A tale of the long wait…..swapping a foreign licence for an Irish one

No more driving the road hoping not to get stopped, I finally have an Irish driving licence! It only took 7 week and a lot of stress but it’s finally here. Here is all you need to know about swapping a foreign licence over to an Irish one.

What do I need to do?

  1. You need to make sure that your country has an agreement with Ireland. You can check on the NDLS wesbite, https://www.ndls.ie/holders-of-foreign-licences.html#holders-of-licences-issued-by-recognised-states
  2. Go to the embassy of that country and get a translation. This cost me 3 euro in the South Korean embassy in Dublin. It was a painless process that just involved showing my Korean license, filling out some forms, presenting my i.d. and I had it within 20 minutes.
  3. Go for an eyesight exam. Print the eye test page from the NDLS website, take it along with you and get your eyes tested. Then get it signed and stamped. As a student, this cost me 20 euro. * Be aware that in some towns, it can take 2 weeks to get an eye test.
  4. Fill out the application form. You can find this on the NDLS website.
  5.  Gather the following documents Passport, Birth certificate, bank statement, Public Services card. This covers the requirements to prove photographic identity, evidence of residency, evidence of address and evidence of PPSN. You can find the acceptable forms of documents here, https://www.ndls.ie/images/Documents/DrivingLicence/driver-licensing-in-ireland-a-guide.pdf
  6. Go to the nearest NDLS centre and hand in these documents. It is advisable to book an appointment online to avoid long delays. The payment fee is 55 euro.
  7. In the case of people swapping a South Korean driving licence you need to decide if you wish to keep the D categories on your licence. If you do, you need to print the medical check forms and complete that. If you don’t, you need to fill out the Surrender forms. You can find this on the NDLS website.

My story:

I applied for my Irish licence on the 4th September. I walked in off the street with everything you could possibly need and sat with the lady. She had never swapped over a South Korean one and was thoroughly confused by the entire thing. She rang everyone and their neighbour and even though I had all the required documents, it took 2 hours to complete the application!!!! I didn’t mind too much as she kept apologising. She warned me that it would probably be sent back as she really didn’t know what to include with the application and she gave me a number to call in three weeks to check up on the progress.

Almost 3 weeks later, I receive an email from NDLS stating that their was an issue and could I possibly send on the original translation from the embassy. Understandable. As it was my only copy, I sent it by registered post which added a cost of 6 euro to the bill. I thought this was the only issue and expected my licence in a week or two.

Two weeks later, I receive another email from NDLS asking if I want to keep the D categories on my licence. If I do, then I need to get a medical check. If I don’t I need to fill out the surrender form. By this stage, I had had enough. It was a vicious cycle of no one knowing anything. So I called them to voice my opinions. It takes about 5 minutes to be connected while they go through every option under the sun. Then I was put through to a lady and I explained the situation. Was it too much to be told of all the issues in the one go? I don’t have the time or money to be filling out and posting additional forms. She was not at all sympathetic so I decided to write a complaint via their website but surprise surprise, I still haven’t received a reply.

I had no choice but to send the surrender form and finally today, after 7 weeks of waiting and 85 euro out of my pocket, I have the licence!!!!!

My tips:

  1. Don’t be in a rush for it because this is a long process.
  2. Don’t expect people to know what their doing, because clearly they don’t.
  3. Be ready to send on additional forms.
  4. Send the original of the embassy form but keep a copy yourself.
  5. Walk in off the street at a random time and you might be lucky enough to find a space. It worked for me even though I had been told that there weren’t spaces for 2 weeks.

Feel free to comment on your experiences or ask any questions!

Ordering from iHerb

What is iHerb?

iHerb is a website that sells health related products. For example, vitamins, supplements, groceries and so on. Here is a link to the site http://www.iherb.com/.

Why order with iHerb?

I’ve heard my American friends rave about this website and how great it is. You can find some products on the site that you might not find easily in Korea and because it’s an American site, they have brands that we would be familiar with.  The website is in English so that’s always a plus and ordering is very easy.

Do they ship to South Korea?

Yes. They ship to over 150 countries and South Korea is among those countries.

Personal Experience.

