The what now…?

There is a lot about expat life that confuses me.

There’s a lot about life in general that confuses me but throw in the whole English as a Second Language issue and it just becomes confusing on a whole different level.

I would love to say that the longer I live abroad the easier it gets but that smell of burning would be my pants. Things become less of a surprise but still cause me to shake my head and mutter ‘WTF’ behind my mask.

In Ghana, it was fun to spot the sales pitch that was so out of whack with the product that it made your eyes water and usually coupled with something so blatantly a rip-off that you could spot it from a mile away. In Malaysia, I delighted in finding the everyday items that would be sold to me in jargon so upbeat that the writer must have been on every energy drink known to man and a few illegal substances.

Here in Korea, we have the delights of Coupang. It’s like Amazon but hopefully with fewer human rights issues but I somehow doubt it.

It is my new go-to when I’m bored. In the UK I can spend hours entering obscure things into the eBay search box and finding items that I never knew existed. Some of these have become the favourite Christmas or birthday presents of my nearest and dearest…or their recurring nightmare…potato/potato.

So, because by the time you read this I will be a whole year older and the sun is shining and I can’t be arsed to write a whole, long blog about witty stuff I will just leave you with the following…

This is a sample of the choices I got when I entered ‘Christmas gift sets’ into the Coupang search:

Maybe just what we need to accompany our favourite Christmas movie – Die Hard?

And then this is what I found when looking for ‘outdoor games’ and honestly, I think this is less an ESL mistake and more someone just seeing what they can get away with and having a laugh:

A bargain for some nice cocks…am I right?

So I shall continue to be confused and continue to take photos to share with you because why should I be the only one to encounter these little everyday giggles…?

And being older and wiser as I now am I shall leave you with this pearl of wisdom. Not from Coupang; this was spray painted on a pavement in a hip and trendy art/craft/smelly hippy part of Seoul.

Truly words to live by.

Crocs & Socks.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m no slave to fashion.

In fact, I wouldn’t know a fashionable item of clothing if it was pointed out to me with diagrams and small words.

I don’t follow what’s hot and what’s not and I certainly don’t bother to dress myself according to the latest fads and trends. The only reason I know what’s in fashion is because I see it in the shops and it doesn’t have a price tag and it usually looks minging.

The closest I have come to owning something fashionable is when I bought a couple of knock-off designer handbags in the night market in Penang.

So I am not judging when I say that a lot of Korean people seem to dress…interestingly.

Not judging – genuinely admiring, to be honest.

Korean people like to be well-turned-out and they usually look stylish with the latest gear and brand names…until you look at their feet.

Now, in the UK there is a love/hate feeling about crocs. It’s like Marmite – you either love them or hate them. I love them. The older and more creaky I get the more I appreciate some supportive plastic footwear I can get on and off without having to bend down. But even I draw the line at wearing them with socks.

Not here in Seoul.

Here they wear their crocs, sandals and high-heeled shoes with socks and give not a fuck.

I remember being a young woman in the UK and wearing those strange pop sock things inside my shoes so I could avoid blisters. But the pop socks had to be skin coloured and not emerge from the top or side of your shoe or else you would be a social pariah and mocked for eternity. We’ve all cast a withering glance at our fellow humans with their socks and sandals on display come June 1st and we’ve all hobbled around in pain because our going-out shoes rub like buggery but what else can we do…?

Well, here is Seoul all that is avoided. I have seen more sock/sandal combos in the last month than in my nearly 52 years on this earth. I have seen ladies in fancy gowns and bling-covered outfits with baggy white pop socks pulled up to their thighs as their high-heeled shoes glitter in the light of the subway carriage.

I have seen crocs with long socks, short socks, luminous socks and even football socks. Crocs with those little badges on them being worn by businessmen and crocs with stacked platform heels being worn by old ladies.

My new favourite pastime while travelling around my city home on the subway is to look at everyone’s feet and admire the zero fucks and epic foot comfort enjoyed by so many Koreans.

I would love to be able to post some photos because I can’t even begin to describe some of the things I’ve seen – and you wouldn’t believe me if I could – but my photography skills are not that covert. It seems a bit weird and creepy to go round taking photos of random strangers’ feet so you’ll just have to do your best to imagine and take my word for it.

