It’s just over 3 weeks into our trip, with 3 weeks spent in Korea. We recently arrived in Shanghai and scrapped the idea of taking a ferry because: it actually costs more than our flights, takes 24 hours by boat (vs 1.5hr flight), and would have added a few extra days before reaching Shanghai and we want to get there for the World Expo.
It’s my (vinnie’s) first blog post since starting the trip, Korea has literally been a nonstop sensory overload of nature, history, cities, partying, culture, and food.
If it wasn’t for Kristine’s cousin, Travis, I don’t know if we would have visited Korea – when I think Asia, I think Japan and China. Now I think, Japan, China, and Korea(s). I’m really glad we had our first stop here, it was a fantastic time thanks to:
- Good company such as Kristine’s cousins and their friends (both ex-pats and Koreans)
- A beautiful country
- Cities that like to party and stay out late
- Great food
- Incredibly friendly, warm, and nice people looking to help
Korea has a rich history with dynasties 1,000s of years old. During which, multiple wars with China and Japan that have burnt down many of the originally relics, such as 1,000+ year old temples. And it has a neighbor to the north that is run by a crazy dictator, an oddity we really wanted to explore but they are absolutely not letting in Americans at the moment (normally you can go with a tour group). The US effort in the Korea War is highly respected here, over 33,000 US soldiers were killed, with the 2nd highest number of deaths for foreign soldiers going to Turkey with about 1,600 soldiers. The UN Memorial gardens in Busan is a beautiful moment with a wall like the Vietnam wall in DC.
99% of the expats we met were teaching English. Koreans will pay a high premium for native speakers to teach English, you don’t even need to know a word of Korean, except for ‘Hite’ which roughly translates to ‘cheap beer’. Most teachers are paid quite well and have modest schedules, which affords a high quality of life while saving US dollars, probably living better then their english teaching counterparts in Japan.
As for the demand for Engrish – the younger generation (which is in school obscene hours of the day, sometimes till 10pm, and attends school on the weekends), can not digest the english language fast enough. I think it’s a combination of cool pop culture – (Koreans are the most fashionable people I’ve seen, I think it tops NY and Paris – even the men are sporting top-end lines with manicured hairdos). Along with the value in knowing English in our worldwide ecomony. It’s funny to me that companies like Samsung, KIA, Hyundai have all their logos at the top of the buildings in English, not Korean.
Outside of Seoul, tombstone shaped buildings dot the landscape wherever a city emerges. Korea grew so fast, that it skipped the aesthic in housing and went straight for utility. So the landscape is dotted wtih 20-story rectangular buildings usally a handful right on top of each other (forgot having a view). They are drab gray with company logos like Samsung at the top – cause Samsung does everything, not just electronics, they own real estate too. These tombstone styled apartment builds are a real odd site to see. Fortunately, Seoul has done a good job of avoiding 100% of those buildings and has real neighborhoods with a fun and funky vibe.
However, going along this ‘utility’ vs. aesthetic for housing, commercial buildings follow suit as well, with most restaurants and bars setting up shop on any floor, from the 1st to the 8th, it doesn’t matter how nice of a joint it may be, you may have to take the elevator up to the 4th floor for your nice restaurant – and for bars, sometimes the basement. Back in NYC’s Korea Town, I used to think this was due to space constraints just in NYC, now I realize it’s a Korean norm to have a good restaurant on the 3rd floor of a building, and a bar on the 4th. And of course Noribongs (karaoke) are always up high in sketchy, but fun, little rooms.
Korea really impressed us, we had no idea we were would be treated to a beautiful and fun country (from day hikes to nighttime partying).
Ohh, and I’m buying Korean socks for life – they all have fun logos on them, from Ramen noodles to the Simpsons – I think it’s because you always have to take off your shoes in Korea, so everybody wants to have hip socks.
Some other Korean memories: