Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Facts of Life

After living here for almost a year I can feel confident to spout out my own list about life here. Mine is going to be themed "The facts of Korea"

It is the kind of stuff you can't avoid no matter how hard you try. The stuff that is stitched into the culture. That on some days bother you and others you hardly notice. I will try my best to reproduce in words some of these experiences for you.
  1. Staring: You are going to get stared at no matter the color of your skin, size of your body or whatever. You are not Korean and that means you will get 2nd and 3rd glances.
  2. Culture Shock: Feel this the most at the beginning, but in reality it never goes away. Sometimes you still find yourself at odds with the culture.
  3. Not Everyone Speaks English: Let's face it you came to a different country to teach English, so people here haven't gotten it down perfectly. You might think that young kid behind the counter knows English, but usually not. So learn your Korean in some way.
  4. Food is cheap, but good quality and well seasoned food is expensive: Yes you can go get a kim bop roll for under 2,000 Won and feel good about yourself. But if you want to go out and get something gourmet or well-prepared in a familiar way than you must pitch in the big bucks. Yet there is a middle line here where some places cater to good familiar food for middle of the line prices. And some will likely argue this point.
  5. Your house is not a luxury condo near the beach: If it is than you are blessed. Fact is that it depends on how much your employer has to spend on your house. But a free shoebox is a free shoebox after all.
  6. Public Transportation is a snap: After a few trips on the subway you become comfortable enough to use it. You can follow the color lines on the wall half-awake and still make it home. If the subway isn't working for you than a bus can be taken easily. Taxis are prevalent and cheap.
  7. Curly Hair = Perm: If you have a curly haired head (like myself) than you will get the question "Perma?" And they will be in awe at the sight of a naturally curly head. But be careful you could be mistaken for an Ahjumma.
  8. Ahjumma's: For the most part they aren't a bad part of the culture. I have had several encounters with Ahjummas who smile at me and give me candy. But like everyone some people are having bad days. So if you run into an Ahjumma who is in a bad mood of course you are going to get burned in the process. They aren't going to go away no matter how hard you wish their generation would change.
  9. Ahjusshi's: Old middle-aged men with come-overs. Typically are drunken. You can smell them approaching your area. But not all of them are like this of course. They are just the older generation. Some are Dad's carrying their baby and 5 bags of groceries.
  10. Crowds: There are a lot of people here densely packed into Seoul and other cities. During peak hours of travel you can find yourself crammed in. If you are in a hot spot shopping area there are crowds. Getting over that lack of quiet space is a hard one but not impossible.
  11. High Heels and Fashion: You might as well give up trying or go broke in the process of catching up with the ladies here. But you can be inspired and even tickled pink with the choices.
  12. Ambiguity: You can never be entirely sure about the policies or procedures at work. In public you also can't be to sure about the price of things or what is going on. You learn to use your best judgement and go with the flow. If you are really smart you learn to use it to your advantage.
  13. Smells: Some may enjoy the smell of roasting pig flesh coming out of a restaurant while others will find this annoying. Walking past piles of garbage can entice unpleasant feelings too. Korea is a bit of a smelly place. Sometimes the aromas are nice and cozy other times alarming.
  14. Random Bathroom-ness: Don't be surprised if your TP can't go down the toilet. Or there isn't any TP at all. Or you have to squat. But they flush...right?
  15. Blaring Music: Outside shops and inside restaurants you will hear blaring pop music. A quiet solitary moment is cherished.
  16. Random "Hello's": Teens and College kids will randomly say hello to you and than run off into the distance, giggling all the way.
  17. Winter: You can't avoid it and it exists here. Sometimes feels like it is never going to end.
  18. Night life: It exists and lives in full throttle, however this blogger would not know of it fully.
  19. Mountains are big: I am going to end with this, because through all the facts of living here seeing the large granite mountains brings peace to life here. You can take in how tiny city life is compared to the breadth of nature here. So as a fact of life I think it is important to remember the entirety of Korea and all that it has to offer.
I am sure there are more and I hope these weren't too negative. I think as time passes you think of these things and want to write them down. If you have your own lemme know.


  1. My list is prtty similar but I've never thought of the ambiguity before. It's a good point ...

  2. Thanks Joy

    You've inspired me to come up with my own insights about Korea living.

  3. I kind of like it when Koreans randomly say hello/hi to me. It makes me feel accepted, even if they're just saying hi and walking along.

    When men say "I love you", though, that sort of throws me.

  4. No. 17 surprised me when November rolled around and the temperatures dropped from ridiculously hot to freezing over night.


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