Saturday, 27 August 2016

Living in Seoul 101: Looking For An Apartment

For non-locals, hunting for a 'home away from home' is probably one of the most difficult things to do when settling in Seoul, unless you have your employer do that for you.

When I arrived in Seoul years ago, my employer booked me in a hotel for two weeks, the amount of time they probably thought I needed to find a new apartment.

When renting an apartment in Korea, you will need a Korean real estate agent to finalize the lease contract between you (the lessee) and your landlord. Luckily, my colleague, who settled in Seoul a few months before I arrived, recommended his realty agent and she was able to assist me. It only took us one morning to find an apartment. Ronie, the name of my female realty agent, drove me to three prospective apartment buildings in the Yongsan District, and we were able to decide which one my jeonse allowance could afford.

In Korea, there are two types of housing rentals:

1. Jeonse, or key money deposit, is where you give your landlord this huge sum and you don't need to pay any monthly rent. The landlord probably would earn interest from your jeonse deposit.

2. Weolse, or monthly rental, is where you give your landlord a deposit, relatively smaller than jeonse, upon the commencement of your lease contract, and a monthly rent payment.

And with the two kinds of rental in Korea, these are the types of housing accommodations: 

  • apartments (in high-rise buildings), serviced apartments;
  • officetels (much like an office-turned-residence popular among singles);
  • one-room (a slightly smaller officetel popular among students); 
  • hanok (a traditional Korean house);
  • villa (usually a three or four-story house with each floor occupied by one family; and
  • private house (the most expensive accommodation which usually includes a garden and garage, and are mostly found in Itaewon and Seongbuk-dong areas). 
Two months ago, I had to look for a new apartment, and I thought of sharing the experience. Here are the steps I did:

1. Download the zzikbang app!
As recommended by my friend Tessa, I downloaded the zzikbang app and it was very helpful! The app is all in hangeul; so, a basic knowledge of Korean would be helpful.

2. Have a budget in mind
Know your budget for both the rental deposit and monthly rent. Also include in your budget the amount for kwanlibi 관리비 or the monthly charge for management and common area expenses. If it's an apartment building, you need to pay for the maintenance, electricity used for elevators and common areas, and for the salary of the ajussi assigned as security guard/door man.

3. Surf the virtual city using zzikbang
Surf the app for an apartment that's within your budget and is located in your preferred location. This is helpful if you have an idea about Seoul's geography and you know the area that you prefer.

Write down the 'candidates', listing the name of the apartment building, location, monthly rent, required deposit, size of the apartment, and amount of 관리비. 

By the way, always remember that the ones near a university or a subway station hosting two lines are always pricier.

4. Call the real estate agent for a visit to the apartment

After narrowing down your prospective apartments, call the real estate agent in charged of the property. The app allows you to make a call to the agent directly, and you may need a Korean friend in case the agent doesn't speak English.

5. When finalizing a lease contract, ask a Korean-speaking friend to join you

When I finally decided on the apartment, I asked my friend Veronica to help me with the negotiation and finalization of my lease contract with the real estate agent. 
Details such as the date of moving in, garbage disposal rules in the building, the apartment door code, bank accounts where you need to deposit monthly rent and kwanlibi and dates you're required to deposit must be discussed. And if you have questions about the neighborhood, for example, the nearest airport bus stops, supermarkets and hospital, you can always ask the real estate agent.

Upon signing of the lease contract, I paid the required deposit and the realty agent fee. It's always an option if you want to pay the monthly rent in advance.

Having a real estate agent in finalizing your contract helps protect you, the lessee, as well as the lessor. There are stories where foreigners in Seoul get duped by some landlords, or people posing as landlords. My real estate agents are an elderly couple who seemed to have been in the business for decades. The first time I walked into their office, I immediately sensed their helpfulness even though I was conversing with them in my basic Korean; I gave them a pack of dried mangoes during that visit.

6. Contact a small moving company
Unlike my friend Marissa and her family, I didn't need to get a big moving company. I asked Miss Katherine Corteza, the director of the Itaewon Global Center, for a list of their recommended moving companies and requested a Korean friend to call them. I didn't have big furnitures, only a table and a few chairs, and personal effects, which were moved in 12 boxes. The two ajussi movers were very efficient and it only took a morning to transport my Seoul life from Yongsan-gu to Dongdaemun-gu.

