Thursday, September 30, 2010

Things I Have Mostly Gotten Used To

News flash: Korea does things differently than America. Duh, right? Except that when you live here, even though on some rational level you understand that there are differences, on a purely reactive level there are some things you just can't get past. Or so I thought. When I first arrived there were a number of things that I figured I would never adjust to, but here I am a month later pretty much adjusted (or at least resigned) to those very things I thought would bug me forever. This doesn't mean I have embraced them, of course, but they no longer piss me off so much.

Specifics, you ask for? Ask and ye shall receive:

1. Cars on the sidewalk.
Korea is not necessarily bereft of parking spaces, although I wouldn't say it's blessed with them either. But whether spaces or no, Korean drivers will pull their car onto the sidewalk and park it there. They even occasionally drive down the sidewalk looking for a space to get back on the road. Never mind that you might be walking on the sidewalk. Bob and weave, bob and weave.

2. Pedestrians never have the right of way. Never.
Which brings me to number 2. Whether you're crossing the street, walking on the sidewalk or watching TV in your home, you will never have the right of way. If there's any kind of motorized vehicle present, whether that be a luxury Hyundai with dealer door ding protectors still attached, a delivery scooter or an old man on a tractor, you're assed out. My recommendation? Practice a sideways dive and roll, and remember: your biggest threat may be behind you.

3. Cutting in line.
Koreans may take their sweet-ass time when they mosey down the sidewalk, linked arm-in-arm with 15 of the closest friends, but come time to get in line and they're in front of you before you realize you've been punked. And it's not just the old folks, who, in a hierarchical society, are now enjoying the fruits of being on top. No, it's just about anyone. I've been told that Koreans have less personal space than Westerners and so stand closer in line (which is hilarious when you're waiting for the ATM and the person behind you is practically wearing your pants) but even when I'm dry humping the counter at the head of the line someone will still manage to get in front of me. All I can do is laugh. They obviously want it more than me.

4. The toilet paper garbage can.
Korea may have one of the largest economies on earth, and boasts a large-screen HD TV for every citizen (I assume) but it has miserable plumbing. Even though it's called toilet paper it's not allowed in the toilet. It goes in an open garbage can next to the toilet. An exposed can of literally shitty toilet paper. Next to you. And you put your own newly browned paper in there. With the other befouled paper. And Koreans think leaving a fan on at night will kill you. But hey, I hardly ever retch any more. Amazing what you can get used to.

5. The community bar of soap.
So you've just spent a good couple of minutes with your hand inside a waste basket full of other people's poop and now it's time to wash your hands with a communal bar of soap rammed onto the end of a metal stick. Does soap remain clean even after it's been touched by hundreds of poopy hands? I doubt it. And the fact that it's on a stick is hilarious. As if I would want to take that thing home with me. Good thing I'm not a germaphobe.

6. Wet bathrooms.
The shower in a Korean bathroom is not partitioned off from the rest of the bathroom. It's right out in the open. You take a shower, the bathroom takes a shower. This is fine when you're as wet as everything else but when it comes time to dry off the presence of standing water makes the process difficult. So you stand there still partially wet while you do your getting-ready thing. My previous bathroom habits were based around being dry, which meant I could do things like wear pants while shaving, etc. Now I stand there naked and dripping. Why dripping? You try drying your feet and not getting the towel soaked in all the water on the floor. But I'm adapting, which means using a series of hand towels instead of one large towel. And accepting the fact that I'm going to be wet for awhile.

I was also going to write about eating kimchi and spicy food everyday, and while my mouth may have adapted to this culinary change, my bowels have not.


  1. I also find that the way I have to rub the soap-on-a-stick in order to some on my hands leaves me feeling rather unclean.

  2. Actually, Seoul's sewer system is quite modern, and is really capable of handling standard issue TP. However, it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, so many Koreans still act like it's the bad old sewer system of the 1970s.

    and they wonder why there's so much hep going around.