January 18, 2011

Twenty Five Things I Like About Korea

OK, this is a kind if rehash, as I’ve blogged about Korea before. Last week, I wrote about 25 things that completely baffle me about Korea, so in the interests of fairness and balance, here are 25 things I actually like about the place.

  1. Safety. You can walk the streets day or night without fear of crime. (Unless you are Nick Petman, who is a one-man crime statistic.)

  2. Eating Out. So many restaurants here. They are everywhere, on every street corner. You fill your face and swig a beer for about a fiver.

  3. Korean BBQ. At these myriad restaurants, my favourite food is Korean BBQ. I won’t bore you with the Korean names for these, but you have a little gas hob on your table, they bring the meat out fresh, along with an array of side dishes (vegetables, leaves, salads) and dipping sauces, and you cook the meat yourself right there. Wrap your cooked meat in a leaf along with kimchi, garlic, or any of the dishes or sauces and insert-into-mouth whole. Amazing!

  4. Buddae Jiggae. Korean Army Camp Soup. After the Korean War meat was scarce, and locals began experimenting with U.S. Army surplus. This is a soup made with hot dog sausages and spam! Add mushrooms, onions, the obligatory kimchi and various other ingredients and spices. Hardly haute cuisine, but very tasty, and very cheap.

  5. Cheap cigarettes. I’m an on and off smoker. On right now, off last year. Cigarettes here are 2500 won a pack. That’s £1.25 each. Also, all cigarettes are the same price, no matter which brand.

  6. Cheap Beer. A 500cc (roughly a pint) of beer is about £1.50. Mostly lager, which suits me just fine.

  7. No chavs/moody groups of teenagers. Oi what you fucking looking at? Are you Polish? Did you call my pint a queer? You will never get randomly punched in Korea.

  8. Under Floor Heating. Toasty feet. Great!

  9. The Children. Somehow, and every Westerner I speak to here agrees, their kids are cuter than ours. Maybe because they all look so different to kids back home, maybe it’s just because they are that tiny bit smaller, I dunno, but the teeny-tots here are the cutest things you’ll ever see! They are adorable.

  10. Noraebang. Singing room. Get drunk, go and do karaoke with your friends in a private room. Sounds totally lame, but is actually great fun, though the getting drunk part is entirely essential.

  11. Cheap Utility Bills. Come on British Gas, how can my monthly gas bill over here be a tenth of what your bills were?

  12. Cheap Trains. Walk up, buy a ticket. All the same price. Don’t have to book a lifetime in advance to get cheaper tickets. Costs about a fifth of train travel in the UK.

  13. Cheap Taxis. Ending up 20 miles from home at 4am isn’t such an issue. A third of the cost of the UK taxis.

  14. No One is Fat. No one.

  15. European Frico Cheese Burgers from Lotteria. Possibly the best fast food burger on the planet. Lotteria is Korea’s version of McDonald’s or Burger King, but has a Korean twist to many of the burgers. The Frico Cheese one has the usual patty, salad, also a cheese/breadcrumb patty, some unknown sauces and olives! Scrumptious.

  16. My Boss. Top bloke. Friendly, helpful, cheerful, thoughtful.

  17. My Apartment. Many of us teachers over here are given a one room ‘studio flat’. A bedsit to my UK readers. In my first year here so was I. This year, for some unknown reason, my new school gave me a three-bedroomed twin-bathroomed flat on the 11th floor. I’ve got more cupboards than I’ve got stuff to put in them. Which is nice.

  18. Weather. Korea has four distinct seasons. I won’t name because they have same names as ours. OK, I will. Spring and autumn are like summer in the UK. Summer here is blisteringly hot, and winter is for skiing and making snowmen. In the summer it is hot every day, not like back home where it’s changeable every day. It’s never gloomy and overcast for a month. It’s always sunny, even in winter, even when it’s freezing, the sun is out.

  19. Being in Different Culture. Being in a different culture is, somewhat unsurprisingly, interesting. I never feel like I’m sludging through another gloomy depressing day. I wake up every morning on the other side of the world. And the sun is out. People still stare at me. A fascinating foreigner in a land where there aren’t many.

