I had another social day today, this time we were in Gangnam. We started our adventure in a Vietnamese restaurant called ‘Tam Tam’, which had queues of people waiting to be seated. We enjoyed our soupy pho noodles up at a really high table – the waiter literally had to push our chairs in for us because the seats were so high! The food was delish, but we had to be very careful after eating not to roll our ankles whilst trying to come back down to earth. You can see in this pic, the chairs are at the waiter’s hipbone!
Our teacher fashioned some makeshift chopstick holders out of napkins! So gorgeous!
This is a hill that my friend kindly escorted me down. It was so steep and I was in heeled boots, not a great combo!!
After lunch, we moved onto a cafe nearby! Two of my friends had flavourless tea and had to send them back. I don’t remember the name of the cafe so I can’t tell you. Despite their drinks being a disappointment, we sat here for hours and had a good quality chat. The cafes in Gangnam are so cosy in the wintertime. You can sit there for hours without being guilted into leaving or buying another drink.
If you’re wanting to explore the cafes and restaurants in Gangnam, go to Gangnam station on line 2, take exit 11, kep walking straight and head right up the small alleyways! There are an endless range of food and shopping options!
Toto, we are not in Autumn anymore. We are well on our way to a freezing cold, perpetually-having-numb-hands Korean winter. Here are some pictures from my morning stroll in Seoul where I soaked up some Vitamin Sunshine and clean air. A blue sky in winter is a miracle.
My husband and I will soon be leaving this neighbourhood and I can’t wait to find a new place to walk around! Despite the brown grass and lack of leaves, I could still find the beauty in the fading Autumn. Just look at that big flight of pigeons!
I really liked the colours of these bridges together!
I only had to wear 4 layers on top and 2 layers on the bottom!
I wrote a blog post about how seasons in Seoul affected my mood! You can read it here.
If you want to see more about my mundane life, you can follow my instagram account!
Let’s talk about MON-EY! This is something you may want to read if you are planning to move to South Korea or you are already here and want to know how to save a bit of money each month. If you’re here for any other reason, then welcome! Come along on this blog journey with me. I’m not the best money saver, but I know how to be frugal when I need to be (my bank account is scoffing at me right now). So, if you like money, let’s talk about how to keep more of it in your bank!
1. Drink Less Coffee
Coffee can really set you back here in Korea. A coffee from a major coffee chain can cost between 4,000 and 6,000 KRW. That might be half of your hourly wage, depending on where you work.
While I was working full time, I felt too sleepy to care about the daily caffeine expense adding up in my bank account. Eventually, I decided to deal with instant coffee in the mornings which led me to give up coffee altogether. I now only drink coffee when I’m at a cafe on the weekend. I’ve learned that it’s better to save cafe trips for a weekly trip rather than forking out each day.
Coffee Tip: If you’re looking for a place to study or work, many cafes in Seoul are really happy for you to sit there for hours without ordering more drinks. I like to do this, that way when I buy a coffee for $6 or $7, I feel as though I am paying for a cosy place to sit in addition to the actual drink.
2. Walk the extra distance to the supermarket and avoid the convenience stores
Convenience Stores are just that: convenient. They’re great if you’re on the go and you need a snack or a drink. Unfortunately, you do have to pay the price for the convenience as everything is pretty expensive. Popping out during work hours, or dashing to the convenience store late at night can end up being a bad money habit.
When you’re shopping for food at your grocery store, take into account the snacks you might be buying regularly from the convenience store and buy them in bulk at the supermarket. Buying fruits for slicing, packs of yoghurt or boxes of muesli bars can really save you money. Plus, it’s a great way to stay on top of your healthy eating!
3. Cook Large Portions / Eating In
This is obviously not exclusive to South Korean living, but just a reminder. Whether you’re cooking large batches of pasta sauce or vegetables you love to eat regularly, you will end up saving a lot of money. Also, your tired body will thank you when future-you doesn’t feel like cooking.
