Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Living: Hard Water Solutions


Problem: Hard water causing hair loss and dry skin
Solution: Filtered shower head

Not sure about the rest of you, but we have struggled with the hard water in a few different places we have lived in the US and then again here in Korea.  You see, although there are actually many potential inner health benefits to drinking hard water, it often tastes terrible and always causes major hair loss and dry skin issues. So if your hair has been falling out or breaking off since you arrived in Korea, this might be the culprit.

For the longest time, we just ignored the issue because we didn't want to spend crazy amounts of money to solve it. However, at a certain point, our vanity kicked in. No matter how much effort we put into our hair, it looked limp and dull and we were starting to worry we might just go bald with the rate our hair was falling out. We were hot messes.

Before investing our money in any expensive systems we decided to try something from Emart. We had found an affordable (13,000 won at the time we purchased it) and simple showerhead with a built-in filter. Since our shower was so nice, it seemed like a bit of a downgrade when we looked at it but we bit the bullet anyway.

As usual, we were completely wrong to doubt the simple Korean solution. We feel stupid for not having done it earlier. We noticed a difference after the first shower. Our skin and hair improved immediately. Not only that, it turned out that the inexpensive Emart showered head actually has higher pressure and is more comfortable than our old "fancy" version that came with our apartment. Showering feels like a luxury again. We have now replaced both our showers with this type of filtered shower heads. No looking back.

We do still have some questions though. Like, how long it will last? We started using it a few months ago and it's still working great but the filter system will eventually wear out. When that happens, can we just replace the filter balls or if we will have to replace the head when they wear out? We don't actually know. Either way, even we have to replace the entire showerhead regularly we think it's worth it since it's still cheaper than a full system for the house.

With that said, where is a closer look:

It's not fancy but it works brilliantly.

You can see the little filter balls inside.

It as a spray switch with two settings and off.
We have also seen similar shower heads at Daiso, Home Plus, and Lotte Mart but we haven't tried those. If you do, let us know how they work out. All we can say is this particular shower head has made a huge difference in out day-to-day lives and our skin and hair look better every week.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

University Life Update


When we started at Namseoul University this spring we truly had no idea what to expect. It's a new program and we didn't know anyone who had attended before so we had a million questions:
  • What exactly would studying in Korea in an English language program look like? 
  • What kind of professors would there be?
  • Were we going to be cramming for exams like we see them doing in Korean high school?
  • What are the students going to be like?
  • How big were the classes going to be?
  • What would the workload be like?
  • Would we have regrets?
  • Would the material be relevant to our lives?
And the list just goes on from there. So many unknowns. It wasn't an easy decision to make and we wondered if we would regret taking the chance on grad school outside of an educational system we were familiar with.

We are now 1/3 of the way through our first semester and we can honestly say that we love it. Every week we look forward to waking up on Saturday and going to class because the professors are interesting, the classes are relevant to our lives, and the other students are enjoyable to study with. We had no idea that we would actually enjoy graduate school. In truth, I think we both just thought it was something we would suffer through for two years like a weekly dental appointment. However, that's not happened. We legit love studying at Namseoul and feel it's value in our lives.

In addition to enjoying the classes, we have found its a program that is designed for the path we are following. Some of our educational/career goals are:
  • improve our connections and opportunities in the educational field.
  • improve our knowledge about international education programs and experiences.
  • enhance our teaching skills to be more useful in a variety of teaching environments.
  • gain experience working with an international workforce.
  • research educational theories and policies we are interested in.
Even this early in the program we see how our goals are being met. We are currently taking two classes (Assessment and Policy) and studying with students from South Africa, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan. The insight has been invaluable. Discussions are VERY lively and often filled with plenty of laughter and insight. When we enrolled we hadn't realized how much value this would add to our learning experience.

Admittedly, at first, we had wondered how it would work studying in English with students who mostly speak English as a second language. Students who have never lived in an English speaking country. We thought it might not lend itself to graduate level study. Looking back, that was a foolish concern. Yes, there are times when things can be confusing and we struggle to understand something a classmate is trying to articulate. Turns out that's not a problem, its a beneficial and important part of the program.

"Why is that?" you might ask. It's because this is what our future (and current) workplaces will be like. It's real life practice for our current AND future careers. This is what international teaching looks like. You have to know how to understand cultures from around the world with people that may not speak English as a first language. These are the exact conversations we need to be having about policy and assessment practices. It's friggin educational gold.

