Long post ahead but it’s informative. Most of these I forgot to mention when I was there teaching, others I just found out about on my recent trip.
1. Eye glasses are insanely cheap and take a really short amount of time to make. How cheap? I have two really nice pairs that I spent a combined $150 on. How quick? I walk in, and in 30 minutes I have my glasses picked out, my eye checkup done, and the lenses are fixed according to my prescription and ready to go.
2. Some people keep charred logs of wood in their fridges, this supposedly helps keep the fridge smelling fresh as the charred logs eat up any foul odors.
3. The subway cards are awesome for a variety of reasons, one of them is instead of a card you can have a little charm to put on your cell phone that will work as a subway pass. Also, you don’t have to take it out to swipe at the subway/bus machine, it can read through your wallet/bag. The card/charm works for most taxis and even at some convenience stores. It’s not flimsy like the Metro Card which can be destroyed easily. Also, look at them. There’s no way a Metro Card is better than this...
4. You can charge your cellphone in most convenience stores. Maybe I mentioned this before, but it’s amazing and needs to be mentioned again.
5. Everyone composts, even if they don’t have a yard to plant things in. Don’t know what composting is? Well, then you’re probably an American from a large metropolitan city and you should look it up.
6. Korean people don’t think white people can eat spicy food or use chopsticks. I have received many compliments on my ability to use chopsticks and get looks from people in restaurants when they see me eating spicy food. Sometimes I get overly dramatic (but serious) responses with people literally shaking their head and encourage me not to eat the food. Sometimes I see people elbowing their friend and pointing in my direction to imply “look at that white boy, he’s going to try and eat that spicy pepper!” It’s highly comical and I play it up when I have the chance.
7. Long stop lights. My old neighborhood had a light that took 3 ½ minutes to change through its full cycle (I timed it). People wait too because......Confucius. Follow rules, order. I nearly got a summons my first weekend there for crossing the street at 4am when no cars were insight, a cop came over to nab me but I played the dumb-foreigner card. The longest light I’ve seen was 5 minutes.
8. Most newer apartments you don’t use keys to get inside, they have an electronic keypad so you just punch in a code and you’re in. This is amazing. Think about all the time you’ve spent looking for your keys, how inconvenient it is to have to bring your keys with you when you go for a run or go to the gym, or think about the times when your jacket was stolen with your keys inside, and your roommate was passed out so you had to sleep on the floor outside of your apartment door to the horror of your neighbors (Hypothetical situation of course).
9. A number of fast food restaurants are open 24 hours.
10. Spitting is…how do I put this mildly…socially acceptable? Standing on the corner waiting to cross the street, and hearing a 70 year old woman loudly “hock a loogie” is not only not out of the question, but probably something you will see regularly.
11. All fast food restaurants deliver.
12. Excluding the “blue trucks” and some taxis which are orange, I’d estimate that 93% of the cars are black, white or silver. Nothing unusual really, just following the norm. Confucius.
13. Most apartments don’t have dryers or ovens. Clothes are air-dried on a rack, baking just isn’t very big.
14. Ping-pong halls, pool halls, PC rooms (think, internet cafe without coffee, just heaps of people playing computer games), and noraebang’s (karaoke rooms) are EVERYWHERE. If you walk 2 minutes without seeing one of them, you are blind.
15. There is a motorcycle delivery service where they will literally bring you anything you want. I always wondered why I saw some guys on a bike with crap stacked six feet high on the back, but now I know, he’s running errands for someone.
16. There is also a motorcycle taxi service. In a bind and don’t want to deal with traffic? MTS will weave through and bring you wherever the hell you want. Awesome.
17. __________ don’t ____________________ _________________ _____________. (Too lengthy to get into, use your imagination and get back to me.)
18. Being single is somewhat of a sin. I must have been asked about 100x if I had a girlfriend and each facial expression when I replied “no” was more sad than the next. Being 30 there (my Korean age) is like being 36 and single in the US. Basically, I’m close to being washed up (no offense to any 36 year old single people). Good thing I’m a man though as it’s worse for women. What does this lead to? Well, my roommate when I was back for this trip kept wanting to set me up so I could have a “girlfriend.” Guy surprised me by bringing along some random girl when he and I went out to dinner. She knew about 20 words in English and her first question to me was “are you disappointed by my age?” (Little does she know!!!!)
