Monthly Archives: June 2013

In Search of the Holy Grail

The Holy Grail is something different for every foreigner in Korea.  For some, it’s an iPhone that you don’t need your obnoxious co-worker’s help to obtain.  For others, it’s Doc Bronner’s soap.  For me, it’s guacamole.  Holy moly, guacamole.  Really, a decent plate of Mexican food overall would be enough to renew my faith in God and humanity.  Cilantro.  Yes, please.

Any foreigner who has been in Korea for 15 minutes has probably noticed that there are certain things that are tough to come by.  Avocados, Pop-Tarts, shoes for American-sized feet, plus-sized clothing, and freaking baby food.  Yeah, baby food bedeviled me for a short time.  I sold my blender, thinking that we were leaving in a month and boom, we’re still here.  Guess I should’ve hung onto that blender.  Oh well.  Hindsight.  20/20.  You know the drill.

I know that I’ve been whining about Korea a lot lately, and I feel like I have cause to, but today, I’m here to be helpful again.  I’ve been here long enough that I’ve gotten reasonably good at finding things that I need online when I can’t get them in stores.  Baby things and maternity clothes were a particular issue, so I’ll touch on those, but I’m aiming to give you all some help in finding things that you want and need while you’re stopping over on the peninsula.  (God help you if you’re a long-termer like me.)

iHerb.com

If you aren’t using this website, you should smack yourself.  I know I did when I found out it existed after way too freaking long here.  iHerb specializes in organic, all-natural products, and they ship everywhere.  I get my baby food from these guys.  They sell brands like Ella’s Kitchen, Earth’s Best, Healthy Times, Gerber, and several others.  They have vitamins and minerals, soaps (like Doc Bronner’s!), face creams, shampoos, and even baby toothpaste and toothbrushes.  If you are vegan or gluten-free, you owe it to yourself to get on this website.  They have Bob’s Red Mill products, among others, and we’ve ordered way more than just baby food.

Unfortunately, they just increased their shipping rates.  It used to be a flat $4 to Korea, but now it goes based on weight.  For my last order, I paid about $9, but that’s still cheaper than just about any other company out there.  Seriously, if you’ve been ticked off about the price of vitamins, baking supplies, and herbs in Korea, screw HomePlus and E-mart.  Check this place out.  Do it now.

The Arrival Store

The Arrival Store is a relatively new discovery of mine.  I have never ordered from them, but they have a pretty decent selection of products.  If you’re looking to get a smart phone and don’t live in Seoul (there are places that seem to be more willing to deal with waygooks there), this place might be your ticket.  You will need your alien registration card (ARC), but you can get two-year iPhone contracts, pre-used pay-as-you-go phones, and shorter term lease smart phone contracts (with refundable deposit).  If you are the person who thinks (s)he cannot live without Internet access 24/7, I’d recommend checking them out for that.

They also offer a variety of hard-to-find foods, like feta and havarti cheese, sliced turkey breast deli meat, Campbell’s soups, A&W Root Beer, and Pop-Tarts.  I wish I’d known about that when I was pregnant, because all I wanted were some g.d. strawberry Pop-Tarts.  I finally bought some Annie’s toaster pastries from iHerb as a substitute.

Fatbag Korea

Fatbag is similar to The Arrival Store, but I’ve actually used them.  They sell – wait for it – avocados and guacamole!!!!!  They have Dr. Pepper (yuck, but I know some love it), Dad’s Root Beer, Dove deodorant (!), Ikea furniture including beds, American-style pies, cookies, and brownies, and vegan/vegetarian fake meat.

I’ve had good luck with Fatbag.  We get our deodorant from them.  They accept international credit cards and wire transfers.  They’re fast and reliable, if not a bit pricey.  I guess that’s what you should expect, if you want to eat Pop-Tarts while drinking Dr. Pepper on top of an Ikea mattress.

Her Room

Guys, feel free to skip this one.  It does say “Her Room.”  Ladies, as most of you can plainly see, most of us Western girls are a bit more ample-bosomed than the average Korean girl.  Basically, if you don’t have mosquito bites for boobs, you probably can’t find a bra in this country.  There are likely some places in Seoul and maybe even Busan, but I don’t know about them.  I have done all of my bra and underwear ordering in recent times from this company.  They have a massive selection of just about every kind of lingerie, pajamas, and workout clothes you could need.  Prices range from cheap to more than I’d want to pay.  They have lots of extended sizes, as well as maternity and nursing bras.  They ship internationally (not particularly unreasonable), and they don’t take that long.

If you don’t see anything there that takes your fancy, Victoria’s Secret also ships internationally, though they obviously don’t have the size selection.  I’ve heard of another UK site called Fig Leaves, and they also carry some larger sizes, but they’re a bit pricey for me.

Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic

These three outlets are all the same company, and they all ship overseas, although I will say that their shipping is expensive.  If you’re American, you pretty much know what you’re getting with these guys.  Old Navy carries maternity and baby clothes, so I’ve used them for that.  Their maternity sizes are that far extended, but honestly, a lot of their plus sizes are so stretchy that they can double as maternity clothes.