But as I like any excuse to piddle about on Canva for a bit, there’s this…enjoy!

Before, during and after.

For anyone who lives abroad the day your shipment arrives is a day of mixed emotions.

On one hand, it’s like Christmas in – whatever month it arrives – and you wait patiently for the jolly men to come and deliver parcels to you. Then you rip them all open and are equal parts excited, happy and disappointed. Then the day usually ends in tears and you eat far too much junk food.

Very Christmassy indeed, if you ask me.

On the other hand, it’s a hugely stressful day full of frustration and swearing and…oh wait, that’s Christmassy too.

Okay, on any and every hand it’s like Christmas, except at Christmas you don’t get 30 big boxes of items all individually wrapped in brown paper and then have to find somewhere straight away to put it all. Well, maybe on your Christmas but I’m not here to judge.

Before the shipment arrives our new apartments always look and feel empty…bare…bland…impersonal. They supply the basic furniture and you tend to inherit or buy some extra bits from people who have left or you go out exploring and buy things in the first few days. But still, there’s nothing of ‘you’ about the place. Even though we always travel with some photos and posters to put up it’s still just acres of bare wall and a slight echo as we walk around.

This was us quite early on in Seoul and the red sofa we saved from the furniture dump was a welcome splash of colour.

Then finally you get told that your shipment is coming. It has successfully jumped all the bureaucratic hoops and they haven’t found the batteries or candles or kilos of drugs that you stashed in your underwear…and now it just has to get from the port to your address. Easy, right?

Well…sort of.

In Ghana, things went pretty smoothly and we had a spare room for everything to sit in while we got round to unpacking it. The crew worked slowly (half speed is full speed in Ghana) and hardly anything was broken or crumpled.

In South Africa, it was a slightly different story – a more complicated, difficult and frustrating one – but then everything’s like that in South Africa which is one of the main reasons you couldn’t pay me enough to live there again. The hoops to jump through were many and varied and changed daily. They were also occasionally on fire. The shipment was eventually delivered but then the crew buggered off to do another job and promised to be ‘back soon’. I, not having been born yesterday, smelt that bullshit and started to unpack stuff myself. By the time they came back 4 hours later, I was finished and all they had to do was collect their empty boxes from the garage. At least nothing was broken.

Malaysia had the fun twist of Covid but went smoothly and on time. The crew turned up, did all the unpacking and left…which made a nice change. We also had a huge apartment so it wasn’t hard to find a place for everything but there were many ‘WTF!?’ moments because we had organised the shipment in South Africa at the last moment before jumping on a repatriation flight. We also had a generous shipping allowance and so there were a lot of items that we just threw in to save time and then after unpacking wandered around the apartment in Penang thinking ‘why did I ship this and what the frack should I do with it now?’…fun times and no breakages except for a tiny corner of a flying V guitar.

Coming to Seoul we shipped the least amount so far because we knew we would be in the smallest apartment so far. It still feels like waaay too much and we seem to have nowhere to put it all, so…aaargh!

After a few days of doing Parkour for Dummies it feels like we’re getting there. Although that might be because everything is stuffed into cupboards that now look like a cross between Tetris and Jenga but we’re winning.

I think.

The funniest moment was when the elevator truck arrived. In Seoul, any large delivery above a certain floor requires an elevator truck. It sort of does what it says on the tin; it’s a wee truck with an elevator ladder thingy on the back and everything gets put on the platform which then goes up the mechanical ladder to the open window and that’s that. Saves a lot of hassle and strained backs.

Our truck turned up 10 mins before the shipment delivery truck and we had already removed the windows in the most easily accessible room as instructed. The truck pulled up and we exchanged a cheery thumbs up with the driver. Hubby and I are leaning out of the gaping window hole and watch as the truck gets into position…it looks a little far to our left but the guy does this for a living so who are we to judge?

As we watch he throws the magic switch and the ladder swings round and starts to go up…towards the closed window to our left…

We are confused and wondering if two grown people hanging out of a huge open window is too subtle a hint that this is where the boxes will be entering from.

His ladder reaches the wrong window and he stands back. We look at him. He looks at us.

He waves his hand at the small, closed window and says ‘open’.

We shake our heads, indicate the gaping frigging hole we’re leaning out of and say ‘here’.

