Monday, April 17, 2017

Seoul Survivial Tips: Hammock Cafe

Going to Seoul is filled with wonderful delights, beautiful memories, and - for me - exhaustion. All the new things, the walking, the planning, and general busy pace of city life makes me want to curl up and die... I mean take an afternoon nap. Thankful, in Korea I have the option of just taking a rest. It's one of my favorite parts of life here. 

This weekend I decided to try a new place that I've not visited before. It happens to be located in one of my favorite areas of the city not far from the palaces, in the middle of adorable coffee shops, galleries, and artisan shops.

Located on the third floor, the Nazzzam hammock cafe is a soothing escape. The owner (who speaks near perfect English) maintains a quiet and relaxed atmosphere where all you have to do is sit your butt in a hammock and fall asleep. She even brings a blanket and covers you up, adds privacy curtains if needed, and makes you a nice cup of tea when it's time to go. It was the PERFECT amount of rest to help me get the most out of my trip. I can't wait to go back.

Pro Tips: 
When you arrive be sure to take your shoes off, put on some slippers, and then tuck your shoes in one of the bags hanging by the door. 
Closes earlyish, between 5-7pm This is best for grabbing a nap before or after lunch.

General Information:
Cost: 6,000 won cash for an hour of rest, includes a cup of tea.
Address Korean: 서울시 종로구 계동 115-1 3층 
Address Romanized: (3rd floor, 115-1 Gye-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul)

For those who are unfamiliar with Seoul, you can easily get to the hammock cafe from Pyeongtaek:
  1. Take the bus from Songtan or Pyeongtaek to Nambu
  2. Catch the Orange Line going north 
  3. Exit at Anguk station and walk from there. 
  4. Use a maps app on your phone for walking directions.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Now Booking: Bus to the Daejeon Barefoot Festival

TICKETS: 18,000 won roundtrip
Sunday May 14th, 2017 

Let's get our feet dirty and celebrate the coming summer. South of Seoul;s and Bundang Social Club are teaming up to sponsor a bus to the Daejeon Barefoot Festival leaving from Jeongja Station at 7:50 AM and the back side of Pyeongtaek Station at 8:50AM. This is one of South of Seoul's favorite spring events. The path is stunning and the mud delightful. 

The festival has a great variety of fun activities, including traditional music, dancing, walking barefoot through tranquil mountains, fun performances, hand crafts, a 7km walk, and even a 13km "marathon!"

This trip is not a tightly planned affair. You will be on your own during your time at the Festival. No one is telling you what to do or where to go. Just freely enjoy yourself and your time in the forest. 

First Annual Earth Day Pyeongtaek

Our stretch of road.
We are excited to announce that we are supporting the wonderful blogger Sig Flips the Table in presenting Pyeongtaek's First Annual Earth Day on Saturday April 22nd. The City of Pyeongtaek has been fabulously supportive of this event and will be providing free trash bags to all participants. They can be collected at Pyeongtaek International Exchange Foundation in Paengseong or Songtan. Read Sig's the full article HERE: to learn the details and then join a local Earth Day team or sponsor a team of your own.

Team SOS will spend the afternoon cleaning a section of country road that runs between Songtan and Paengseong. This stretch of road is rural but also heavily trafficked by US military personnel and local fisherman. It's a beautiful area with excellent pick-nick locations so it should be a lovely day. If you would like to join us we would love to have you. We will start from the public parking lot located across from the large power plant. Just send us a message at southofseoul(at) so we know how much stuff to bring.

Video blogger On Your Mark World will also be there to document this very cool event and make sure everyone knows that they missed. Looking forward to seeing all the photos and hashtags on the 22nd. Let's get out there and clean!!

When: 10am
Where: 평택시 오성면 안화리 47-3 
Lunch Plan: Let's have a picnic together. Everyone bring something to share.
What you need to bring:
  • Work gloves
  • Water
  • Clothes that can get dirty
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • A snack to share
  • A food item to share for lunch
What SOS will bring:
  • We will pickup the bags from PIEF for the group
  • We will bring extra water
  • Items need for setting up the picnic (eating utensils, cups, plates, etc)

Please share the posters below and the Sig Flips the Table's Blog with as many people as you can. This is our chance to show Pyeongtaek residents "Thank you" for their warm and understanding hospitality by pitching in and helping make the area shine.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Useful Phrases for Pet Owners

Always remember, if you don't feel comfortable speaking, you can simply show the server your phone and point the the phrase you need. You can also save these images to your phone for emergencies.

