March 7, 2012 Enter your password to view comments.
February 26, 2012 1 Comment
While there are frustrating days when I loathe the very soil of this country, there are days when I marvel at the things that make it super awesome amazing. Korea, here’s what I like about you.
1. Seoul Metropolitan Subway System I come from Toronto where we have the strangely small subway system, the TTC.
Coming from years of using the TTC, I was initially overwhelmed by the 328-stop, 16-line Leviathan that is the Seoul subway system (click to see larger image).
Once I got over being afraid of it and constantly ending up lost though, I fell in love. Unlike the TTC it’s incredibly affordable. I don’t take transit daily, but a trip is usually no more than about 1000 won or under a $1.00, unlike the $3.00+ it was in Toronto when I left. Also unlike the TTC, which is constantly running out of Metro Passes at high traffic locations, a T-Money card, the currency of the Seoul transit system, can be purchased at any 7/11 and can be reloaded there or at kiosks in any station. Apart from your initial purchase of a T-Money card you will probably never have to deal with a human regarding fares again. The same card takes me onto buses as well and I can use this card on transit in Seoul and in Incheon where I live. Some cabs will even take a T-Money card.
When you’re riding the train, the stops are announced in Korean and English for the most part and often it’s displayed on a monitor in Korean, Chinese and English as well. Apart from really old stations, all the signage is in all three languages. For a country with only one official language the subway system is incredibly accommodating.
My favourite thing about the subway system however, is the quickest transfer points maps.
These maps allow you to find the easiest spot for transferring to other lines. While I had this down to a science in Toronto without any real indicators, that was entirely out of laziness since there are only four transfer points on the entire TTC. Here it’s about ensuring that I don’t get lost when I’m unfamiliar with a station. Most of the stations are relatively large so you can easily get turned around if you’re not paying attention.
Another thing I love about the subway here is that it’s almost always spotlessly clean.
Lastly, the subway app (that also applies to subway systems in other parts of Korea) is fantastic. Jihachul (“subway” in Korean), is an excellent app that will show you how to get from A to B and how long it will take. While it can be glitchy with giving you the best/fastest route sometimes, if you have no clue about how to get somewhere, it will get you there.
2. Impeccably Dressed Young Korean Men I won’t pretend that every man in Korea is well dressed because that’s just not the case. However, when you go out on a Saturday night in Seoul or even in Incheon, most men under 35 are put together pretty damn well. Men here wear suits like they came out of the womb in them. You’ll never see a b-boy here with the crotch of his pants hanging between his knees. Even when guys are wearing sweatpants and t-shirts, the clothes appear to have been tailored for them specifically. I just love men’s fashion in Korea.
3. Seoul/Itaewon In general I love going to Seoul. There are always a million things to do, people to meet and places to go. I feel like it’s one long spectacle visiting different neighbourhoods in Seoul. Yesterday I ventured into Myeong-dong for the first time and experienced the crush of shoppers taking advantage of every great store Korea has to offer all on one street. It’s like being in a mall but outside. A few weeks ago I checked out tony Gangnam for the first time. Seoul is like a gift that keeps on giving.
And then, in Seoul, there is Itaewon. I have to say one of my pet peeves is the attitude of foreigners who think they are “beyond” Itaewon. They have somehow forgotten the days when they lived and died by Itaewon and the ability to go there and get a Subway sub or licorice at the Foreign Food Mart or authentic Greek or Indian food or a conversation in English and reasonably priced imported beer. I applaud them for feeling settled enough in Korea to not feel dependent on Itaewon anymore, but there’s no reason to knock it. It’s a lifeline for many foreigners years into their stay and an enormously fun place to hang out (I went to five clubs there in one night and all of them were more fun than any place I’ve gone to in Hongdae, the ostensible club district). There is a life and vibrancy about the neighbourhood that I haven’t encountered anywhere else yet, which is probably why I can’t get enough of taking pictures in Itaewon. Whether I stay here one year or ten, I pledge to never speak ill of Itaewon, sewage smell, Hooker Hill, crazy servicemen, warts and all.
4. Samgyeopsal If you live in Toronto you’ve seen Korean BBQ places crop up over the past five years. I got sick of that stuff within about four meals. Eventually my sister and I moved on to the big leagues and went to the Korean grocery store at Christie and Bloor and started buying our own marinated meats and grilling them at home. That stuff was good, but pretty expensive. Here in Korea I have found heaven in the ubiquitous samgyeopsal restaurants. You order from a variety of meats and they bring it raw and you cook it yourself. You get an array of condiments and sides with it. It’s truly communal food and I’m not even sure you’ll be served if you enter a joint like this alone. I could eat this stuff every night. Seriously, every night. I don’t know if they’re putting cocaine in it but it’s crazy good. And crazy cheap. As long as you don’t drink too much soju with it. When I leave this country I will miss the hell out of authentic samgyeopsal.
