Monday, October 10, 2011

She loves me... she loves me not... SHE LOVES ME!

Jen's Top 5 Korean DISLIKES and Top 15 LIKES


1. Korean food
In all honesty, this is the one thing I wish I could change about my experience. I don’t mean change the food, because I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the entire country who hates it, but rather my opinion of it. Let’s see… I don’t like the seafood, I don’t like the spicy food, I don’t like the meat, I don’t like the kimchi. The smell of the Korean barbecues make me nauseous, and the noodles have a slimy, chewy texture that makes me gag. I can handle the rice in small portions. Thankfully I can easily find things on which to survive (or indulge, rather): bread, pasta, loads of fruit, vegetables, French fries, chocolate and ice cream. The only catch is that this stuff is not exactly budget friendly. Oh well!

 2. Cars have the right of way
If you don’t look before you cross, you will get run over. At pedestrian crosswalks, you can wait for what seems like hours before getting your chance. If you’re not the patient type, you just dash on over and hope for the best.

3. The advertisement plastered buildings. 
It’s impossible to know what’s available on any given street by simply glancing over from side to side. The many colourful, bright signs pasted in every window and on every rooftop creates a massive sensory overload and frankly makes me dizzy. Staring at a building for 5 minutes might give you some idea as to what it contains. Just the other day I noticed a bowling alley on the other side of my bus stop (I stand at this bus stop every single morning). Everything is piled one on top of the other. There is no order to the madness. Down the road, for instance, there is a cross (indicating the presence of a church on the top floor of a building) with a big red BAR sign directly underneath, and a veterinary clinic complete with a pet shop at the ground level. Next door you can conveniently buy a couple of fried pork skewers, and a new pair of shoes. Oh, don’t forget a new house plant!

4. The busy EMART. 
Although it has everything we need, the store is crowded to the point of feeling claustrophobic. And the salespersons, although I appreciate that they are just doing their jobs, are extremely annoying and most often in the way. Thankfully there’s an easy way around this one: simply go shop at non peak hours (say… Sunday morning at 10am). Actually the store is pretty much empty anytime before noon on any given day. I’m happy I found this out early.

5. Smokers
Smoking is allowed in bars and in a lot of public places. Talk about a buzz kill when you’re enjoying a few drinks over a meal. Eww.


1. Honesty
Koreans consider little white lies to be extremely disrespectful. If they think you’re too fat, too skinny, you look tired, you look sick, you look old, you eat too much or not enough, they will tell you, straight up. Some foreigners might find this rude at first, perhaps slightly annoying once they get used to it… but I happen to think the sincerity makes people seem friendlier and more genuine. Plus it makes me laugh every single time.

2. Family values
Koreans have profound respect for their family lives, especially elders. I was pleasantly surprised on my first day of teaching when a student drew a happy picture of himself surrounded by people. When I told him he must have lots of friends, he immediately corrected me – ‘Not friends Teacha! My family!’ No Canadian teenager would draw a picture of their family to illustrate their idea of ‘fun’.

3. Masks
Koreans of all ages wear masks when they are sick as to not spread their germs. They also don’t shake hands when they meet. Talk about a simple solution to an A+ in Public Health.

4. Passion
When it comes to baseball, Korean fans' devotion is unparallelled. I’ve never been to a baseball game, but if soccer games are the slightest indication of what it’s like in a baseball stadium, let me tell you, fellow Habs fans, we pale in comparison.

5. Fresh Air
Despite being one of the most densely populated countries on Earth, Korea is (surprisingly!) home to many large fresh air spaces, mountains, lakes, bike paths, provincial and national parks. If you avoid peak tourist season, these countryside spaces can be relaxing getaways from the city life.

6. Sleeping on public transportation
On the subway, the bus, the train… it seems like people are either sleeping or on their phones. It’s funny to look at people passing out on strangers’ shoulders, just to wake up, quickly apologize, and then do it again 30 seconds later. And this doesn’t only happen at night. They pass out on their way to work in the morning, too. I especially love this because I happen to fall asleep as soon as I enter a moving vehicle. In Canada I get weird looks, but here I fit right in!