What I like to do is buy big veggies like pumpkins, broccoli and sweet potatoes and cook them all at once. I then just store them in the fridge and add them to my plate throughout the week. It can be hard to get the right amount of vegetables into your daily diet here in Korea. Veggies are usually mixed in with sugary sauces or spicy side dishes. If you’re a simpleton like me, you may just want to eat a bowl of vegetables without the flavour explosions.
4. Invest in Vitamins
Koreans like to work hard which gives its workers little time to rest their bodies. This might leave you in a battle with your immune system, especially if you are travelling here to teach English. Invest in vitamins you think you might need (I don’t want to give unauthorised advice) because they may be cheaper than prescriptions and trips to the doctor’s office in the long run. Although medicine is quite cheap here, I often found myself buying a lot more of it than I would in Australia. It all adds up.
Take care of your body, sleep well, and don’t be tempted by the cheap prices of alcohol. Trust me, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.
Exercise is the last thing you’ll want to do if you’re working full time in Korea. It gets even harder to stay motivated when the temperature starts to drop. But hear me out, exercise and taking care of your health is a great investment and is a way to save money. Here are my thoughts: When you exercise, you will feel more energised, so you may not need to spend that $7 on coffee. When you feel good, you feel less inclined to eat Doritos between meals, so fewer trips to the convenience store. You won’t have to buy new clothes each season when you don’t feel good in your current wardrobe, which means fewer trips to the clothing stores.
Not convinced? Well, if you live in Korea, you’re bound to end up on a hike at some point (Koreans really love to hike!) Otherwise, just try and find ways to keep your exercise fun! I personally love watching ‘Yoga with Adriene’ and ‘Chloe Ting’ on YouTube for my indoor workouts!
6. Don’t Give in to Temptations
Any corner you turn in Seoul will lead to a strategically placed beauty store, jewellery shop or cheap clothing store. It’s hard to resist, especially if you’re having a low moment or the outfit you’re wearing isn’t as cute as the one in the store window. But, you must resist. Overtime, justifying these purchases can really add up. If there are things you actually need, plan what you will buy before you know you’re going to be running into these temptations!
7. Plan Your Travel Properly
This is a tip that applies to any ex-pat, in any country, because travel is inevitable. If you’re planning a trip to the countryside or to the other side of the world, plan your dates, times, and bookings well. Cancelling plans, re-booking, and unexpected costs can end up costing a lot of money. I am going through a travel-related debacle as we speak, so I thought it necessary to add this into the mix!
8. Fast Fashion = Fast Way to Lose Money
We all know this. We’re smart people. Shopping at fast fashion stores is a fast way to lose money (as well as being a terrible waste of human rights laws and environmental standards). Yet, we still find ourselves justifying those one-off purchases because we really need them. However, as a person on a low income, it’s often not financially viable to ‘invest’ in better quality pieces. This is why second-hand stores like ‘Vin Prime’ are a great place to get long-lasting pieces at a lower cost.
In my opinion, being on a lower budget gives you the daily challenge of putting beautiful outfits together with things you have owned for a long time. My advice: unfollow anyone on Instagram who makes you want to buy new clothes. Don’t do it right now, just keep it in mind the next time you’re scrolling through mindlessly!
9. Frozen fruits
This is a weird one, but hear me out. Fruit and veg are quite expensive in Korea, in my opinion. I think this comes down to the fact that most of it is imported. Or, if it’s cheap, you have to buy in large quantities. Either way, you can end up throwing out a lot of fresh produce. It is much better to do more frequent trips to the market than to buy a lot of produce once a week.
Alternatively, frozen fruits are simple, just chuck them in your morning porridge and you’re able to get your daily fruit intake without having to throw out mouldy fruits each week.
Find a job you’re happy with and know that being under-appreciated and overworked is a recipe for disaster and will make you buy shoes at zara that are too small for you
I have recently left my English teaching job here in Seoul. I was getting paid well, enjoyed teaching children, and also had a great rapport with my co-workers (I hope). However, the long hours (9am – 6pm), the micromanagement, the monthly deadlines, and overall lack of appreciation meant that I burnt out BIG time.
