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Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

A couple of weeks ago – on my first weekend back in Korea – I went up to Seoul on the subway. Quite impressively, Line 1 of the Seoul subway system comes all the way down to Cheonan and beyond. My journey up to central/north-eastern Seoul took two and a half hours.

I met a couple of friends for a few, too-brief minutes to pick up a box of things I’d left with them. I packed all the stuff into my small suitcase and left the box behind. I realised I’d forgotten to bring with me a box of chocolates I’d bought in the UK for them.

Afterwards, I headed to Apgujeong and to the HSBC bank (which stands, I’ve recently learnt, for Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation; I never knew that, but it explains the Chinese imagery in their adverts) to use my credit card to get some money; Korean banks don’t generally work with foreign cards, in my experience.

Back in Cheonan, I did more shopping for household items – especially kitchenware. On Sunday, I cooked my first meal in my new home – spaghetti bolognese … actually, specifically vegetable bolognese with fusilli tricolore. I’ve been cooking a fair amount since then – mostly vegetable curry and vegetable bolognese.

Yesterday, I got my first bread, cheese and eggs and had a lunch of fried egg on toast with Philadelphia, green olives and extra hot sauce. It was so good, I had the same again today. Need more bread, now.

Last weekend, I travelled to Daegu on the train and spent the weekend with Peter. On the Saturday, he was having a get-together, for which he made lentil soup and a Chinese aubergine dish. One of his other guests made chocolate cookies – in front of an audience. Later we watched a film (Brick, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that I became certain that I’d seen at the cinema when I lived in London; I didn’t recognise any specific scenes or actors, but it was nevertheless strikingly familiar.

Later, the cookie-maker led us in a joyfully politically incorrect game called Cards Against Humanity. Later still, that same gentleman took us to a bar in Daegu. The following day, Peter and I played Magic: The Gathering and, in the evening, he rushed me back to the station, where I was just in time to catch the 20:01 train.

I’ve been writing every weekday morning/lunchtime. I haven’t found a perfect place to write yet, though. The two branches of Starbucks in/near Shinsegae are too far away (I could go by bus, but it’s money I don’t need to spend); Ssangyong Library was far too quiet when I went there (it didn’t help that a man came and sat too close to me when he had practically a whole, quite large room full of empty seats to choose from); the Tom N Toms had lame coffee and loud music and overlooked a main street that filled up with students (by which I mean that young, Korean women are distractingly attractive); I thought the Caffe Pascucci at Ssangyong Station was pretty good on my first day, but, subsequently, the music got louder and more intrusive (even when I had my earplugs in and my headphones on to block out sound); I was excited to find a Starbucks in the E-Mart in Ssangyong yesterday, but today I found that the only power points appear to be built into a table in the middle of the café, and it was also extremely cold.

I hope to find the least worst place to write soon.

The only weekday I haven’t spent my pre-work hours writing recently was last Friday, when my boss met me at the hospital, where I picked up my medical report, and took me to the immigration office to apply for my Alien Registration Card. She paid for the taxi trip, but I had to pay for the immigration stamp (₩10,000). I can return to pick it up on or after the 14th of December – next Friday. Hopefully, very shortly after that, I’ll have a bank account and health insurance.

Work is going quite well; pretty chilly, though.

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By the evening before I left, I’d mostly packed my bags and thought I would be under my baggage allowance of 30kg, plus 8kg carry-on. Finishing off the morning I left, it became apparent that it would not be so simple. I got my big backpack to about 16kg – consisting of clothes and toiletries – and squeezed about 15kg into my small suitcase – all the more valuable stuff: camera, speakers, Magic: The Gathering cards, shoes. I removed a few things from my suitcase, left a book or two behind, put a couple of books and my umbrella in my small backpack for carrying on etc, and got down to around 16 (big backpack) + 13 (small suitcase) + 6 (small backpack) kilogrammes.

