28 August 2013

Sydney, here we come! (Help me, please!)

With the moves we've made over the past few years, the stuff I've found the most dislocating hasn't been the change in housing or climate or language. You'd think it would've been all that big stuff, but it's actually all the little day-to-day things. It's figuring out how to pay your electricity bill; what your postal address is (this can be trickier than it sounds!); and where to buy fresh flowers without the need for a second mortgage. It's finding a doctor, a hairdresser and, perhaps most importantly, a waxer you can trust. (Seoul failed me completely on that last one. Hong Kong however delivered in spades.) 

Right now, it's only three more sleeps until we make the big move (!), and whilst I know a bit about where to shop and where to eat in Sydney, there's a lot of day-to-day stuff I don't know. So Sydnesiders - I need your help! Please, please share your Sydney knowledge with me! Got a favourite place for a cuppa, pizza or yum cha? A trusted GP? Know the best (or best value) mani/pedi in town? Tell me, please! We'll be living in the inner east, but I'm happy to travel, especially if there's food involved...

Here's some of the things I'm after: 

- A hairdresser that knows a thing or two about hair dye. Especially one that does not worry about trying to make blonde look natural. I'm not a natural blonde. I don't want to pretend I'm a natural blonde. I want cold, near-white, clearly fake tresses. From my experience there are far too many hairdressers in the world obsessed with hair looking natural. I do not want you, natural guy. 

- A good (flat-ish) bike path or three. Actually, back up a step - a good place to buy a bike. I want one of those retro looking ones in a cute colour like turquoise that you could probably buy for under three dollars in China. And I want a basket on the front big enough for two dachshunds. The basket will need to have restraining devices. And sedatives. 

- A good dog park or three. Oh! And a dog beach or three! 

- A good GP. Even better would be a good GP that specialises in women's health. 

- A dentist that doesn't make me feel like crying as soon as I walk in. Or who at least shows some sympathy when I do sob uncontrollably as soon as I sit in the dentist's chair (true story!).

- A yoga teacher who has the right balance of compassion and working you until you cry. A yoga teacher who mixes things up and adapts routines to the changing seasons and the moods of the group. 

- A good gym. One with machines that work, decent air conditioning, clean locker rooms and a non-judgemental vibe. 

- A running path that's mainly flat (I'm not ready for hills yet, and there's a lot of hills in Sydney!).

- A pedicure where the polish lasts for a solid three weeks. And where they don't make me feel like a goose for not knowing anything about all those lady type things (gel nails? what? and how do I get one of these kind of manicures? I am clueless...). 

- Somewhere to get a massage that strikes the right balance between clean, comfortable surrounds and price. A place that doesn't make you feel like a 'happy ending' is part of the standard services, but that also doesn't make you break out in a sweat when you see the bill.

- Some kind of club or group or something. To do with photography or craft or books. Preferably involving nice people, baked goods and cups of tea (or possibly glasses of wine). That would be ace. 

- The best yum cha in Sydney. We will travel for good dumplings. 

- And maybe a real life friend or two, to have the occasional stroll / dog walk / coffee /  gelato with. 

- And...anything else you think I should know about the sparkly gem that is Sydney!

26 August 2013

One Last Korean Road Trip

As much as I loved living in Hong Kong (and you know I really, really loved living in Hong Kong), it did have it's limitations. Hong Kong's compactness is part of it's charm - it is a ridiculously convenient place to live - but it also means road trips aren't really on the holiday agenda. One of the joys of moving to South Korea was the road trip possibilities it opened up. Looking back I think all of our most fun times, our hilarious-in-hindsight disaster stories, come from the roads of Korea.

(If you're an expat in Seoul and you're maybe a bit nervous about tackling a road trip I say - go for it! The road system in Korea is amazing. Most of it's shiny and new, with tunnels and highways and smooth tarmac, and the scenery is always intriguing and often breathtaking. And yes, sometimes the signage is a little haphazard, but if you've got an atlas and a GPS (or Google Maps on your phone) you'll be fine. Besides, getting lost is part of the fun right?)

Anyway...last week it was the youngest step-son's thirteenth birthday, and he was in Seoul. One of the sad things about living overseas is all the birthdays you miss, so we wanted to make this one a bit special. We went to Everland, and did the special safari thing again (I wrote about the first one we did here) - basically 15 minutes in a heavily grilled 4WD with a guide and a bucket of raw chicken to feed to the animals. There were no giraffes this time, but there were lions and bear cubs - not a bad trade really. And the animal areas seem to have been enlarged and upgraded a little, so you can focus more on how awesome the experience is and fret a little less about animal welfare. 

Driving around feeding man-eaters while the guide reminds you every few minutes not to poke your fingers through the grill is one of those crazy things that perfectly straddles the line between dangerous and okay. You'd never be allowed to do this in Australia. Equally, there's probably a bunch of countries where you wouldn't want to do it even if you were allowed, for fear of actual injury. But in South Korea? No worries! 

After feeding the lions and tigers and bears, we beat a hasty retreat to our own air conditioned vehicle (it is so hot in Seoul right now...) and headed over to Vivaldi Park for a night. Vivaldi Park is a ski resort, but like most ski resorts in Korea it has all kinds of extra things to attract visitors throughout the year. It's set amongst lush green hills and has one of the best water parks in the country.

We happened to be there right at peak summer holiday time, so we headed to the water park early. But apparently not early enough - by 9.30 in the morning there was already a three hour wait for most rides! Yikes. So, no rides for us but we did have a paddle in the crazy wave pool with a few hundred Koreans. Coming from the relatively empty Australia I'm always amazed and fascinated by the sheer mass of humanity we've so often stumbled upon in Asia. It was kind of the perfect final road trip really.