I was perpetually exhausted, kept making the same trip to the overpriced hospital (I worked in the Gangnam area so everything was more expensive), I felt unmotivated in other areas of my life, rarely got a holiday and was basically just going to Coex (a big shopping mall) after work to remind myself of the life I wanted to lead in order to keep going. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy teaching, it’s something that I am still passionate about. However, being under-appreciated and overworked is a recipe for disaster.
For me, leaving my job was the best financial decision I made this year. It motivated me to save enough to live off while I looked for work and gave me the freedom to enjoy a break in an exciting city like Seoul. Now that I am happier and more in control of my life (whatever that means), I don’t feel the need to carelessly spend money on things that bring instant gratification. I don’t go out to the convenience store every second day to buy snacks to keep my energy levels up and now I have so much time to find new hobbies and return to my old ones. Oh, and I finally got around to improving my Korean like I said I would in January!
I enjoyed my job and my duties, but the additional responsibilities that came with it were not worth the toll placed on my health and happiness. If you are feeling the same way in your job, I urge you to motivate yourself to find a way to get out of it. I am making clearer decisions, enjoying doing odd jobs and spending quality time with my new husband. While I am still looking for work, I’m not worried about money because I know how happy I was when I made the decision to leave my job.
This isn’t to say ‘go and quit your job immediately’, but rather to think about a plan of attack, and find a way out that will help you breathe easier. I actually enjoyed going to work a lot more in my last two months (I had to give 60 days notice), because I knew it would be over soon. I soaked in every moment and got the most out of my time there. Although it can be comforting to get a monthly salary, it doesn’t feel as rewarding when the work is making you exhausted.
I’m sorry to end this post on a rather sour note there, but I do think it is important to discuss in case anyone else is experiencing these issues! The money game is a challenging one and it’s important that we don’t beat ourselves up when we make the odd spending mistake. If you’re interested in money matters, I really love the YouTube channel ‘The Financial Diet’. Since I started watching them, I have had a better relationship with money and I find their content super relevant and engaging!
To read more about life in Seoul, here are some of my favourite articles from my blog:
Hello, internet! I wrote this slightly aggressive post back when I was working as an English teacher here in Seoul. I have since left my job and have a lot less subway anger. Nevertheless, I shall share these words with you as an ode to my former subway taking self.
I grew up taking trains to kindergarten, to the cinema with my grandmother, and to and from high school for 6 years. We even brought our beloved pet rabbit, Maisy, home on the peak hour Melbourne train. I’ve managed to develop a level of train etiquette and surrounding passenger awareness that could take one a lifetime to obtain. Sadly, South Koreans did not go through this rigorous train-ing and have seemed to forget their Confucianist roots.
As an Australian living in Seoul, I think an appropriate amount of time has passed for me to start complaining about everyday mundane life things. My daily commute to work consists of 2 x 40-minute rides on the subway from the Yeongdeungpo area to the Gangnam area. The entirety of my journey is submerged underground; beneath a world of fried chicken, sidewalk fruit stands and political corruption. I am not able to see the light of day until I come up for air at my destination. During these 40 minute nightmares, I have become quite observant of South Korean subway manners, or the lack thereof.
For some reason, Korean people have collectively decided that if you walk into someone or forcibly push your way through a huddle of subway goers, apologies and niceties are superfluous. The same goes for accidental topples at the hands of a trigger happy train driver. The topples happen more often than not because most commuters are glued to their phone screens. I know that this is just a cultural difference, but it’s one that I just can’t seem to get on board with. In other words, it’s hard to be culturally sensitive when someone is pushing into you with all of their body weight on a busy train.
Last week, I managed to get a seat on my gruelling and crowded 40-minute journey to work; a luxury in some eyes. I was seated two seats away from the designated pink pregnant lady seat that was so rudely occupied by a non-pregnant woman. (In Seoul, you need to wear a badge that says your pregnant in order to sit in these pregnant lady seats. The only thing stopping you from sitting there are your morals).
