8 Things I will miss about Korea

Thursday, February 16th, 2012.

Since I am leaving in 11 days, I thought this would be a good time to write a post on the things I will miss about Korea.

I’ve lived in this beautiful country for 364 days. In that amount of time I have made my way through the major stages of culture shock and have emerged out the other end. Even though I am still linguistically and culturally isolated, I have been able to observe and experience many things in Korea that simply will not be there in Canada. Some of these things I will happily leave behind me (Ajummas and Ajushis that bump into me on the sidewalks and those damn scooters can kiss my ass), but others I fear I will miss sorely. So without further ado here are some of the things I will miss about Korea, and possible solutions I can use in Canada to get over this sense of loss:

Numer One: Kimchi

Kimchi is a staple of the Korean diet. It is made by mixing cabbage leaves, red pepper paste, fish paste/oil and other spices and fermenting it in jars. The result is a delicious cabbagey goop that looks extremely unappatizing (unless you’ve eaten alot of it). When I first came to Korea I didn’t like kimchi very much, but I knew how important it was culturally (and that it would likely be a side dish on every meal I would ever eat in this country) so every mealtime I forced myself to eat one or two pieces. After a week or so I was totally hooked.

How I will rectify the situation in Canada:

Kimchi is a tough one because it is wicked hard to make (I rarely cook myself mashed potatoes because they take roughly 20 minutes longer than rice – so can you imagine me fermenting something?!). My only solution will be to head to a Korean restaurant ever few weeks/months, or as my addiction demands.

Number Two: The weather

The weather in Busan has been nothing short of amazing. The summer (from my Canadian perspective) has lasted roughly 9 of the 12 months I’ve been here. March was 10-15 degree days, April was even better and by May Busan was already experiencing what I would call summer. That lasted until about mid-november, when the temperature finally started routinely dropping below 20 degrees. Even in the dead of winter, on some of the coldest days of the year it was only minus 5 degrees or so.

How I will rectify the situation in Canada:

I won’t. Canada is a desolate wasteland of ice and misery 7 months of the year. There is nothing I can do about that except retreat into a shell of my summer time self and whittle away the hours with video games and quiet tears.

Number Three: Small children in my neighborhood recognizing me.

I live very close to my school, so wherever I go in my neighborhood it is not uncommon for young children to recognize me. Hearing a child yell out: Oh! Tom! Tom teacher! As I walk to my local liquor shop is a heart warming experience. I have to admit, it feels good to turn and wave and give them a “Hi There!” or “Hi! How are you?” Usually they beam with happiness and if their parents are with them they usually excitedly turn to explain that I’m their English teacher and that I like them best of all. Just today as I walked home from school (for the last time, sniffle) a little boy getting out of a car near a convenience store spotted me and gave an enthusiastic “Hi Tom teacher!”

How I will rectify this in Canada:

Unfortunately in Canada there are not many ways to make small children in your neighborhood recognize you, and even fewer ways that don’t involve prison sentences. Actually I think this is one aspect of Korean life that I will have to let go of – even if I do become a teacher in Canada; living in the same neighborhood as any of my students is like an invitation to have my house egged. Korean kids are all smiles and pride, Canadian kids are pure evil and malice.

Number Four: High Speed Internet

You may think to yourself: “He’s going to miss high speed internet? Why, will he not just get it here? I have ‘Roger’s High Speed DSL’ and it works just fine.” Well…. I’m sorry to bust your bubble, but when Rogers or Bell claims to offer high speed internet that is a blatant lie. You have never known fast until you know Korea fast. Let me give you an example: One day my friend Ryan (living in Canada) and I were chatting on facebook. I asked him what his plans for the day were. He said he was going to start downloading an episode of his favorite tv show, hit the gym, grab a shower and then make supper. He was hoping by the time his supper was ready his show would be downloaded and he could watch and eat. Well, that show sounded pretty cool to me (though I had never seen it). I decided to download the entire first season. My Korean internet finished downloading all 24 episodes of the season within the hour. My friend had about a four hour wait for ONE episode. That’s Korean Fast.

How I will rectify this in Canada:

I actually have two good ideas about how I can take care of the slow internet problem in Canada. The first is that I can pay $150 a month for the fastest possible internet you can get in Canada (it would probably be a little over half as fast as my free internet here). The other option I’m considering is running head first into a brick wall hard enough that I forget all about living in Korea. If I don’t know what I’m missing, how can I miss it, right? Ignorance is bliss sorta thing?

Number Five: Cheap food and beer

In Korea, as I’ve mentioned many times before, food is extremely cheap. If I feel extravagant I will go out to a nice, pricey restaurant and expect to pay about $20 per person. In Canada, $20 per person, even at the cheapest restaurant, will barely buy you a salad and beer. I can walk 7 mins from my apartment and have a delicious, healthy meal that will fill me up for $4.50. I rarely pay more than 10 dollars a meal while eating out. I can go to a bar stone cold sober and drink all night and still only wake up with a $40 bar tab (I know guys in Canada who have woken up hundreds of dollars poorer – you know who you are). Best of all? No tip. I can buy a $2.50 beer without having to leave any change (meaning I can get two beers for every five dollar bill, thus maximizing my drinking to cash ratio).