Dealing with these communication and cultural issues force us to find better ways to express ourselves more efficiently and develop our communication skills. We can't be lazy because the other people in the group don't know our cultural views. We can assume they know what we mean, and we can't assume their opinions either. What I'm trying to say is that the ESL issues we face with our classmates haven't been a distraction from the program - they are a distinct benefit that we deeply value. They are why Harry and I keep saying to each other, "Thank goodness this was our choice."

The professors are also a key part of what makes all this work. They are well educated and have plenty of experience working in international education. They understand the skills that we need to succeed. Funny enough though, our first two professors happen to be from the US. They teach in a very western style with lots of workshopping and question asking. Instead of lecturing they facilitate. We feel supported, encouraged, and pushed to internalize what we are studying. It will be interesting to see what classes will be like with different professors from other countries

At this point, we have found the workload to be exactly what we can manage while keeping up with our jobs. I'm a public school teacher and Harry works in a hagwon. When we aren't working our week is full of reading, working on group projects, and writing papers. We aren't pushed to our breaking point, but we certainly can't afford to slack off either and we don't have time for extra socializing.

So that's where we are at this point in the program: confident about our choice, happy with our cohorts, challenged but not buried, enjoying our professors, excited about what we are studying, and looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.

Since we aren't very far into the program we still have questions about how it will all shake out. Will we love our future profs this much? What will the comprehensive exam be like next year? What will it be like to write our thesis in English in a foreign country? Will we have access to the articles and research support we need? So many things still bounce around in our minds but the support we have received so far from the GEI offices helps makes us feel confident it will all turn out ok.

Current Status: Extremely happy with our life choices.

If you would like to learn more about the Namseoul University Global Education Institute visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Announcing! Grade School Camp May 19 - 20


Registration Deadline: May 4th (Or until full)
When: May 19th and 20th
Where: Moobang Camp
Who: 15 English speaking students in 5th & 6th grade

That's right, the Pyeongtaek Youth Center Camps are back! 

Last year South of Seoul worked with the fabulous Pyeongtaek Youth Center on two camps and this year we are helping with 4! Two for grade school and two for middle school. This year all camps will be overnight, weekend events at Mu Bongsan in northeastern Pyeongtaek. This place is fantastic. We can hardly believe we are lucky enough to make camps like this free for our community.

Last years was our first-time out-of-the-gate and we were nervous about how it would go. We shouldn't have worried, the kids loved it! It was an honor to see so many happy, smiling, excited kids building friendships and having the time of their lives. At times we might have even become a little teary. It was a bit of magic. Since it worked so well, Pyeongtaek Youth Center came back to us again this year and asked if we would be interested in having 4 camps this time around and of course we jumped on the opportunity.

The first two weekend camps of the year will be for grades 5 and 6.
They will be hosted at Mu Bongsan on Saturday and stay there through the night. There will be:

  • tons of fun indoor activities to get to know each other
  • outdoor activities like nurf archery war. (There will be two activities but they are not set in stone yet. The "nurf" archery is the one that's solid)
  • plenty of food and snacks
  • a coffee shop for when they want a bit extra (They will need won for this. We hadn't expected kids to take advantage of the coffee shop last year but many did so send 10,000 won along for their hot chocolate or strawberry shakes.)
  • lots of space to play and express themselves

What we loved about the experience was how much effort Pyeongtaek Youth Center put into the details. They had:

  • excellent, caring counselors who helped the kids cross the language barriers
  • a schedule that was a nice balance of busy and relaxed
  • stunning modern camp facility
  • comfortable rooms for all the kids
  • kids were always occupied but also had time to get to know each other.
On Sunday students will get up early, eat breakfast and head over to Anjeongri to take part in the One Heart Festival. This will give the Korean students a chance to learn more about where the English speaking students live and experience the community together. Parents will pick-up their kids from there.

You can read more about last years Middle School Camp by clicking here.

If you have any questions you can also message us at Southofseoul@gmail.com


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

5 MORE Indoor Activities


Air quality can be less than stellar at times and many of us find ourselves feeling a bit stir-crazy at home. You want to get out and explore, but you don't want to breathe the air outside or it's too hot or too cold. We have some excellent solutions for burning off some extra energy. So grab your phone, make sure you have the South of Seoul app and Naver maps or Kakao Maps downloaded and get ready to go on some adventures.


1. Pink Tiger Game Room

The hottest new place in town has to be Pink Tiger because it's undeniably awesome. It's like the sampler platter of fun. Everyone can find something to do here so it's perfect for families and friends alike (geared toward middle school and above). It's honestly fun for everyone, but don't just take our word for it. You can read Cilla Roman's blog by clicking here. She took her kid there and had a blast. This is a MUST visit.