Recently, I’ve started to eat Quinoa and through the recommendation of a friend, ordered it from iHerb. In total my oder was 2 packets of Quinoa, 2 packets of Chickpeas and some vitamins. A pretty small order which came to $28.81  in total. Shipping to South Korea cost $4.00. I placed the order on June 1st and chose Korea Direct post. Estimated delivery time was between June 23rd and June 26th.

I was notified that it had been shipped a day later and was notified again when it reached Incheon. I expected it a day or two later since I live only an hour from Incheon. However, after a week there was so sign of the package. Getting a little worried, I emailed i Herb. The following day, I got a phone call from customs to say that the package had been held until I gave my A.R.C. number. After it was sorted the lady said to wait another 2-3 working days for delivery.

I received it yesterday, June 16th so well before the estimated delivery date. The products were exactly as described and it had been packaged really well.

Apart from it taking two weeks to get to me (my friends have had theirs delivered in 4 or 5 days), I would recommend the website and I’ll definitely be using it again.

 

Stories from inside the classroom.

There are days at school when the students annoy me so much that I want to walk out the window and take my chances. But other days, they are so funny, I almost can’t remember the bad days.

I’ve learned so much from the students and whether they learn anything is beyond me. When first I started at this Kindergarten, I didn’t speak much Korean. Since it’s a Korean kindergarten and I’m the only foreigner, I wasn’t too long learning!

One day at the start, I had a five year old class and no assistant. Everything was going really well until this boy kept repeating something to me in Korean. I had no clue what he was saying so I just ignored him, hoping he’d stop. But he didn’t, he got out of his chair and made a gesture which made it quite clear that he needed the bathroom. I let him out and three minutes later, he’s standing at the door, butt naked holding a piece of tissue! Of all the days not to have the assistant!

 

I’ve learned that no matter how close to five the four year olds are, you probably shouldn’t give them scissors. I learned this the hard way. To be fair, they get scissors in art and other classes so I thought it was a fairly ok idea. I just let them off to cut the paper and when I turn back around one child is holding a clump of his hair. My only thought was ” I am such a failure”.

That’s a thought I have every day though. When one child is spread eagled on the table and another looks like he’s going to use his pencil as a weapon, I feel like a failure.

Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder what the children are thinking about when I give them a task. Today, their task was to draw their family. Ryan called me over and said; “Teacher, this is what people look like on the inside”

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He went into some serious detail about how the blood works with the veins and arteries so I looked at him and said “What does this have to do with your family? It’s my father”, he replied. Insert a shocked silence here.

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Just when I think I’m getting through, I realise I’m totally not. The above is supposed to say “This is my father” etc. But the student just did it phonetically, as in Korean so it ended up as “deesmebab” Quite clever if you turn the B’s around. At least he’s making an effort.

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This picture is the “family” of another student. I think that’s him in the middle, the dominant male. I have no idea who the other people are although the person on the right yielding what looks to be an axe looks a little malicious.

The most enjoyable time of day is just after lunch.  The children line up, class by class and brush their teeth. Since the staff room is on the 3rd floor where the four year old’s hang out, they are who I see most of. It is the funniest thing you’ll ever see. They get toothpaste on their faces, in their hair, on their clothes, they let it fall on the floor and then pick it up and brush their teeth, everything. If they eventually manage to brush their teeth, they “rinse” their mouths with water. This means the water ends up on the mirrors, on the floor, they just drink it, they spit it at each other, they try to talk with the water in their mouths, everything. At the end of it all, most of them have soaked themselves and their clothes have to be changed. Funny times.

You should see what happens when they get to play soccer in gym class. The gym teacher throws the ball to them and they try to kick it. What actually happens is that they just miss the ball and then they can’t figure out where it is so they run in circles looking for it. It cracks me up!

I know I’ve made it out that I work in a jungle or somewhere but we have a lot of fun and despite what I actually think, they do learn English!

 

 

Korea- The cost of an average month

I have some friends that intend to move here later in the year. We’ve been skyping regularly and I’ve been filling them with stories from the Land of Morning Calm. One of the things they inquired about was the cost of living. The following is an example of what I spend in the average month. For the most part, I’ve over estimated to be on the safe side. This is for one person living in a two room apartment.

