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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Love/Hate

I, and I probably speak for almost all foreigners too, generally have a love/hate relationship with Korea. And these feelings usually change daily. When you're having a bad day at home (as in America for me) you don't say, "Ahhhhh I hate America." Living away from home lets me blame something for bad days.

This post probably would be petter placed either at my six month mark or one year. But I'm doing it now because it's been on my mind lately. 

First I'll note the things I dislike about Korea (I don't actually HATE anything...)

  • Lack of communication: I've become quite proficient in Konglish (Korean and English mixed) but sometimes I encounter individuals who speak absolutely NO English at all. Even Konglish can't help me then. 
  • Open windows: Even if it's freezing cold inside, chances are, a window is open somewhere. Why? I don't know.
  • Coats inside: Rather than turn on the heat, God forbid..., Koreans would rather just wear five layers, a coat, scarf and gloves inside.
  • Dirt: Korea. Is. Dirty. There's no way to sugar coat it. Most places in Europe I visited, the streets and sidewalks were immaculate (for the most part) compared to here. Trash receptacles? Not necessary. Just throw your trash in the pile of trash over there. Oddly enough, though, all the trash does go away. I suppose the old, retired folk need something to do and some way to make money...
  • Wallpaper: Both apartments I've lived in and I'm sure every other apartment in the country has at least one wall covered in bright, printed, gaudy wallpaper. Enough said. Korea, wallpaper left with the 90s. (Maybe early '00s...)
  • Shower situation: Some larger apartments have real bathtub/shower combos but in most smaller places you'll find a toilet/sink/shower combo. My bathroom is all tile. I have a toilet with a sink next to it, and a shower head (the removable kind) above it. There's a little knob on the sink faucet that you turn to switch between sink and shower. And basically everything in the bathroom gets wet while you bathe. And if you forget to turn the shower function back to sink? SURPRISE!
  • Driving: If you're not from California you might think Californians drive crazy. Cali, you got nothin' on Korea. Stop lights? Optional. No parking spot? Just stop where you are. Yes, that's right. Whether you're in the middle of the road, side or on the sidewalk, just park right there. Speed limit? Pshhhh what speed limit. Ease on your breaks before a red light if the guy in front of you actually stopped? Not necessary. Just slam on your breaks 10 feet before that stopped car. AND... little known secret (not true at all), if you're at a stop light you can put your car in neutral and put on your parking break and turn off your headlights to save gas/energy. 
  • Crosswalks: Yes, crosswalks are a necessary feature for busy intersections. There are some times, however, when you can simply look both ways and decide it's safe to cross. Koreans haven't figured that out yet, and they look genuinely surprised if I or any other foreigner crosses before we get the green walk sign. It's like watching a dog in a yard with an electric fence. He'll go so far but STOP. Don't want to get shocked. STOP don't want to get hit by the car that isn't coming...
  • The "Korean Way": I can't count the number of times I was incredibly fed up with my previous employer. The way my start date was moved around, a meeting would be sprung on me at the last minute but the boss wouldn't show, and the list continues... I am expected to remain flexible and open-minded during all of these situations because it's either the "Korean way" or a miscommunication. But if the miscommunication is on my end, well let's just say it doesn't work to my advantage. 

WHEW... Done with the bad. Now for the things I love about Korea.

  • My salary: I don't think a grown gal with a big girl job should discuss the specifics of her salary (yes, I make a salary!) but just know it's sweet.
  • Cell phone bill: I pay roughly $10/month for my cell phone. Sure it's a crappy pay as you go phone, but it's all I need. It lets me text the 27 contacts I have and make an occasional phone call.
  • Electricity bill: Mine averages around $14/month.
  • Cost of food: It's cheap. Most Korean meals average at $9 per person - with alcohol! Even simple things like bottles of water are cheap. There are so many things in Korea you can buy for under $1 (and even things that are $1 Korean equivalent are cheaper than 1 USD because of the exchange rate). Can't really say the same for America. It gets harder and harder to find things under a buck. 
  • Taxis: They're everywhere. And they're cheap, too. A ride from one of the city to the other costs about $15. In America that ride would be at least like $35. 
  • Floor heating: The heat goes through the floor and heats the rooms that way. It's quite ingenious. The heat stays in for the most part and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than central heating. 
  • No keys: I don't have a car here so no car key. And I don't even have a key to my apartment! Hello key-less entry! It's much easier to keep up with a 4-digit code than a silly key. Downside, when you are too inebriated to punch in the door code, you might think your landlord changed the code so you can't get in. (Not that that was me on my birthday last year or anything...)
  • Chopsticks: They're the tool of all tools. I can eat anything with chopsticks. Pasta? Check. Cake? Check. Fried chicken? Check.
  • Delivery: Everything can be delivered here. On scooters. It doesn't matter what kind of food you want, it will come to you, no matter where you are. You're in a PC-bang and you want some pizza? No problem. Ten minutes. You're at home and you want McDonalds? Of course. Would you like fries with that? If only I knew how to order stuff on the phone... Sadly I can't even order pizza by myself! Haha. It's nice in theory though. 
  • Close proximity: You can travel Korea North to South in seven hours by bus, two by train. East to West is five hours. Pohang is within a two hour bus ride from about five larger, more popular cities. This makes day or weekend trips a definitely possibility all the time, even if it's just for a manicure and yummy American food. 
  • Asia: Korea is in Asia. Did you know that?!?! It makes traveling to other Asian countries much easier and cheaper. I can travel to China just as cheap as I could travel to the other side of my own country. That's awesome! So far I have trips planned/flights booked for Japan and China. During my Asian adventure I MUST see Cambodia as well. Maybe the Philippines and/or Thailand too. We'll see. 
  • Friends: I now have friends literately all over the world. All of whom say, "When you come to ______ you can stay with me! I'll show you around!" I just hope they're not joking. If so, they'll be surprised by my email saying Hey I'll be in ______ next month! See you then. I can still crash with you, right?!?! And some of the friendships I've made are definite lasting ones. Being away from our homes with no family, we have to rely on our friends to be our family. I'm a lucky girl. 
  • Great job: I love coming to work every day. Love it. I love seeing smiling Asian children every day, even when they tell me I'm fat because they don't know any other word for "not skinny." Although my first job still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the work was so rewarding. I know I've talked about him before, but my little Smile will always have a special place in my heart. I met the three year old on his first day of English kindergarten. He cried and slept on my shoulder. He didn't even know hello. The milestones I saw with that little boy were amazing. I almost cried the day he said in clear English, "Teacher, may I have some water please." He learned that from me! I taught him that! Or the day Princess Sally had an impromptu shape quiz from my supervisor. She never knew what an oval was during class but remarkably, she finally remembered. She LEARNED. From me! This is one of the reasons teaching will most likely be in my future. I don't know in what capacity. But I'm a teacher now. 
In conclusion, I love Korea and love my life. Most days. 

2 comments:

  1. Great entry. Lots of great reasons to love the place as well as the frustrating truths of the place. Well in.

    ReplyDelete
  2. yuppity-yup. good list. got everything but the sewage smells and motorcycles in the crosswalks, which are really just pedestrians on wheels, so it's okay.

    ReplyDelete

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