What I Love about Korea

My first time leaving Korea I was compelled to write about what I would miss and not miss about this wonderful country.
You can read that list HERE!

This is my FINAL goodbye.. I feel emotional just typing that, but after 3 memorable years in the land of the morning calm, it’s time for me to part. I am left with nostalgia for so many things that I have come to love which have also become an essential part of my life.

These essentials are the following:

1. 24 hour Family Mart – they are in every corner in Korea! Luckily I also have one right on the ground floor of my building, and I love knowing that I can go get a bottle of water, a carton of milk or some ramyeon in my PJ’s at any time of day. It’s such a convenience that I usually take it for granted.

2. Norebong – aka the singing room. You can sing your heart out in a private room, bring your own alcohol and snacks and party down with your friends at any time of day or night. Another 24 hour operation found in every nook and cranny of Korean streets. It’s so much fun and nothing really compares to the random images flashed on the screens while you singing your fave 90’s pop tune.

*image source: http://playaslife.com/2010/07/08/the-pc-room-pc-bang-culture/

3. Fastest Internet in the World – people usually drop their jaws when I tell them I can download a movie under 20 mins here. I can also download an entire season of a TV show in less an hour usually. There is no lagging and waiting for things to load. And you don’t get charged for how much you download! Plus wi-fi is easily accessible in most of the tourist spots in Busan, such as the beach. When it comes to internet technology, Korea really can’t be beat.

*image source: http://www.seoulstyle.com/art_naked.htm

4. Jimjilbang – another 24 hour wonder that makes complete sense and I’m kept left baffled wondering why the western world hasn’t quite adapted yet. It’s a simple idea of a sauna, filled with hot tubs at different degrees. The bathing part is a single sex area where you get butt naked and enjoy yourself in the way nature intended. It’s quite liberating and this is just the beginning! You can even pay a little extra to get an adjuma (older Korean woman) to exfoliate every LITTLE part of your body (my most favourite part). The sauna part consists of numerous rooms at different degrees and you put on the shorts and t shirts they give you for this. So it’s mixed with men and women, and the open areas have TV’s and sleeping areas. The massage chairs are wonderful for 1,000 won for 10 mins! This really is a piece of heaven and it only sets you back less than $10 and you can stay as long as you like, even overnight.

*image source: http://blogs.sfweekly.com/foodie/2009/10/johns_snack_and_deli.php

5. Kimbab Changuk – translation: Kimbab Heaven.
And heaven it really is! For 2,500 won you can get rice, tuna, mayo, ham, radish and some greens rolled with seaweed, cut up into little pieces that just melt in your mouth. Plus this place is 24 hours! The chamchi (tune) kimbab is my absolute fave, but this joint has so much more than just that – ramyeon, kimchi fried rice and soups of all kind! You never pay more than 5,000 won for a meal (about $5) so it’s easy to just eat here every night, which most people have done at some point during their Korean life.

*image source: http://www.koamart.com/

6. Ding Dong bell – when you go to a Korean restaurant there is no awkwardness of having to flag the waiter down for everything. Instead there is a little bell on each table. When you need something (water, the bill, more kimchi) you press the bell. It ‘ding dongs’ and the waiter is at your table in usually under a minute. When you don’t speak the language this bell is especially useful. Now THAT is a brilliant idea. Why didn’t anyone else think of this?!

*image source: http://blog.daum.net/sequncetodispersion/12891319

7. Alcoholism is Accepted – it’s a common sight to see a businessman in a suit passed out on the middle of the street or in your apartment hallway at any given time. Koreans have created a hangover cure in a bottle that will help to delay your hangover and is readily available at every convenience store. Dinner isn’t complete without shots of soju to accompany it. Drinking is an accepted part of Korean culture; it’s not looked down upon so drinking at the beach, in the streets, on the subway or even as you hike a mountain is considered protocol. In fact Koreans will offer you a drink if they see you hiking without one. There is no social stigma to being drunk in public and it’s not a practice kept strictly for the weekends. The added bonus is that soju, beer and makoli (Korean rice wine) can be purchased at any convenience or grocery store for under $2 a bottle!