12 August 2013

Seoul Walking : Getting Crafty in Dongdaemun

Dongdaemun Fabric Market has been on my list of Seoul 'to dos' since the day we moved here three and a half years ago, but it took a visit from a dear friend at the beginning of the year to actually get me there (isn't it so often the way)? I've been back several times since, and it's one of the places I'm really hoping to make it to one last time before we leave. 

Dongdaemun is a big sprawling market with areas dedicated to the sale of different things - lots of cheap clothing and footwear, and a slightly disturbing section for pets and pet supplies (if you find yourself stuck in Seoul looking for a pet iguana, this is the place to come). Amongst the knock off sneakers, fish tanks and two dollar sweaters is the Fabric Market - if you have the slightest hint of a crafting bone in your body, this is the place to visit. 

Don't be fooled by the name, it's more than fabric you'll find here. Hundreds of tiny stalls are crammed in to two buildings, spread across six floors - it is beyond overwhelming (and often stiflingly warm, even in winter). There's beautiful embroidered silk, fluorescent lace, printed denim, corduroy, cotton and lace; there's spots and stripes and checks. There's beads and buttons, feathers and sequins, and all manner of embellishments and trims. There's embroidery hoops and knitting needles and teeny, tiny little pom poms. Oh, and then there's the ribbon! So much beautiful ribbon! 

The market is largely aimed at wholesalers. Each of the fabric stalls have little samples set out, which you can take for free (provided you treat the system with respect), but they'll also sell it to you by the yard. Most of the ribbon stalls will sell you some 'samples' for about a dollar a yard (which is insanely cheap, especially considering the quality on offer). The top floor is targeted more at your everyday crafter, with things for sale in standard quantities for standard pricing (standard for Asia, that is!). Jade beads and wooden beads and fabric patches and fat quarters and all kinds of rope and bias binding in every shade and hair clips and tiny teddy bears and little bows and pink plastic hedgehogs and oh my! You can pretty much find anything and everything you crafting heart desires! 

08 August 2013

Three More Emotions of Repatriation

Emotion 7 - Getting Stuff Done 
It starts getting near the pointy end, near to the actual moving day, and you get down to business. You are focussed. You are a machine. An email sending, form filling, hotel booking machine. You make categorised, prioritised lists of things you need to do. And then you do them. You organise import permits and insurance. You cancel your cable, find a home for your fish. You book storage units and flights and serviced apartments. 

You don't ponder the pros and cons, you don't mope about this or that, you just get stuff done. You don't waste time with things you'd normally enjoy, like preparing delicious meals, you just eat whatever's easy and you get stuff done. You barely sleep, you stay off Twitter / Facebook / Instagram / Candy Crush for hours at a time (okay, maybe it was just the one hour), you don't blog or play with Photoshop. You just get stuff done. 

Emotion 8 - Delirium / Exhaustion 
You see all those ticks on your to do list and you think 'I am so freaking organised! I am the freaking QUEEN of getting stuff done!'. And then, seeing as you are a queen and all, you ask the dogs to curtsey before you. And you wonder if someone should make you a crown. And you giggle to yourself, a little hysterically. And you think - perhaps it's time for bed...

And you wake up the next morning and your eyes are scratchy and your throat is sore and your glands are swollen. And lots of people tell you to take it easy, take a rest. So you do. You sleep in, and you spend a day reading, and listening to the radio, and mainlining vitamin C and zinc. You have a soothing soup for lunch and later you play sous chef to your husband while he cooks up a tasty dinner. The next day you're refreshed and ready to take it all on again. 

Emotion 9 - The Grab Bag 
You don't really feel an emotion, you feel all the emotions. Not quite at once but in rapid, ever changing succession. Little things set you off. Frustration, triumph, annoyance, elation, depression, fear, stress, excitement, confidence, happiness, tranquility...all wash over you a few times a day. 

You book a beach holiday with the dogs (something you haven't been able to do in Korea) and you feel extravagantly happy. You plan to see your family just before xmas (something you haven't been able to do while living overseas) and you feel overwhelming excitement. 

But then you book a boarding kennel for the dogs, it's where they'll live while you're in the serviced apartment, and you feel indescribably sad (and strangely afraid). You go to the vets to get a lump tested on one of the dogs, and you can't help but shed a tear or two while waiting for the results. You think 'What if it's bad? What will we do?'. After ten minutes they say they're 90% sure it's not bad, and you are so ridiculously relieved and thankful. 

Later, you look at the husband's planner and say 'Oh - you're going to Hong Kong? I'll come too...' but then your voice trails off when you realise by then Hong Kong will be eight hours away, not three. You're reminded that things are going to change; things are going to be very different, very soon. You find out a bill hasn't been paid, an email has bounced back, your credit card has been cancelled - and you feel annoyance and frustration out of all proportion to the situation. 

You realise perhaps you are not quite as refreshed and ready as you thought. So you go to the gym, and then do some stuff. You edit a bunch of photos, and then do some stuff. You have lunch with a friend, and then do some stuff. You realise that there's no mad race, that you are actually pretty organised, that things will fall in to place. That it's about balance, and that if you look after yourself you'll do a better job of everything. And that you need to take the time to savour the days you have left in this crazy city.


If you're wondering what the first six emotions of repatriation are you can read all about them here. You may want to have a stiff drink handy. 

And yes, for the quibblers, I understand some of these aren't technically 'emotions'. But I don't care.