Although ideally we recommend visiting a vet with strong English skills, we also understand that this is often impossible. We also understand that even when a vet speaks English or an expat speaks Korean, misunderstandings still occur. We have compiled this list to empower pet owners to do their best for their fur babies in a stressful situation.

Korean Translation provided by Pyeongtaek Korean Tutors. One-on-one Korean language tutoring with a Certified Korean as a Foreign Language teacher.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Jjajangmyeon / Black Sauce Noodles

Korean Chinese food is similar to American Chinese food in the fact that neither are Chinese food. They are booth abstract interpretations on a theme. There is nothing traditionally "authentic" about either style, but both are beautiful creations if you just let them be who they are and don't try to understand them as Chinese food.

One of the most popular Korean Chinese dishes is called jjajangmyeon (짜장면) and it's like the hamburger in the US - it's essentially fast food, it's everywhere and comes in varying levels of quality. Personally, I don't often eat this dish because - when made poorly - it gives me a stomach ache. However, when it's done right it darn taste. Once again, it mirrors the hamburger.

Recently, by sheer luck, I found - arguably - the best jjajangmyeon (짜장면) joint in town. Not just because the black sauce noodles are top-notch, but because the dumplings and shrimp friend rice are addictive as well. For weeks now I've been craving this place and fighting the urge to stop everyday on the way home from work. The only thing that has kept me away is that I already had plans or my fridge was full of food.

The jjajang was smooth, not bitter and not sweet. They also didn't go too crazy with the onions and cut up the other vegetables perfectly. Often the way the vegetables are cut is one of my biggest complaints, but here it's done right. They also treat the noodles very well: cooked perfectly, not too oily, and no clumping.

However, if you don't want noodles - the item we most highly recommend is the shrimp fried rice (새우볶음밤)which comes with a side of jjajang sauce. It's the best of all worlds. This fried rice isn't oily, the shrimp is cooked like a dream, and it tastes bright.

Also, if you go hungry you can get some of the best homemade dumplings in the area. Since most jjajang joints are focused on the fast food nature of the business, their dumplings are straight from the freezer. Great for the bottom line but not particularly delicious. These dumplings are handmade and filled with flavor.

Despite the fact this place isn't particularly beautiful and it's located in a factory that's awkward to get to - it's still totally worth it.

You can find this restaurant in the South of Seoul App.

(We chose to keep the address information and WAZE information in the app. This is done in order to make sure that information is current and only needs updated in one place when it changes. The South of Seoul App can be downloaded from Google Play and Apple App Store. We do not do this to be annoying. We do this for accuracy.)

Friday, March 31, 2017

Useful Phrases for the Pantry

Important Western Ingredients and their Hangul doppelgangers. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What makes a good mom and pop restaurant?

This meal was filled with 정 and deliciousness. 
Recently I was asked this questions, "What makes a good mom & pop restaurant in Korea?" When I first arrived here it was one of the most perplexing things for me and I never thought I would ever be good at it. Everything looked the same and I couldn't deduce what was good and what was bad. I felt helpless when it came time to pick a place to eat. My solution, just start walking into any place I saw and just eating there.  After years of this I've finally developed that sixth sense that tells me a shop is going to be magic. It feels good to have crossed that barrier of entry.

Of course, trying to put this into words is harder than it sounds. Today I'm going to do my best give a few pointers that might help you get more comfortable deciding where to eat.

1.  Are their hand written signs in the window for special dishes? I've found that busy windows full of specials are a good sign that the people in the kitchen care about making delicious things and not just a menu list. They are cooking for season and not just what's pre-decided. These specials are usually fantastic as well.

2. How busy is the restaurant at meal times? The number of cars in the parking lot or the number of people in seats is always a good sign. Especially if those seats are filled with grandmas and grandpas. If the seats are only filled with construction workers than maybe it's just cheap.

3. Is the word 고향 (hometown) in the name? Mom & Pop restaurants offering hometown cooking really do have a higher rate of deliciousness and better side dishes. Also, if they specifically mention a region of Korea.

4. It's not a brand or a chain. Although many brands and chains are individually owned and can have great things, their side dishes are often boring and lack a distinct flavor. To find chains or brands that do have a good mom and pop flavor, refer to rule number one.

5. Lot's of side dishes in the pictures. Side dishes are my jam. I LOVE a good 백반 (look for this and order this) option. This means that the meal is primarily side dishes.

6. Boxes of fresh veggies piled around. When I see piles of cabbage, radish, and greens stacked outside the shop or just inside the door, I know it's going to be a good meal.

7.  Warn out but also clean. Great places often look tired, but also really loved. Families often grow up in these restaurants. They are as much homes as they are businesses.