You have to set the date of your move, and the time of day you expect them. The best time is actually on Saturday or Sunday morning when there's no traffic, or cars moving around your neighborhood as the truck may have to block an alley near your building.

But if you have really few things, you may just have to ask a friend to help you carry things to the new apartment in a cab, or a friend's car. Two Korean friends actually offered, but I didn't want to bother them.

But before moving, you have to clean the new apartment. In my case, the real estate agent recommended cleaners to clean, sanitize and prepare the apartment before I moved in. I paid a reasonable amount for the service. I thought I'd rather leave it to the professionals to do the cleaning.

7. Register your new postal address
Once you're settled, you have to visit the community center, or in my case, the Dongdaemun District Office to register myself. I brought my passport and my alien registration card (ARC), filled up a form and in about 15 minutes, I was officially a happy citizen of the Dongdaemun District! I didn't have to visit the immigration office. The staff at the district office simply annotated my new address on my ARC.

I also had to change my registered address for my bank accounts, credit cards, National Pension Service, National Health Insurance, and the Korean Red Cross. I may have to visit Costco as well for the change.

                    *  *  *  *  *

I have now happily settled in my new apartment, enjoying the incredible view from my window! In Hannam-dong, I only saw the peak of Gwanaksan and the neighbor's rooftop. Here, without any tall building next to us, I can see the Lotte World Tower, Namsan and Seoul Tower, a few buildings of Gangnam, and the Dongdaemun shopping district! My new neighborhood deserves a separate blog!

Monday, 8 August 2016

A Pinoy At The Movies: Jason Bourne

These Jason Bourne series have always been a hit because, one, who doesn't love conspiracies? 

Two, the action scenes raise your adrenalin levels to post-triple-shot-espresso-coffee!

Three, the story brings you to multi-continental locations!

Four, these Bourne Girls (as opposed to Bond Girls) are smart and their lines actually always have sense. Ha-ha-ha!  

Five, you have a superhuman who doesn't need a cape or supernatural powers. He only needs amnesia. Ha-ha-ha!

But perhaps, the best reason behind its popularity is Matt Damon, the very likable and humble Hollywood superstar who doesn't get himself involve in scandals or tabloid stories. He is just a good actor who makes good movies!

In this latest Bourne movie, Jason, in his search for his identity, finally got bits and pieces of his memory while dodging CIA operatives and assassin's bullets. And he still thinks and moves like a trained assassin himself, even though he now survives on punching in illegal fight clubs.

Julia Stiles, who's also a very good actress, reunites with Bourne in Greece. Nicky Parsons, Stiles' character in the series, was his contact in Paris, while posing as a student. Nicky, in this installment, however, wasn't able to dodge a bullet. 

While the movie amazed us with these outrageously choreographed action scenes in Athens, Berlin, London, and finally in Las Vegas, at the end of it, were all the killing and damaged transportation equipment worth it, considering the only thing he learned in the end was that his own dad set him up to be Jason Bourne

I guess, from his point of view, it was. After all, for us to find peace of mind, don't we always need closure? Or in his case, finally knowing who his dad was and why his dad was killed. And killing his dad's assassin in Las Vegas was probably just a bonus ending. His dad's killer was played by Vincent Cassel, who, in Ocean's Thirteen, stole fake diamonds in Las Vegas. Mr. Cassel probably likes shooting in Vegas.

Last month, I saw Matt Damon and Alicia Vikander when they came to Seoul to promote this movie. Although Alicia may be an Oscar winner for The Danish Girl, she sounded like a robot in this movie with a boring presence. 

Other actresses in the Bourne series always had presence: Franka Potente, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen and Rachel Weisz. Vikander looked lifeless in this movie.

And what to do with Tommy Lee Jones? He may have been very good in The Fujitive, but here, his wrinkles were distracting and his character was missing some sinister aura, much like Robert Redford was in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Perhaps, his character would have been more interesting if it was a woman. Hmm.