Petrol– 50,000 (full tank) x 2- 100,000won Could be more if I drive to Seoul.

Phone– 69,000 (unlimited calls and data) + 10,000 (cost of phone)

Utilities– 9,000 (electricity) 88,000 (gas) (Winter costs) Based on one person in the apartment.

Travel– T Money card. 10,000 per week. Usually head to Seoul every weekend. 40,000

Food– Grocery shopping once a week. Average- 50,000won

Eating out– Wintertime, I eat out about once a week. If I go for Galbi or some meal with others, the cost is usually 10,000. If we eat single meals, the cost varies. Average 13,500won.  For this example, we’ll say I eat shared meals once a week for the month.

Going out– If you’re drinking and staying out, the average Saturday night will cost you about 100,000. Everyone is different though so this cost is variable. For this example, we’ll consider 2 nights out in the month.

Misc- Clothes, accessories. 150,000 won a month. Cinema tickets for a regular movie will cost 9,000won. Popcorn and coke usually cost 7,500won. A cup of Americano in a regular coffee shop is about 2,500won.

Total– 906,000won.

If you consider the average wage for an English teacher to be about 2.2 million before taxes, you could still come out with 2 million. This still leaves you the opportunity to save half of what you make and still live very comfortably every month.

Costs are variable on the season also- I do a lot less in winter but others go skiing and snowboarding etc. In summer, electricity costs are higher because of air conditioning.

Summer and Winter I take a vacation which are additional costs.

My car insurance is an annual cost. Last year it was about 670,000won for fully comprehensive and the installation of a black box.

My friend Evan, after reading the initial draft of this blog had the following to say about his experience here;

It’s definitely possible to get by comfortably for far less if a person’s goal is to save more money. I pay 5,000 KRW a month pre-paid for phone service, using a Galaxy S2 that cost me 80,000 KRW. Text all I want. No data, but I use wifi at home or at various businesses I’ve found.

No car means no petrol, car payment, insurance, maintenance, etc. Subways and buses are cheap enough.

I will have managed to save over 20 million krw in 14 months, making around 2.1 million a month. That’s after having to pay for my own flight over (hagwon screwed me there), unexpected moving fees, etc. Pretty good considering.

My first year, however, I didn’t save quite as much. I ate out more frequently. The bars added up, too. I still did okay, even without watching my money closely that year.

If you have any comments, leave them below!

 

Learn to love the Jimjilbang!

Jimjilbangs or bath houses are usually have a love/hate relationship with expats. Some love them, some hate them. When I first heard a jimjilbang being described, I was certain I would never step foot inside the door of one and now, it is one of my favourite places to go.

Here’s the low down on a jimjilbang for those of you living abroad or not familiar with them. A jimjilbang is a place where you can go to enjoy different baths, saunas, steam rooms, massages, eat and/or sleep. They  are all different and apart from the baths, offer different facilities. For example Dragon Hill in Yongsan offers different types of massages as well as having outdoor baths. Siloam at Seoul Station is not so big on baths but has a great sleeping area.

Basic prices range from 10,000 won to 20,000 won  with additional costs for the massages and food. You pay at the front desk and are handed a uniform and key. Shoes are taken off and put in a locker (usually corresponding with the key number). Men and women have separate areas. If you wish to you the bath, you must be naked. This is the part that expats usually find strange at first. I admit that sometimes it is awkward as hell to have a load of naked adjummas staring at you but the trick is to remember that they’re staring not at you but at your skin because it’s so different  (or that’s what I tell myself). After a few minutes though, it’s usually fine. Then you enjoy the baths for as long as you so wish. One of the best things to get done is a skin scrub. This crazy random scrub is done by an adjumma who literally scrubs all the dead skin off your body. While it’s a little painful, it’s totally worth it for the great skin afterwards.  Going with a group of friends is a great idea as it’s fun, relaxing,  and oh so warm in the winter.

