Observations in Korea / 01

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I made it! I’m in Busan, living in a small apartment in a great part of town, about five minutes from the school I’m working at and only about a minute away from where my friend Dylan lives. Things really ended up working out perfectly – the timing, the job, and the location are all great. My coworkers are all Korean, and they’re all very sweet and friendly. My first few days were a bit rough in terms of the jet lag, but I think I’m slowly (sleep by sleep) getting back to my usual self with my usual energy levels. My apartment wasn’t quite as furnished as I had hoped (my kitchen contained the following: a few bowls, one wok, no cups, a spoon and a pair of chopsticks – the essentials), but after a few trips to the store, I’m getting settled in just fine. 

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On Sunday afternoon, following my first and only-so-far minor panic attack about moving halfway across the world all on my own for a whole year, I managed to wander my way to the beach, which calmed me and buoyed my spirits immediately. It’s a little chilly here at the moment, but still warm enough to sit in the sand for a while, enjoying the sunshine. Such a wonderful change from the cold Canadian weather. I’m sure there will be lots of things I’ll miss about Canada during this year away, but winter will not be one of them. The beach is a 15 minute walk from my apartment and is utterly gorgeous, so if you need me, I’ll be at the beach! 

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I recently began following an Instagram account of a girl who moved across the world from LA to Bahrain. She’s been posting her observations of what daily life is like in a different part of the world, and I thought it was such an inspired idea. I’m sure I’ll get used to so many of the small cultural differences and they’ll no longer seem interesting or remarkable, but for now I’m trying to record all the things that seem noteworthy about Korea – maybe you’ll think so too!

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  • A lot of the buildings here are done up with coloured lights and animations. We have that back home too, especially in Montreal, but it seems more prevalent here. The Gwangalli bridge is particularly awesome – it has all these neon lights moving around and although I was totally dazed from a long day of plane rides and time differences when I was driven across it, I still noticed how cool it was. 
  • Classical music is really common here. I’ve noticed that it plays in a lot of public places – on both my Korean Air flights en route here, they played classical music during boarding and de-planing, and I’ve heard it in the supermarket too. I even visited one convenience store whose door chime was Pachelbel’s canon! No complaints from me, it’s pretty soothing. 
  • Speaking of Korean Air, their flight attendants are dressed impeccably. Most flight attendants are, of course, but their uniforms are so crisp (they have these very architectural bows tied around their neck like the one shown here) and perfect hair. 
  • They sell shampoo and conditioner in Costco-size bottles with pumps just at the regular supermarket. I could not be more pleased about this. Also, when you buy hand soap, it’s packaged with a refill! Of course this isn’t true of every product, but it happens much more often here than back home from what I’ve seen so far. 
  • The tables at Korean diners have buckets sunk into the table with chopsticks and spoons inside. Very convenient. 
  • The major Korean alcohol, soju, is incredibly cheap. Like, $1 for a 375ml bottle.
  • In my building, there is one set of elevators for odd-numbered floors, and another set for even-numbered floors. At least, that’s what I was told, but I admit I haven’t experimented yet. 
  • Most apartments (from what I’ve seen), including mine, are unlocked by a code punched into a number pad, not a key. I love it.
  • There are sidewalk fruit vendors everywhere, selling mainly apples, strawberries and oranges for cheap.
  • A lot of the toilet paper here is lightly scented. 
  • I’ve seen a lot of people wearing face masks both while walking around and riding motorcycles. I’ve also noticed that people do spit more on the street and even inside. 
  • Korean potato chips taste the same as Canadian ones, except perhaps less salty. 
  • The majority of the cars I’ve seen driving around look very clean and brand new. That being said, I do live in a pretty expensive part of Busan. 
  • Their version of a dollar store is Daiso, which is a Japanese store. It’s full of brightly coloured, adorable things, and offers more than our dollar stores back home – I just bought a yoga mat and a cute little succulent plant in a vase for around $5 each. 
  • Taxis are very, very cheap.

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All in all, my first impressions of Korea are very positive. I live in a great part of town and I’m slowly discovering all the different things it has to offer, one step at a time! 

  • Young Mi Do

    Your observations are very detailed. I enjoyed reading them and smiled at some point. I have my own blog that I record my daily life in Vancouver and it is a really good way to remember things and it is a fun hobby.
    Those face masks you have seen are for UV protection, I think. It’s popular especially among older generations when they go out and work out outside.
    I do agree with how Korean potato chips are less salty. Since I was so accustomed to having less salty food all my life, I was shocked at first to taste potato chips here. They were way too SALTY!!!
    In my opinion, they’re saltier but tastier. My favorite so far is Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion. :)
    About cars, Koreans don’t buy used cars in general. I think it’s a cultural thing. We just love to buy new ones. But here I am big on buying things at thrift store, which we don’t have in Korea (could be some but very few…) and on Craiglist. It is a great way to save money.

    • stephaniepellett

      Hi Young Mi!
      Ha, I’m glad that my observations weren’t too off-the-mark. I hadn’t realized the face masks were for UV protection, that’s so interesting! I had thought they were to protect people from pollution or diseases. Interesting about the cars too – I had noticed that I hadn’t really seen any thrift stores or second hand shops in Korea yet, so that makes sense that cars would be bought new as well. Thanks for your comment! I love hearing the explanation for some of these quirky things I’m learning about Korea :)

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