Thursday, November 22, 2012

Oh, Korea.

Oh, Korea. It's something I say almost daily, in the same way you sigh at things that amuse or frustrate you. It's a common saying here and sometimes the only thing you can say as explanation escapes some of what we see in this land of contradictions. I asked some friends to help contribute to this one, so thank you for the input. Initially I was just going to put a list of material things down but decided to do away with borders and just write down everything that I find uniquely Korean. Some good, some bad, some weird. In no order...

1. Ribbons on pizza boxes

2. White gloves for driving. I don't know what they are used for - to keep the car/hands clean or to prevent your hands tanning?

3. Hello Kitty toilet seats

4. Kimchi. Kimchi everywhere.

5. Amazing stationery. At low prices. It's cheap, it's cheerful and there's a ton of it! The craze at school seems to be these really little food erasers, which come apart and do everything except seem practical for erasing stuff.

6. Extensions for your t-shirts in Summer (arm socks). You roll them up your arms, presumably to avoid the sun.

7. BB Cream. It's make-up/cream, like foundation, that Koreans use to lighten their skin. It stands for 'blemish balm' and is used as cream, sun screen, foundation or primer depending on how much coverage a person needs. Some women take it too far and end up with pale faces that look out of place against their darker skin. I don't use it but some people now swear by it!

8. Ondol heating. It's underfloor type heating that is the BOMB in Winter and almost everywhere has it. No need for heaters - just use the ondol to keep the frost at bay.

9. Phones. No matter where you are, you will be surrounded by people with phones attached to their hands. Even at the gym. It's a huge part of the culture here with every tom dick and harry having their preference: iPhone, Samsung, LG...all the big players are here.

10. Key pads. I really wish my apartment had a keypad instead of a regular lock. It makes getting in so much easier as you pop in your code and bam, you're in. Locks automatically and looks really cool too.

11. Fast, cheap internet and wifi, for everyone.

12. Korean socks are the shizz. They are cute, fluffy, and really like nothing else I've ever seen. Because socks are worn with pretty much every shoe, even in Summer, Koreans really love their socks and for me - the cuter the better.

13. Spitting. Can't get used to it; there is nothing worse than walking anywhere near a man who decides to bring up a spit ball and release it on the floor in front of you. Or a woman at a coffee shop spiting into her empty cup. It's disgusting.

14. Taking off your shoes. Most traditional restaurants will expect you to take your shoes off when coming in, and no one wears shoes indoors (houses, businesses, schools etc) unless they are 'inside' shoes. I used to think it's strange but now I think it's totally point 14 again and think about what you'd be walking into your house.

15. Ties in with #5: these super awesome magic machines that you put sticky tape into and it cuts your tape into neat little pieces whenever you need them. Also, doughnut shaped sticky tape holders (is that a thing?!).

16. Call buttons in restaurants  Most of us agree that these are the best things ever. In a restaurant, the staff don't hang around you like flies but disappear and can be called with one push of a button. Literally.

17. Related, no tipping at restaurants. Like ever. If you do, they'll give it back.

18. In a restaurant the staff might leave you be but walk into a shop, the beauty shops especially, and don't expect to get a minute alone as the attendants will follow you and stand right by you as you try to decide which BB cream suits you best.

19. Foot peels. Apparently that's a thing here.

20. Gmarket. Internet shopping. Need I say more?

21. Family Mart aka CU: convenience stores are EVERYWHERE, making them very... convenient.

22. Outdoor gym stations. These random things can be found on mountains  outside schools, in parks or in the middle of nowhere. Just little stations of 3 or 4 simple exercise machines in case you're coming home from Family Mart and decide you need a public workout.

