Monday, March 3, 2014

My Love/Hate Korea List

I'm now approaching the T-minus two weeks mark upon leaving this country for the beaches of Thailand and I couldn't be more excited about it. But I also couldn't be more sad about it. When I move to a new country, I'm all wide-eyed in the beginning and everything is wonderful and different. But then slowly, very slowly, things start to become irritating and every day there is something to make me facepalm and go "whyyyyyy!??!?!" Perhaps I'm jaded. Actually, I know I am. But don't get me wrong, I like to think of myself as a very open minded person and I'm more than willing to accept and embrace differences in other cultures outside my own. One has to in order to do what I do. But at the end of every year, I find myself focusing on the negative things instead of the positive because I'm itching so badly to escape. I'm somewhat of a vagabond and thoroughly enjoy moving from place to place, but I'm not one of those who could permanently desert the comforts that the United States offers. I've done this for a long time, and I'm ready for some cushy living for a while. After living in South Korea for two years and three months, I think I have a pretty good grasp on how things work and what I (and most other expats) love and hate about this...interesting...piece of earth.

So here for you, I've compiled a list of things that I will miss and things that I will most definitely not miss about this place I've called home for so long. In no particular order...

Things I will miss

Public Transportation: Something that America seriously lacks and needs to get with the rest of the world on is public transit. I understand that America is incomprehensibly vast, but something needs to be done. The subway system is cheap, efficient, and easily gets me wherever I need to go. And taxis, oh taxis! I have a love/hate relationship with taxis. They are really cheap here and probably every 3rd car driving down the street is one so there is never a problem of hailing it and getting where you need to go. However, I have no idea how anyone in this country obtained a driver's license and taxi drivers can be exceedingly dangerous along with everyone else on the road. I've had drunk ones, ones that are falling asleep, most run red lights and speed as though they are being chased by a T-Rex. But, on the other hand, it's reliable and there is never the question, "Alright, who's DDing tonight?"

Paris Baguette and other various bakeries: There is some kind of delicious pastry heaven on every block. Paris Baguette is the biggest chain around here and there are numerous other brands along with the mom and pop ones. They sell sandwiches and cakes and cinnamon buns and cream puffs in these carb utopias and it's a constant struggle to resist gorging myself daily.

The "Bing Bong" buttons: At most restaurants around here, the customer service is mediocre at best because there is no tipping. They don't need to be nice or overly friendly so they just aren't. So instead of coming to your table periodically to see if you are in need of anything, there is a small button at the end of the table that you press if you do need something. It makes a "bing bong" sound and the waitstaff comes running. GENIUS. No waiters or waitresses coming to your table when you have a mouthful of food asking if you'd like more coke. If you want more coke, you BING BONG. Though I imagine it gets pretty annoying...

THE BEACH: Busan summers are one thing I am going to ache for. Starting in April we usually start making our way down to the sand occasionally for springtime gatherings by the water, and by the end of May it's full blown beach season (for the foreigners anyway). From June to October there is a group of our friends at the beach nearly every single weekend. The only time at least a few don't show up is if they are out of town. Living by the sea has yet to get old and it's something I'm going to greatly miss moving to a landlocked state. No more will I constantly be sweeping sand out of my apartment all summer. Gwangalli beach might get pretty filthy and gross by mid-summer, but the memories I have of spending my time there are probably the most fond ones I have.

McDelivery: McDonald's has a delivery service here. Enough said.

Hana Kimbap: A local restaurant next to Al's school is called Hana Kimbap and the lady who owns it is just the sweetest. We eat there a lot. She knows our names and is always winking at us and refilling our sides and attempting conversation in her broken English and knows exactly what I want when I walk in there. Bulgogi dupbap is my favorite Korean food (sort of beef/rice/vegetable thing) and you can't get better than at Hana. I decided a long time ago that Hana is probably going to be my last Korean meal and I'll probably get her a card or something.