We aren't done yet though, once you have found what feels like the perfect place - how do you know the food is top notch? Let's look at that now:

1. Rice. This is a BIG deal.  It also should never be dry or taste stale. The rice that comes to your table should be so delicious you can enjoy it by itself. The best restaurants also don't serve just white rice. They serve bean rice or a mixed rice because it's more nutritionally balanced. No self-respecting mom and pop shop servings bad rice. This is often where restaurants near the military bases let you down. They buy the cheap rice and it truly ruins the meal.

2. Lettuce. It shouldn't be wilted and it should be bitter. If you are in a meat restaurant where the lettuce is sagging, that's just a no.  It's a real deal breaker for me.

3. Vegetable quality. The veggies should be fresh and rich in flavor. In the states we are now used to our fruits and veggies being flavorless, but that should happen here. Carrots should be sweet, cucumbers fresh and juicy, tomatoes sweet and tangy, etc. If there are bowls of things everywhere being washed, you've nailed it. It's going to be great.

4. Depth of flavor. The broths shouldn't be one dimensional. The majority should be dynamic and carry a wide variety for flavors. There are simpler dishes, but you usually add dynamic flavors to them on your own to bring out their full personality. They are like a blank canvas with the base paint added but you get to do the rest.

5. Diversity of side dishes. Pyeongtaek is bad about this, but ideally you want there to be diversity in your side dishes. A balance of nutrition and taste. If there are three dishes it's ideal if they aren't all similar. Sometimes I let this pass when the main dish is extraordinary but I'm always a little bitter about it.

6. You eat it and even though you don't understand it you still think, "OMG! Where have you been all my life?" 

7. Finally, beyond the food you want to feel 정 (Jeong). Which sounds super crazy, but after you are here for a bit you start to know what it means and how important it is. It's a particular feeling. A sense of warmth, a kindness extended across the divide. It might be a soda given as service. A special side dish brought out after they see you eat all the others. It's usually reserved,but emotionally palatable. It's also a part of the Korean experience and once you start to see it or recognize it you know you are on the road to understand not just the food but also the hearts of Korea.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pyeongtaek Summer Beach Bus Details & Dates

We are really SUPER excited about offering 6 buses, leaving on select Saturdays, headed to beaches South West of Pyeongtaek. Bus travel is wonderful because you don't have to stress about traffic, worry about driving home tired, drinking beer, etc. They are also surprisingly affordable here so it's high time we gave this a try. The beaches where we are going are far more remote than most you will visit in Korea so they offer way more peace and relaxation than places like Busan.  

Going to these beaches is not for those who are looking for an experience just like the US or something like that. Korea is it's own world and it's a beautiful delightful world that we love living in because of these unique things. It's not for folks who are scared to be alone in a foreign country. Nobody will be holding your hand. It is for those that love peaceful adventures filled with sand and BBQ.
Dates                      Seats      Beach Cost
June 10, 2017         45         Mallipo  18,000won/$17 CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS
June 17, 2017         45         Yeonpo  18,000won/$17  CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS
July 8, 2017            45         Mallipo  18,000won/$17  CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS
July 22, 2017          45         Kaloom  18,000won/$17 CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS
August 5, 2017      45          Mallipo  18,000won/$17  CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS
August 26, 2017    45          TBD       18,000won/$17

******To pay in US Dollars: ******
OPTION 1: send the money to (using paypal is far too expensive. Skrill keeps ticket costs affordable. Also Paypal has recently stopped working with many or all Korean banks so it's no longer an option as of last week.)
OPTION 2: Go in person and leave cash with SAM at Attractive Coffee near Camp Humphreys. His shop is in the SOS app.

******To pay in Korean Won:******

OPTION 1: transfer directly to KB account 468601-04-118306 Name: Rivers-Woods
OPTION 2: Drop off cash with Sam at Attractive Coffee in Anjeongri. He has kindly offered to help with this. His shop is in the SOS app.

######## AFTER YOU PAY: ###########
Send an email to with the names of passengers paid for, contact phone number, and total amount paid. This will help us make sure our records are accurate and nothing gets missed.

