I’ve been in Korea almost two months (time flies) and have been doing a lot of exploring during my short time here so far. I’ve been trying to keep track of the things I observe, but it’s actually harder to do than you might think! I’ve felt pretty settled here remarkably quickly, so the cultural oddities have been fading into the background more than I would like them to. It’s hard to believe that I wrote my first observations post a little less than a week after arriving (!) when everything was fresh in my mind. Here are some more observations I’ve collected over the past couple months.
You can get Burger King and McDonald’s (among a million other things) delivered to your apartment by a guy on a motorcycle. It seems like a miracle that most people here are as petite as they are.
Speaking of motorcycles, they’re allowed on the sidewalks here and use them constantly. Which means that the sidewalk isn’t necessarily a safe pedestrian zone. You have to always be on the lookout for a rogue motorcycle heading your way!
There are a ton of public bathrooms everywhere, which is excellent. They don’t always have toilet paper and are often squat toilets, but at least the facilities are there.
In most washrooms, there is a small garbage can where you’re meant to put all your used toilet paper instead of flushing it. In public bathrooms it’s often overflowing, and I can never bring myself to put it there instead of flushing it.
There are not a lot of trash cans anywhere, which is not so excellent.
Around hiking trails (and there are many here) there is often a little station for cleaning off your boots with a pressurized air nozzle.
A lot of Korean food is bright red due to their use of gochujang, a spicy red chilli paste. I love to watch well-dressed women like my coworkers eating gimbap or tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes) smothered with red sauce with chopsticks and not spill a drop on their lightly coloured clothes. I’m not always so lucky/skilled.
There are whole lanes and traffic signals devoted to U-turns. As one of my coworkers described it, this is because the country is so small that they can’t make all the lanes we have room for in Canada, so U-turns are a simple solution.
Even very young children (we’re talking maybe 6 years old) have cell phones. And most people have very large phones that they make even bigger by adding a huge, brightly coloured case.
Since it’s Buddha’s Birthday next week (a national holiday and four day weekend!) there are bright, beautiful paper lanterns hung absolutely everywhere. It’s really quite delightful.
Even when you’re downtown, seeing locals decked out from head to toe in bright, neon-coloured hiking clothes (complete sometimes with windbreakers, hats, gaiters and hiking poles) is an everyday occurrence, though it happens even more on the weekend. The Koreans love to hike on trails, but sometimes just wear their hiking clothes while walking around in groups in the city too!
My Korean coworkers will not hesitate to exclaim that I have dark circles under my eyes or that I look really tired. This isn’t meant to be taken as an insult, from what I understand, though when one actually is tired, it can be hard not to take it that way.
People seem to love Canada. Whenever cab drivers or strangers ask where we’re from and find out, they always light up and say that Canada is very good. America, not so much. We’re still trying to figure out exactly why.
I’ve seen people pushing around strollers designed to hold a cat or a small dog. No comment.
There are a lot of pizza places here, but it’s usually like North American-style pizza with a Korean twist. Often plain cheese pizza will come with corn on it, and they offer other interesting combinations like sweet potato pizza (I have yet to try but have heard it’s really good) or of course bulgogi pizza.
I often feel stared at by Koreans, especially men. It’s a bit unsettling but I don’t ever feel unsafe or threatened. I think it has more to do with the fact that foreigners are the overwhelming minority in Busan.
In my last post, I wrote about how Korean cars always look brand new. Well, to build on that: when I’ve been given a ride by coworkers I’ve noticed that some cars have the factory plastic still inside on the backs of seats or on seatbelt buckles or on the flip-down mirrors. And a huge number of cars have little foam blocks on the outside of their cars, approximately where the door handle is. From what I understand, these are to minimize dents if a car door swings open and hits another car.
On the whole, life in Korea isn’t hugely different from life anywhere else, which seems like an insane thing to say, but it’s true! The biggest difference is that besides foreigners and people who work at English schools, hardly anyone here speaks any English (but I can still get by with just my few phrases in Korean). Yes, there are some cultural idiosyncrasies (for example, I still get disgusted every time someone horks and spits up phlegm, which happens everywhere and all the time) but overall it’s been a very nice place to live. I love the beach and try to spend as much time there as I possibly can – it makes any minor annoyance seem tiny and insignificant. On Saturday evening my friends and I had a glorious few hours sitting out on the beach with beers as the sun set slowly, and it made me so excited for what promises to be an incredible summer.