I guess this is the last time we would see Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. He got his memory back and some revenge in the process. And unless he renews his soon-to-expire multiple passports, he may have a difficulty leaving the continental US, unless Jeremy Renner helps him out. If you saw Bourne Legacy, Renner was able to make passports for him and Rachel Weisz from a motel room, and both were able to fly to Manila! 

So, what's next, Jason?

Friday, 5 August 2016

Bourne Celebrity: Matt Damon in Seoul!

                    (My panini merienda before 
                     heading to Times Square)

Summers are never complete without summer blockbusters. And this summer is more than complete because Matt Damon, the actor, brought Jason Bourne, the movie, to Seoul!

         (Time Square's main hall full of fans)
   (By the presumably newly vacuumed red carpet)

When I read the news that Matt Damon had arrived in Seoul to promote the latest installment of his Bourne series, I immediately asked around where he would show up for a public show-and-tell.

Luckily, I learned that he was meeting his fans at Times Square mall in the populous Yeondeungpo District in Seoul, together with Alicia Vikander, his co-star in the movie. 
                 (A fan with a message for Matt)

So, on July 8, exactly four Fridays ago today, I headed down to the same mall where Angelina Jolie had her SALT premiere years back. Matt was scheduled to arrive at 7:30 PM. I had to get some merienda that afternoon to avert any starvation while waiting for the two Academy Award winners. Well, Jason Bourne could withstand hunger; I could not. Ha-ha-ha! So, I dropped by a cafe for some panini just in case.

When I got there, a lot of fans were already lining up outside and inside the hall. I decided to join those indoors enjoying the air conditioned red carpet and chatted with two Korean girls who came all the way from Suwon just to see Matt Damon. They actually arrived at 2PM and had been standing their ground since then. I told them, by the time Matt arrived, they would have been standing for five hours! What dedication!
             (I wonder if Jason Bourne could 
          take down Matt's bodyguards in one go)
 (Matt's assistant pointing to the fan with a message)

And around 7:30, the crowds outside started screaming, signalling the arrival of the Hollywood A-listers! There was a big screen inside the hall showing the scene outside, and we could see that, even with the scorching temperature, Matt and Alicia were gamely engaging their fans in selfies and autograph-signing! Alicia was wearing a strapless gown, in which she looked comfortable, but Matt was wearing a jacket! And once he got indoors, he was already sweating like he just ran a Jason-Bourne-under-four-minute-mile! 

His assistants immediately scampered to find some tissue, but I noticed none of them thought of bringing! Ha-ha-ha! I think it was an executive of the local film distributor who took out from his pocket some tissue paper. I would have offered mine, but I would need something in return. A signed movie poster! Ha-ha-ha! 
         (The fan's message catches Matt's attention)
         (Matt taking a photo of the fan's message)

As a typical meet-greet-and-invite, Matt and Alicia encouraged everyone to watch their latest film, and some lucky fans were able to go up the stage for winning some competition. While the Korean emcee, Matt and Alicia were in formal get-ups worthy of a red carpet, the lady interpreter was wearing sneakers and looked like she was on her to climb a mountain but was just interrupted by this Matt Damon meet-and-greet event. Ha-ha-ha!
        (Alicia and Matt about to be joined onstage 
        by fans who won a competition for the film)
           (Matt with some guys who are probably 
       from Universal Pictures, although I wondered 
          who was the guy in some military uniform)

Although it was memorable seeing one of my favorite Hollywood actors, this was even more fun for the fans around my spot as he took out his smartphone and took a photo of a fan's message for him. The fan was actually standing next to me and I already saw his placard earlier, telling him to make sure he raised it high up for Matt to see, especially with the huge crowd around. Matt definitely made the fan's day.

And speaking of fan, not the human fan, but the fanning fan, I got two Jason Bourne fans to bring home in case I needed to cool down as I walked to the Yeongdeungpo Station. 

But before I left Times Square, I had to grab dinner as it was a long way home to the Yongsan District. And as I munched down my burger, I was thinking that it's not every day that you see a Hollywood actor. But then if you are a Hollywood fan, the human fan, and not the fanning fan, you should always find ways to see them in the flesh whenever they're in your neighborhood.
          (Alicia and Matt joining me for a burger)

Next stop, Jason Bourne, the movie!