He shakes his head. We nod our heads. He says ‘open’ again and I mutter ‘nope’ under my breath and walk away from the window because it’s rude to throttle people when you’ve only just met them.

After a few moments the shipping van arrives, the crew get out and they also start saying ‘open’.

Luckily for everyone Hubby recognised the gleam in my eyes and ran downstairs to explain that it might be better to put the ladder up against the huge, open window rather than the tiny, closed one. After much deliberation and a quick look round, they agreed that we might be right and the truck was duly (and grumpily) moved into position.

Once they got all the boxes in they announced that it was lunchtime and they’d be back to unpack in an hour. I don’t begrudge them their meal break but it would have been nice to know this beforehand. Anyway, we’re pros at this sort of thing so we started unpacking and left the heavy or fragile items for their return.

And now? Well, now the apartment has blankets and pictures and lamps, oh my! We have a vast selection of clothes, the Xbox and Wii, some books, far too much Lego and Teen has his two guitars.

And I have my corner to write in.

And nothing was broken. Especially not my silicone iron rest, 2 plastic wine bottle stoppers and a single clothes peg that were all triple-wrapped together for some unfathomable reason. Better safe than sorry I suppose.

So it’s all lovely…just as long as we don’t open any cupboards!

Buddhist tat.

When shopping as a tourist I am partial to a nice bit of tat.

Now, when I say ‘tat’ I am using the UK version of the word which means:

cheap and vulgar, tasteless or useless trinkets.

Because there is something about a nice bit of tat that appeals to me. And when I say ‘nice’ I mean something that makes you recoil in horror, stare open mouthed or just giggle to yourself.

And where have I found the best tat? The clue is in the title.

In Penang, I loved to visit Kek Lok temple.

It is a huge Buddhist temple on the top of a hill with many layers and gardens and beautiful statues and architecture. It also has about three gift shops and an amazing array of strange things for sale. For instance, they sell postcards from Langkawi. That’s a bit like St Paul’s Cathedral selling postcards from the Isle of Wight.

They also have incense, prayer beads, singing bowls and meditation cushions. And then just next to all that you can find little cat statues wearing jaunty hats and toy cars and plastic water pistols and the aforementioned postcards.

I thought maybe that was just a Malaysia thing or a Penang thing or even just a Kek Lok thing but having recently visited a Buddhist temple here in Seoul I’m beginning to think it’s a Buddhist gift shop thing.

We went to Bongeunsa temple the other weekend and it is also a beautiful place, although not nearly as big as Kek Lok.

But like Kek Lok it is a serene and green space right next to the bustling city…although in Seoul the city is a little closer and a little more looming!

After getting our fill of beautiful scenery, gorgeously painted ceilings and rocking king statues we headed off to find something to eat and make our way home, but obviously not before stopping at the little shop.

Again, there were the candles and bowls and beads we’ve come to expect and then just a bit further along was what I didn’t necessarily expect but really hoped to see…the tat.

Because who doesn’t see a piggy covered in bling and think of Buddha, right? I bet the Dalai Lama even has a couple of these kicking about somewhere.

And then there was the thing that I really should have bought and is top of my wish list for next time we visit the temple…a bobblehead Buddha…

And yes, it is light-activated and yes, the fan is his hand moves side-to-side as well as his head.

It is a thing of beauty and shall take pride of place on my mantlepiece for all time. Perhaps the King of Tat…?

Well, at least until Westminster Abbey brings out a bobblehead Jesus figure*.

*Kung fu grip disciples sold separately.

Losing it in Translation

When we lived in Ghana, South Africa and Malaysia most of the signs and written information around us was in English as well as the local dialect. This was helpful for us lazy ex-pat types and means that Seoul is now a bit of a shock to the system.

When you’re on public transport most of the information is in Korean and English which is a huge help but most products in shops have all their labels in Korean.

Fair enough.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the UK has anything labelled in other languages so I didn’t really expect everything to be easy for me to read but this is by far the least amount of English text any place we’ve lived so far.

So, despite being a total Luddite I decided to download an app and get with the 21st century.

Well, it’s been a bit of a mixed result.

For instance, in our neighbourhood, we have a small well with a large stone next to it. The stone has lots of Korean text on it which I assumed explained what the well was and how it is significant.

