Apgujeong is one of Seoul’s more affluent neighbourhoods. There is no shortage of designer clothes, expensive schools and plastic surgeons. Today, I spent the morning walking around Apgujeong Rodeo Street (not to go shopping because I’m not a bajillionaire). Instead, I admired all of the amazing buildings in the area that house some of the world’s most expensive designer brands.
As a designer, I looked at these creations in awe. The craftsmanship, the beauty, and the detail were spectacular. With the facades on these buildings, they were worthy of being in every design magazine.
However, when I looked at them as a human, I couldn’t help but feel it was all a bit too… too much. It almost seems like a waste to have all of this design reserved for the filthy rich. It would be great to see more of this incredible creativity distributed around other parts of Seoul. Should this all be centred around one neighbourhood of Seoul? One street for that matter.
City Hall, Lotte Tower, and the DDP are all places that people can enjoy together. They are examples of architecture that enable all walks of life to share the design. Shouldn’t we save our creative energy for everyone to enjoy? I guess not… otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about this. One or two amazing buildings in a street, yes, but for every designer brand to have its own unique facade? Come on, guys! It’s too much! But I did appreciate the cool petrol station.
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:
Over the next few months, I am aiming to photograph the presence of Korean culture in my home city, Melbourne! Bursts of Korea are scattered around Melbourne’s CBD and I thought it would be interesting for people who haven’t visited to see! I snapped only two different places today after my morning class at University but I will try to get a better, broader collection and update this post in the next few months as well as more specific posts in future about where to buy soju, where to eat BBQ etc. Stay tuned for more to come!
My go-to Korean grocery store near my university (Russel Street, Melbourne)
I spotted this little restaurant on the way to the dentist yesterday! I will have to go there after class one day!
Russel Street! My favourite street in Melbourne for Ramen and Asian culture!
Hello, followers of the most sporadically updated blog in the history of WordPress. I have been working on this post since August 2017 when I spent my first week in Seoul. I’m hyper-aware of everything in my surroundings, even the things that aren’t there. I’m definitely not crazy but we’re working on figuring it all out. I wanted to compile a list of observations I made about South Korea while I was living there last year. Some of them may be common knowledge, some of them may be random, once off encounters. These are the observations of a young and energetic Australian human lady so I hope you enjoy learning more about Korea as you read!!!
1. Oh, you want to walk through a door? Well, don’t expect anyone to hold it open for you
When it comes to door time, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Also, don’t expect people to applaud you or give you a fist bump for holding the door open for them. I’ve found that holding doors open for people is actually MORE annoying than the alternative and you tend to get in the way. Just worry about your own entrances and exits, folks. Eyes on the handle, not the crowds.
This is a tricky situation for a western person to navigate because I’m one of those people who will see a complete stranger 10m away and stand and wait to hold the door while they awkwardly shuffle inside and mumble a thank you. It’s because I just don’t know what else to do. Maybe that person was having a bad day, I don’t want to ruin it by slamming the door in front of them and completely ignoring the world around me. But in Korea, it’s just kind of expected that nobody will hold the door for you so there are no door opening expectations to be met. I really need to CALM DOWN with all of the door opening manners.
2. So, you want to take a 30kg suitcase on the Seoul Metro system?
That’s fine, just don’t expect any elevators to be hanging around. Your broken rib cage will NOT be thanking you later. PACK light, pack like those people you see eating baked beans out of their Vibram FiveFingers sock shoes on the side of the street while wearing their 5kg hiking backpacks and 1okg dreadlocks. It’s not that there aren’t any elevators and escalators, it’s just that they’re quite tricky to find.
Sometimes you tap your train card to get into a station and realise the elevator is 500m in the other direction and you can’t figure out how to get there. It’s also super busy on the Seoul metro so your suitcase is going to really be a point of contention between you and the other commuters. I did have one experience in Dongdaemun where a man hauled my 30kg suitcase up a broken escalator on the first day that I ever went to Korea. I hope that guy is doing well and eating all of the kimchi and drinking all of the soju.
3. Found a person you love more than you love yourself?
Well, firstly, that’s really sad, self-love is super important. Secondly, go to town on those milestones. Wear matching outfits, buy matching underwear sets or even purchase a 2 pack T Money train cards designed for couples (which I made the devastating mistake of doing). Korean couples won’t really gross you out with public kissing ordeals and excessive touching, but they’ll dress identically to show you that they’re exponentially happier than you will ever be. (Edit: I wrote this before I fell in love with a Korean man and ironically did all of the couple things with, so take Number 5 with a grain of saltiness).
4. Helmets? Safety? Who needs them?
I know this is not unique to Korea, but people really don’t want to get helmet hair. It’s understandable that you don’t really need to wear a helmet on a university campus while peddling around, but being on a motorcycle on a busy road in Seoul, sans helmet!!!?? That makes me feel uneasy n queazy quite frankly.
5. Sorry, SORRY, sorry, I’m so sorry, oh I’m sorry, hey there I’m sorry
Do you often find yourself using the word ‘sorry’ excessively? Well, perhaps you should take a trip to South Korea and learn how to get your ‘sorry’ usage down to an appropriate amount. It’s not that people in South Korea aren’t sorry that they’ve just walked directly into you or shoved past you on a train, it’s just that they aren’t sorry enough to say sorry. This is my personal favourite because it’s really teaching me how to control my sorry’s. Sorry if this offended you.
