I’m quickly approaching the one-year mark in Korea. It feels like I arrived just last month. Time seems to pass much faster here than in the US. I guess that means that I’m having more fun here than I did in North Carolina. I’m surprised every day by how much I still enjoy living in Korea. I love it in spite of all my silly complaints.
It is surprising how quickly new and exciting things become normal. As the year came to a close, I thought about all of the once-strange things that have blended seamlessly into my day-to-day life. Even the most strange aspects of life in Korea seem normal to me now. Here are a few examples:
1) Crazy signs – Korea is littered with them. Between Engerish and graphic bathroom signs, there is no end to the fun you can have searching for interesting and silly signs.
2) The food – Korean food is awesome! I have enjoyed almost every Korean dish that I’ve tried so far. Most of Korea’s native food is both healthy and delicious. Unfortunately, Korea sucks at western food. Restaurants here have a knack for ruining even the most simple western dishes. From corn on pizza to beans in a croque monsieur, it’s (almost) all bad.
3) Last-minute culture – This one was the most difficult aspects of life in Korea to which I have had to adjust. We were told on day 1 that this would be a struggle for some, but the warnings didn’t make the reality any easier. Life in Korea, both professional and social, operates by a different set of rules than American life. Appointments are often canceled, everyone is late and decisions are never made early. I find that living here has forced me to accept that things will probably work out if I calm down and let things happen in their own time.
4) Ajummas – “Ajumma” is the Korean word for “aunt”, but it refers to all Korean women who are old enough to be married. In common usage, “ajumma” refers to a specific type of woman. I found a great diagram that can help you identify the type of woman who qualifies as an ajumma:
Many (not all) ajummas seem pushy and rude to foreigners. Thanks to Korea’s Confucian roots, old people are basically beyond reproach. They say and do whatever they want, and it is rare for a younger person to stand up to them. Ajummas are notorious for cutting in line, being nosy and yelling at random people in public. Just last night, on my way home from buying school supplies, I went to a restaurant in my neighborhood. The ajumma who took my order was curious about my purchases, so she took the shopping bag out of my hand and looked inside. Then she asked me how much each item cost. A year ago, this would have floored me. But now, these interactions are starting to feel normal.
5) Transportation – Korea has one of the best public transportation systems in the world. One of my favorite things about living in Korea is the fact that I can cross the country (Busan to Seoul) in under three hours for less than 40,000 won (~$36). Most major cities have subways, and every city is littered with bus routes.
On the other hand, the transportation system can be dangerous. As a walker, scooters are the bane of my existence. Traffic laws simply don’t apply to them, so they can ride anywhere and at any speed. They fly down narrow sidewalks at breakneck speeds. Scooters drive from the roadway onto the sidewalk, often through crowds of pedestrians, to avoid stopping at red lights. Last year in Seoul, 10% of scooter accidents occurred on sidewalks. After my first few close calls I learned that, in Korea, you have to look both ways before crossing the sidewalk.
Until next time.