Saturday, August 05, 2006

8 Saunas and Soggy Veggies

We arrived from Glasgow last night for the whole family to be together for the first time in over two months. A gruelling 26 hour journey door to door and straight into our serviced apartment which overlooks a view of the Han river and the business district of Seoul.

Kids were awake from 2.30am to 4.30am and we finally woke at 10 this morning. Straight off to see our new house which is full of packing boxes of the people moving out. Very happy with our new abode which has plenty of space for all of us and a cute garden.

Then off to our new sports club, the Seoul Club, which is a smart marble-lined club house complete with indoor and outdoor pool, a gym, squash and tennis courts and different restaurants and bars. We had a good lunch (for 50 dollars - a far cry from the costs of the British Club in Bangkok where it is rare to spend more than 20 bucks during the whole day) then went for a swim.

Afterwards we all went for our showers and entered the world of Korean personal hygiene. The shower rooms are replete with places to scrub every last scrap of skin from your body - three different temperature soaking pools, a huge sauna, rows of showers and a large sitting shower room. Here you use a small plastic stool to sit and shower and soap and scrub yourself all over. Everyone is naked, there is no concept of private changing here, but strictly single sex with children over 60 months of age banned from the opposite sex's changing area.

Members take small plastic baskets of lotions and potions to aid with their ablutions and then move into the carpeted changing area to dry their hair, moisturise everywhere and generally make sure that all is clean and dandy before venturing outside again. Not used to all this equipment it took the girls and I over 40 minutes to finish beautifying ourselves, but we were all smelling gorgeous as we emerged to find husband had been waiting for nearly half an hour!

From the Seoul Club to the Hannam Supermarket - billed as THE supermarket for expats living in Seoul. This reminded me of a schol ski trip to Bulgaria about 20 years ago when we were allowed to venture out of our hotel to dispose of our spending money in the local supermarket - at the time it only sold chocolate-coated cherries, cherry brandy and fresh cucumbers!

The impact of moving somewhere as unusual as Seoul came home as we cruised the small aisles of "expat-friendly" products (most of which appeared to come from CostCo). The cheese selection is repulsive - fake Brie, processed cheese "party" cubes and American "cheddar" imitations. Meats consisted of over-priced, old cuts of Australian imported beef and some sad packs of salami. Vegetables were wilting packs of lettuce (sold by the leaf not attached to the heart), soggy aubergines and some bruised bananas. Colgate toothpaste really is six dollars per tube.

I came to Seoul with 12 tins of Illy expresso coffee packed among my clothes, some balsamic vinegar and three pots of Marmite (essential materials for expat living!). Next time I go home, I will not pack clothes, but instead will travel with a large cool box and bring back Camembert, delicious breakfast museli mixes, smoked fish of all descriptions and even some fresh vine-grown tomatoes.

I left the not-so-super market with a head buzzing with plans to grow herbs in my laundry room, tomatoes in pots inside the living room and wondering where I can buy wheat flour to make bread. Looks like we might have to plough up our lawn and start a market garden!