My parents came down and, together with my sister and her kids, we drove to Manchester Airport. I was there in plenty of time – there was no wait to check in at the Turkish Airlines check-in desks in Terminal 1 and there were no problems – so we had a drink (once we found out where the cafés and shops were). My dad and sister took various photos of me posing with the kids; three-year-old Maisy pretend-fed me a series of sugar sachets. My mum and sister made lame jokes about me flying on a turkey. Afterwards, we went up to the rooftop carpark and waited in the cold for an aeroplane to take off.

I said goodbye amid lots of hugs and kisses and made my way through the security check and to the appropriate gate, arriving not long before boarding started.

The flight to Istanbul was uneventful. At Atatürk International Airport, I wandered around a bit, but elected not to bother buying anything or exchanging money and just waited at the gate, reading. The flight to Incheon was just as uneventful. The first thing the attendants handed out was a pair of slippers, then a tin containing an eye mask, disposable toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste and one or two other items. I used replaced my boots with the slippers, but didn’t get round to brushing my teeth. In fact, during the ten-hour flight, I didn’t leave my seat once. Having not drunk anything in Istanbul, I wasn’t excessively hydrated and didn’t really need the bathroom.

The meals were pretty good, but I noticed that you got a little teacup on each meal tray, but you weren’t served a hot drink until after the tray was taken away. I kept hold of my cup every time and, for the first two meals (including the one on the Manchester-Istanbul flight), was given coffee in it; but the last time, the stewardess gave me back a plastic beaker of coffee instead. People around me were given their tea and coffee in the same plastic glasses – pretty much rendering the teacups completely pointless.

At Incheon Airport, I finally went to the bathroom. I had to connect to the internet to find an address and phone number for my landing card, as I’d forgotten to note them earlier. A look of concern or confusion crossed the face of the Immigration officer as she examined my visa, but she let me through without question.

Once I’d got my bags and exchanged money, I was met in the arrivals hall by my ‘pick-up man’. He hurried me outside and to the bus stop for Cheonan and bought me a ticket with money I provided. He wanted me to pay him ₩30,000, to which I said, ‘No,’ with a bit of a laugh. He got on the phone and sorted it out – so I didn’t give him anything extra. The bus was due to leave in fifteen minutes and he was quite concerned that I should stay at the stop, but I headed back inside to get some water and coffee from a convenience store.

Having been told it would take two hours, the drive south to Cheonan took only one hour, forty minutes. The bus station appeared to be just a car park and thoroughfare next to the Shinsegae department stored. I waited inside, next to the Starbucks (resisting the urge to go in and get something quite easily because I wasn’t keen to lug my bags about) and about twenty minutes or so later the director turned up with her young daughter. As she got on the phone to her husband, who had the car, the five-year-old hid behind her mum and played peekaboo with me.

We walked outside and the husband picked us up on the main road and drove about ten minutes to the area where I was to live and work. The director, Julie, took me to a Paris Baguette and bought me sandwiches and milk. Then we drove past the school and stopped at the apartment, a distance of no more than fifty metres from the school.

Julie took me inside and showed me how to turn on the heating and then I was left by myself until twelve the following day. The flat is actually a little bit bigger than the photos I’d seen suggested – but not massive, of course. It was fairly clean, but there were a few small stains around, a bit of dust behind things and hairs from woman who left last week.

The really disappointing thing was that there was very little in the way of household items. There was a rice-cooker and toaster in the kitchen, along with a brand new, still-in-its-box microwave, but no kettle, no pots or pans, no plates, bowls, cups or cutlery, not so much as a sponge or scouring pad. There were no coat hangers in the wardrobe. In the bathroom, there wasn’t even a pair of rubber slippers. I could find no washing machine, either, but, after talking to a Korean friend on Facebook, who told me I would probably find one somewhere, I had a look around the building and found a communal wasshing machine in a room downstairs.

I went to a nearby Homeplus Express (Homeplus, you’ll remember, is co-owned by Tesco and Samsung) and got a box of cereal, noodles and some chopsticks and spoons. I microwaved water in the noodle container and cleaned it and re-used it in the morning for my Kellogs brown rice flakes.

