Trying to live a holistic life in an unholistic world

So. You wanna move to Seoul?

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Well, good for you. Welcome.

So, here’s a few things I had been told, heard about or read up late on some blog somewhere and immediately dispersed, only to find myself months later stuck in the throes of brutal culture shock desperately wishing I had paid attention the internet wisdomry.

  • Seoul is massive. Really massive. Not only in landmass, but there are 20 million people in this crowded city!
  • The society is the most homogenous I have encountered.
    I’m going to make up a statistic based on my observations, but maybe around 98% Korean. With the other 1.95% Chinese and 0.05% foreign English teacher / American soldier.
    Sometimes I get the urge to say “hi!” to a random foreigner, but realise I look pretty much like the other 98% to them. And if I did say hi, I would look 100% bloody insane.
  • Plastic surgery is out of control. Seriously. There are people I think I keep seeing over and over again (in a city this dense?) but then I realise it’s just the ‘Gangnam face’
  • Learn Hangul (Korean lettering system) before you arrive! Then you will be able to understand signs etc so you can landmark yourself and not get completely lost (like me)
    I’d like to say because then you will be able to read, but, well Korean’s a double-kick-to-the-guts language to learn. You have to learn to read Hangul first, then work on the Korean to English translation.
    Although, there’s a few Konglish words out there. I can’t describe the elation I feel when I’m reading Hangul and realise it’s actually an English word. (this link actually says ‘se-tar-eh buk-seh ko-pee) I feel like I deserve a gold star.
  • Learn a few basic phrases, as you should when you visit any foreign speaking country. The older generation struggle to communicate in English full stop making it difficult to get a cab, ask for directions and buy things (and get ‘waygookin’ {Korean word for ‘foreigner’} tax). Most young people can speak and understand English but are much too afraid of making a mistake to speak with you, erupting into a fit of giggles or be very kind and helpful but begin to sweat and become flushed in the face, leading to a very uncomfortable situation for everyone concerned.
  • Always take a business card or write down the address of your accommodation in Hangul because at some point you will get lost and need to ask for directions or catch a cab. Even if you think you can say where you want to go, as soon as the cab driver hears a non-korean accent they immediately turn into an uncooperative twat who cannot be the least bit helpful in assisting you.
    Me: Ga-ro-soo-gil ja-sey-oh (Garosugil {place} please)
    Cab: Eh?
    Me: Ga—ro—soo—gil ja-sey-oh
    Cab: Aigo……bla bla bla….miguk gyopo…..bla bla bla…hanguksaram…..anio anio……bla bla
    Me: Sinsa……GA-ro-soo-gil, Ga-RO-soo-gil, Ga-ro-SOOOOOOOOOOO-gil!
    Cab: Oooooooooh…ohhhhhhhh, Ga-ro-soo-GIL!……okayeeee okayeee okayeeeee.”
    Me: Oh, fucking Ga-ro-soo-GIL. That’s what I said dickhead. Now step on it. I’m late. Balee-Balee, Chop-Chop”
  • Um, there’s no street names….They are all numbers, which no-one really takes note of. Just look out for big landmarks, like a Paris Baguette, Tous Les Jours, A Twosome Place and you’re bound to get lost (These places are everywhere)
  • The entire city is in a rush. For what, I’m still not sure. Pushing, shoving, pushing in – the older generation are the worst and due to the idol-god-like status bestowed to these dear elderly folk, they think nothing to jab, curse or poke you to get to the front of the queue moving nowhere fast.
  • Sales assistants at any shop will tailgate you no matter how many stink-eye’s you give them or tell them you are ok.
  • You can get food items from home, pasta, bread, cheese (Don’t get me started, 10 – 15AUD), wine (Yellowtail 15AUD), good chocolate (Green + Blacks (7AUD) including Tim-Tams (6AUD) but you will pay through the roof for it….
  • They drive the opposite side of the car and road to Australia, left side drive on the right hand side of the road. I feel like those sideshow alley clowns when I jaywalk (which also no-one does here, probably due to the crazy-ass drivers that will attempt to mow you down even on a pedestrian crossing – still haven’t figured out what they’re actually for seeing as drivers do not slow down/stop) as I never know which way to look for oncoming traffic.
    There doesn’t really appear to be any speed limits.
    They also walk to the right hand side of a path and escalator etiquette is to stand on the right, pass on the left. And they really get narky if you don’t abide by this, especially at the subway.
    Do NOT stand on the left hand side watching the world go by at peak hour.
    You have been warned.
  • They are a city of hard workers who also like to party hard when they have the time, however there are different standards for men and women. This is quite a complex topic, which I will write more about. But generally, there is a lot of public drunkeness,  displayed by men, on any night of the week, which here, is socially acceptable.
    I, as a woman, have two shots of soju and am still standing and am therefore classified a champion drinker, but probably thought of as a harlot of the night.

Written by ayearinpatissiere

September 9, 2012 at 17:35

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