2. Indoor Tennis

Tennis lovers, or even those that just want to have fun, will find these indoor courts a great way to workout while avoiding the poor air quality or winter cold. Take out that excess energy by beating the crap out of a little ball with a racket.


3. Norae Bangs

A crowd favorite, of course, are the nori/norae bangs (karaoke in Japanese) that pepper the cities and towns. Nearly all of them have a solid catalog of English pop songs so you don't need to worry about showing up and having nothing to sing. In Seosabol there is a lovely new norae bang called Ziller Zone Noraebang that people are loving. It's a great space to start your singing adventures. 


4. Indoor Baseball

We have indoor baseball facilities across Pyeongtaek and don't really have a favorite. These spaces open in the late afternoon or evenings and are great alone or with a group. You can use the South of Seoul app to search for screen baseball zones and then choose the one that is closest to you.


5. Darts Prince

If singing and sports aren't your things, you can always work on your darts game. This very fancy darts spot is an excellent place to go with friends. Once again, this is more of an evening activity. An excellent place for a group to go out after dinner and between drinks.

For more indoor activity options you can check out our first blog on the topic 5 Awesome Indoor Activities.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Nav Apps: Options, Strengths, and Failures


Tell me if this is you...
You just arrived in Korea, you are so stoked to start your adventure. You are all sassy like, "Hey, let's open Google and see what's up"! You pop open your handy smart phone and start searching for things you love! You search and search and search... but nothing is coming up. You find almost no info that really helps and a little seed of panic starts to settle in. You wonder if there is actually anything out there to do or eat at all (don't worry, there is a ton). The walls start to close in.

You leave Google maps in defeat and move on to searching through blogs. There isn't much out there, but you find a trace of what you are looking for and copy the safe looking Romanized address they provide into Google. Nothing happens. The address doesn't work. You feel the rage begin to build. You feel helpless, frustrated, and isolated. For the first time you have that little thought, "This sucks. Korea sucks".

Don't worry, Korea doesn't suck, but your feelings that it does are a completely normal reaction. Nope, you aren't even a bad person. What you are is a person who moved to a new part of the world, where your carefully crafted coping skills and favorite apps don't work like you wished they would and it makes things really hard at first. Suddenly, the the way you are used to the world working has been turned on it's head and what was standard no longer applies. You have entered... wait for it... CULTURE SHOCK! We have all lived it. The important thing is to not listen too closely to that voice that says, "This sucks and Korea sucks." Instead, listen to that feeling and say to yourself, "This is new and I have a lot to learn". In short, it's not Korea's fault or your fault you don't understand each other, you have only just met. Give it time.

In order to overcome this little voice, you are going to need to download some new apps, learn some new systems, acquire a few skills, and go on some adventures. The feeling won't go away overnight and it won't always be easy to push past it, however it will be REALLY worth it to keep going because living in Korea is actually AWESOME!

We are going to help you on the journey by addressing one of the biggest issues you will face... MAPS! Yes, one of the most critical aspects of life in this new place is wrought with challenges. We will be giving you additional information about what hurdles you may face when searching for things in Korea and what maps/navi apps can help you get moving in the right direction. So strap yourself in and get ready for some knowledge bombs.

FIRST STOP: UNDERSTANDING THE HURDLES

1. ROMANIZATION v. HANGUL
The problem: Using Romanized Korean addresses and business names simply isn't going to work well with navi apps. Sure, you can get by, but it will never be efficient or consistent. You NEED to use the Hangul address or business name whenever humanly possible. This is going to be one of the most frustrating things you will deal with, especially if you haven't learned the Korean alphabet or mastered basic reading skills.  However, if you put in a little effort it will really pay off quickly. Make this a priority. Hard work in the short term will pay off during your stay.

The reason this happens: The main reason that Romanized addresses and business names don't work is that there has been at least 4 official ways to Romanize Korean. This results in two things can go wrong: 1) You can't be sure which is being used to run the algorithm of each map app or nav system; 2) You don't know if the person who Romanized the address used an official system or just winged it. In short, changing Korean to English is a hot mess. With so many Korean names being one letter different, the only way to be 99% sure you are going to the right place is to use the REAL address. In the South of Seoul app we try to make this as easy as possible, more about that later.

What to do: Learn the alphabet and how to read the basics stat. PIEF offers affordable classes near Osan Air Force Base and Camp Humphreys. However, you can quickly pick up the skill using websites and YouTube videos. We highly recommend Talk to Me In Korean as the place to start. Learn the order to read addresses in so that you can identify the beginning and end of a street address. You can learn more about Korean addresses by clicking here. Brooklyn English Used Books also offers FREE classes so pick one of these options and get on it.

How South of Seoul Helps You With This: We provide an easy to copy accurate Hangul address in each of our all listings. We gather these addresses from either Kakao or Naver maps. This means it's the MOST accurate information. This address can be copied from the South of Seoul app and dropped into the navigation app of your choice. We encourage every user to use this system instead of WAZE or Google Maps because we have far more faith in Daum/Kakao and Naver's ability to get you places. Even if you can't understand it, dropping the address into Kakao Maps or Naver Maps will get you there.

2. NEW AREAS, NEW ADDRESS SYSTEM, NEW ROADS
The cities south of Seoul, like Pyeongtaek, have been going through crazy amounts of development and entire areas are being completely remade. In these areas, sometimes none of the map apps work right. Even WAZE sometimes gets blocked and you can't even drop a pin. It's frustrating for everyone. Soseobol in Bijeondong has been kicking our asses like this for years. In fact, right now the entire East side of Pyeongtaek is hard to navigate because of this issue. 

Please be kind and understanding as everyone does their best in this situation. One day an address in this area will work, and the next it sends you 8 blocks away (sometimes to a completely different area of the city). It sucks and we all do our best. Hold a place in your heart and embrace the adventure. The businesses in these areas also wish things would work correctly. No one is happy about it.

3. MILITARY BASES
For obvious reasons, the areas near military installations can be fickle. WAZE works far better than other maps when near United States Military installations so we recommend going with that if you need to find anything within a 1/4 mile of a base. 

4. YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW
When you arrive in Korea you might search for gymnastics for you kids or the best place for french toast and come up with nothing. That's because these things are not really a part of Korean culture. Sometimes you simply don't have access to what you valued in your old life. HOWEVER, there are many NEW and fun things to try. If you search for nori bangs (singing rooms), archery, Korean BBQ or mandu (Korean dumplings) things will be quite different.

During your short time here you will find life far more rewarding when you participate in Korean culture rather than trying to recreate your own. This is a brief and exciting period in your life when you have the freedom and opportunity to discover exciting things you never even thought could exist. Take advantage of every minute of it. FOMO!

How South of Seoul Helps: This is one of the main reasons our neighborhood directories allow you to scroll through what's around you instead of relying just on search. We know that you wouldn't even think to search for half of what's around you. We sure didn't when we arrived. It took us 8 years to compile the amount of information you now have readily available at your finger tips via the South of Seoul app. Actually, even if you speak Korean you can't easily find many of the places South of Seoul has listed simply because Pyeongtaek is the countryside and most bloggers are in Seoul or Busan. 

Exploring the South of Seoul listings and reading the blog will help you get and idea of what new and fun things are waiting to be experienced. With that said, it's time to look at what options you have for navigating Korea.

Second Stop: FOREIGN MAPS/NAV APPS

Google Maps

Although we've already mentioned that Google is a hot mess, we should still cover it so you know what's up. It's notoriously unreliable due to the fact Google doesn't have access to current information in Korea and is banned from offering driving directions (although they do offer public transit info).

We can't ignore it, however, because it's embedded into many foreigner developed apps, including ours, since (until recently) Daum/Kakao and Naver didn't have an English language option. It's not COMPLETELY useless. Just mostly.

We have found it useful for public transit info in Busan and Seoul and locations are becoming increasingly accurate. Their relationship with WAZE is certainly starting to pay off. If they were allowed to offer driving navigation it could almost be useful.

We hope to be able to ditch Google and use a Korean mapping system in the future.

WAZE App

In 2013 Google beat out many other companies to buy WAZE. Yes, that's right, WAZE is basically Google, but not. It's a clever little tool Google has leveraged to gather information in Korea even though it's not really welcome here.  Due to the fact that WAZE aggregates information directly from users and isn't restricted by the Korean government, it has far more accurate information than it's parent company. Still, it will fail you miserably on long trips, searching for new things, and sometimes it simply doesn't take you where it's supposed to when you put in an address.

The good parts: 
1) Waze can be easy for new arrivals to adapt to. You can just put in an English language pin that a past person has entered and it gets you there more often than not. It's a great tool to find what other kind foreigners have taken the time to mark for you.
2) There is a photo of the building. If you don't read Korean it can be hard to know when you have arrived. Having an image of what the location looks like can give you confidence that you found the right place.
3) You can mark places with no address. This is possibly the most useful part of WAZE and the one thing we use it for. You can drop a pin anywhere. That means you can mark hiking trail heads you spot in the middle of a field, etc. It's great for when you need to meet-up somewhere really random.

