Wednesday April 1, 2015
We were welcomed at the airport by Mr. Ha and a bouquet of roses, and then driven from the airport at Incheon to our apartment in Hwaseong, about 1 1/2 hours southwest of the heart of Seoul. Our home for the coming month is great! From the 24th floor of the Magellan “Office-tell” (Office-tells are places where people live and work), we look south on a hilly green park just beginning to pop with pink and yellow, and beyond that to a battilion of soaring white apartment and office buildings, hundreds of them. Further you can see farmland and the gentle ridge of surrounding mountains. Quite a view!
Our apartment is one big room with floor-to-ceiling windows on two full sides and a bathroom. There’s a kitchen area with sink, frig, freezer, Nespresso coffee maker and stove, but no oven. (No need to cook, really, with every kind of food you’d ever want just out the front door.) There’s a clothes washer/dryer and a TV which gets local Korean channels. And Wifi! Yes!Everything about the apartment is smart – smart toilet, smart screen controls for the lights, and a front door that locks like a vault and chimes when you open and close it with your keycard. Lots of modular storage space. Not sure we are as smart as our apartment as we have yet to figure out the fine points of the air conditioning, and of course instructions are in Korean.
Our first foray into dining in the neighborhood with Mr. Ha was better than we imagined, considering we are “in the country” in comparison to the metropolis of Seoul (Seoul’s population is 10 million, Hwaseong’s is 500,000). Our first meal was at a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Bay, right across the street. Other offerings look equally tempting; we could spend a month trying a new place each night. We are in a very new part of Seoul – buildings sprouted about 15 years ago, and some areas nearby are even newer. The dwellers in the towering apartment houses and office-tells have everything at their fingertips, from Thai massage parlors to Japanese sushi to French baguettes and of course, Korean barbeque and (smacking good) Korean chicken. There is public art and there are green spaces – and ah, the forsythia, the city’s official flower, is in bloom!
NOTE on April 18th: It took us 18 days to figure out how to tell people where we are actually living here in Korea. We’ve been saying, to cab drivers for example, that we llive in Hwaseong (which is more like a giant county). That is not the kind of information which gets you home! We are living in Dongtan, a new neighborhood in Hwaseong. The name Dongtan doesn’t appear in our address; it’s just another one of those things that you are supposed to know. Hwaseong has 4 towns (eup), 3 townships (myeon) and 10 neighborhoods (dong). Each eup and myeon is further divided into villages (ri). To complicate things even more, they keep building more neighborhoods and giving them the same name (Dongtan 2, Dongtan 3, Dongtan 4).
A lot of people will eventually know about these neighborhoods, however, because Universal Studios is scheduled to open a theme park in Hwaseong in 2016 – the biggest Universal Studios anywhere. (Four times the size of the largest one.)