How I will rectify this in Canada:

Again, this is something that I really can’t duplicate in Canada. The ability to walk down the street and stop at any restaurant for dinner knowing with total confidence that you can eat for under $10 is just not possible. The only way I can get the same feeling of eating well for cheap will be to start visiting friends and family unannounced right around lunch and dinner times. This, of course, is a quick fix and will not sustain me in the long run (eventually my mooching ways will alienate all my friends and I will have to turn to soup kitchens and the like). Hopefully I can keep it going long enough to get over the worst of the Korea withdrawal symptoms – just until I get used to paying $33.95 for an average meal, two warm beers and shitty service (not including tip). Ugh a part of my soul just died writing that sentence.

Number Six: Instant friendships with any white person.

Have any of you ever lived as a minority? I know some of you have – but many of you have not. In Korea I’m known as a waygook, or foreigner, and I am an outsider. I do not speak the language or understand most of their culture and etiquette. Now don’t get me wrong – I can’t claim that I know exactly what it is like to be a minority, because minorities are treated much better in Korea than Canada (probably because one aspect of Western culture that hasn’t made it’s way over here is the redneck phenomenon). Anyway, even though I can’t claim to know exactly what a minority feels, I do have some idea. Part of what I feel as a foreigner in Korea is an automatic kinship with any other foreigner I meet. Usually it isn’t just that we both speak English –  it is also safe to assume that I have alot in common with waygooks (normally they will be a traveller or English teacher, just like me). With so many conversation starters you don’t even have to be an extroverted or outgoing person to make friends with strangers.

How I will rectify this in Canada:

I have made a pact with myself to try and keep my spirit of adventure and outgoing attitude alive as long as possible once I return to my Canadian lifestyle. Part of this plan is to be more open minded about meeting new people. I will try my best to meet new people and try to find some common ground. The problem that I foresee is this: Even in Korea, the most boring waygook you can imagine has still, at least, travelled halfway around the world and lived in a foreign culture. It is almost impossible for that person not to have at least something interesting to say. Now imagine the most boring person possible in Canada. You can see the problem right?

Number Seven: Cleanliness.

Korean cities are fairly comparable to Canadian cities in terms of cleanliness. Walking down any given road you can expect to find roughly the same amount of garbage in Korea as in Canada (give or take, and this is based on my observations). The place where Korea shines is in its graffiti-less walls and vandalism free public spaces. The only explanation I can offer as to why there is so little graffiti and vandalism here is that young boys, while at the height of their adolescent stupidity, are locked safely away inside their highschools 14 hours a day. Young people in Korea don’t have the same kind of time on their hands that young people in Canada do – and the cities are better for it. One other part of Korean cleanliness that I can’t fail to mention is the subways and public transport which, unlike any other transit system I’ve ever been on – outside of asia – are clean enough to perform surgery in.

How I will rectify this in Canada:

I have no complaints about cities in Canada. Vandalism and graffiti, though often unsightly, doesn’t bother me. So, in order to avoid longing for the cleanliness of the Korean public transportation system, I will simply have to resume my boycott of Canadian public transit. Switching back to my bicycle (which I had to abandon in Korea as I would have survived about 14 seconds in Korean traffic on a bike) should allow me to get around in Canada without the constant reminders of how much respect Koreans have for public spaces, and how pleasant these areas are as a result.

Number Eight: Cheap travel to exotic places.

There is one advantage to living in Korea (and many other parts of the world) that Canada just doesn’t have: Being able to easily and cheaply visit other cultures. I’ll give you two examples: First, in the summer my friend Tyler visited me from Canada. We went on a day trip to the DMZ where we met a girl from England. We got onto the topic of travel and she confessed that she had not done much travelling yet. She did however say that she had had a few vacations in Spain, and that she went to Italy for a weekend once. Obviously to me and my Canadian brethren we were floored! Spain and Italy?! That sounds awesome! The thing is that to a European, those places are extremely cheap and easy to get to – they think nothing about hoping a plane to Paris for a weekend or something like that. A Canadian, of course, would be looking at $600 airfare and an 11 hour flight. The second example is from my own life here in Korea. As you know, I just returned from a trip to Thailand. I don’t want to say I went to Thailand on a whim – but I did. I shot over to Thailand for a weekend and thought nothing of it, just threw some clothes in a bag (even forgot a towel) and off I went.

How I will rectify this in Canada:

Unlike the examples above, you just can’t travel like that from Canada. You can go to the States easily enough, but our cultures are basically identical. In fact, it is hard for many Canadians to ever see their whole country. I’ve still never been to Vancouver, and it is one of our biggest and most culturally diverse cities! Its a 4 hour plane ride away! The closest you can get to an exotic country from Canada is Mexico, but that is still extremely expensive and a long flight. My solution will be to carry this sense of wonder and adventure that I have cultivated in Korea back home with me to Canada. I may not be able to easily travel to another country, but with the right frame of mind I can easily find just as much adventure and interest by taking a trip to a new city or even an unexplored lake. Or so I hope.

Well this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it is all I can think of in my current caffeine addled, just finished my last day at work in Korea, state.

Stay tuned for another update on the planning progress of my Ultra Mega Giga Plan and, in a few short days, an update from Beijing!

That’s all for now!

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About bnbnower

A recent graduate of Carleton University, set adrift into the real world with no tangible goals or properly defined aspirations, I decided to set off for South Korea where I am teaching English as a second language. In my spare time I read, rock-climb, play frisbee and watch movies and television.
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