I was up pretty early, and, having figured out exactly where I was on Google Maps, made my way to a large Homeplus about 25 minutes walk to the south, where I got various other essential items (including three kinds of tea). By the time I got home again, I was pretty tired and needed a nap before meeting the director for lunch.

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About three weeks ago, now, Habiba and I were just coming out of E-Mart, one of Korea’s big supermarkets, loaded down with heavy bags of shopping. We don’t go there that often since we moved, so we stock up when we do.

Walking towards the taxis, I suddenly had a strange sensation in my left foot. It was caught on something somehow. Both my hands were full. There was nothing I could do other than try to pull my foot free. So I continued trying to lift my foot – only it wasn’t going upwards, it was going forwards, along with the rest of me.

I landed splat on my front, left knee first, finally dropping the bags. My knee had taken quite a blow and it hurt like a very hurty thing. All I could do for a while was hold my leg feeling a combination of anger and embarrassment – kind of like when Peter Griffin scraped his shin.

Habiba had turned turned around as soon as she heard the crash. There wasn’t much she could do. Passing Koreans had a gander as they passed; after a while, one man asked in English if we needed help.

My patella was intact, but for several days afterwards I had two grazes that remained damp with pus and wouldn’t scab – because I kept putting plasters on. They did scab, and the scabs have subsequently flaked off, leaving a slightly lumpy area of pink skin.

The reason I fell was that the loop of one of my boot laces caught on the unused hook on the other boot, bending it somewhat in the process. Whenever I wear those boots now, I make sure to tie them up properly (instead of leaving them loose enough to slip on and off), using the final pair of lace hooks, pulling the hooks closer to the centre of my foot and making the free loops of lace shorter in the process.

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Habiba was 31 yesterday (the 12th of July). Happy birthday to her!

I finished work early and came home to start preparing dinner. Dinner was to consist of salmon grilled with a seasoning of finely chopped garlic stem, ginger, hot pepper, lemon juice and a bit of olive oil. I also put together a stewy kind of thing made of red onion, more garlic stem, tofu, asparagus, zucchini and mushroom. Plus there was a salad – which Habiba helped with when she got home – of various types of lettuce, celery, cucumber, carrot, avocado, almonds, olives and jalapeño peppers. Basically, lots of the food I didn’t grow up eating, but which Habiba has weaned me on to.

Also joining us for dinner were our friends and her colleagues JP and Zach. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. I wasn’t entirely happy with the stewy thing – it wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned – the tofu didn’t hold up too well in the jumble of ingredients. But it tasted pretty good. For dessert we had tiramisu (purchased, along with the other ingredients, at our local massive supermarket, E-Mart). When I bought picked up from the bakery area at E-Mart I also got four candles to go with it (and in it), three big ones for each decade and one smaller one for the odd year.

After that it was time for presents – from me, anyway: Habiba had already received goodies the previous week at work. First was a Korean cookery book (in English – and Korean) that I’d wrapped in some of Habiba’s fancy paper and decorated with hearts and stars and a crescent moon. Zach helpfully pointed out that it would be impossible for a star to show in the middle of the curve of the moon, as I’d placed one. I countered that hearts floating in a night sky was also unlikely.

The second gift was a nice pepper grinder that I’d bought from Lotte Department Store in Seoul city centre. It was a little expensive, but probably cheaper than a similar one in a similarly posh shop in the west. This pressie was wrapped in red wrapping paper (previously used – we’re environmentally friendly) and tied with the golden twist ties that fasten the ends of packs of vegetables and mushrooms from E-Mart. The package’s shape and size were, shall we say, suggestive. In retrospect, it would have been better to give this gift before dinner – that way, we could have used it. Habiba has been pining for a good pepper grinder for a while, so it was a good gift, I think.

Habiba also had phone calls from her family and friends wishing her a happy birthday. The highlight of which was this morning when she spoke to her father. He’s in rehab now and apparently off his ventilator – huge steps forward from his condition while we were over in America. I’m sure that was the best present she could have wished for.

The next stage of the celebrations come at the weekend – a night out and some sort of daytime activity are planned.

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