get one large suitcase so think carefully about what to bring. While you’re doing that here’s a list of things you definitely shouldn’t;

1. A year’s supply of anything. I arrived in Paju with a years supply of toothpaste, deodorant and contact lenses. What a waste, especially the contact lenses. You can get everything here. Whatever you hear of items not being available in South Korea is utter rubbish. Don’t bring a years supply of anything because you can find it here anyway.

2. For the girls; Don’t bring a million “going out” clothes, shoes or dress shirts that don’t button up to the neck. Going out here is not the same as going out in Ireland or anywhere else. In summer, I go out in flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt and in winter I go out only when I’m forced! Seriously, don’t waste the space, bring a maximum of 2 dress, 1 of which you can use for the big events at school. Same with shoes. If you are European size 40-41 bring a few pairs. Otherwise, only bring the absolute essentials as you can buy shoes cheaply here. Showing cleavage here is a no-no. Don’t bring any shirts that don’t button up or tank tops. On this issue, remember that we take our shoes off every time we go inside, so there is no point bringing knee-length lace up boots or shoes that need instructions.

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3. Pets. Don’t even consider bringing your pet unless you can’t possibly live without it. If you’re over for a year of travelling then a pet will just add stress of who’s going to take care of it while your gone etc……

4. Lotions and potions; We have every lotion and potion and about a trillion more available here. Don’t waste space by bringing loads. It’s the same with shampoo and conditioner, all available at the local Emart or Home Plus.

5. A mobile phone, cds , dvds, books; Korea is the country of smart phones, get one when you arrive. Why would you bring cds or dvds when you can buy it all on the internet? P.s. The internet in Korea is the 2nd fastest in the world so don’t bring a preconceived notion that we don’t have internet here. I love the feel of a good book but don’t bring them to Korea. If you’re a serious book reader then buy and stock your Kindle. If you don’t have one/ have no interest in buying one remember that you can buy all English books from What the Nook and other English book stores in Seoul.

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6. Duvets, sheets, pillowcases; I know someone who brings her own sheets everywhere. That’s fair enough but there’s no need to bring your own sheets to Korea. Believe it or not, Korea has a million stores that sell everything essential for beds.

7. Too much medicine; Korea does medicine like no other country. If you go to the doctor, you’ll walk back out with about 6 different, unknown drugs to make you better. We also have Tylenol and other familiar medicines here so there’s no need to panic.

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8. Mosquito Nets; Samuel Cowan asked me to mention this one especially. Don’t bring a mosquito net with you, there’s simply no need. Yes, we do have mosquitos. No they don’t carry diseases in the cities. If you really want, you can buy them here.

Huge thanks to Trevor Van Dyke, Erin Ruth Bush, Asrune Whitney Reed, Siobhan Stewart, Katie Doherty and Conor O Reilly (http://ifihadaminutetospare.wordpress.com/) and of course Samuel Cowan for contributing to this blog!