05 November 2012

Current Conundrums: Take 2

So I've been in Korea just over two months - honestly it feels like I just got here in some respects, and like I've been here forever in others.  I haven't really been super homesick yet, I've missed a few people and some things from home, but the amount of communication I've been able to have with everyone has made it really easy.  My mom has already sent me two packages (thanks for the chocolate & coffee gurlfriend), both of my grandmas and my Uncle have sent me something, and I'm able to call/text pretty much anybody at any time I want to.  Missing home hasn't really been an issue... yet.  I'm sure it'll come with time, but not having those feelings yet still makes me feel like I just got here last week.  On the other hand, I already feel accustomed to so many things in such a short amount of time.  I'm perfectly comfortable in my apartment (Except for the missing dryer... seriously where TF did that go?  Did somebody take it?  I'm confused), I can use a handful of buses and the subway comfortably, and now that I finally have a phone and a bank account and a gym membership I'm feeling a little more grounded here.  The whole language thing still throws me, but once I actually commit to TRYING to learn it, I'm sure some things will just come.  For now, though, I'm not very self sufficient when it comes to ordering food and stuff like that.  Thank god for friends who speak a little bit of Korean... or at least pretend to.  On THAT note, here are a few serious Korean conundrums I've experienced in the past two months that I simply can NOT wrap my mind around.

1. The undefined purpose of a red light.  The first time this happened to me I was in a taxi with somebody, probably Sara, and we were basically brand new to Korea.  We were going somewhere and I remember not paying much attention to the road until I realized we were legitimately flying through an intersection on a red light.  Our taxi driver acted like this was nothing out of the ordinary, and even though each of us were scared shitless we just sat in the back basically praying to every god we could think of that we'd make it to our final destination in one piece.  Since then, I've become most accustomed to this red light blowing phenomenon that plagues the better part of Korean intersections, but it still confuses the hell out of me.  Why even bother putting street lights in if nobody stops at the red lights?  Especially taxis and street bikes/motorcycles - they're seriously the worst.  Better yet, sometimes the car will stop at the red light, then creep up slowly until it's almost in the middle of the intersection, then run the red light.  At that point, it's kind of like... just do it already.  If you're going to run it, just floor it, don't creep up like the light is going to see you and immediately turn green.  Agh, Asian automobile operators.  For further explanation of a nearly exhaustive list of terrible Korean driving habits, see the video below.  Simon & Martina from the Eat Your Kimchi blog are, at first, incredibly obnoxious.  Until you realize they REALLY know what they're talking about.  Plus they're Canadian so of course they're going to be a little more annoying than Americans.  (Jokes, jokes).

2. Queueing up and then bum rushing the line.  This one is just a double whammy to me.  Okay, so say you're waiting in line at a convenience store to buy 17 Twix bars or something else completely normal and not weird at all, and there's one Korean person in front of you and you're next in line.  If there's another Korean in the store waiting to check out you might as well kiss that #2 spot goodbye, because there is no way they're going to stand in line behind you when there's three centimeters of perfectly good counter space for them to cram their bodies and purchases into before you can even contemplate stepping forward after the person in front of you is done checking out.  They are SO hurried all the time around here, it's like you can't wait fifteen more seconds to buy a pack of cigarettes because... you're late to run somewhere else to act like you're in a big hurry there?  Obnoxious.  The most annoying encounter I've had with this conundrum is at the Subway (sandwich place, not underground) about a block from Chungdahm.  We eat there a lot and, like any normal Subway, they have an "order here" line and a "pick up here" line.  Because OBVIOUSLY the people making your food cannot read your mind and you have to show them what you want on your sandwich, hence the forward motion of the line progressing from order to pick up and pay.  This doesn't seem to register with many Koreans.  They simply walk in, walk to the middle of the two lines (because, you know, there's room there right? So I should stand there?) and start ordering or trying to get the girl's attention from behind the counter.  Like, CHILL OUT lady, your gross "tuna" sandwich with white colored plastic cheese isn't going anywhere.  Let me finish my order, then it's your turn.  This is the way of the world.  Unless you're in India then you're screwed.

3. Spitting in public but getting mad when somebody talks on a bus.  This social custom grosses me out, and I won't go into a diatribe on it (because that's almost as obnoxious as the actual act of spitting in public) but whatever.  See, I think that spitting in public is inherently rude.  I don't care where you're from, releasing ANY bodily fluid from ANY orifice in a public place is simply unacceptable.  Would you just blow your nose all over the ground, too?  How about pee in the subway station?  So WHY in the name of everything holy would you think it's okay to spit? And not only spit but really spit, like throat clearing, noisy, dirty, disgusting, spit.  And they do this everywhere. HOWever, you can absolutely not talk on a bus if you are sitting with friends because that is rude.  So rude.  Obviously much more rude than spitting all over said bus. If you get on a bus with a friend and sit by each other and conversate at completely normal levels and tones, you will get so many dirty looks from the angry lonely alcohol-fueled Korean men in suits that you'll probably start thinking you crossed into North Korea.  It's seriously mad.  Since when did talking become a crime and public spitting not?  Korea why aren't you more like Singapore?

4. Korea, why you no have soup? This one is pretty self explanatory.  Koreans don't eat soup?  It's getting cold here, it's been raining for two days, I just want a bowl of tomato soup.  I'm not even picky at this point, I'll take Campbell's, I don't care.  I guess when you have people selling hot steaming bowls of spicy meat water on every corner, who needs good old tomato soup, right?  Right...?  Right.

5. No toilet paper in some bathrooms, and no paper towels ANYWHERE.  This is just gross.  Korea: you are not a developing country.  You have indoor plumbing and toilets (although you don't always choose to use them - what's the deal with squatty potties anyway?), sinks with normal faucets and even SOAP if you're lucky.  But, no paper towels.  Never paper towels.  How do you dry your hands?  Korean magic drying powers?  And what about toilet paper?  Do you just buy new underwear every day?  You're so gross, Korean bathrooms... so gross.  I was in Hongdae last weekend and went to use the public bathroom by the subway station in a building with a TON of business in it (from convenience stores to restaurants to bars, they all share this one bathroom).  So I find the bathroom and it's not bad, pretty clean, decent sized.  I go into the third stall and see that there's no toilet paper, so I go check the fourth stall, then the fifth... okay there's definitely no toilet paper in this entire bathroom.  This wouldn't be completely strange if it was a smaller bathroom, or if it was just a single shop's bathroom, but HUNDREDS of people have to use this bathroom.  Then a horrifying thought occurred to me - the fifteen or so women in the bathroom with me had NOT USED TOILET PAPER.  They also DO NOT WASH THEIR HANDS.  Ever.  Like I've probably seen 15% of people in bathrooms wash their hands.  This seriously disgusts me.  So I went to the convenience store, bought a roll of toilet paper, and decided to carry one with me whenever I leave the comfort of my own toilet-paper-filled home.


  1. Haha this is great! The toilet paper one grossed me out the most eww!! Miss you Syd
    Love ya Hailie

  2. I would just talk on the bus anyway, I wouldn't care. If they can hock lugies, you can talk on the bus. mom