The bad parts: 
1) Limited Information. You are relying on what foreigners have entered for you, which means most of the country's information isn't there. If a kind English speaking foreigner who loves WAZE didn't drop a pin and make notes, you aren't going to find things very often. That means it's mostly useful in certain areas of Seoul, Pyeongtaek, Cheonan, and Asan, or near US military bases, since expats don't really use it.
2) It's unreliable. Even the WAZE Pins/Ids will sometimes just not take you where they used to. Maybe the week after they will.
3) It doesn't work well with accurate Korean addresses. In fact, we just refuse to use it unless there has been an actual pin dropped for the location we are going. We have added perfect Korean addresses and had it send us to a place 30 minutes away from where we should be.
4) It's hard to read. Honestly, we hate using it just because it's #weirdAF to follow. We don't actually like the experience of using it and avoid it whenever possible.
5) It doesn't always give accurate results. Depending on things one can't control, even if you have an EXACT WAZE pin name, it doesn't always give you the information you ask for. Maybe it thinks you are too far away or it's not of interest to you because of your favorites. For whatever reason, it will simply not show you things that you know for a fact exist.
6) WAZE Pins are fickle. Sometimes a location will vanish, take weeks to go live, or just not show for certain people for reasons listed in issue 5.

In short, it's remarkably unreliable and us expats simply don't use it because it makes us feel pretty crazy dealing with it.
7) WAZE is only for drivers. It's pretty much useless for people walking, needing a bus, or taking a taxi.

How South of Seoul Uses WAZE
Despite our personal feelings about WAZE, we at South of Seoul understand that it's extremely useful to new arrivals. Because of this, we have spent hundreds of volunteer hours making sure that Pyeongtaek has been well documented. Since WAZE Pins/IDs need to be added in person, our volunteers walked the city adding hundreds of places for new arrivals. 

In addition to adding locations, we also list the WAZE Pin/ID in each South of Seoul listing. Starting in 2018, however, we will not be making WAZE ID's part of our priority since both Kakao Maps and Naver Maps are in English on iPhone and Android.


How You Can Help
WAZE works because users contribute. We need everyone in Pyeongtaek marking where they go in order for it to be the most useful version of itself. When you go out, make sure to drop a pin for the next person. It's all of us working together that makes this system work. You can learn how by clicking here to read a blog about it. 

Third Stop: KOREAN MAPS/NAV APPS IN ENGLISH
(Your best option by far)


Kakao Map and KakaoNavi are - hands down - our preferred apps. They are owned by Daum who bought out Kakao a few years ago. They sync easily with KakaoTalk which means it's easy to share addresses and navigation links with friends. They also sync with Kakao Taxi which means you always have access to emergency transportation.

THE GOOD PARTS

1. For Everyone: There is route information for buses, cars, subways, walking, and bikes. This fact alone makes Google Maps and WAZE obsolete. Unlike WAZE you don't need a car for it to be super useful. This makes buses, subways, and taxis simple.


2. Bus, Taxi, Toll Fees: You can know ahead of time what things will cost. No more wondering how much you need on your TMoney card or how much a taxi should cost. You will also be notified of toll costs for long distance trips. DREAMY!!!!


THE BAD PARTS
1. English Search is Limited. You still can't really "discover" that many things using English search terms. It's best if you already know what you are looking for. It works perfectly to use South of Seoul for searching for what you need, and then copying the address and dropping it into KakaoMaps or KakaoNavi.

2. Some Things Are Still In Korean. Not every last detail is in English but it's enough. You can screen shot and use Papago if you have any issues.

How South of Seoul Works with Kakao and Naver
Here is how you can use our app and Korean Map apps as a team to find what you need: 1) Do a search in South of Seoul; 2) Pick the place you like; 3) Copy the address; 4) paste the address into the Nave app of your choice; 5) Find your route.

South of Seoul Search

Paste Address into Nav App and off you go.

Naver Maps works in a very similar way to Kakao Maps except that it has a bit more English, additional images to help you know you arrived at the right place, etc. We also use this one a lot. We don't feel like you can really go wrong with either. We aren't going to repeat the points above, just give you some screen shots to see how the two compare. We will get more into the details of both of these apps in future posts.

Sample route

Sample Bus Route Info
Honestly folks, KakaoMaps and NaverMaps are a true sources of freedom in Korea. They connect you to the community and the life here in ways that Google and WAZE simply can't. We know it feels good and comfortable to use WAZE and Google at the beginning, but you will find making the effort to transition to Kakao or Naver will make your life so much better. Just jump in, start clicking around, and find your way to freedom!