Pyeongtaek is close to a number of delightful beaches, yet they are surprisingly hard to get to because there are no direct express buses. I want to change that. Since many people in Pyeongtaek are interested in going to the beach, but few have cars, I’m going to help by scheduling 6 buses headed to different beaches in Taen starting in June and finishing in August. I’m not a travel company. I don’t want to be a travel company. I just want folks to have options.
Nope, it’s not a tour. It’s a bus to the beach. There won’t be interpreters, no hand holding, no special stops, or pre-made meals. The bus driver picks us up, drops us off, and we explore the area. You are going to love it. Bring all the things you need to just sit back and relax. They will not drive us to lots of different places along the way. We go from Pyeongtaek to the beach and back.
Anyone can go on the bus if they pay for a ticket. It’s for families, single travelers, teachers, military, friends, etc. You can be from Songtan, Anjung, Paengseong, Suwon, Dongtan, Yongin, etc. It’s also not just for foreigners. Bring all your friends no matter where they are from. It’s about having a beautiful time together in the summer. If you have a group that wants to go together (language meetup, church group, kids whatever, etc) just be sure to buy your tickets early so everyone can go.
There will be three stops: Songtan Station, Pyeongtaek Station, and in front of Camp Humphreys walking gate. You will need to be there on-time. I am trying to make it as easy as possible for everyone involved.
No, there are not. The bus costs a base amount. I’ve based the tickets on that price. I’m not a tour company. I’m not affiliated with the military. I’m not affiliated with anyone who gives me money to help make this all happen. So prices, are prices, are prices.
The beaches on the west coast of Korea tend to be shallow with very small surf and often no surf. This makes them really fun for kids because they can play like crazy in the water. When it rains or there is a storm at sea it will affect the clarity of the water. No way around that. It’s how the ocean works. Over the last few years we have seen clear blue waters as well as silty / muddy waters. Just depends on the weather around the time you visit. The beaches are sometimes a mix of rocky and sandy. There tends to be lovely tide pools and lots of little crabs to chase around. This is not Hawaii. It’s not South Florida. It’s not Mexico. It’s not a comparison game. I am sure that at some point in your life you went to someplace totally different than this and it was so much better. We aren’t going to the beach because it’s the best beach to ever exist in the world. We are going because beaches are awesome and these are the ones we have.
There are always restrooms, places to rent floaties, a snack shop, maybe a restaurant, and often showers. 95% of the food is Korean since this area is not heavily visited by tourists due to the lack of public transportation. If you don’t like Korean food, be sure to pack a picnic for the day. However, there will always be a convenience store for drinks, chips, water, etc. If we get there and you did not bring food and also don't like Korean food, this was your own personal choice to go hungry. Korea has done nothing wrong by having it's own food at beaches visited by Koreans.
If there is a massive storm coming in and we know it 7 days before, we will cancel the trip and issue refunds. However, it the weather arrives at the last minute and we can’t cancel, the bus will be rerouted either to cool, unique location that’s fun in a storm. The alternate locations will be given in advance. Since we can’t control the weather and the bus is booked, we might as well go do something fun somewhere dry.
Due to the fact I’m not a travel agent and I’m just renting some buses to make life in Pyeongtaek more fun for the community (I have a car and can go on my own so this really is for the general community), the rules have to be pretty strict. If the bus isn’t reasonably full 7 days before the trip it will be cancelled. That means you must cancel 10 days before the trip if want a refund. Seriously folks, don’t joke around and leave folks hanging.
Since I’m going to personally be responsible for paying for this bus, if you can’t go the day before I can’t give you a refund. What I recommend doing is finding somebody to take your spot. No, I can’t find somebody to take your spot for you. I literally have zero extra time in my day after coordinating everything so it’s going to have to be a group effort of personal responsibility to make this Beach Bus thing happen.
CAN YOU HELP ME WITH (fill in the blank question on the trip)?
No, not really. I will go on as many of these trips as I can. However, I’m not going as a tour guide, translator, or as information. I’m just another person going to the beach to relax. So, although I will be helping getting passengers loaded and making sure we don’t leave folks behind, that’s the extent of it. Due to the fact all the South of Seoul stuff has to happen around my full-time job, I have to be very strict about how things operate. I can manage the workload as long as everyone involved has a strong sense of community and personal responsibility. I don't have endless time to dedicate to this so please read everything before you ask questions. 

When I can’t make these trips there will be a designated person to contact who will be able to work with the drivers and be sure you get from Point A to Point B to Point A. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Anatomy of Lotte Mart

Everyone knows that box stores like Emart, Homeplus, and Lotte Mart are where you go for all your foreigner specific grocery shopping needs - but do you REALLY know everything they have to offer? Do you realize how super easy they can make your life?

These facilities are true one-stop-lifestyle-shops that will make a person's life (especially a parent's life) in Korea extremely simple and efficient. Yes, the first time you use some of these services it might feel uncomfortable because of the language barrier, but the pay off is immense when you can do nearly all the important stuff in one building that includes free parking.

Let's look at Lotte Mart in Pyeongtaek to give you an idea of how efficient these facilities are. This is an overview. I've not detailed prices or visited each place and tried their services individually, mostly because I tend to visit the stores closer to my home. However, Lotte Mart is comprehensive and easy to access so it deserves the attention so here we go.

