Here are a few small things that have stood out to me during my day to day activities in Seoul. They are fairly simple and perhaps uninteresting to some, but sometimes the smallest differences seem significant for whatever reason.
After a week in Seoul I thought I had mastered crossing the street. I honed my hearing so I could detect incoming scooters that seem to purposefully hurtle towards pedestrians. I always identify where every bus and taxi is before I cross because sometimes they like to zoom towards the red light. However, one thing that has agitated me is waiting for the crosswalk sign to change. This vice of mine developed over many years of having access to a silver button that told the traffic lights I wanted to cross immediately. I had not seen a crossing button in Seoul so I waited impatiently to cross the streets until seven days in, I spotted a small button on a pole near the curb. In my joy I rammed my finger into the button. Promptly, a voice began speaking to me in Korea. I assumed it was telling me that the light would soon change. I smiled, but then one of my fellow teachers I was walking with informed me that I had just called the police. They would be on their way to our location promptly. I panicked and ran across the street as soon as the light changed. My fellow teacher laughed as I tried to get as far away as possible. Sorry Seoul police force. From now on, I won’t press any more mystery buttons.
This last weekend I hiked Mt. Buhkansan. Two subway lines and a bus ride from my apartment. It was a beautiful peak and a fairly quick ascent. However, what amazed me most about the hike was everyone’s hiking gear. I wore leggings and a hoodie, a simple outfit for a small excursion. Once I stepped off the bus and saw all the other hikers I realize what a slob I must have looked like. Everyone was in pristine, brightly colored hiking gear. Every hiker but us had a hiking stick, a backpack, shoes, rain jacket, and fancy pants of some sort that looked like they had just purchased at a store and came straight to the mountain. Apparently, there is a dress code for hiking.
Perhaps the reason why is because before the entrance to the park there is a small retail village. Every building sold the same product: hiking gear. There were a few restaurants, but the majority of shops for hiking. They had North Face, Merrell, and every other brand name you affiliate with outdoor adventures. I suppose this encourages being outdoors, but it is pretty funny to be the only ones without the proper attire.
Alcohol & Food
There is no open container law in Korea, but the only people who fully utilize this seem to be foreigners. Many convenient stores have small tables outside of their shop and people will sit down for a beer at their local 7-11. Also, the liquor of choice in Korea is Soju which as many people say, ‘is cheaper than water’. So, most people when they go out to eat order this alongside their meal.
If you eat with anyone the meal is assumed to be shared. This is fantastic because the food in Korea is delicious. Of course, being a vegetarian would have been fairly hard here because I would have had to decline almost every invite to dinner with friends. There is a ridiculous amount of meat here. Korean BBQ is a lot of fun and a great example of a shared meal because bowls of raw meat and a various assortments of sides are delivered to the table. Then, it is up to you to cook your own meal! The food cooks in front of you on a grill and once people are hungry they can pick what they want to stuff their faces with. It is not only Korean BBQ that is shared or that the customer has to cook their own food, but it is a good example. So, if you head to Korea don’t assume that your meal is specifically, share! Meals are already a base of friendship and community so sharing only makes these bonds stronger.
The first few weeks I felt like every time I walked into a bathroom I was treated to a surprise. For example, the bathroom in my love motel and my apartment is located next to the bathroom sink which is next to the shower which is next to my medicine cabinet. I actually quite like how compact the bathroom is because it is more like a closet and takes up less space. Besides, every time I take a shower I clean my bathroom!
So, I became accustomed to this bathroom design, but then the subway threw me for a loop. I walked into the ladies room and everything appeared normal. However, when I opened my stall door I saw no porcelain toilet, only a small silver troft in the ground. This is new I thought. Not all subway bathrooms are like this so it is only a surprise about half the time.
Then, one day I was walked around and needed to access a bathroom. I was near City Hall and wanted to know what the inside looked like so I walked in. Their bathroom was much more advanced than the subway’s one. There was a remote control next to the seat. I still have no idea what it was for but I looked it and there were three images: water splashing someone’s bum, a water spout and a water droplet. There were other buttons too, but I was too scared to press any of them after the crosswalk incident. So, this high tech toilet is still a mystery too me, I am mostly glad I didn’t get sucked in or drenched in water.
Seoul is beautiful and there is so much to see that even in a year I can do something new every weekend. Yet, I couldn’t help but notice the constant haze and the dry feeling in my throat. I assumed it was just Seoul’s pollution, but it turns out it was ‘The Dust’.
So, there is a place called the Gobi desert which has a lot of sand. Sometimes it gets windy and the little sand particles are picked up and drift towards China. As the particles make their way they collect anything in the air, like viruses and pollution. After these little particles have collected all these wonderful things they drop of their load in Korea! Their pilgrimage make up what is called The Dust in Korea and many people wear face mask when it the air is viscous with the little buggers.
A couple years ago I guess Korea donated a lot of trees to China because they wanted them to plant them in a location that would lessen the dust. Instead, China planted them along a highway. So, that is why many people wear mask here and why sometimes my throat feels a bit strange. However, most of the foreign teachers who have been here more than a year say their immune system is like a steel wall against any kind of germs.
Street Aquarium or Dinner?
Korea is a peninsula and is surrounded by water on three sides. Therefore, there is a lot of seafood and anything water related. When I walk down a street I usually see live octopus, sea cucumbers, eel, and various fish. The open top tanks are in front of the restaurants and for the people inside they are future meals. However, when you walk down the street it is more like a street aquarium. I like to stop and watch the octopus float sometimes because usually I have to pay money to go to an aquarium. Besides, I don’t mind if it makes me look like a foreigner….I am one already haha!