Blooms, Booze, and Bathrooms: My 8 Favourite Things About Korea
Each new place and experience has those things that imprint themselves on us. In a new culture, they end up being the things you'll always remember clearly and long for years later as you travel to new places. They are the things that will make you smile and be grateful for your time spent in that place, whether you recall it as a wholly uplifting experience or not.
As I prepare to leave Korea, I have been reflecting on the best bits about this strange land and the last year in it. For me, there are 8 things that stand out as really awesome - my favourite things about Korea.
Cherry Blossom Season (with an 'assist' from fall)
You may have remembered me waxing poetic about the blooms and attempting to post a gazillion cherry blossom photos online. It felt like magic walking underneath the pretty pink and white trees. The weather was warm and breezy, the greenery was outstanding, there were so many different flowers out...!
Spring is already wonderful (for most of us) but the cherry blossoms really made it something memorable. I'm a bit sad I won't get to witness another spring, to be honest, and am only somewhat mollified because fall is sending me off - and fall in Korea is also pretty fantastic.
Baseball is an institution in Korea and it's easy to see why - and none of those reasons have much to do with the sport itself ;-)
When Koreans get together to watch baseball, it's a nearly all day event and it's weird and so very fun. Orange plastic bags get filled with air and attached to heads for impromptu team spirit. Newspapers are ripped and rolled into pompoms.
You can bring your own food and drinks, even alcohol, or buy some there at normal street prices. Nothing is inflated. There are mascots and games and cheerleaders between innings. It's hands down one of the funner things to do and you would be remiss if you missed the chance to spend a Sunday at a baseball game in Korea!
There Are Bathrooms, Everywhere
Everywhere! Except the buses, come to think of it (hmmm). They are usually clean, always free, and often even equipped with toilet paper! This is a rarity in pretty much every place everywhere else on the planet so I will remember how wonderful it is not to worry about my (far-too-regular) bathroom requirements.
Granted, this one I'm mostly only applying to personal belongings and non-permanent foreigners. Domestic abuse is a big issue in Korea if the hushed reports are to be believed - but general public safety and the safety of your stuff is not.
To wit, I can enter a coffee shop, set my laptop on the table, leave my phone sitting next to it and my wallet in my pack, and head to the bathroom with absolute confidence that not one of my things will be missing when I return.
I would not do that anywhere else in the world. (I still don't recommend it - please do not get thieved in some freak Korean incident and then blame me. I'll deny this post ever existed, I tell ya!). I can also walk around at night all by my lonesome and fear nothing (except the night itself?).
Not Getting Ripped Off
Like, ever. The worst a street food vendor might do is give you the old pastries instead of the fresh ones and though it's annoying, it's not like you're out a bunch of cash. Sometimes you have to haggle a little for a reasonable price at a stall, but rarely do you find out later that you paid something terrrrriibly higher than a Korean would have.
The taxis always run their meters, I have never felt they went the wrong way on purpose (I have presumed this a time or two only to realize I was mistaken and they were genuinely lost), and they don't kick up a fuss about you bringing your dog into the taxi. In general, you will not get ripped off in Korea, and if you do you can rest assured it's a one-off situation and not likely to be repeated.
Korea is a peninsula - a relatively small peninsula - and as such you can go almost anywhere (it seems) and climb a mountain and get a wonderful view of the sea. Or if you're lucky enough, like me, you'll live with a view of the sea.
There's no beating wandering down to the water and watching the fishermen and women diving or fixing nets and bringing in their catch for the day while watching a ship slowly move off into the distance. It's hypnotic, relaxing, and rejuvenating all at the same time. And it's the reason (I presume) Korea is called the 'Land of the Morning Calm'. Well, that and the shops don't open until lunch ;-)
It's super easy to get around. The train system is simple to navigate and available in English (yay!). The buses run almost nonstop (within the city) and though the bus schedules are not available in English, the buses themselves flash English signage with the main or general direction they head.
The inter-city buses are also a breeze once you get the hang of the terminals. Taxis start at a very low rate and don't run you up nearly as high as most other metropolitan centers I have experienced. All in all, you can readily get anywhere in Korea, anytime you want, and it's great!
Now hear me out! I am not talking about soju (blech!) nor I am strictly speaking to cost - though that plays into it. What I love is that you can go out for some panchuhn (similar to tapas) and drink just
disgusting totally reasonable amounts of makgeoli (Korean rice wine) and sit and chat for actual hours whilst doing said things (eating and drinking) continuously and STILL walk away having spent under 10-15,000 won each.
I mean, think about how far that gets you in most places. Even in the cheapest travel destinations it is still hard to get a few hours of food and booze for under $10.
The beauty of South Korea is that they value eating and drinking as a social activity, so it's cheap and easy to do so, no matter what neighbourhood you're in. Meaning you can do it in a local (non-busy or touristy) area for cheaper than seems possible. I will miss you, makgeoli nights!
There you have it! My favourite things about Korea, the things I will miss once I'm gone and remember many years from now with fondness.
Have you visited? Lived here? What are your favourite things about South Korea?