Seriously though, it was over-bearing how many times this guy would pester me about being single, trying to set me up, or being flabbergasted that I was meeting up with former coworkers or friends who were females and the relationship was just platonic. The important thing to remember though, is that he was just being nice. Sometimes the kindness can be overbearing, but you always have to remember that they’re just trying.
19. Cigarettes are $2.50 a pack. Foreigners come here and think “I’m in a new place, let’s change some habits of mine, no more smoking.” But then you see how cheap cigarettes are, you can smoke everywhere unlike most major American cities, and then they crack.
20. Dunkin Donuts is awesome. There is considerably less sugar in the donuts here, making it possible to eat six (if one were so inclined) without feeling sick. Oh, they also sell churros at some of them too.
21. Cell phones work everywhere...tunnels, highest peak in the country, subways, etc. everywhere. I mentioned this before, but the reason this is important is because the luxury isn’t abused like it would probably be in the US. On subways, if someone is using their phone, they are probably covering their mouth to keep their voice low and are talking for a very short period of time. It’s just not polite. C-ON-F-U-C-I-U-S.
23. According to the always accurate Wikipedia, there are 2,282 7/11’s in Korea and it’s the 5th most of any country in the world. I’m shocked by that number and believe it must be higher since that figure was calculated. There were two on my block alone less than 400 yards from each other. It’s insane, I saw more 7/11’s there than I see Starbuck’s in NYC.
24. Elevator buttons can cancel out. Pushed the wrong button? No problem, push it again and the light goes off. This would have ruined mine and some of my friends’ childhood, who made a habit out of pushing every button on the elevator before we got off on the floor we needed to. Kids.
25. Nothing gets stolen. Ever. People keep their gym shoes in a shoe rack at the gym so they can go straight from work and leave their shoes there. In supermarkets and some other stores, they have a bin in the front where you put your wet umbrellas so you don’t have to carry it around with you and get the floor all wet. CONFUCIUS.
26. Drinking in public is legal anywhere. I’ve said this before, but you have no idea how great it is (not trying to sound like a lush) to be able to hop in a cab with a road soda. Of course there’s dumb-asses who ruin it though and make foreigners look like ignorant "louts." Sitting on the floor of a subway car, drinking and playing card games? Really? It’s something great but shouldn’t be abused, it's a simple pleasure like cellphones working on a train. Do it undercover and in a way where it's basically kept to yourself.
27. People eat buffalo wings with a fork and knife. I only went to wing night twice, but every single person in the bar on both occasions was using a fork and knife. I didn’t want to be rude so I obliged and it completely ruined the experience of eating a buffalo wing.
28. Beer pong is played with water. I only went to a bar that had beer pong twice, so it’s not the greatest sample size, but all games throughout the night were played with water. No one drank the water, they just played to see who could hit the most shots. What kind of game is that?
29. Bus seats all face forward in the same direction. A lot of buses in other cities will have some sideways seats for space efficiency. I have no official explanation, but I can only believe the orderliness of the seats all facing forward has to do with a man named Confucius.
30. North Koreans who successfully defect to South Korea are given $10,000-$28,000 in start up money. In the US, Mexicans who cross the border get shitty jobs picking tomatoes and are blamed for the collapse of the US economy, crime and a number of other problems.
31. In the US, if there is a sale advertised, it usually looks like this “20%-40% off.” In Korea, it looks like “40%-20% off.” It seems weird, but it might make sense. Seeing the bigger number first might suck people in more. I believe a study needs to be done on this if it has not already.
32. A lot of gas stations look like this. Notice anything weird (hard to tell, shitty picture)? Well, there are no pumps, just an overhead thingie. This is a huge space saver and also let’s people not have to worry about what side of the car their gas tank is on. Genius idea.
33. Cabs are cheap as hell, probably 1/3rd of the price of a NYC taxicab. It’s awesome.
34. Traffic on the highways around Seoul is horrific, worse than NY, better than LA though (I think).
35. The vast majority of tennis courts are a clay/dirt. They also keep a chalk line maker there and some places even keep a bunch of balls too, but of course, none of them get stolen. Confucius?
36. Subways have vending machines, a digital map so you can see the overview/Google maps type view of the surrounding area to locate parks, restaurants, hospitals, etc. It’s awesome. There are also flat screen tv’s in a number of train stations showing commercials, news, etc.
37. Despite the constant references to him, Confucius is not from Korea, he’s from China, but the influence of his teachings reached Korea and I’m glad it did.