1. Koreans Love Soju and they drink it like water
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out to dinner with Nicole or various friends in Korea and at the next table sat a group of older Korean men getting sauced on Soju. I’ve had the drink, I don’t mind the drink, but to me it’s not particularly flavorful. I’d never willingly drink it straight, but like I said, I see Koreans slamming it back at restaurants with a table covered in empty bottles of it and hardly any room for actual food.
It’s also worth noting its the world’s best-selling alcohol.
2. There are no trash cans
Korea does have trash cans, but they’re few and far between. I can count on one hand the number of trash cans that I’ve seen since arriving in Korea six months ago. So what do Korean’s do with their trash? As far as I can figure out they just litter. I’ve seen numerous Koreans chuck their can of Gatorade or Chilsing Cider onto the ground as they stroll about downtown.
Occasionally I’ll see a few coffee cups or soda cans on a ledge or a window sill of a building. Clearly earlier in the day one person put their garbage there and the collection slowly snowballed until that particular site became an unwritten-yet-still-official garbage site.
3. It gets hot, real hot
Summer in Korea is scorching, like surface of the sun, gates to hell, hot. I say this as someone who is from Florida. I am familiar with hot. I’ve also had experience with welding, pottery, and glass blowing, so I’m familiar with furnaces and kilns. Korea is hot. I spent almost all of my non-work hours wearing a bathing suit and sandals. The humidity doesn’t help either. Nicole’s apartment seems to have negative insulation so whatever temperature it is outside it’s a slightly more extreme temperature inside. 100 degrees outside? Its 110 in Nicole’s apartment. I have no idea how that’s possible, but perhaps one day science can answer that question for us.
4. It gets cold, real cold
As hot as Korea gets, it also gets that cold. The winters here are comparable to my time in Wisconsin. It’s early January here and it’s already snowed several times. I feel like what really separates Korea from say the northern US is insulation. In the US when you go inside its warmer than outside. I can honestly say that isn’t the case in Korea. It’s very warm in department stores and offices, but apartments are another story. My apartment stays nice and toasty, I imagine largely thanks to some very warm Koreans downstairs, but Nicole’s apartment is freezing. I mentioned her negative insulation (above). In winter its cold enough to see your breath in her apartment.
5. Koreans love Gear
Korea is an absolutely perfect market for outdoor apparel. Koreans love all manner of outdoor gear. Whenever I find myself hiking a mountain or walking about town, I always see some group of elderly Koreans wearing head to toe Korean hiking gear.
6. If you go out to eat be prepared to work
Most Korean restaurants, will involve some manner of working or food preparation such as cooking meats or boiling vegetables.
Shabu Shabu restaurants are both fun to eat at and fun to say. They are also one of the most traditional dining experiences you can have in Korea. When you enter the restaurant, you’ll take off your shoes and keep them on a shelf, like at a bowling alley. After depositing your shoes, you’ll step up onto a raised wooden floor with several low tables for sitting at. There are no chairs. Instead everyone sits cross-legged and pretends their ankles don’t hurt, or at least thats what I do.
The food is brought out raw on small plates and you put it into a large bowl in the center of the table where it boils and becomes increasingly more delicious as it cooks.
Ahh samgyeopsal so delicious and so prevalent in Korea. Walking down any road in Korea you will quickly discover that there are more samgyeopsal restaurants than any other kind of restaurant in Korea and rightly so. Its delicious. Samgyeopsal is basically quadruple thick bacon cooked over a grill in the center of the table.
Koreans love it, to the point that 70% of Koreans eat it weekly. Its so popular in Korea that the country must import it wholesale from Europe to keep up with demand. In the second half of 2011 alone, Korea imported 70,000 tons of it.
7. The Coffee is weak
Korean coffee is really weak. You can drink 8 cups a day and never get the jitters. The downside is each cup costs the same as in the states, if not slightly more so you’ll need to drink a lot more to get your caffeine fix. That being said coffee shops are on every block and sometimes more frequent than that. There are two Angel-In-Us coffee shops on the street my school is on and I wouldn’t be surprised if they opened up a third one.
8. The phones are huge
Phone screens have been increasing in size worldwide and no more is that more evident than in Korea. Everyone here seems to have a phablet, that’s phone/tablet for the tech illiterate. I have the new Nexus 5 and its the largest phone I would ever buy. However in Korea, a 5″ phone is commonplace. Many people have larger phones than that. I suspect that years from now large phones and phablets will be the norm and Korea will be having the last laugh.
9. Love Motels are the best places to stay
In Korea there are 4 main options of places to stay: Minboks, Hostels, western hotels, and love motels. Minbok’s are traditional Korean “hotels”. They’re usually just one room in an old Korean house, often in more rural areas. Usually they don’t have any furniture, just blankets and a floor. We stayed in one at Oedaldo.
Hostels are hostels. They’re more common in Europe than Korea. For $20/bed you can sleep in a dorm. Most big cities in Korea have at least a few of them.
Western hotels are really expensive here in Korea. Anything with an English name is often $100 more expensive than all of your other options. That’s where Love Motels come in.
I’ve heard rumors that love motels are used for adultery and promiscuity and I suspect that in some places they are, but for the most part they are now just an inexpensive option for accommodations while traveling especially for foreigners that ignore any sort of stigma attached to the hotels. Nicole and I have stayed in several. They are rather nice boutique hotels with large comfortable beds and giant bathrooms. In Seoul people rent them out for a few hours at a time and have parties. Some rooms even come with pools and bowling alleys. Nicole and I have never spent more than $80 on a room but $60-70 a night is average.
10. Korean internet speeds are comparable to Google fiber
Korean internet speeds are insanely fast. In fact, on average they are the fastest in the world. Downloading movies and streaming YouTube videos has never been easier. Its one thing I’ll definitely miss when I return to the states.