Afterwards, you can put on your uniform and head back out to the communal area to enjoy the other facilities. This could be as simple as sitting on the floor chatting with your friends or using the different saunas. Should you happen to be a fan of the norebang, some (like Siloam at Seoul Station) have one, there is usually a P.C. Bang, sometimes a gym, a meeting room, there are big t.v’s or you could just go to sleep.  Some Jimjilbangs are huge places spanning 7 or 8 floors (like Dragon Hill) and others are more basic 2 or 3 floor ones.  I’d literally be here all days telling you what you can get done at a jibjilbang. Just to name a few things, there is usually a nail salon, hair dresser, massages area, massage chairs, norebangs, pc bangs, meeting rooms, shoe repair, if you can imagine it, it’s probably in a jimjilbang in Korea somewhere.

Sleeping for the night at a Jimjilbang is cheap and cheerful if you need accommodation. Most of the time, it’s just a mat and head block on the floor with loads of people around but some jimjilbangs now have separated sleeping rooms. The best sleeping rooms I have found so far are in Siloam near Seoul Station. I recently stayed there with friends and we were all suitably impressed by the entire place. The sleeping room there (separate men’s and women’s) has cubicles so you get enough space and privacy to enjoy a good nights rest. The only down side to them is that they have no plug points so you can’t charge your phone while sleeping but with literally a hundred to choose from you’ll never be stuck for a space.

Jimjilbangs are, in my opinion, best in winter. There is nothing like escaping the intense cold and spending the day enjoying the jacuzzi or the sauna, having a nap and a little snack before heading back out to the real world. So, if you haven’t already tried one, don’t fear,  get out and do it!  Here are the details of two of my favourites in Seoul,

Siloam Spa- Seoul Station-http://silloamsauna.com/site_en/main/main.asp

Dragon Hill, Yongsan- http://www.dragonhillspa.co.kr/hill/eng.html

As ever if you have questions or comments, leave them below!

Paju Samneung- Three Royal Tombs in Paju

A few months ago,while on one of our “Let’s discover Paju” tours, Janet, Pratz and I happened by a place called Jangneung. We went along the lane to discover some renovations and further on a most beautifully kept tomb. Wanting to take a few pictures, we took off down the original concrete and suddenly the sound of alarms filled the entire area. So we ended up taking our pictures from outside the invisible line.

Jangneung

A quick internet search later, we found that not only was Jangneung NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC (oops) but that there was another UNESCO World Heritage site in Paju. Another! That makes two. Yes you heard it here first. Who would have ever thought that in the days of the Joseon Dynasty, Paju was where it was all at.

Jangneung 2Jangneung has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2009. It is the burial place of King Injo and Queen Inyeol. King Injo was the 16th king of the Joseon Dynasty.  After some tough times involving the Manchus, King Injo did have some successes during his reign.

This fantastically kept area has many stone monuments around the tomb. Unfortunately because of our little alarm problem, we couldn’t get far enough in to take pictures.

During Chuseok however, we made it our mission to discover Paju’s other UNESCO World heritage site, Paju Samneung. 삼 (Sam) being the word for three in Korean. This site has three tombs that hold the bodies of four members of royalty during the Joseon dynasty.

We found the tombs by accident. We were actually driving to see the Buddhas when we happened by the sign and wanting to get out of the traffic, we diverted to the tombs. Entry was free for Chuseok but the usual 1,000 won entry fee is affordable.  There are information leaflets in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

We first passed a small museum but with everything in Korean, we made it a short stay here. Don’t come here expecting to be bused from tomb to tomb, you have to walk. The grounds are very beautiful with the different trees labelled in English.  The whole area is really quiet so it’s a great way to spend an afternoon out of a city and into nature.

For photographers, this would be a great place to take photos anytime of the year but especially in autumn when the leaves change colour.

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The three tombs here are Gongneung, Sulleung and Yeongneung, the final being the burial place of King Jinjong and Queen Hyosun. You can look around the shrines and sheds but you can’t actually go on the grassy tomb area so to pick up the details of the statues at the back, a good camera lens needed.

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Al three tombs are away from each other with the paths providing beautifully shaded areas for picnics or resting. Indeed, during our visit at Chuseok, there were several families enjoying picnics and some quiet time.

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To get to Paju Samneung on public transport, take the 99, 760, 30,31 and get off at Paju Samneung then walk down the road opposite the bus stop for 10 or so minutes.

