Living in Korea

There are many differences in living in Korea and some of them take a little getting used to.  Foreigners are of course in the minority so I suppose that makes us a novelty.  Many will stare quite openly at a foreigner and they do not drop their gaze when you catch them!  My response is usually to give them a big cheery smile and this causes one of two reactions.  They smile back, but continue to stare or they remain quite poker-faced while continuing to stare!  I found it quite disconcerting initially but you actually grow used to it reasonably quickly.

Late last week I was ordering coffee to go and while I was waiting for it to be made an older gentleman came over to say hello.  His English was extremely good, and yes that is a rarity here in Osan, and he just wanted to chat.  He told me that he was retired but that he had worked as a fireman with the American forces for thirty years.  He was delight and he had a wonderful grasp of how foreigners felt when they came to Korea.  “I thought you might like to talk to someone that actually understood you.  I know how hard it can be when you have to struggle to get your message across, and I wanted to tell you that many of us are very happy that people like you will come here and help Korea.  We will be a better country for your being here and our children will prosper.”  I thanked him, of course, and told him how pleased I was to be able to work here.  He patted my hand and told me I was beautiful!  It is very easy to feel good in Korea and how could you not feel good with such a compliment!

Korea’s will often compliment you, and women and girls will stop you in the street to tell you that they think you are beautiful.  Even old ladies like me!  Sometimes they will say things that need a little interpretation too as they sound odd to western ears but they are generally meant as a huge compliment.

“You have a small head.”  Fine features are often described as a ‘small head’

“You are Korean,” with a giggle; if you have a slight build and smaller feet!  It’s the first time in my life I have felt like I was the norm.  I am of average size with standard sized feet, I am normal here.

They will often tell you you are Korean if you express pleasure in their food too.  Food in Korea is generally pretty spicy and many foreigners take a little while to get used to it.  If you tell them you love it, as I do, you are an instant success.  And trust me, there are times when the food here is good enough to kill the common cold.  I woke us last night with a very sore throat and feeling that awful cold feeling, sore muscles etc.  All I could think of was Budae jjigae, a soup like stew that is full of garlic and spice.  I called the kids at reasonable time (it was Sunday after all and so they are entitled to a wee sleep in) and almost begged them to come for lunch with me so I could have Budae jjigae.  It’s not the sort of thing you can go and have on your own so I needed them!  Fortunately they were very happy to meet me and I felt a million times better after I had eaten it.  The sore throat has almost gone and I am sure the heat of the spices helped ease that muscle ache.

Korean’s will also question you on a regular basis.  “How old are you?” is the most common question when you first meet people.  The question is not intended to be rude it is generally based on a need to know in order for them to know how they should treat you, and address you.  Age here has huge advantages as you are treated more formally the older you get.  There are more formal forms of greeting and speech that are used when talking tom an older person and it would be considered rude for them not to use it, and they cannot guess our ages as we do not look like Korea’s and so they have no yard stick to measure by.  We all look the same to them!

I was a little thrown by one question asked last week by a group of students.  They asked me how much I got paid, and that was one question I was not willing to answer.  I told them to ask Mrs Kim (my boss) and I knew they would never do that!

Having spent ten years living in a country that suffers severe drought it is taking time to get used to the amazing amount of water that it used here.  Much to the amusement of those I have talked with here, I still feel guilty if I take more than a 3 minute shower.  In my apartment, as it was in Amelia’s too, there is no real plug for the kitchen sink.  You would never fill a sink with water to wash the dishes, you simply let the hot water run while you wash and then rinse them.  Personally I think this gets the dishes far cleaner but having been given such a hard time for doing dishes that way in Australia when I first got there I stopped!  Water is not an issue here and you can use as much as you want.

Bathrooms here are generally quite different too and foreigners will tell you if they have a ‘real’ bathroom as it is a treat to have one.  They tend to be wet rooms. The shower is merely a fixture on the wall and there is no shower box or curtain.  My shower is quite posh though as it is a separate fixture whereas Amelia’s was connected via the hand basin taps.

My shower

The bathroom

The whole room gets splashed and the only down side is having to dry the loo seat before you can use it.  Most foreigners are given apartments with standard western style loos, but we all learn very quickly here that there is a whole list of things one needs to know prior to going to the toilet here.  Many of the older public toilets tend to be the old style key-hole slot, or squat, version.

Traditional squat toilet

The hagweon I work at only has the old style squat toilet and to add insult to injury they are unisex, so I tend not to use them.  Unisex toilets are not unusual here, just a little disconcerting for an uninitiated new comer.  The urinals tend to be just right out there in the open while the ladies squat version is set within a cubical, but you have to walk past the fells to get to them.

Dog toilets here are as common as litter trays for cats at home, and they are great.  Everyone uses them as it’s too cold in the winter to walk the dog s and so they need a toilet that can be used inside.  A plastic tray with a paper, plastic lined, pad that sits under a plastic grill.  You can change the pad as often as necessary and it’s all very easy to clean and doesn’t smell.  It makes life very easy when you have to leave your dog inside when you go to work and that is what most have to do as the majority of Koran people live in apartment buildings with no land attached.  As you can see in the photo NiNi’s toilet is right beside mine.

The pink one on the floor is NiNi’s!

You also have to carry your own loo paper here as the majority of bathrooms do not supply it.  You quickly learn to carry a packet with you, but like most things the Koreans have this well sorted out and you can buy purse size packs and they come in pretty packs too.

A welcome to my new home from Amelia

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One Response to “Living in Korea”

  1. I can’t thank you enough!!! Reading everything!!!

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