Motherhood Maternity

Motherhood Maternity is definitely more expensive than ON, but I bought all of my pants here, and I’m so glad I did.  Their stuff fits well and is extremely durable, which are two things I would never claim about ON.  I will definitely be able to use everything I bought from them into my second pregnancy.  Their shipping takes a bit longer than the other sites I’ve mentioned here, so be aware of that.  I waited a long time to get those pants!

Lulu’s

Lulu’s is similar to Alloy and other teen/young 20-something-oriented site for women’s clothes and shoes.  They have cheap party shoes and clothes, which has been great for me.  I have big old Western feet (size 9-10, depending on the shoe), so obviously, I can’t get shoes here.  I have ordered from them a couple of times, and I’ve been very satisfied both times.  I won’t say that their shoes are amazing quality because they aren’t.  You get what you pay for.  But frankly, if you’re looking for some shoes that you can wear for a season and then get rid of without paying massive shipping, this is your ticket.  They only carry misses sizes S-L (approx. 23-27 inch waist), so if you’re a bigger gal and looking for something cute, this site is a miss, unfortunately.  Still, love the shoes!

Big Men’s Shoes in Changwon

My husband wears a US 12.  It’s hard to find shoes for him in Korea.  Not every store carries size 12.  Usually, the biggest you’ll find is an 11.  My husband isn’t the shoe fiend that I am, so it’s not a big deal for him, but he does need new trainers every once in awhile.  There is an Asics store in Changwon that routinely carries size 12 shoes.  I don’t know the name of it, but it’s in the same building as O’Brien’s.  There’s a soccer/football shoe shop next door.  The store faces the main road, not the one that goes in front of O’Brien’s and the Solium.  There is almost never anyone else in there, but every time we’ve gone, they’ve had at least one pair of size 12 trainers.  They usually cost about 110,000 or so, depending on the style.  If you haven’t had luck anywhere else, I’d recommend giving this place a try.

Cookie Plaza, Changwon

This little store is on Danjeong-ro, behind the Sangnam Daedong Apartments.  Turn off of Towol Road, and walk down the street.  It’s a small shop that caters to baking items, and it carries some Western food items like macaroni and cheese and some random sauces, too.  I’ve bought cookie cutters, icing stuff, and vanilla extract there, among other things.  It’s been a solid two years since I’ve been in, but I’m pretty sure they’re still around.  That place has long been a haven for foreigners who need specialty baking stuff and can’t find it elsewhere.  That said, I rather suspect that eventually, the larger marts will start carrying more of what this shop does, and it will cease to exist.  Please do let me know if it’s moved or is no longer in business.

Helpful Facebook Shopping Groups

Since I’ve had Lady B., good old Facebook has been immeasurably helpful to me in keeping the cost down for baby goods.  There are two groups I belong to, Baby Mini Mall Korea and Korea Maternity/Baby Gear Sale Extravaganza.  The latter one is better, as it requires that sellers ship (the first doesn’t), and you can buy and sell just about anything baby-related on there.  Baby stuff is expensive as ever-loving fuck in Korea, from toys to clothes and back again.  Our families provided pretty much everything we needed to start with, clothes-wise, but man, Brett has grown fast.  She wears 12-18 month clothes in Korean sizing now.  (She’s fatter in Korea.)  I’ve put away everything she started life wearing.  Fortunately, I’ve been able to buy scads of cheap, slightly used baby clothes from private sellers on Facebook for peanuts.  Brett has a fabulous wardrobe full of nice brands and cute looks.  She even got some nearly-new, hot pink Adidas sandals for summer.  I’ve sold tons of stuff that I no longer wanted or needed that was just taking up precious room in our tiny apartment.

These groups are even better if you’re in Seoul, as most of the gals seem to live in the area.  You can often arrange pick-up and forego paying shipping.  This also means that you can buy and sell big ticket items like strollers, cribs, play yards, bouncy chairs, Jumperoos, etc.  Honestly, we would’ve spent literally hundreds more if a friend hadn’t directed me to these sites.  If you have a kid, you can thank me later.

As for Changwon-specific sites, there is a FB group called Changwon Shop and Swap.  I have bought and sold stuff on there and had great luck with it.  I just bought a used touch phone today for 20,000, actually.  There are all manner of random things going on there – TVs, computers, fans, toaster ovens, phones, motorcycles… And if you want to buy something, just post it up and see if you get a nibble.  You never know what someone else is looking to get rid of.

Those are all of the sites that I can think of right now, besides Gmarket, but I have faithfully used all but one.  It’s a serious pain to get things you want in Korea, but there are companies who have picked up on the demand and that are making it easier for us to get what we want over here.  I, for one, am happy to have found places where I can get reasonably priced baby clothes, as well as deodorant.  Seriously.  Deodorant.  Why doesn’t Korea sell this in stores?

