After my incendiary but accurate post on life in a Korean hagwon, I received a fair bit of interest and feedback. For this, I thank you! And I also want to take this opportunity to clarify something: despite my perhaps slightly bruising remarks about their education system, I really love Korea.
Lest you think otherwise, I have decided to make a post dedicated to all that I love about Korea. Because, truly, there are many and varied things that make this country a foreigner’s paradise (as this is the only perspective I have).
So, without further ado, let me begin…
1. Galbi (갈비 – barbecued meat)
Sweet mother of Jebus. Some of the beef I have had in this country has been out-of-this-world amazing… and this is coming from an Australian who has eaten some of the finest steaks in Argentina (just quietly!). Seriously, Korea’s meat game is off the chaiiin, yo. Occasionally I get a bit over the ubiquitous pork (beef is pricier) but even after all this time, the quality can still sometimes surprise me. A good samgyeopsal (삼겹살 – slices of thick, fatty pork belly) can be just what the doctor ordered. But nothing, I mean nothing, will ever compare to Korean Hanu (한우) beef. So juicy, spongy and flavourful. This is the stuff dreams are made of, and I implore you to try it if/when you have the chance!
2. Jjimjilbangs (찜질방 – Korean sauna/spa)
If you have ever wanted to know how it feels to wade in hot pools with a bunch of strangers in their birthday suits, then you have to come to Korea. Korean spas have a very relaxed attitude toward nudity, and it something that we could probably stand to learn from. You go in, you get naked, you sit in a tub and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, maybe get a scrub down from an ajumma (middle-aged Korean lady) in black sheer underwear. It’s pretty unique.
3. Cheap and efficient trains
Coming from Melbourne, where the Myki abomination continues to sap our hard-earned tax dollars (thanks, Lynne Kosky), the Korean public transport system is a breeze – and oh-so-cheap. Costing roughly 1,200won (about $1… I have never actually kept track) per train ride, depending on where you are going, you can venture an hour into the city and you won’t notice a thing money-wise. Coming from a country where we pay $12 for a daily zone 1 & 2 ticket (which is the equivalent of what I would need), this is amazing. You can travel all day, on time, for cheap. So good!
Oh my god, the shopping. Only recently have I discovered Myeong-dong, and for that I will forever be thankful. Honestly, you can get anything here. Anything! And don’t believe anyone that tells you differently. Yes, some foreign grocery items may be pricey, or may be slightly different to what you want. But if you focus on the Korean-grown stuff, you are in for a treat. Clothes, electronics and SKINCARE… there’s everything you want, and more. Usually on the same block.
5. Korean cosmetics & skincare products
Speaking of Korean skincare products… be prepared to fall in love with them upon landing in this country. Okay, so I may just be obsessed with Korean cosmetics… and that’s okay. Korean skincare is apparently 12 years ahead of the US (and probably the rest of the world) in terms of their technological advances. Some of it may seem a bit weird (snail mucus, anyone?) but you can’t accuse them of not trying. And some of their products are perfection… and a fraction of what they would cost back home. See, my addiction is totally validated!
It’s corny! It’s overproduced! It’s amazing! The world of K-pop is live and kicking in Korea (and beyond) and absolutely shows no signs of stopping. Although I am yet to understand everything I am saying, the language of dance never lies. Some of these videos are amazing, hypnotic and a little bizarre (I’m looking at you, Crayonpop) but they do help to burn a song into your brain. And sometimes, that’s all you need.
7. Ondol (온돌) floor heating
Ahhhhhhhh, the sweet, sweet nectar of life that is ondol floor heating. This Korean invention is pure genius and will save you during Korean winters. Now I’m no physicist, but the fact that hot air rises means that heating a room from the floor instead from a box near your ceiling is the best idea ever, right? Also, the fact that it’s not simply blowing hot air but instead gradually and consistently heating the floor means it lasts longer and feels amazing on your back. Many a foreigner has been known to lay down on the ondol heating ‘just for a minute’ and ended up passing out… I may or may not be one of them.
8. Ppyeodagwi Haejanguk (뼈다귀 해장국 – pork spine soup)
Arghhhh I love this soup! So delicious! So meaty! So spicy! I had this before I even knew what it was and I am a big fan. Sometimes in Korea, you get a bit accustomed to the similar spices and flavours in the food. Don’t get me wrong, I love Korean food, but if you have it day in and day out, like anything you can get a bit sick of it. Except this soup. I am yet to tire of haejanguk and I hope I never do. It is certainly one of God’s greatest gifts to the earth, possibly comparable to the invention of computers and the human brain.
9. The people! 🙂
Korean people are overwhelmingly friendly, helpful and kind. Yes, you may need to get used to people hocking and spitting on the street and pushing past you on the subway, but you must understand that it’s not personal and it doesn’t reflect on you. It’s a cultural thing, and they do it to each other, and everyone is fine with it. But if you ever need help with anything, Korean people will do their best to help you and will usually go out of their way. I feel really comfortable here and I still don’t speak the language (for shame!). That is an enormous credit to the kindheartedness of the Korean people. BIG LOVE!
If you are not from Korea (or Japan), you probably have never heard of this conglomerate. But when you come to Korea, you realise that the Lotte company OWNS Korea. You want groceries? Go to Lotte Super. You want a larger selection? Lotte Mart. You want some fancy high-end shizz? Lotte Department. Wanna catch a movie? Lotte Cinema. Hungry? Lotteria. It just goes on and on. Lotte is by far the most visible company in Korea… and I have sort of come to love it. It’s ridiculous, it’s over-the-top, it’s Korea.
11. The 3% tax rate for foreigners
I don’t really need to elaborate on this one. Amazing.
12. The convenience of EVERYTHING
Coming from Australia, if you need something late at night you can jump in your car and go to the nearest ‘servo’ (service station) to try your luck, otherwise head to the closest supermarket chain in your suburb to get your macaroni cheese/chocolate/late-night snack of choice. This seemed pretty easy to me… until I came to Korea. Because this country is so densely populated, everything is available 99% of the time. There are convenience stores on every single corner, and you are guaranteed to have one within close walking distance to your house. Also, if you go to one of the main shopping areas, it isn’t abnormal to see different franchises of the same store within sight of each other. I’m not kidding. In Myeongdong, there are Nature Republics, Misshas, Skinfoods, even international stores like ZARA and H&M on the same straight. It’s insane, and it makes everything so easy and wonderful!
That’s 12 of my reasons (so far!) why I love this wonderful country. Ever since I arrived here late last February, I have felt really grateful to discover the many treasures Korea has to offer. It’s such a cool place! If you have never considered coming here, hopefully this list gave you some food for thought 😉
Until next time,
PS. Today I’m linking up with Her & Nicole, be sure to have a click around her beautiful blog 🙂