Tag Archives: North Korea

Uniquely Korean. Part two.

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On the one-month-eve of my departure, I bring to you my final compilation of those things that are uniquely Korean.  Or at least, of those things that seem uniquely Korean to me because I have yet to witness them anywhere else.  All of this is not to say that they could not be found elsewhere, naturally – simply that I have not had the joy of experiencing them elsewhere yet.

Why part two, you may ask!?  Well, silly, because I already wrote part one!  It’s here.  Go check it out if you haven’t and then come back.  We’ll wait.

And now the list, edición dos:

* Holidays are never pushed to the weekends.  If a holiday falls on a Thursday, you will enjoy your Thursday off and then head back to work on Friday.  It sucks.  A lot.  (I’m so spoiled, clearly)  The only time they will extend the weekend out is for Chuseok – the one big Korean holiday (it’s like their Thanksgiving).

'yellow dust' from China

‘Yellow dust’ from China

* Yellow dust, pollution, toxins carried on the air, and radioactive fish and water from China and Japan (respectively) are a much bigger public security concern than anything North Korea says or does.  This week, for example, we are being advised to limit our physical activity outdoors because of a huge cloud of toxic dust surrounding us that blew over from China.  I get more headaches certain weeks, it seems, so I tend to believe that this is a real thing (in terms of concern).  It certainly concerns the Koreans and I can understand why, given how often it seems to happen.  That’s a lot of additional air and food contamination over a lifetime.

* Koreans meander.  Always and forever.  No one picks a side or path and sticks to it.  Many people have their noses in their phones while they walk, which could account for some of this, except that even without phones they meander.  No one ever seems in a hurry or even like there’s a specific place they might be headed.  They are just meanderers, nothing more about it 🙂

* Koreans drink hot coffees (and the like) with stir sticks, but cold beverages with straws.  It’s pretty strictly so.  I have no real idea why.  I think the straws in general are to avoid colouring the teeth, which I get (though I can’t imagine giving up the wonderful feeling of putting my lips to a take out style (because I re-use, guys!) lid).  But why the teeny stir straws?  Is it because the drinks are hot and the straws allow for less tongue burnage?  Does it help their drinks last longer so they can suffice as an entire meal?  I have no idea.  This is one mystery that will just remain unsolved, I guess.  (I’m clearly coffee-obsessed, as it shows up on both of these lists.  Perhaps I should just write a blog about worldwide coffee culture and give into my obsession.)

* There are no personal pencil sharpeners!  I have looked and looked and looked and none are to be found.  Talk about an untapped market!  Most of the older kids use mechanical pencils, and larger classroom size sharpeners do exist, but do you know what they do to sharpen regular pencils!?  They (the kids, the young kids) carry around and use an EXACTO KNIFE to sharpen their leads.  I kid you not.  Can you even begin to imagine that flying in some places!?

* In Korea, a marker is not a marker if it doesn’t smell of delicious food.  IT’S. SO. AWESOME.

* Gay does not exist here.  I mean, it does but it does not permeate the consciousness of general society.  It doesn’t exist, it isn’t in Korea, and therefore (at least this part is pleasant?!) it’s nothing to be ‘afraid of’.

071206_p18_koreans*Koreans love spam.  Of the ‘edible’ variety, not those annoying junk emails that occasionally slip through your gmail filter.  On big holidays, most notedly Chuseok, it is common to give a nicely wrapped box displaying about 12 tins of spam.  I wish I was joking.  I’m going to guess it’s a throwback to the days of poverty that weren’t so far in the past.  I mean, that’s why we all eat hotdogs, right?  I hope?  Because, ew to spam and ew to hotdogs.  This article, much to my everlasting amusement, discusses the history of spam in Korea and why Koreans love it so much 😀  The picture is also theirs.

* Remember the crazy traffic I wrote about?  Turns out it doesn’t even stop for ambulances.  Ambulances have to fight their way through the traffic and fight through lights and generally just fight to get anywhere.  Frightening to think about what that means in, you know, an emergency!

barber-shop-pole

*We all know the classic red, white and blue spinning sign of a barber shop (and in case you grew up under a rock and don’t, there’s a picture of one right here –>).  Well in Korea, these barber shop poles signify something entiiiiiirrrreeeely different.  And about as different a thing from a haircut and shave as you can get.  They signify places where sex is sold.  They are often attached to the jimjilbangs (spas), sometimes attached to seemingly random businesses, and of course always attached to brothels.  Actual hair salons have taken to using a colourful and entirely different spinning sign so as not to be confused with prostitution businesses.

* Prostitution is rampant and includes women from other countries that are lured here under false pretences (it’s not like this is the only place that happens but it doesn’t lessen my concern).  Fortunately, there are amazing organizations at work trying to combat this reality, such as Salim Women’s Shelter, where I volunteered for a large part of my time here.

* The drinking culture is literally unparalleled elsewhere in the world.  South Korean adults are the biggest drinkers in the world, and the sale of soju (the preferred national liquor) outsells vodka and whiskey worldwide.  You can check out this article for a brief synopsis (it attributes alcohol abuse to most of the crime in South Korea).  According to a google search, it seems the government is taking this somewhat seriously and at least trying to contain the effect on adults and children under the age of 25 by restricting advertising to them.

* You can leave things out in the open, even cell phones and laptops and wallets, and they will NOT go missing.  Ever.  I mean, this is no gospel so no need to heed my every word should you find yourself here.  But I seriously cross the line of what is smart in terms of leaving stuff everywhere here (partially because I’m curious how much I can get away with) and nothing ever ever goes missing.  Not helmets or jackets or bags hanging off the bike, not my laptop or phone while I’m in the bathroom at the coffee shop, nothing.  Except Jon’s license plate once.  Apparently that’s a much hotter commodity than a computer…?

* Koreans of all ages live in slip-on sandals.  Think Adidas slides.  With socks, without socks, in all seasons.  I suppose it’s to do with the ease of slipping them off 🙂 but it’s kinda funny that everyone shuffles around in black or blue or purple slides in any size ranging from clearly too small to your-foot-is-touching-the-ground-those-are-so-big-on-you large.  Maybe they’re family sized and everyone shares?

There you have it!  Our final round of ‘what’s up’ in Korealand, all the things you never knew you wanted to know and now you do!

Did I miss anything?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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