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Driving in Korea Part 1,943

As you all know, driving here makes me agro.  Defend them all you want – and I have seen foreigners defend Korean drivers, though I’ll never know why – but the majority of people behind the wheel on SoKo shouldn’t be.  I’ve seen driving lesson cars here (and nearly been killed by one), but honestly, most of the people driving here need more.  Koreans are good at parking.  I’ll give them that.  That’s about all I’ll give.

I have yet to figure out what it is about Korean drivers that makes them so damn stupid and rude.  I always thought St. Louis was the cesspit of crappy, rude drivers, but people in St. Louis look like Mother Teresa, comparatively.  In just one leg of a short trip today, I was almost hit no less than five times, one them within inches, none of them my fault.  I know that you’re probably thinking, Okay, if she complains this much about near-accidents, it must be her.  Friend, it ain’t.  I’m a good driver.  I do make mistakes – we all do, of course – but I don’t make 20 major driving errors every time I drive.  I’ve had one fender bender (I was 19) and one speeding ticket (there was a sale).  I’ll own it when I’ve done something stupid.  I apologize to the other driver.  I could count on one hand the number of apologies I’ve gotten here.

Today’s worst offender for me was a Matiz full of early 20-something girls.  It looked like a damn clown car.  There must have been 50 of them in there, all wearing frilly skirts and giggling like idiots.  The pulled the wrong way out of a U-turn lane, which I don’t even know how the driver managed in the first place, and then proceeded to attempt to cut me off by forcing me into the other lane.  Bitch, please.  A Matiz (think Geo Metro) versus a Ssangyong Musso (think Range Rover).  Gee, I wonder who will win that fight?

She finally showed intelligence by backing down when I didn’t.  What was I supposed to do?  There was nowhere to go.  Fortunately, my window was fully down and the traffic stopped, so I leaned out the window and started hurling profane insults at her.  You know what that cunt had the brass tacks to do?  She and her friends bloody well laughed at me.  There are very few things on God’s green Earth that make me angrier than being laughed at when I’m in the right.  When they sidled up next to me, I shook my fist and started yelling at them again.  They saw my face, and that shut ’em up.  If that girl had actually taken off my back bumper, I would’ve clocked her.  I wasn’t in a good mood today anyway, and some people are just begging for a knuckle sandwich.

The real kicker today was on the way home.  Thank God it wasn’t me involved.  I was sitting at a stoplight heading back to Masan.  Traffic was six lanes across, three each way.  The light was about to turn green, and a cyclist on one of the green city bikes flew through his own light, which had turned red, and into the intersection.  Being closer to him initially, the frontline drivers were able to stop.  The cars in the opposite lane, however, couldn’t.  The car furthest from him plowed into him, sending him somersaulting with his bike.  When it was all over, he looked up, dumbfounded.  How can you be dumbfounded when you rode your fucking bike through a red light and into oncoming traffic?  I mean, honestly, how bloody stupid do you have to be?  I am not lying to you when I say this guy never looked up.  If this was America, I’d assume that he had a mental problem.  Since it’s Korea, I’ll assume that he’s just Korean.

There’s a stereotype in America about Asians being bad drivers.  This is not universally true.  The Japanese are excellent drivers, very safe and courteous.  I can’t speak for the Chinese, but I’ve heard bad things.  Koreans are just so goddamn stupid that it baffles and enrages me.  Every single time I drive.  If a Korean told me that they were going to drive in the US, I’d feel sorry for US drivers.  We have enough whack jobs on the road, but imagine the idiot you hate most on the road at home was every person here.  That’s how I drive now, assuming that they’re all crazy.  If it’s a taxi, know that they’re crazy.  If it’s a small car like a Matiz, assume it’s driven by someone who thinks the windshield wipers change gears (the car is an automatic).

I don’t know if it’s culture or what.  People make excuses about Korea developing quickly but you know, if a country can boast the best Internet speeds and every kid knows how to use a computer, mostly, there is no excuse whatsoever for not being able to operate a motor vehicle.  I know that there are tons of people in a very small space, but dammit, there is such a thing as courtesy, and just because you’re in a crowded place doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it.  It’s like this whole idea completely escapes the entire Korean population.

Part of me wants to blame Confucianism.  If you aren’t family, you don’t exist.  Therefore, if you aren’t in my car, you don’t exist.  Great way to travel, huh?  Bit problematic in a place like ChangMaJin, where there are about 1.1 million people in a very, very small area – probably the size of my college town or slightly bigger.  Its population with the students was a bit over 100,000.  Again, this doesn’t excuse impolite behavior, and it certainly doesn’t excuse stupidity.

So what is the excuse?  I don’t think you can blame infrastructure or inability to comprehend how to drive cars.  What is it, Korea?  Why do you make all Asians look bad by persisting with such awful, awful driving behavior?!  Ugh!  Sometimes, I just can’t anymore.