*image source: http://www.internationalrail.com/korea/ktx-trains-and-routes.aspx

8. Convenient, Affordable Travel – Korea is a fairly small country. It takes 5 hours by bus to get from Busan in the south east to Seoul in the north west, and the total cost of this bus ride is about $30! Korea is also home to the KTX (the Korean version of the Shinkansen), a bullet train which can take you the same route in 2.5 hours, for the price of $45. Things in general are cheap in Korea, but the price of travel trumps it all. The buses and trains are well maintained and super clean. Riding the KTX is like flying in an airplane – super smooth and very comfortable ride. The local transit (subway) is also calculated by the distant you travel, and the base rate is a mere 900 won (about 80 cents). Transit is also very well organized, especially in a city as huge as Seoul. From day one I was super impressed with how organized the transit systems are in Korea, and efficient. Nothing is late. And buses and trains always leave on time. It’s actually more convenient NOT to have a car in this country!

 

9. The Waygook Pass  – being a foreigner in Korea its often easy to forget the rules and blame it on being a ‘waygook’ (foreigner in Korean). Koreans will not approach you if you are breaking the rules (such as sneaking through the subway turnstiles, or jaywalking) due to saving face and the embarrassment of having to speak in English with a foreigner. Many times the Waygook Pass comes into use, especially when you just don’t want to deal with the Korean way of doing things. Yes, that may sound awful but these are the perks of living abroad. Of course the Waygook Pass should also be used with discretion. Abuse of it has only brought upon a negative image of foreigners.

10. Cheap Taxi Drives – I have never taken so many taxi rides before in my life! The base fee starts at a mere 2,500 won (about $2) and getting half way across the city will set you back about 20 bucks. Yes, the subway is WAY cheaper (and I love that about Korea too) but the fact that you can ride in luxury at all times of the day is wonderful! And if you are lucky enough to have a nice cab driver, then they will smile as you sing your heart out along with the radio station of your choice. Most cabs in Korea have GPS which doubles as a TV, and speed limits are not made to abide by, so be warned that cab drivers enjoy racing down the street thinking they are impressing the waygook, while you are simply holding onto dear life. But in the end, the cheap fare can only make you smile.

…and finally, Koreans! Many people have a love – hate relationship with Koreans and I suppose that stems from your general experience in Korea. As for me, I love them. This is mostly because I find that Korean culture is similar to Tamil culture (or Asian culture as a whole) so the kind and caring attitude is severely different than in the west. I’ve had numerous moments where a random Korean has come to rescue me, whether it be from the rain, or a misunderstood situation. The adjumas love to touch you but it’s a maternal instinct mixed with curiosity (and at times, a dash of judgement). Children are innocent and sweet, and overall the people are just nice and it’s easier for me to understand it. I have never felt more safe than in Korea, and as anywhere it’s not a place without its share of bad apples, but Koreans to me will always be one of the best people I have encountered in this world.

My life will never be the same as it was in Korea, that is what makes it so special. There is no place on Earth that will be the same and its these little tidbits that keeps me wanting to travel more and fuel me with the desire to experience the culture and have a different type of adventure each time.

There are so many things to be grateful for in my life; having the confidence and guts to move to this country was a quick decision that I will never regret but being welcomed by the people I have met here is something I had no control over.

My life in Seoul was a stepping stone into my life that was to come in Busan. My 2 years in Busan have been amazing beyond my wildest expectations! Who knew things can just keep getting better and better?!
I have been extremely lucky to have the opportunity to work at an international school with such an amazing group of people, and to be able to live in (what I consider) the best part of the city – Haeundae.

With all these lucky coincidences, the luckiest of them all have been my dear friends who have become more like sisters to me over these 22 months. Our time together stems beyond just Korea, as they weren’t just co-workers but also wonderful travel mates and my support system of amazing friends in my time here. We have spent numerous months trying to ‘figure out’ Korea: understand why Koreans will never give us each a menu at a restaurant, why they only fill the glass half full of water, why E-Mart is hard to understand unless we say E-martuh.. and the list goes on!

The endless laughter after a stupid joke, the tearful moments when we were homesick, and the frustrated rage after a stressful day of teaching all brought us together. As our life changing journey ends my heart aches knowing we will never be residents of Well Beachee again, living dorm-style in our cool loft apartments and having the beach in our backyard. The irony of travelling however is that the journey never really ends; it lives on in memories that will be revived as small reminders will bring them back (and of course, Facebook!).

It’s bitter sweet .. my relationship with Hanguk. I came here ready to embrace change. The challenge almost threw me off, making me want to give up after merely 6 months. But I held out, I trusted my gut. I could feel that there was something more and that I would regret quitting now.
Lesson learned – ALWAYS trust your gut! It can lead to some mesmerizing opportunities so never hold back.

Live your life, and have no regrets.

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