We’ve been in South Korea for a week and it feels like months.Â With the onslaught of new foods, smells and concepts – along with the insane drinking culture- we haven’t had much time to process everything that we’ve been doing.
There is a lot to go through and with our seriously non-existent expectations about Korea, we have been surprised over and overÂ about what it’s like here.Â For instance….
No matter what the economist said about Koreans being heavy drinkers and the need to drink to move up the professional ladder, I am super surprised to see how much people drink here. AND even worse, how crappy the beer is.Â How can you possible drink enough Hite (say it like you’ve been punched in the stomach, hi-TUH), to pass out stone cold drunk in the middle of the street.
Koreans in Pohang don’t speak any English, and they definitely don’t expect you to speak Korean. When my American cousin busts out in Korean, their minds are blown and they can’t understand a word. The conversations end up like this: (Travis asking for a box at a restaurant)
Travis in Korean: Can I have a box-uh.
Korean dude: What! A box-uh!?
Travis in Korean: Yes, a box-uh.
Korean dude: A BOX-UH?
Travis in Korean: Yes, a box-uhhhhh.
Korean dude: Ahhhh! A box-uhhh.
That said, you get so used to NOT understanding people that when someone actually speaks English, you can’t understand them.Â We ran into an Australian couple and couldn’t comprehend that we were speaking the same language.Â This has never happened to me in any other county, so I have to assume it’s because Korean is sooo different from the way an English word would ever sound that you just start blocking it out.
And about the language barrier, how the fuck do you know what you’re ordering when then menu is only in Hangeul?Â I think we accidentally ordered and ate pig intestines….
So much more to talk about – like the fact that Korean kids are machines.Â They go to school 15 hours a day, and as high school seniors they go to school 7 days a week!Â We’re out drinking and the poor school kids are trudging home at 11:30 pm.
Students living the college dorms have to get their parents permission to be out passed midnight.Â Seriously, if a student is out of the dorms passed midnight, the college calls their parents to find out if it’s ok.Â If it’s not ok with the parents, they will get a demerit – IN COLLEGE!!
Kids, and probably Korean society in general, are very community-based.Â They all eat together out of one pot and focus on agreement rather than uniqueness. We’re walking around and people will STARE at us. One child will work up the courage to say “hi!” and then BOOM, they all bust out with their english and all at once you have kids scream at you -Â “hello”, “very nice to meet you”, “I love you!”
The thing is, they won’t say hello unless one kid breaks the ice and declares it to be ok, and not an embarrassment. Being embarrassed is hugely insulting to Koreans.
Waegukin – You-uh Foreigner
As kids they may be happy to see you, but Korea was the hermit kingdom and they’re not huge fans of foreigners. We’re often put in the back room to eat (our friend claims they don’t want us to be seen) and when an american girl starts to smoke, people will literally change table to be away from us (only for girl smokers though).Â I’m not sure how much of this is true, but I can definitely say that everyone stares and many people will start to talk about you. You always hear the word “Migukin” (Me-guk-in) – “Look! A freaking AMERICAN!”Â This word is applied to everyone, not only Americans.Â It’s nuts.
It’s actually way better to be mistaken for an American than a Russian.Â The other night when we were walking around horribly lost, we flagged down some lovely Korean women to help us.Â We couldn’t understand a damn word, but they kept asking “Russian, russian?” Finally it became clear – they were asking if I was a prostitute.
Clearly you do not want to be thought of as a Russian.
We’re having a great time.Â The language barrier is a blast – if you add “uhhh” or “ichi” to the end of every word it begins to sound Korean and that’s what we do.Â Frankly, we’re not in touristville and we’ve been given the rock star treatment.