Walking: Busan is a walking city. Yeah it's congested with cars, but because it's a tightly packed metropolis, if you don't need to go far, you walk. The sidewalks are always packed with people going about their day to day business, just like New York City. I walk about 20-25 minutes to work and back every single day, and I've done that every single day for two years. When I went home for a visit last year I had forgotten what sedentary lives Americans lead. But in America, there is no opportunity to walk from place to place because you have to have a car. Everything is too far apart. Here, anything you could ever need is within walking distance. In the US, unless you live in a "walkable" city, which are few and far between, you don't want to be seen walking anywhere anyway. Do you think I want to be seen walking down West 2nd street in Weston or something? Nope. But it's something I'm really going to miss. Every time I leave the house having to get in a car and drive somewhere just to get something small is going to get old fast. I'm sure I'll have moments of "ugggghhh I wish I could just walk there and get it".

Healthcare: Oh, universal healthcare, how I love thee. I don't know how healthcare works in Japan and Korea, but it's something fantastic and magical. The taxes stay low, yet everyone has access to dirt cheap quality care. I've been to the doctor about three separate times here and each time it has cost me about $4 for the visit and usually around $1.70 for the Rx. Someone told me once that if you forget your insurance card and so don't "have insurance" it will cost $10 instead of $4. I'm not visiting a doctor in some hut either, it's a normal hospital like anywhere else. I will say that Asian Rx aren't as strong as those back home (a complaint of many expats), but they seem to get the job done alright, if anything alleviate symptoms somewhat. Koreans go to the hospital for anything and everything though like the wimps they mostly are, which is kind of irritating. Runny nose? Hospital for a shot. Headache? Hospital for some meds. Hungover? Hospital for an IV. In America, if you aren't dying, you man up and go to Target for some OTC meds and get over it. So anytime I've had a small cold, I'm not going to the hospital, it's a waste of time. But bronchitis? Yeah, I'll go...I guess that's worth my five bucks for a diagnosis and a weeks worth of pills. Get on board, America! I won't be able to afford it once I get back!

Nightlife: Would you like to party until sunrise? Well, ya can. Bars and the like don't close. If there is someone there, they stay open. Things closing at 2am is going to be a real downer; that's usually when we really get started here. And good heavens, the noraebang, or karaoke. Noraebang is my life on the weekends. It's not karaoke as you know it, either. You pay for a private room and it has screens and microphones and strobe lights and you and your private group sing until daylight. I think Nashville is going to have a pretty good nightlife scene but I don't see how it's going to compare to here.

Things I will absolutely not miss

The overall uncleanliness: Everywhere I look, there is litter. Korea is known for a lot of things, but being a clean country is not one of them. You probably don't remember, but I wrote a post living in Japan on how there are no garbage cans in any public place. The same goes for here, but for some reason Japan is squeaky clean and Korea is the exact opposite. Korean people don't seem to take pride in their city/country enough to not throw their garbage on the ground outside. And don't get me started on the spitting. Men and women alike hawk loogies all over the sidewalks. Literally, there are chucks of green and yellow constantly adorning the sidewalks. The spitting doesn't stop outdoors, however. It's also in elevators, building foyers and the subway station. I wish I were joking.

Lack of variety: When it comes to shopping, grocery shopping in particular, there is just not much variety in items. Coming from America where everything is bigger and a Super Walmart is something to behold, grocery shopping can get a bit dull. It's just the same old things. Frozen pizza? Maybe two brands to choose from. Soups? Perhaps three or four. Canned vegetables? Only about six or seven to choose from and only one brand. Even local native things like kimchi or bean sprouts has only a few to choose from. I mean, a grocery store back home has an entire aisle simply dedicated to salad dressings. I believe the only thing I've seen a great variety of is Ramen...there's probably about 25 different kinds. And thinking of variety...

Seasonal produce: I know living in the US has spoiled me some when it comes to produce. I can go into any supermarket at any time of the year and get any fruit or vegetable I desire. Things vary in price slightly depending on the time of the year, but things here come and go with the seasons. Would you like some watermelon in November? Nectarines in March? Good luck. I can't afford fruit here anyway. It's outrageously expensive. A bag of 5 apples will set me back about $6, a pack of strawberries about $12 and avocados run about $3-4 each. 