So, I decided to try out the app and find out more about this local place of interest.

I tried it three times and here are the results:

I’m still not 100% sure I know what it’s all about.

And then the other day I tried to use the same app to translate the buttons on our a/c unit and that’s when I decided to just ditch the damn translation app and give it up because I may not know much about Korea but I’m fairly sure there’s no button on an a/c unit anywhere in the world that’s labelled ‘vagina’…

Beam me up scooter!

When we went on holiday to Kuala Lumpur we had a go at these scooters-for-hire that they have dotted about the city. You can find them outside all the train stations and at major tourist attractions and with a handy app and a quick click of your phone you’re off and running (or rather off and scooting). Of course, in true Malaysian style we would see two or three people on a scooter designed for one…sometimes with shopping and boxes and all sorts of random things.

They have the same kind of system here in Seoul but there seems to be less care taken about where you park them when you’re done.

As I wander around and get to know my new neighbourhood it has become apparent that when you’re done with a scooter in Seoul you can just walk away and leave it anywhere you like.

This means you have to keep your eyes peeled so you don’t trip over the damn things as you’re coming out of or going into a subway station.

Or even turning a corner or crossing the road…

…because they really could be just about anywhere!

The good news is that they employ people to go round with a truck and collect up all the scooters and return them to their central points for the next customer. This is just as well because there are a lot of them.

But it made me wonder. I have been assuming that all these abandoned scooters are a result of people getting bored or reaching their destination and just getting off and walking away. What if that’s not what’s happening? What if aliens are harvesting the people of Seoul and instead of getting off the scooters they’re all being beamed up instead…?

It’s one of those ideas that once it pops into your head you can’t quite shake it. I shall watch the skies and report back…

So far…so wet.

We’ve been living in Seoul for just over two weeks and so far they have had the heaviest rainfall in the last 80 years. On Facebook, there are images of streets flowing with water, subway steps looking like a waterfall and the water level coming up to the top of buses in some areas…!

The Teen was especially concerned to see all the very expensive cars stranded in a Gangnam parking garage as the water reached the top of their wheels and beyond.

We’ve joked to family and friends that the Scottish people have well and truly arrived in Seoul and that we should issue an apology but it’s also heartbreaking to see our new home come under such a battering from the elements.

We’re used to rain – whether it’s Ghana rain pouring through our closed apartment windows or Penang rain trying to drive us off the road when we were on Joe, the scooter – we’ve encountered rain that makes the storms we lived through in Scotland look like a heavy mist but this was something else again.

Where we live it was intense but we are on the third floor and everything seems to be watertight so far so we could observe it and go to bed safe and sound. Seeing the images on Facebook brought it home to us how bad things were elsewhere in the city and it looked as if the new school year might be starting online if this kept up…and then overnight it stopped.

The first day of school was on campus and not at the kitchen table and I managed to walk out briefly in the sunshine to see how our new neighbourhood had braved the storm.

There are signs of damage and some local subway stations are closed but apart from that, it seems as though we have survived the worst of it…for now.

There’s more rain forecast over the next few days so we won’t count our chickens just yet but for now, the sightseeing can wait and we’ll leave exploring new places to eat for after the worst of the storm has passed.

Fingers crossed – we joke about always bringing the rain wherever we go but this time I’d be happy for that to be it and we can all move on to other weather…if for no other reason than I don’t know how to say ‘waders’ in Korean! We did see an inflatable kayak for sale in one of the big sports stores but for the moment we will get by with the contents of our handy-dandy special umbrella cupboard by the front door…and remind ourselves that we’re Scottish and as such are naturally more waterproof than the average human.

30 rolls of toilet paper and a tiny, tiny towel.

Yes, it’s me…I’m still alive and kicking except now coming to you from a humid and rainy Seoul rather than a humid and rainy Scotland or a humid and rainy Penang.

(I’m sensing a pattern here…mmm!)

Anyway, we’re here just settling into our new home in Seoul and it’s always interesting to me what is provided with a new apartment and what isn’t.

In Ghana, we got an extra set of bedding because the school thought we had two kids instead of just one. We took that as a bonus, even if it was decorated with bright orange flowers the size of dustbin lids. Unfortunately, we only got enough cutlery for two of us to eat together at any one time.