The best way is to take a taxi from Geumchon or Geumneung station and ask the driver to go to Paju Samneung.

The address for anyone driving is 89 Samneung ro, Jori eup, Paju si, Gyeonggi do.

For anyone interested in going feel free to email shaunabrowne87@yahoo.co.uk for more details.

A look into North Korea- Odusan Unification Observatory

We are all guilty of taking what we have for granted. We ignore what is on our own doorstep in favour of what is further afield. For four years I have been living in Paju, home of the DMZ.  Apart from the major attractions like Heyri Art Village and the DMZ itself, I have simply passed by the tourist signs and ignored all other attractions on my way to the Premium Outlets.

Slightly ashamed of this behavior, my friends and I decided to rectify the situation by dedicating our entire free day to truly discovering Paju. What we expected was a fortress and a few tombs. What we didn’t expect was to find ourselves standing just 2km’s from North Korea.

 Odusan Unification Observatory was first on our list.   According to the internet this was a fortress but it soon became apparent that it was an observatory we were looking for. It’s pretty well sign posted coming from Geumchon and we found that the GPS in my car was pretty much useless in getting us there.   The car park (2,000won) for the observatory is the same one as for Kart Land and the drive-in movie theater, a little away from the entrance itself.  

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Statue of Jo Min-sik

From there, we took a free shuttle bus on a mere 5 minute ride to the top. The day couldn’t have been any more perfect. Sunny with a nice breeze, the sky was clear and the landscape was breath-taking. The entry was a mere 3,000won and for the lack of crowds alone, it was totally worth it. The Peace statue and Unification Drum are two of the first things to be seen.

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This observatory is the place where the Han and Imjin rivers meet and flow into the West Sea. It’s also the place where the Goguryeo and Baekje Dynasty fought in the time of the three states. Built on the ruins of the fortress it is a place of great history and  impressing from the outset. This is the Unification Wishing Drum, a hard find behind all the buses but none the less beautiful.

 

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The centre provides information in many languages and there are plenty of exhibitions and pictures explaining the Korean war and significant historical events.A short movie on the Observatory and it’s location in relation to North Korea is shown in Korean on the 3rd floor and English, Japanese and Chinese on the 4th. Usually not very entertained by these sorts of things, I found myself glued to the screen with interest. Not surprising, we were the only ones in the theater!

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Where to sit? Janet and Pratishka enjoying the show.

Between the observatory and North Korea was a mere 2km stretch of water. It’s 2 km’s at the furthers point and less than 500 metres at the closest. The water at high tide is around 5 metres but during low tide the distance is almost walkable.

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What is most fascinating from the observation post if the sheer difference between the two countries. On one side you see and hear hundreds of cars travelling along the Jayuro and the high-rise apartment buildings lined up like lego pieces. On the other side, propaganda houses, mountains and fields. No noise, no signs of life to the naked eye, almost as if you were staring at a picture.

 

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Using the binoculars, it was clear that the unfinished and run down propaganda houses were very much in use. Luckily, I spotted two people walking along a country lane. Both wearing black, they were the only signs of life. No vehicles, idle or otherwise, no animals apart a bird or two. Quiet, eerie, incredible.

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North Korea

Looking out at what is undoubtedly the most secluded country in the world, I was filled with the realisation that this was as close as I am ever going to get. To stand just 2km’s from North Korea brought it home to me how close I really do live to this fascinating country. This observation post, that is ignored by so many and indeed by myself for so long is one of the finest destinations I have been to in Korea. And it was right on my door step. To get here took less than 20 minutes from my apartment.  An educational and eye-opening day, the small crowds make any visit here enjoyable and one to remember!

How to get there?

From Seoul; Take bus number 2200 or 200 at exit 2 of Hapjeong station. Get off at Seongdong Sageori, walk for 10 minutes and take the shuttle bus.

From Paju; Take the Gyeongui Line to Geumchon Station. On the opposite side of the road to the station, catch the 900 bus which brings you to the shuttle bus pick up. 

I had the pleasure of sharing this great day with my good friends Pratishka and Janet. To read about Janet’s thoughts of the day, check out her blog here, http://janetnewenham.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/stunning-views-of-north-korea/