Observations in Korea / 04

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I am almost exactly halfway through my time in Korea. It's whizzed by for the most part, and I can barely believe we're halfway through September already! It totally snuck up on me, and in some ways it feels like I've been living in Korea forever. Even these past few weeks, there were a couple times when I honestly couldn't remember whether a few things were done differently back home because it's been so long. I've never been away from home or my family for this long before, and with the changing of the seasons I've been getting a touch more nostalgic and wishing I could hang out at home with the people I love. That being said, Korea continues to be equal parts hilarious, baffling, frustrating and awesome, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of my time here plays out. Here are some more random observations from the past few months.

Most of the escalators here work by motion sensor (ie. only start if there's someone walking towards them) which seems like an awesome, efficient way to save energy. What I do find strange are the constant public service announcements on escalators, reminding you to hold the handrails with both hands (??) and watch your children, etc. This was one of the things I couldn't remember whether we had in Canada – do we?

Speaking of public service announcements, there are usually several every day on any major beach in Korea. They're broadcasted from speakers, reminding you in several languages to watch your valuables and that you're not allowed in the water after 6PM.

The oceans in Korea are patrolled and controlled big time, which feels different from home. You're not allowed to swim past a certain buoy line, not even at your own risk, without being shouted at through a megaphone. On the few days this summer when they deemed the water unsafe (a process that to the naked eye, looked a little arbitrary although I do understand it can actually get quite dangerous), lifeguards patrolled the whole coastline, not letting anyone into the water past their ankles. One such time I tried to reason with the Korean lifeguard, saying “Could we walk out to our waists? We can swim!” He replied, “I know you can, but I can't let you because they can't,” motioning to our fellow Korean beachgoers. I don't know if his statement is in any way true or not, but his logic doesn't make a lot of sense to me either way.

Foreigners need to get a health check in order to secure their visa to work in Korea, and it's a pretty intense process. Blood work, urine test, height and weight, vision test, hearing test (I've never even once gotten one in Canada), and a chest x-ray. Most of which begs the question: but why? Some parts I understand, but others not so much. Also, I had a full health check done when I first came to Korea, but when I changed schools they required me to do a second full check even though it had only been 3 months.

DSC_5068In Busan, it is very common for locals to bring their own music on hikes or walks and listen to it out loud through speakers.

Many children here are utterly terrified of teeny tiny dogs – as in scream, burst into tears and run away or hide behind their parents. Big dogs are pretty uncommon in Korea (a byproduct of the fact that most people who live in cities live in apartments), so I haven't observed what they're like around bigger animals, but it's pretty bizarre to watch. I've even seen some teenagers and adults equally scared!

Korea is a country in general very fond of its air conditioners, but for some reason, gyms are not air conditioned. They'll have fans going and leave the windows open, but it makes for a pretty sticky, sweaty experience.

Most gyms provide clothes to work out in and plenty of towels with your membership. This seems very handy if for example if you wanted to stop by on your way home from work but didn't want to deal with the laundry.

At most beauty stores or counters whenever you walk in, you instantly have one of the several employees practically right at your elbow, and they follow you around the store wherever you go. I'm someone who dislikes when people hover even mildly close by in stores, so this for me is always a bit much.

DSC_5023It's really common in Korea for people to order few dishes and share them all together out of the same pot. This tradition has carried over to Western-style food too – I've often seen a Korean couple splitting a single burger.

The men in Korean couples very frequently carry the woman's purse everywhere and all her shopping bags if she has any.

Selfie sticks are really common here. They're everywhere, all the time, with people of all ages. Heaven forbid you ask someone to take a photo of you, right? Not to mention the fact that they look pretty ridiculous. That being said, Korean photoshoots are legendary – it's not strange to hear the clicking of a phone camera dozens of times in a row for identically posed photos – so perhaps they know that no stranger would be willing to take as many photos as they would ideally want!

In the summertime, a lot of Koreans often pitch camping-style tents on the beach for a beach day. From what I understand this is to avoid the sun, as many Koreans don't like to tan and often swim fully clothed.

Taxi drivers are a force to be reckoned with. They'll often get mad and scold you if you get in the cab facing the wrong way from your destination, and some (so I've heard) won't take you if they decide where you're going is too close by or too far away.

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Spam is a luxury product here. It comes in fancy gift sets for Chuseok, paired with cans of tuna and bottles of olive and grapeseed oil as a deluxe package worth upwards of $30.

Stores and restaurants can get built overnight in Korea, or at least within a matter of days. It's totally normal to see a gutted storefront transformed into an operating business within two days or less. Renovations happen extremely fast as well.

Squatting is common among people of all ages – from babies to teenage boys to moms to business men and of course grandmothers and grandfathers. It's amazing and inspiring to see how easy it is for them to get into such a deep squat and be totally comfortable in it.

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Once again, I could go on for hours talking about cutesy phone cases as big as my head, exercise machines in public parks, and how often random locals ask to take pictures with us foreigners even if we're doing nothing in particular. There are so many things that are different here from back home. Whenever I start to forget I live in a foreign country (which believe it or not, can happen!), I'll experience something very Korean and be reminded again. But despite all the differences for the most part it's a great place to live, especially because we are surrounded by so much absolutely stunning nature: mountains, beaches, beautiful skies and rocks and forests. All in all, it's a very interesting place to call home.

See my other observations posts here.

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