6. People in Korea brush their teeth anywhere at any time of the day
I have actually adopted this habit since starting this blog post. Maybe it’s because I experienced living at a university and people study really hard and rarely sleep, but people were just brushing their teeth all over the shop. Walk into a classroom, BAM, you’ll hear the “ch ch ch” of a set of pearly-Korean-whites being scrubbed. I love this. Koreans eat a lot of garlic and kimchi so #8 is admirable. It’s also a sign that people in this country actually take care of themselves and employ impeccable hygiene strategies just about anywhere they go.
7. The Hiking get-ups are no joke
If you fall over in a Korean forest, and nobody can hear you, did you really fall? YES! You did. The combination of leopard print, fluoro yellow, pink and orange will be audible from SPACE. I LOVE Korean hiking fashion. Please refer to my personal fave snap from our Gyeongju trip last October!
8. Korean people are nocturnal
Ew, did you wake up before 10am and leave the house? Okay, you need to work harder. Okay, so this one might just be applicable to university students. If I went for a run on a Saturday morning, the streets were as quiet as dead moose. Silent. No people. Meanwhile, standing at 2am at the ramen vending machine was like being on a crowded train carriage during peak hour. Damn, do they know how to STUDY. It’s just so safe in this country! The image above is Seoul at night: couples, beers, a river you’re not allowed to swim in which is a law people actually obey and smooth live music from various buskers. What a life! You just couldn’t have a place like Cheonggyecheon in Australia. People would completely disobey the no swimming rule, there would be public urination, people would throw shopping trolleys in there, there would be graffiti everywhere and silly drunk people would be a danger to themselves.
9. People are chilled out
Probably due to their Jimjilbang (sauna) culture and readily available Soju.
10. Korean spicy does not feel like other spicy
We’re talking 1 minute of ‘Oh yeah, this isn’t too bad, omg this is not spicy at ALL ahahah are you joking omg you’re crazy, you completely underestima…..’ to an entire night of ‘WATER. MILK. CTRL + Z. Please knock me out cold so I don’t have to be conscious for this ‘. (I’m not a spice lass so please acknowledge the exaggeratedness of this).
Image Above: It may not look like it but this was the spiciest meal of my life. 감자탕 (gamja-tang) is a Korean pork bone soup and it is normally one of my fave meals but this bad boy you see here was like eating a small chilli farm.
11. Learning Korean is hard
It’s a language. It’s hard. This is not a revelation. Fortunately there are many amazing resources that can help us in our struggle to learn Korean. I love Talk To Me In Korean, watching YouTubers who speak Korean and also, Netflix. I have a blog post coming up about my favourite Korean things on Netflix that you must watch!
12. Singing is a completely normal thing to do
So it should be? Korean Noraebangs (translates to ‘song rooms’) are ubiquitous on the streets of Korea and are also part of people’s lives. You will often see a group of friends or even a solo song lover wander into a Karaoke room like it ain’t no thang. This is not a thang in Australia but it SHOULD be.
13. Google maps and the whole Google family is redundant in Korea
Use Naver. Don’t bother with Google. You’ll get lost. However, Google works wonders in Japan.
14. Appearances are everything
You can’t stereotype a country and all of its citizens by generalising that every human in that country cares collectively about ONE thing, that’s just not a thing you can do. Not everyone cares about their appearance in Korea. However, from what I have observed and may be well known to the outside world is that skincare, beauty, fashion, cleanliness, politeness and respect are all important aspects of Korean life. The way Korean people value their appearance and allow their external and internal selves to look respectful and put together is a great thing. It’s something I am sure Koreans are very proud of.
Appearances aren’t always just about how beautiful you are or about trying to make yourself aspire to a certain beauty standard. There is more to appearance than just aesthetics and I think western culture could possibly learn a thing or two from this Korean philosophy. Be the best version of yourself. Be polite. Make an effort. Be proud of yourself. These are not bad things.
Yes, South Korea is known for its plastic surgery and its extreme beauty standards but, HELLO, have you seen an old person in Hollywood? Korea just decided that if they’re going to do something, they’re going to do it really well and be renowned worldwide for it. In Western culture, plastic surgery is seen as this secret little demon that must never be mentioned in the light of day. To keep this sort of physical body change a secret is to deny that you are trying to feel better about yourself. It instead teaches young women that they can be beautiful and skinny and sexy with minimal effort.
We may not be as vocal about it as Korea but we all have unattainable beauty standards embedded within our cultures. Even people who say they don’t care about the way they look are putting effort into making it known that they don’t in fact care about how they look. That seems like a lot more effort in my opinion. Either way, you’re giving a fork about some kind of appearance philosophy and I am so fascinated by Koreas openness about this. However, it can be disheartening to hear people say that the more attractive you are, the easier your job and life prospects will become. It is also rather disturbing to see perfect K-Drama stars attain the lives of their dreams effortlessly and without much of an inner struggle. I think in the future, Korea will figure out how to balance this incredible ideology with the way it is portrayed to the masses. In the meantime, I shall continue to take care of myself and my appearance and not give a shiz about who knows it.
15. Koreans don’t do drugs (This is a great thing). It’s incredibly illegal and frowned upon
Instead, they do K-DRAMAS. K-DRAMAS may as well be drugs, people! Those shows are more addictive than any street drug I’ve heard about on Vice. K-Dramas will make you want to stay at home, order-in, sit in your pyjamas and completely immerse yourself in a fictitious Korean political scandal or impossible unrequited love situation (that 9/10 times has a happy ending).
16. South Korea is gosh darn COLD in winter
I was not aware of this last fact. They get this bone-chilling wind known as the Siberian Anticyclone and it is particularly problematic in December and January. Be warned, intrepid travellers.
Do you have any more observations you’ve made about Korea? Let’s discuss below!
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