The laundry situation: No one in Asia has a proper washer or dryer. No one has a dryer anyway. I'm SO TIRED of air drying my clothes on these metal racks that take up half my apartment. My washer takes about 45 minutes for one load and it's super small, it's in my kitchen and fits under the counter. Then I have to air dry everything which means it's all stiff and crunchy. I can't remember the last time I got to dry off with a soft fluffy towel.

Recycling: Call me an earth-hater, but I hate recycling. I would probably do it back home if I had proper cans for everything and on trash day I can just take it outside for someone else to deal with it. But I don't want to go out of my way just to recycle. I have to lug all my garbage 20 floors down and then separate it all in the garbage area of the basement which has the most foul odor ever. There is no such thing as a regular old Hefty trash bag. Doesn't exist. They have special trash bags that are kind of free-for-all you can throw anything in them, so that's what I use. But they are $13 for 10 of them. Bottles I'll separate just because I don't want to take up room in my very expensive trash bags, but other than that, anything and everything goes in those suckers because where I throw my trash isn't something on which I wish to waste my brainpower.

Nothing is customizable: Koreans, and really Asia, like things a certain way. If one tries to mess with that, they get antsy and don't really know what to do. Nothing can be changed around in restaurants, no substitutes or no "Have It Your Way" at Burger King. If you ask for no tomato on your burger, you're just asking for a blank stare. I'm pretty stoked to get back home and the made-to-order way of food ordering.

Someone is always in my way: This one is hard to explain to someone who's never been here, but Koreans (in general) unquestionably have no sense of awareness of their surroundings. I think I've mentioned this before on this blog, but they all walk inside a bubble that has roughly a 6 inch radius around their body. Anything that goes on outside that 6 inches they are blissfully unaware of. It's actually a remarkable thing to watch. Walking down the street, they seem to not be able to sense there are others around them, so they block you. In the grocery store, this is no joke, they will park their buggies right in the middle of the aisles while looking at shelf items, and I can actually stand there with my own buggy right in front of them and they have no idea that I am there to let me pass. I find a lot of it is just a completely lack of courtesy for anyone but themselves. It's a strange thing to witness, because for the most part they aren't mean, hateful people, they just truly are not conscious of others. The same goes for the driving. Imagine, if you will, this scenario, but in vehicles. It's a dangerous, dangerous thing and I'll be glad to get back to the safety of American roads.

It's cold or hot all the time: Yeah, yeah, I complain about the heat and the cold a lot. But it's one of those things that really has made my life more difficult over the years. The lack of insulation and their extreme nutcase attitude towards energy saving means that the summer heat nor the winter cold can ever truly be escaped. In winter, everywhere, even in some nicer restaurants, the bathrooms aren't heated and in some case the indoor areas themselves. Summer, I'm sweating trying to teach my kids the ABCs because no one will let me turn the air down below 77. Being comfortable, temperature wise, is one thing I am most looking forward to coming home.

I could list things for days, but I think this about covers the big things in my life. I finished working today and now have two weeks of packing up this apartment and really just enjoying my last bit of time here. Next stop: Koh Lipe, Thailand!  


  1. I loved reading your list, so similar to my thoughts when I left Korea. I absolutely hated the spitting and litter, too. Somehow, as soon as I got back home, I missed Korea so badly and forgot all about the bad things and only focused on the good ones. Korea is such a special place (in all senses of the word)… I think people can love it AND hate it at the same time. I'll miss reading your Korea updates. See you in a few weeks!! xx

  2. ps- for fun, here was my list!

  3. Awesome list! If could add one thing it would be the convenience overall... 24 hour everything is pretty nice. On the bad side... They need to deal with racially exclusive bars. That's just ridiculous in a country about to host the Olympics.

    1. For sure! But back home tons of things are 24 hours so that didn't really occur to me. I hear it's not like that in Europe though?

  4. Nope no beach in Nashville :( you will have to walk up the hill to the neighborhood pool lol But Mom will have nice fluffy towels for you when you get home :)

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