Guest Post #4

This guest post comes from my friend and fellow EPIK teacher, Mitch Steinberg (USA).  I’ve been excited about getting his post because he is one of the funniest people I’ve met in a long time.  If you like what you read here, please check out Mitch’s blog – Mi-Gook Diaries.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Korea — Doing it Right…. Sometimes

Ahhh Korea…. For the most part, I love living here. Lots of fun things to do, lots of good food to eat, lots of beautiful women in tiny little short shorts — what more could a guy ask for?? But of course, like everything in this world of ours, Korea is not perfect, and sometimes you gotta take the good with the bad. If I may, I’d like to tell you about some of the things that Korea does well… and some of the things it doesn’t.

Doing it Right — Transportation
Cheap, efficient, and plentiful — the Korean transportation system has got it goin’ on. Daegu has 2 subway lines and an uncountable number of buses to take you wherever you want to go for about a buck per ride. Those who follow me on twitter (@msteinberg91 in case you forgot) may know all about my disdain for the red line (subway line 1), but the underground Eden that is the green line surely makes up for the red’s shortcomings… and for all the shit I give it, it does get the job done. And the cross-country transportation system is even better… For $15 (US) you can get the high-speed train to Busan, and be there in 45 minutes, or for a little more you can make the 2 hr trip north to Seoul. And they run roughly every 20-30 minutes. See ya!

Epic Failure — Bathrooms
There are so many things wrong with bathrooms in Korea I don’t even know where to start. For one thing, they must have been too busy designing space-age gadgets to remember the simple things, such as a freaking shower stall. The showers here are just a hand-held shower head and a big drain in the middle of the bathroom floor.

But hark, as you would probably expect, public bathrooms are far worse. Some of them replace the classic ‘throne’ style toilet with the … I’m not even sure what to call it …. squatter? It’s basically a shallow porcelain bowl laying flush with the floor. Or in other words, a huge disgusting mess waiting to happen. And whoever told Korea that MOTH BALLS were a good substitute for urinal cakes needs to have their head checked. Seriously, I would actually prefer the smell of hot feces to what hits my nostrils when i walk into some of these latrines.

Now on the subject of toilet paper… As Taft once so eloquently put it, “they’ve got it everywhere but the bathrooms.” Bar napkins, tissues, minor cleanups — toilet paper is the preferred mode of attack and ammo is plentiful. But find yourself droppin’ a deuce in a public or restaurant bathroom, and the supply of TP is likely to resemble that of water in the Sahara. If you’re prone to upset stomach, you better keep a stash on you at all times, or you could very well find yourself shit out of luck… literally.

Doing it Right — Socks
How can you stay flossin’ with your feet in a culture where you check your kicks at the door? Easy — get some fresh ass socks. Koreans keep their sock game on point. I actually feel like a bit of a loser when I’m wearing the standard black dress sock under my slippers at work, while my coteacher is sporting some crazy colors/designs, or the hottest new Korean cartoon character (a whole other topic in itself). But no worries, there are sock vendors everywhere — on the streets, in the subways, in stores, just socks and socks and socks. For 1,000 won a pair. Try and beat that…. you just can’t.

My current Korean sock collection: Batman, ninja turtles, dog smoking a cigar, surprised panda, banana superhero, skulls, and the crown jewel… Obama socks.

Don't hate

Epic Failure — Bedding
I don’t know why Koreans insist on being uncomfortable when they sleep, but I haven’t so much as even heard of , much less slept on, a comfortable mattress since I’ve been here. And the typical bedding, instead of actually bedsheets, is some thin blanket-like fabric that resembles the texture of a Holiday Inn’s decorative blanket cover on the bottom and just a blanket/quilt/whatever-you-call-it on top. And if you want to buy western style sheets of mediocre quality, they come in individual pieces and cost prices that bedsheets have no business costing. But hey, maybe they’ll have Hello Kitty patterns on them… score.

Doing it Right — Street Food
I personally think all the food in Korea is pretty great, but that would be an entirely-too-long post all of its own. So I will keep it to one of my favorite facets of Korean cuisine — street food. Like many other things in Korea, its easy to find and ridiculously cheap. There are tons of different foods, usually served on a stick, all usually selling for 1-2 bucks or less. I’m talking corn dogs, chicken, deep-fried dok (rice-dumpling-log-things, they’re good), fish cakes (not my personal favorite but a big seller), waffles, sweet red-bean cakes (better than they sound) and tons of other things that I don’t know what they’re called/made of but taste just fine to me. And did I mention they all cost around a dollar? Sure beats the dirty Halal on the streets of NYC.

Mmmm food on a stick

Epic Failure — Utensils
Okay Asia, come on now. As delicious as the food may be, it’s time to give up the chopsticks in favor of something a little more… practical. There is a reason why THE ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD, a pretty wide and multicultural demographic, uses forks and knives. I mean, while the immediate intuitive choice for picking up rice and noodles may be TWO STICKS (Internet sarcasm alert!), better methods have since been discovered. For some meals here that require cutting the food, you may be provided with a pair of kitchen scissors. While it does make you feel like you are making some kind of delicious art project, the angles and movements do tend to get quite awkward.

Doing it Right — Cell Phone Coverage
4G, literally everywhere. On the subway, in the bar, in the stalls of my school’s men’s room…. whenever you need it, you got it. And it’s faaaaaaaaaaast. And WiFi in most public places, too. Great for looking up maps, Facebook stalking, and proving friends wrong in trivial disputes.

Epic Failure — Odor Control
Every 10 feet or so, it smells like either a fart, rotting fish, week-old garbage, or a combination of the three. Enough said.

So there’s the shakedown… Remember to take it with a grain of salt; living in Korea is so awesome that even the complaining is fun, and the good outweighs the bad 10 to 1. But that post would get pretty boring pretty fast, wouldn’t it?

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