As you might have guessed, it stands for Korean Pop music, and I’m slowly getting to know this popular and highly entertaining music genre! Of course I can’t focus on the lyrics, since most are Korean. But the catchy English choruses are quick to stick. And I am certainly not the only one taking a liking to it – the trend is spreading like wildfire throughout Asia and other parts of the world.

8. Late starts to the day 
School doesn’t start earlier than 9am. Teachers have no problem walking into class as the bell is going off. Some also like to get ready at school. I walk in the teachers’ room in the morning and witness people brushing their teeth, drying their hair, changing their clothes. Outside of school, most shops, grocery stores and coffee shops open their doors around 10 or 11am. The upside to this? Not only do you get to sleep in, but everything is open later! You can easily go clothes shopping on a Saturday night at 11pm, and party at the pub until 4am.

9. Fear of the weather
Koreans don’t like weather extremes. So unless it’s an overcast day, you can pretty much guarantee that everyone’s walking around with umbrellas, to hide from the rain (anything from a light mist to a heavy downpour) or sun (even a slight break in the clouds triggers mad searches for means to create some shade). I like this because I don’t look like a crazy person trying to spare my hairdo from the (mere threat of) rain.

10. Drinking in public
Excessive drinking is not only acceptable, it’s often encouraged, and it’s considered rude to turn down a drink if you’re in the company of Korean friends. You can also drink on the street, just like in Vegas.

11. Singing Rooms
Koreans love to sing. At every other street corner you can find karaoke entertainment. You can enjoy a private party with a few friends in your very own singing booth, where you can choose from a wide selection of Korean and English music.

12. Crazy kids
The students are so quiet, obedient and highly disciplined during class time in the presence of their Korean teachers. But during the 10 minute break time? Man do they ever let loose! They typically run and scream at the top of their lungs up and down the hallway, wrestle each other to the floor, kick, punch, hit, throw, push, fall, jump, cry… and this all goes on while their teachers calmly hang out in the teachers’ room with the door closed. When the bell rings again, aside from a few sweaty foreheads and heavy breathing, it’s like nothing happened and the lesson carries on. Seriously, this is not an exaggeration! 

13. ‘Excuse me’ doesn’t exist
Well, actually it does, it sounds like ‘sillyhamnida’, but I’ve never heard anyone use it. That’s because if you need to get somewhere, you’re expected to simply push and shove your way through. You don’t apologize and people don’t get offended. It’s like this mutual understanding people share here.

14. Using two hands
It’s considered polite to use both hands when giving or receiving something, whether it be tea at the restaurant, money at the store, or a gift. I just think it’s super cool when the students proudly hand me their homework or notebooks with both hands, complete with a little bow of the head. It feels like I’ve got their full attention. I always return the gesture, though I’ve caught myself forgetting a few times. Oops! But it’s quickly becoming second-nature.

15. The cute puppies
Toy dogs are extremely popular and so darn adorable! It’s hard to pass by one of the dozens of pet shops in our area without gawking at the little things and talking to them through the window using little baby voices. Regrettably this generally wins me many puzzled looks, but I simply can’t help myself!


  1. Great post Jen! It's always nice to be real and show both sides of the equation. Travel is not always sunshine and lollipops, it's about finding out your likes and dislikes - and focussing on the likes!
    Hope you guys are doing well... I hand this post to you with both hands.

  2. The masks don't help to keep airborne disease out of the air when everyone, from little kids to old ladies and men, are spitting everywhere. There are great blobs of phlegm everywhere (including on my classroom floors!) and I'm surprised Korea hasn't been inundated with tuberculosis. Frankly, it's one of the most disgusting aspects of living in Korea.

  3. This is an awesome post. Post newer stuff please.