As I sat down, my attention was immediately drawn to a woman amidst a bout of morning sickness who was practically stopping herself from throwing up on neighbouring passengers. She was standing close enough to the pink pregnant lady seat with her pregnant lady badge fully on display that any moderately aware human would see this and apologetically give up their seat. Alas, the occupant was fast asleep and blissfully unaware of the situation in front of her.
By the time I caught sight of the woman, I could see her face almost reduced to tears. This was due to the unfortunate battle she was undertaking with the human she was growing inside of her. The people around her looked around uncomfortably as she practically vomited in her mouth. The sounds were audibly unpleasant yet no one helped her. Before her face was fully flooded with tears and sweat, I reached out to her over a crowd of both seated and standing passengers and told her to take my seat in my best Korean. She looked extremely grateful for this simple, human gesture. She did have to squeeze past a lot of useless people to get to the seat.
Once seated, she continued to offer to hold my bags for me. I was like, ‘girl, I think I can deal with holding two bags, I’m not the one who is with child, holding back from vomiting all over a train full of strangers’. I, of course, didn’t say that and, even if I wanted to, I don’t yet have the Korean language skills to communicate such an observation.
I really feel saddened from this event and can only hope that other commuters on not only this woman’s daily commute but the people sharing a train with elderly citizens or differently-abled bodies will do their best to make people feel comfortable on trains. We don’t need to label seats for these people, they should be able to sit wherever. Sadly, from what I’ve seen, Seoul subway goers don’t want to stand out from the crowd. They don’t want to be the one to help a person in need, probably because they fear the person reacting badly? Which really doesn’t make any sense to me, again, cultural differences.
This isn’t an issue of feminism or politics or infrastructure or healthcare systems, it’s just plain and simple human kindness and having the ability to both be aware of your surroundings and your smartphone screen at the same time. Does it really take a barely literate in Korean foreign person sitting at least 3 metres from this poor woman to help out? I only wish society was accepting of women who stood up for themselves and felt comfortable asking for help.
If this happened in Melbourne, the pregnant woman would have yelled at the non-pregnant woman, a neighbouring passenger would have yelled at the non-pregnant woman and probably every person in the surrounding seats would have stood up at the same time to help her out. Simply ignoring her and pretending her crying and discomfort is her own fault is not the Melburnian way.
Wherever you go in the world, you will always encounter people who are in a bit of a hurry or are just having a bad day. The Subway in Seoul is the most convenient public transport I’ve ever experienced in my life and I hold nothing against it. If the reader should take anything from this, it’s that pregnant women need to sit the hell down sometimes and it doesn’t take much for us non-pregnant, fully-abled humans to stand up and offer our seat to someone who needs it. Even if you think you may offend someone, it’s better to clear up the awkwardness by just trying. This was not an isolated incident, I have seen this happen to pregnant women, children, elderly people etc. I wish I had only observed it on just this occasion.
Moral of the story: stand up, it will make you feel better and you can really change the course of a person’s day by doing this one small thing.
I consider myself to be a seasoned public transport taker here in Seoul, South Korea. Since moving to Seoul, I’ve noticed that the general Korean population are rather fond of their smartphone screens. This doesn’t just apply to the people on the subway as the title of this post may suggest. It applies to people on the streets, in cafes, restaurants, schools, gyms, and everywhere else humans gravitate. It doesn’t help that two huge conglomerate smartphone companies, Samsung and LG, are highly celebrated by the Korean people.
So, because I never use my phone and am a fully-fledged self-help guru, I’ve taken it upon myself to help everyone out with more ~mindful~ smartphone usage. Firstly, I hate the word mindful and I also disagree with the generation of self help influencers. Secondly, I have been living in Seoul for 1 year now and I, too, have a bit of a screen addiction going on. I was being completely facetious.
Here are some ways that we can better serve our brains on the subway to promote a clear mind and help validate our smartphone addictions.
1. Make a to-do list
Do you have more than two things to do after your commute? Well, that, my friend, is the beginning of a juicy list. Let’s face it, you probably won’t do all of the things on your list but it will motivate you to do the things you actually need to do.
