So I have had a few requests to chronical our adventures in Korea via a blog, so here goes.
**disclaimer: This is my perspective of things based on my experiences here in the ROK (Republic of Korea). They may vary from what you have heard or what someone you know who has been to Korea experienced. And that’s ok. I’ve already had someone back home argue with me because I made the statement that mass transit here on the peninsula is far superior than what we have in the states (and it is!!!!). Its my perspective. Deal with it.
We have been here for just over a month and are completely settled and in the full swing of things. The house is set up, Zach is working like a mad person, we bought a car and a bike, and I have a pretty good lay of the land as far as the local area goes. Someone asked me this week what some of the biggest differences are here that I have noticed so far, so here is a quick overview:
- The people of Korea are sooooooo very nice. Seriously. Their culture is very formal and family oriented, and the overwhelming kindness I have witnessed here has been such a breathe of fresh air. We only have one car, so I either walk or bike to post every day and it never fails for me to be waved at or said good morning to as I go by. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in the states, but it definitely happens more often and it feels so genuine. I have two Korean grandmas already, kind of, and though they speak no English when I first started commuting to post they would get after me about not wearing a hat or wearing long sleeves to protect my arms from the sun. It was adorable and now they smile at me every time they see me with my hat and protective gear. A friend of mine and I got on the wrong bus to go into town (the 20 bus is not the same as the 20-1….lesson learned), and a local woman must have noticed our confused looks, and not only walked us to our destination, but was quite upset when we wouldn’t let her buy us a drink! Seriously, kindness is my favorite thing here.
- Most Koreans are happy to have the US military here, however, there is a small population that wants us gone. From what has been explained to me, this group feels that our presence here in the ROK is a huge roadblock for the re-unification of the two Koreas. There was an anti-America protest last week, which was met with a counter protest, as most Koreans want us here. There is also a group of Koreans that have been right outside of main gate every Sunday afternoon that are pro America and proudly waive American flags as we go by. Its been interesting to learn about the history between North and South Korea, our country’s role in that relationship, and how South Korea and the United States are moving forward in their partnership. I have been recommended a few documentaries on the subject, and will share once I have had a chance to watch them.
- Its HOT here. I’ve been to Africa and this is way worse. Not only is it hot, but its also humid. Every. Day. There hasn’t been a break yet. Apparently, this is a record breaking summer here, and it is down right oppressive outside. I become a hermit around noon and don’t go outside if I don’t have to. So if you are planning a visit, I recommend the spring or fall. The downside of this is that its been difficult to meet new people, but hopefully that will come with time.
- Traditional Korean cooking does not involve using an oven, so all of the places we looked at had what I lovingly call an easy bake oven. Seriously, I can fit one cookie sheet in long ways and that’s it. So no turkey dinners will be happening unless we get a fryer. In addition to a gas range and easy bake oven, we also have a built in hot plate on the counter. Most places we saw had this, and I assume its to cook soup, as there are restaurants here that have a built in hot plate at every place setting that specialize in soup. Also, all the refrigerators have a little trap door on the front to store easy access items, like wine (at least that’s what I use mine for haha). Also, there are no garbage disposals so that’s been an adjustment as well.
- Trash collection is next level here. Instead of paying a company to come collect your trash, here you are required to buy specific trash bags which are kind of expensive in order to properly sort and discard your trash in the designated areas. There is a bag for general waste, a bag for food waste, and you must sort your recyclables by type (glass, plastic, aluminum, etc.) and use clear bags for each. You are also only supposed to take out your trash after 8pm, though I have seen both Americans and Koreans take trash out during the day. Zach and I don’t risk it because big brother is watching. Speaking of big brother….
- CCTV is a thing here. Korea is roughly the same size as Indiana, and has over 40 million cameras throughout the country. If you pick your nose, big brother can see you. Because of this, crime is relatively low here. My first time on the train to Seoul, I saw a girl board, find her seat, set her purse and backpack on her seat, and then leave them next to a complete stranger. I immediately decided to watch her stuff (Thank you Target for making me believe everyone is a criminal! haha) , but no one bothered it. She was gone for a few minutes, and not one person took advantage. I was absolutely blown away. Never in a million years would I leave my purse in my seat in a public place if I was by myself. EVER. Thank you CCTV.
- Technology here is amazing. I don’t have keys because our house has key pads and that’s fairly standard. No way to lock yourself out of your house unless you forget your code. Your metro card can be linked to your bank card and you can use said metro card to ride the subway, buses AND taxis throughout Seoul. But while technology is amazing in some areas, it is not used in others. For example, despite stellar displays of technological advances through the country, I have to pay rent in CASH. Feels like a drug deal going down every first of the month. Its weird. And a pain in the ass.
- Food. I won’t go to much into this because I plan a separate post, but in short, Korean cuisine is phenomenal. The town I live in also has a farmers market known as the 3/8 market, because it happens on any day of the month that ends in a 3 or an 8. There you can buy produce that is reasonably priced, fresh seafood, grains, KIMCHI!!!!, street food, and other random items. Finding reasonably priced produce here is tough, especially on post. Seoul is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but I am still not prepared to pay $18 for a small watermelon, $3 for ONE avocado, or $8 for a half pint of blueberries. Its absolutely highway robbery on post, but if you are adventurous and willing to put some work in, you can find local markets that have more reasonably priced produce and goods.
- Other quirky things: Anytime you want hot water in your house, you have to turn it on. And then remember to turn it off. Utilities here are exponentially expensive, so Koreans have designed things in a way to help minimize usage. Each room in our house has an individual AC unit, and I typically only run the AC in the room I’m in if I turn it on at all. Luckily we are on the bottom floor and in a shaded corner, so our place stays pretty comfortable, so I’m interested to see how our first electric bill will go (I’ve heard people have seen $800 monthly bills!!!!). In the winter, houses are heated through floor heating, so I’m excited to experience that. Also, shower curtains are not a thing here. All of the bathrooms have a drain near the center of the room; sometimes the shower is enclosed in glass and sometimes it is not.
Overall, its been an easy transition and though I’ve only been here a month, I am really enjoying it here. The people are lovely, the food is amazing, and there is sooooo much to do and see (as long as its not so freaking hot outside). In the upcoming weeks, I have a trip planned to Seoul, the DMZ, and I am taking a two day course through the local university here to learn more about the culture here and to also explore a traditional Korean folk village, so definitely more to come from this new blogger.