23. Jimjilbangs: public bathhouses. These are super popular in Korea; I know that at gyms back home you would often be exposed to other naked bodies while changing and showering but a jimjilbang is much more than that. Men and women come to these to unwind, bath, and get scrubbed down by each other or someone else if you so desire. Obviously the men and women are separated in the actual baths (where nudity is mandatory) but can come together again (clothed) inside to enjoy some food, a sauna or two, even gym (most gyms have a jimjilbang as part of the package). Often they include sleeping areas, as a lot of people use these as accommodation when away. I've done it twice and just cannot enjoy it, but I know a lot of people swear by it. I will say they are very clean and professional, I just don't fancy being naked in front of a whole bunch of ajjumas as they clean every inch of themselves.

24. Soju and the miracle drink. Soju is cheap and me on this one. But you can save yourself from the dreaded hangover the next day by knocking back a special miracle drink "Dawn something something" or "Morning Care" which is supposed to help. I don't know how it does it and have never had it myself but apparently it's the stuff of rainbows.

25. It gets cold here, seriously cold. So the availability of USB heated cushions and slippers is not just quirky, it's lifesaving.

26. Service-e. I don't mean "Telkom coming to fix my phone line(like that'll ever happen, amIright?)" service but going to a shop, buying something, even if it's \3000 and getting something for free. Sometimes it's awesome like all the beauty samples and cotton wool you'll get at cosmetic shops or an extra cookie at the coffee shop but sometimes it's random but still paper towel with your shampoo. They like their free stuff and packages of things (see #40).

27. Hooks with adhesive that you need to heat up in order to stick to the wall - they work amazingly!

28. Pickles with everything.

29. Constant top ups when eating out: if the water, kimchi, salad, radish etc runs out...just ask for more and it will keep coming. Also, just the vast amount of food you get for relatively cheap!

30. Sweet bread. Sweet crisps. Sweet dressing on sweet bread for sweet sandwiches. Why Korea?

31. Awkward bathroom situations: shower/sinks in one, washing machines in bathrooms, squatter toilets and my WORST - how the doors to men's toilets are often open and you can see straight in!

32. Couples clothing. Down to the underwear.

33. No trash cans anywhere. Ever.

34. Coming from South Africa, it's really nice to see no burglar bars, no barbed wire or huge gated communities. I feel safe living on my own here.

35. Toilet paper on the outside of the need to estimate how much to take in with you and if you forget, better hope you have tissues handy.

36. Very efficient bus and train systems and taxi drivers who show you how real multi-tasking is done - watching a drama, checking their phone and driving you around!

37. Coffee shop culture: coffee shops are everywhere, they are cute and warm in winter, offer free wifi most of the time and I love it.

38. The independence of children...I've mentioned it before but I am constantly amazed by how these students just get stuff done. They get to school, to after school activities  hagwons and home, having fed themselves and been on time. They just do it, no adult supervision needed.

39. The stubborn use of Internet Explorer.

40. Bulk buying. I know it has to do with families often living all together but I don't need 12 toilet rolls right now or 15 toothbrushes...I just want one!!!

Okay I'm going to make the cut off there because I could probably keep going and will maybe do another post on this before I leave. Not all of these are good vs bad, they're just things I've only noticed or come to use in Korea. I love this crazy place and a lot of what I've mentioned above I'm going to miss terribly. I know a lot of you reading might have things to add so please don't hesitate to comment :)

I love writing this blog, but am running out ideas. Any feedback with suggestions of topics or things you'd like to know would be great.

As always, thanks for reading and happy weekend everyone ^^


  1. Bron your #35 comment about the toilet paper on the outside -> the bathrooms at china mall are exactly the same. Now i understand why - weird asian custom :)
    Oh and #22, can you imagine having those in SA with all our tanned steroid gym bunnies!! "Ey boet, check out my huge guns ey! How kiff are these bad boys!" hahahahaha!!
    I liked this post my bron, made me smile :)

  2. Awesome blog my friend!!! Loved reading it!

  3. Haha, I loved reading this list. Coffee shops are one thing I will truly miss about Korea. They're everywhere, almost as convenient as convenience stores.