5. Amazing Service One of my favourite lunch spots is closing up shop today. There are far too many restaurants near where I work and so places go out of business every month at least. I will especially miss this spot because of the amazing service I got there. I spent the last two months going there three times a week and ordering off menu. The man would figure out a fair price and charge me. He taught his staff to make those off menu items for me and they would take pains to offer them to me when I came in. It’s not that every place in Korea has service like this, but when you find Koreans willing to offer good service, it’s out of this world good.
I had to buy new contact lenses recently and the man I dealt with spoke barely any English. Despite this he laboured through multiple phone calls to me to deal with ordering details and generally made the experience a huge joy. His product is more expensive than I’d prefer but it was so awesome to deal with him that I’ll just keep going there.
At another restaurant that I don’t even frequent that often, the owner writes down a new Korean word for me every time I come in so I can learn a bit. She taught me how to hail a waitress or waiter when I’m ready to order.
The seamstress where I took my pants literally did not speak a word of English and my translation app was failing me big time. She hemmed my pants while I waited in about five minutes to make my life easy rather than trying to work out with me when I should come back.
Those are just a few examples of the lengths to which people here will go to keep you happy as a customer. It’s pretty damn awesome.
6. Stationery Stores I love stationery stores. In fact I was introduced to a Korean stationery brand, Morning Glory, back in Toronto. I fell in love right there. I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with paper and notepads and pens and all things to do with writing, so I could hang out in that store for an hour with no problem. In Korea I have found the land of stationery stores. They are literally on every corner. I have to avoid going into them now or I will spend my entire pay in them. One of my students actually commented on the number of notebooks that I have because every time I come to class I seem to be carrying a new one. I can’t get enough of these places.
6. Same-Same My absolute favourite hilarious Korean trend is that of couples dressing alike. The picture below is a mild case. I’ve seen people doing “same-same” right down to the footwear. And don’t be fooled into thinking that men are forced into this. I’m pretty sure that the men and women both enjoy this strange practice. I am going to try to continue to get more pictures of this phenomenon.
7. K-Pop It’s not that I actually listen to a lot of Korean pop music. It’s that I love how unapologetic it is in being pure, fun, pop music. The producers of this stuff have never met a synthesizer they didn’t like and the videos are outrageously blingy. Don’t get me wrong, there are songs that are semi-serious, but mostly it’s just damn fun and hard not to like on some level. A couple songs that I can’t get enough of at present are Party Rock by Miryo and I Am the Best by 2NE1 (that’s 21). While I realize that K-Pop is not for everyone, I defy you to get through ten K-Pop songs without tapping your foot.
8. Homo Hill Homo Hill is, unsurprisingly, located very close to Hooker Hill in Itaewon. I still feel funny calling it Homo Hill but it is what it is, it’s what everyone calls it and it’s just plain awesome. Smart straight men come to clubs on Homo Hill to pick up. I went to four clubs on Homo Hill last weekend and had the most fun I’ve had in one evening since I got to Korea. The first, Uniq, is partly owned by one of the best looking men I’ve seen in my life. Miracle, a lesbian club, was the most low key of the places we visited and it was still packed. The party at Soho was amazing. Zion, located at the bottom of the hill, is actually not a gay club, but is great if you’re into reggae. I hear Queen is a fun place and I intend to check it out. I’m going to a drag show on the hill this coming weekend. Need I say more?
9. Floor Heating Most homes in Korea are heated by way of water pipes in the floor. They work beautifully in that when you get out of bed and put your feet on the floor on a cold winter morning, it’s always toasty. Also it’s efficient in that heat rises and the whole apartment gets really warm and cozy. Since the pipes are under the floors all over the apartment you never get heat trapped in one corner because of a badly placed radiator. I didn’t think I’d ever have strong feelings about a form of heating, but I really like it a lot.
10. Call Buttons Last in my list (for now), call buttons. Have you ever sat in a restaurant or bar and tried unsuccessfully for long minutes to get the attention of your waiter or waitress? I have too and it sucks. In many establishments here, you never need do that because on your table is a call button. You press it and your wait staff come a-runnin’. This means the wait staff don’t have to hover around your table asking you over and over, while your mouth is full, if you want anything else. And you never have to figure out where in the hell your wait staff are hiding when you do need a glass of water to wash down that fiery meal you just ate. I’ve been fascinated with call buttons since I got here and I try to take pictures of them wherever I go. Click here for the growing album.
So that’s my list of what I like here. Next week, the things that get under my skin.
Filed under The ESL Adventure Tagged with 2NE1, call buttons, drag show, floor heating, Gangnam, gay, homo hill, Hongdae, Hooker Hill, itaewon, Jihachul, K-Pop, Korean men, lesbian, miracle, Miryo, Myeong-dong, queen, quickest transfer points, same-same, samgyeopsal, seoul, service, soho, soju, stationery stores, subway system, t-money, Toronto, TTC, uniq, zion
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- December 2009