  20. High Speed Internet. Last week I downloaded a 750mb movie (The Usual Suspects) in 7 minutes flat. Beat that England!

  21. Mobile Phone Coverage Everywhere. On the subway, up a mountain, everywhere. They have some system called DMB which apparently cost a fortune to implement but means I can browse the internet, on my phone, 100 metres underground on a train. Great for the football scores.

  22. Table Service. Not everywhere, but many bars you just walk in and sit down. They have a buzzer/bell on the table and when you want something…bing bong!

  23. Free Bar snacks. You like popcorn and crisps? Free in most (non-western styled) bars, by the bowlful.

  24. Korean Girls’ Legs. Following on from the ‘no-fat’ entry above, and the fact that Korean ladies’ fashion is based almost entirely around one thing, very short skirts, I have to say that Korean ladies’ legs are, simply, great. Well done Korean ladies.

  25. Meeting Americans, Canadians, South Africans, Australians etc: Don’t do much of that back home. Mind you, I need a portable ‘urban dictionary’ when conversing with them, especially the Yanks. Kthxbi…

January 11, 2011

Tips and Tricks for Getting-By in Korea

These are tongue-in-cheek. I like Korea and the Korean people. As a Westerner, there are however a few ‘differences’ between the two cultures that I find it hard to comprehend and adapt to. These are some that bemuse me. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

  • 1) Don’t ask what’s for lunch. It’s rice and soup.
  • 2) When walking on the pavement/sidewalk, and the way ahead is clear, expect the person walking in the opposite direction to come onto your side so you now both have to change sides. (WHAT is it with that?)
  • 3) If you are walking along in a straight line, the person walking perpendicular to your trajectory will deliberately and willfully head straight for a collision course.
  • 4) No one will hold a door open for you.
  • 5) Don’t say excuse me, even in Korean. A (sometimes) gentle nudge will suffice.
  • 6) Any woman over 40 has the right to go straight to the front of any queue.
  • 7) Any woman over 40 has to wear their hair in a tight, died black, short perm.
  • 8) Any woman over 40 must sport a capless peak the size of a satellite dish,
  • 9) Any woman over 40 must wear lime green trousers/pants, with a flowery purple blouse.
  • 10) Any woman over 40 is protected by a higher being when crossing the road, and therefore does not need to look or listen.
  • 11) It’s OK to clear your throat LOUDLY and spit the result into the street.
  • 12) When driving, don’t use your indicators, they are an unnecessary luxury used only by the foolish.
  • 13) Be prepared to wait the equivalent of four lifetimes waiting to cross the road. Push button. Read “War and Peace”. Cross road. In that order.
  • 14) If you have a car smaller that a cruise liner, you are nothing. NOTHING!
  • 15) When doing any kind of work or task, the ONLY thing that matters is speed.
  • 16) It’s OK to lie if it avoids any kind of personal loss of face.
  • 17) Music was invented five years ago.
  • 18) The drunken Korean man who shouted “Wayne Rooney Manchester United!!” at you in the bar because you’re English, is now your best friend.
  • 19) Expect things to change at the last minute. For example, it’s 8.30am.You have class at 9am. Phone call. That class is now at 8.45… 8.44 comes around, phone call “classes today are all cancelled”. Hurrah! 8.46 class arrives. Normal day.
  • 20) If you are an attractive young female, you must wear a very short skirt and a very high neckline. No exceptions.
  • 21) If you are a “streetwise” male, you must wear some new-looking jeans, and new-looking trainers/sneakers. No other clothes exist. None.
  • 22) It’s cool, when smoking, to hold the cigarette between your teeth.
  • 23) When drinking you must: not fill your own glass, look away whilst sipping, not watch anyone else, stand on one leg, spin around, put the glass back on the table upside down, offer a toast at every opportunity, click the glass of your superiors lower on the glass than your own, and recite Chaucer’s “The Millers Tale”, in Korean, after every sip. Most of these are actually true.
  • 24) Despite the West also having a long history of inventing stuff, Koreans will be amazed that any Westerner has heard of rudimentary items such as, say, gloves.
  • 25) It’s OK to ask someone their age and marital status before their asking their name.

Let it be said that Koreans are also very kind, and very helpful. They rarely get angry, they are generally courteous (in their own way!) and it’s a very nice place to live. I also love computers, but they too have minor annoyances! That’s life. I can’t change computing, and I can’t change Korea. I do however love them both!

If you have an ‘annoyance’ that you’d like to post, feel free to add a comment below.