Family Health Clinic
If you aren't feeling well they have a family clinic tucked away behind the escalators in the basement of the Pyeongtaek Lotte Mart. It offers pediatrics, ear nose throat, and internal medicine. It's family themed, but anyone can feel free to stop in for a quick checkup. Truly amazing.

After you are finished with the clinic, you can run upstairs and fill your prescription at the pharmacy. Also, as a generally fyi, you can also pickup affordable, over the counter birth control with no prescription necessary (6,000-10,000 won). In Korea, standard birth control is not Dr prescribed and it's extremely affordable.

In the basement, next door to the clinic you will find a small, efficient little Daiso where you can save that money. Daiso is life.

Are you looking for some electronics, a new refrigerator,or a heated blanket? This popular electronics shop has a small store with rice cookers, pressure cookers, printer ink, cell phone chargers, and HDMI cables and many other things you need to stay connected.

Optical Store
Maybe your glasses just broke, your prescription is outdated, or you need new contacts? Just stop in and pickup some replacements. In Korea your eye exam is free when you get new frames or lenses and your glasses can be finished in about 15 minutes. You can also usually find a lovely pair for glasses for around 60,000 - 80,000 won so get two pairs if you feel like it. Sometimes prescription lenses can take up to 7 days, sometimes you can go home with them same-day.

Culture Center
One of the coolest parts of box stores are these centers that run affordable programs for adults and kids. I personally have often taken dance classes in these centers because they have parking, classes in the evenings, and prices that fit my budget. For parents and kids they offer a plethora of programs that often including pre-school or daycare type programs. The program catalog is in Korean, but join a language exchange and you can usually find a lovely friend to help translate it. Seriously, these centers are awesome. I used these programs long before I spoke Korean (friends helped me signup for things, or the lady at the front desk walked me through signup via google translate). Everyone was always welcoming and helpful and (in may case) there was always somebody who spoke some English in class who helped me keep up.

Detailing and Car Wash
If your car is a hot mess like mine often is, you can leave it to get cleaned up while you shop. It's a perfect use of your time and keeps the ride looking like new. It's just sitting around collecting dust while you shop anyway.

Auto Mechanic
Maybe your car needs a new battery, the oil changed, brakes checked, or fluids topped off. You can leave it with the mechanic while you grab your groceries for the week or pickup a new pair of glasses.

If you are like me and often lose keys, this is a handy place to know about.

Dry Cleaner
I think we can all agree that dry cleaning is annoying, but it takes out the sting when it's this easy to drop-off and pick-up. You will be coming and going from here anyway, why not just keep it simply and use the dry cleaners at your favorite mart?

Passport Photos
When you live abroad you need passport photos for everything. Maybe you have an appointment at immigration coming up or you are applying for a Chinese visa. You can solve that problem on your next grocery trip.

Some of us have fur babies and we need convenience as well. One of our dogs was fixed by a vet in a box store. It was affordable and worked out well. We also find it an easy place to pickup heart worm, tick meds, or special things we need for the puppies.

So, you've dropped off the car to get washed, the kids are in playcare, your glasses are ordered, you visited the ENT picked up your meds, picked up new heartworm for the dog, and dropped off the clothes at the cleaners.  Time to treat yourself. Why not get a manicure? It's here and you've got the time.

Haircuts and Styles
Maybe you don't need your nails done, but it's been a while since you have treated yourself to a haircut. Take the time to stop off and get a touch up. Usually these places are reasonably priced, modern, and often have happy-hour specials on cuts and colors.

Skincare Clinic
Maybe your hair and nails are on point, but your skin isn't looking so bright. Maybe you need a facial. They have that here. A little google translate and you will be on your way to a fresher face.

Essential Oils
You have been a rockstar and accomplished more today than you thought humanly possible, but you are also exausted because there of the language barrier. Stop off at the essential oils shop and pickup something to sooth your mind and body. Essential oils are all the rage right now and you can get your fix at Lotte Mart. There may not be the selection you are used to back home, that can never be promised, but they have the greatest hits and that's what's important.

Book a Trip
Want a cheap trip to Thailand or a weekend escape to Jeju? You can find amazing deals with Korean travel agents. Why not see if they have a little something that fits your schedule and budget? Sure, there is a language barrier, but if you are adventurous sometimes you can save a lot of money this way.

So, next time you want to go and just get it all over with and don't want to drive all over town - just go to Lotte Mart. Only not on the second and fourth Sundays of the month when all stores of this type are closed. (Closed days are noted in the South of Seoul app)