In South Africa, I think it was bowls. They provided us with bedding, towels, blankets and cutlery but only one bowl. Breakfast cereal consumption was taken in shifts until we managed to get to the shops.

Penang gave us basic cutlery and crockery but no bedding and no toilet roll. And all our beds were single beds.

It’s always a bit of a lottery. I usually end up packing at least one roll of toilet paper in a suitcase just to be safe.

Well, here in Seoul they excel at toilet roll provision – we got a huge packet of 30 rolls which even with the notorious ‘travellers tummy’ syndrome should keep us going for a while. Unfortunately, they fell short on the towel front.

Not in quantity and not in quality but let’s just say size does matter.

We had been warned that most bath towels in Korea were the size of hand towels back home but it was still a shock to be given our bedding supply and pull out 3 towels that even if sewn together would be hard-pressed to make one medium-sized bath towel.

Luckily in South Africa, we invested in those ultra-lightweight -don’t really dry you very well and feel a bit clammy-sports towels so we don’t actually need to rely on the supplied towels for our bathing and drying needs. This is just as well because with the size of them we’d need to wash ourselves in shifts.

Monday everyone can wash just their feet and legs…Tuesday is shoulders and arms…Wednesday – you get where I’m going with this, right?

We also got two normal sets of cutlery and plastic tumblers and then a teeny tiny set of a spoon, fork and tumbler that wouldn’t look out of place in Thumbelina’s house. I think Teen felt offended that ‘2 adults, 1 child’ implied he was a toddler but then as I’m now by far the shortest member of the clan maybe I should use this set instead?

All in all, this has been one of the better transitions. Not the flaming hoops of will-they-won’t-they paperwork and covid tests, but the apartment itself is bright and already feels like home. Everyone we’ve met so far has been friendly and welcoming and as I speak Hubby is out negotiating the joys of Seoul public transport with a new friend.

I’ll fill you in on the fun and frolics of the journey here next time but for now, just know that we are here, we are unpacked and if we need to we can use some of our bountiful supply of toilet paper to dry ourselves with after a bath.

Then again – maybe we should save it for the next zombie apocalypse…?

…banana for scale…

Worth it?

My blog is called ‘love the sky u r under’ for a reason. Well, for two reasons. One because it’s a line from a song I love and secondly because I feel it’s important to try to be happy and feel at home no matter where you are in the world; find the good in where you live and celebrate it – look for the positive and find the beauty.

Which is quite a bit of ‘tree-hugging-hippy-crap’ for someone as cynical and sarcastic as me but it’s true.

Having lived in so many different places and under so many different skies I have always found it important to try and appreciate and love each place…each piece of that vast sky.

So, is it worth it?

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will know that we occasionally (often?) find ourselves in situations that would make a Buddhist monk feel stressed. In the last two-plus years alone we have had to take a repatriation flight out of Africa without saying a proper goodbye to close friends or the life we led there…then quarantine, a bit of sleeping rough at Heathrow and some fairly full-on bureaucratic hoops of fire to do with South African banks and car dealerships and such like. Then all the fun and frolics of visas to Malaysia coupled with hazmat Oompa-Loompas and two weeks in a hotel room with just ourselves and our neuroses for company. Then add a dash of toxic personalities, too much online learning, various illnesses and a move to South Korea and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a nervous breakdown of epic proportions for even the most capable adults…which Hubby, the Teen and I have never pretended to be.

So, I ask again…is it worth it?

At the moment we have spent the last week and a half stressing about our Visa Grant Notice for Korea as well as trying to tie up loose ends in Malaysia and work out what to pack for a country with seasons.

(what are those again? Christmas by the pool and constant sunshine with occasional monsoon…that’s what we’re used to!)

Add to that the fact that we still have to get our passports back in time for our flight next Wednesday and not fail the Covid test on Monday and my answer to ‘is it worth it?’ right now would probably be…

No.

But the next few days are pivotal.

If we get our passports on time and don’t test positive for Covid then we will fly to Seoul on Wednesday, arrive on Thursday and have time to settle in and explore before being thrown into the next round of the ‘What the Actual Fuck do I Push to Make Things Work Around Here Anyway?’ Gameshow.