Listen to a podcast instead of the music you constantly consume in your ear holes. You can learn something, feel like you’re having a private lecture and be that annoying person who brings up facts all the time for no apparent reason.
3. Read a book
Woah, an actual physical book? Okay, this one is for more advanced subway takers and requires a great level of concentration. I know that not everybody can get their bodies to balance on a moving train and read without getting dizzy, we are humans, not mountain goats. However, if your body can handle all of the extra stimuli, you can assert your dominance as the ‘smart’ one on the subway carriage. I read so many books this year just because of my extremely long commute to work.
4. Write a novel
I can’t offer further advice with this one. It just seems like something a person who wakes up at 4am every day would do as a way to be productive. Give it a try? Your novel can’t suck until you finish it. Then, you can make it better.
5. Start a blog
Did you know that I’m currently writing this blog post on the subway? How could you have known that? What a silly question. If you don’t think you have the time to write a blog or a diary, you’re lying to yourself and to your whole family. They will never forgive you for those lies. I have the same philosophy Re: write a novel. Your blog won’t suck unless you have questionable opinions or zero blog posts.
6. Learn a language
Duolingo is a thing and it’s there to be used, so use it. Otherwise, go back to point two, Podcasts, and combine this with language learning. If, for some reason, you decided to learn Korean like me, Talk to Me in Korean have a great podcast.
7. Do a phone spring clean
Organise your photos, emails, contacts, apps, alarms, calendars, texts, ringtones, Instagram bios etc. I’m a true believer that a clean home equals a clean mind. I also apply this philosophy to the digital living space. Think about how much time you spend on your devices and it may help you understand why it’s important to keep your digital chaos clean and tidy.
8. Unfollow people who don’t align with your future
Go onto your socials and remove all the people who aren’t on board your train to self-improvement and general happiness. This includes people you are only friends with because you feel like you have to be. Delete them all. But, as you cull your friend lists, whisper ‘thank you’ ever so quietly to make it more Marie Kondo and less Georgina from Gossip Girl.
9. Go on a Wikipedia black hole search
This is my favourite thing to do at 4am while on a Netflix binge but there is never a bad time to go on a Wikipedia binge. It will help you learn things like Queen Elizabeth II and her husband are related and other things like how long Nelson Mandella spent in prison. These are all very useful things, do not deny yourself this information. As I am editing this, I am realising that I didn’t draw this point in my hilarious cartoon version of this blog post. I will forever regret this.
10. Respond respond respond
Now, this is the thing that I am worst at in life. I don’t know how many times I have written in my diary ‘ahh I really need to stay on top of my message and email responses’ to no avail. I don’t know what it is but I’m working on it, and the subway is a great place to get it done. As I type, I am vehemently aware of all of my unread messages.
I hope this was more comical than helpful. I really don’t care how you spend your time on your commute. I don’t know what kind of day you’re having. We all need to unwind with YouTube videos to clear our cloudy brains. This is more of a cultural observation combined with a pretty useless solution to something that may not even be perceived as a problem. But, if you’re feeling guilty about your phone usage, just know that the world will continue to be flat and have zero gravitational pull, regardless of how many memes you watch on a continuous loop.
‘Well, that was an unexpected ending? I want to read more of this blog! But HOW?’ Please do, I upload when I feel like it about topics relating to Korean culture. Feel free to leave a comment, I always respond. Have a very Korean day!
Here are a selection of images from my humble, but forever runing out of power, smartphone. I’ve been wandering around bookstores and the Seoul Metropolitan Library in the City Hall area of Seoul.
After multiple unanswered phone calls with an airline that shall remain nameless, I needed to get outside into the fresh air. Although my fingers are numb, fresh cold air is better than the music you have to listen to when you’re on hold.
I hope my 2-3 regular readers are having a great week! I would love to hear about what you get up to in the wintertime in Seoul. Stay WARM! The bookstore in this post is called ‘Arc’n’Book’.
If you’re interested, the area in the map below is a great place to walk around and find things to do in Seoul! You can kind of just wander and end up in a cool, photogenic location!