I’ve lived in South Africa all my life, although South Africa is a diverse and multi-cultured country: the only people I know well and have been most in contact with are South Africans. Yes, I’ve met people from outside South Africa but meeting a German in South Africa isn’t the same as meeting them in Germany. So I was quite surprised by a lot of things when I arrived in South Korea. The first question that popped in my head (before “why is everything so expensive”) was “Why does everyone dress and look the same” but I’ve stayed here long enough to realize that this isn’t so. So, here are some questions you’ll probably ask yourself when you arrive in Korea:
- Why is everyone staring at me?
(I wrote a little about this on of my previous blog posts) The staring is perhaps the first question you will ask yourself when you arrive in Korea (if you’re not Asian) people, especially elderly and children, will stare at you like you’re some alien from outer space. If you stay long, you will eventually (or never) get used to staring. FYI, your foreign registration card is officially known as an Alien Registration Card, so you are an alien.
- Where are the trash cans?
So you’ve bought some street food and ate it on the streets (as you should) next thing you’ll catch yourself walking around with trash in your hands because trash cans or waste bins are nowhere to be found. You’ll find them in subways but no so much on the streets. The streets are clean though despite this.
- Why is everyone in a hurry?
I’ve become one those “always in a hurry” people too, but at first, I just didn’t get it. You’re crossing the street everyone is running past you. You head for the subway people are running, when the subway doors open, people fly out of doors? Why is this? I don’t know, but it has somehow become so important for me to catch the next train even if I won’t be late by missing it. I just find myself running… it’s contagious. The rush goes beyond people chasing the train, but local drivers are always speeding, it’s terrifying.
- Where are the big towels?
You won’t find them at the shop down the street, the underground shopping center or even some big malls. Maybe Koreans don’t understand and don’t see the point of bath towels, so they sell hand ones. Hand towels just don’t do it for some us who like being covered up after taking a shower. Shops like E-mart and HomePlus do however sell them, but these are not shops you find everywhere. If you’re coming to Korea, bring your bath towel.
- Where are the houses?
I didn’t notice this when I first arrived in Busan. Everything looked normal to me (though nothing was) until someone mentioned that there are no houses. Yes, there are no houses, the people I’ve asked about this say it is because the country is too small for everyone to have houses. Busan is a city with a lot of mountains and not enough building ground. Therefore, Koreans build up; they have apartments in tall buildings thus saving space by living on top of each other. In addition to this, many young adults stay with their parents, so you boyfriend might still be staying with his parents hahaha
- Why is everything so colorful and cute?
The first time I went to the Busan Bank website was during the cherry blossom season (spring), and I was shocked to see a bank website with flowers. I expect banks to be all serious with their standard colors all the time, so even though I was shocked, I also liked the calm and friendliness to it. Cute and colorful things are everywhere in Korea, I can’t count the number of times I’ve come across a heart-shaped rice cake.
- Why do I need all these passwords for one bank account?
Korea is relatively safe, but you’d think otherwise when you go visit banks; maybe there a lot of scammers. I’ve blocked my bank card twice because to send money I need my bank certificate password, card pin number, transfer password and two sets of numbers from some bank security card I have (sigh). It’s a lot and make me think twice before sending money, but it also helps knowing it’ll take a lot for someone to get to my money
- How old did you say you were?
Most (I said most not all) women under the age of 50 look amazingly young. It’s embarrassing when you ask someone how old they are (very typical question in Korea) and they tell you’ll they’re in their 40s and you were thinking early 30s or even younger. I don’t know what they eat or do, but I’d like to have some of that too. I can’t say the same for some older than 50 though… something mysterious happens in the aging process.
- Why is everyone on their phones?
Kids as young as 6 (even younger) have smartphones. It’s embarrassing considering that I had my first phone at 16 and learned how to use a computer at 19… but we’re not there. I know this probably happens in a lot of developed countries, but people are always on their phones. The subway is even worse; it’s the best way to avoid everyone and just do your own thing.
- Why are all cars the same?
Ok, not all the cars are really the same, but they mostly come in black, white or silver gray. You’ll see yellow mini buses, and you’ll see a yellow taxi in Seoul but seeing a yellow, green, red, blue and many other colors is rare and almost nonexistent. Take a look at the picture below; there is only one red car in the parking lot.