Then I might just start to believe that all the madness and the stress and the grumbling ulcers are actually worth it.

And if not…?

Well, let’s put it this way – if I do write a blog next week it will probably be to moan about how we are in self-quarantine in Scotland because the gods hate me and it’s all so unfair and life sucks and blah blah blah.

And if I don’t write one then maybe – just maybe – I’ll be back on Friday 5th August with good news, fun stories and photos of our new life in Seoul.

Stay tuned, and keep everything crossed for us…

This is not a travel blog.

Despite the fact that we regularly travel and live in new places I have never thought of this as a travel blog. I don’t think it ticks the boxes or meets the classic requirements for a travel blog:

I rarely go to official touristy places of historic or natural interest…

I don’t post photos with me in them looking wistful…

I honestly don’t know what I’m looking at most of the time when I travel…

and lastly, I prefer to moan about stuff than try to convey knowledge.

But this might be one of the few blogs that is a kinda-sorta-ish travel one.

Quite a few years ago when we were younger, fitter and had fewer grey hairs, Hubby and I walked the Fife Coastal Path. Well, most of it…until I twisted my ankle on some beautiful and treacherous ancient stone steps and that was that.

When we walked it all those years ago the weather was mainly sunny to start with and then went swiftly downhill to manky, wet and grey. #Scotland.

We’ve always talked about doing it again but now that we have the Teen we didn’t want to try and do the whole thing but rather just some of the prettier bits. I don’t know how long it is – you can look that up for yourself…not a travel blog, remember? – but it’s longer than the Teen would be comfortable with walking. Mainly because ‘to the fridge and back’ is like taking the ring to Mount Doom as far as he’s concerned.

Se we decided to stay in Pittenweem and do a walk out to Elie and back one day and then a walk out to Crail and back the next day.

Best laid plans…

We started well enough and our walk to Elie was amazing. The sun shone and glinted off the clear, blue water. The grass waved in the slight breeze, seagulls cried, bees buzzed, fellow walkers smiled as we passed each other and we reached Elie just in time for our lovely meal at The Ship Inn.

Teen was full of admiration for his homeland and the magnificent scenery and the delicious puddings. We even managed the walk back at a good pace despite our full stomachs weighing us down. The problem was that we stopped for ice cream just short of Pittenweem and my feet and Teen’s legs decided they’d had enough of this walking lark and went on a mini strike. That last bit of walking was all kinds of painful and we ached something chronic that night and the next morning.

So when my stupidly perky and smug Hubby said that this next walk was twice the length of the one to Elie he had a mutiny on his hands.

We compromised (because we are all adults and we love each other and we very rarely throw hissy fits or resort to violence these days) and got the bus to Crail, walked a bit, had a picnic on the beach…

…and then while Hubby went off to stride his way along the coast, theTeen and I got the bus back to Pittenweem and put our feet up.

That’s my kind of walking holiday.

We realised that although not much of the scenery had changed in the years since we’d last walked the coast a few things were different. Wild swimming is now a big thing and the areas set aside for this at each coastal community were packed at the weekend. Also, paddle boarding is very popular. We only saw one jet ski our whole time but it made us nostalgic for Batu Ferringhi beach. Certain parts of the route had been fixed or repaired and there were numbered markers to help you tell rescue people where you are because ‘I’m near a beach and a ruined castle or church’ is not going to narrow it down in the slightest on the Fife coast.

While staying in Pittenweem and walking through the other villages we ate lovely food and most of the ice cream and went to proper little sweetie shops like I remember from my youth when dinosaurs ruled the earth and a penny sweet cost just that and no more.

All in all, it was a lovely holiday.

Do I know where all these photos were taken? No.

The one with all the wellies was a welly boot garden by one of the harbours and I don’t remember which harbour I just remember I couldn’t get the Billy Connolly welly boot song out of my head for the rest of the day. Look it up on YouTube if you like…hopefully, it’ll make you giggle.

The one with the tree and all the pots and vases is the Crail Pottery which is a lovely place that I’d highly recommend but you’d need to look it up online to find where it is because –

this is not a travel blog, remember?

It’s just a bunch of photos and some wittering. Whether that’s better or worse than actual facts alongside a photo of me staring into the distance and looking constipated is something only you can decide.

I know which I’d prefer.