Wednesday, November 28, 2012


This page has one South African woman's long of reasons why she likes Korea. I came across her blog when Rochelle found her page about eating at Braii Republic, a South African restaurant in Itaewon, Seoul.

1) Having lived overseas before, I know that living in a transitory environment will always end in sadness when it comes to making friends. I've made some amazing mates, from all over the world, and I will miss them the most. Living in a very foreign country, you tend to open yourself up to people you might not befriend at home, and you become a better person for it. It opens you up to dispelling prejudices, being more open-minded and learning about people you might have dismissed in a more comfortable setting....

Ditto. I never knew anyone from Scotland, Wales, South Africa, New Zealand before coming to Korea. The EPIK program has a great way of bringing a diverse group of people for the common purpose of teaching English. Meeting everyone's been, and continues to be, a hell of a time. Living here means you have to be ready to say hello. It's reminiscent of college only on a larger and more serious scale: by saying hello to everyone and keep an open mind; I'm making potentially lifelong friends. Not only that, living in a rural area like Cheorwon means I dang near had to keep an open mind about meeting everyone because they're people I live with and see every day. They're only 11 of us in the entire county.

With that in mind, all good things come to an end. She writes about the possibility of never seeing many of her friends again and that's something we as ex-pats must understand. I'll always remember meeting Paula and picking her brain about all things England or celebrating Diwali with Lisha and Isha. With any luck, we'll meet again after our time in Korea is up.

2) One of the things I love most about living here, and something that could keep me here for another year all by itself, is the internet. It's the fastest in the world by a long way, and there are few places you can't get it. It's on phones, in airports, in shops, on the subway and in every single household. It costs practically nothing for unlimited broadband, and I will miss it insanely when I'm in South Africa....

The same goes for the USA. My Internet connection's half of what I paid in Wisconsin and more than 3x as fast. Korea's about as wired a country as you can get.

4) Cheap utilities. I've never paid more than 10 000 won for electricity in a month. That's not even R70. Usually it's closer to 5000. And we use lights, appliances and computers all day long. It's going to be a big adjustment turning all the lights off at home. And gas is so cheap, and we don't pay for water. It costs practically nothing to live here.

Yes, to a point, for it appears that she's never had to run the ondol much during the winters. LPG and electric ondol can can cost you a good chunk of change. Otherwise, utilities do come cheap here: in 15 months I've never paid more than 3,000won for water and 15,000 for electricity. The water's practically free, which makes having to go to the bank to pay the minuscule bill slightly irritating, actually.

6) Being able to WALK places without fear of being mugged. At night. The feeling of safety is something I will really miss, not having to worry about my handbag or my life. To be fair, you can't walk around alone at night in pretty much any other country, so it's not an indictment of South Africa. Here we leave our handbags on a chair in the bars and go and do our thing, without anyone watching over them. It's just not a worry, and it's very liberating. We might be blase about safety, but so far nothing has proven us wrong. In fact, if you leave your phone on a train or in a taxi, someone will usually make an effort to get it back to you. Koreans don't generally keep things that do not belong to them.

Once I left my phone on the coach bus from Pocheon to Wasu. It was there at the terminal the next day when I stopped by on the way to school. Neither me nor any of my friends have had any trouble at night here too. I feel safer here than I ever did in the States.

7) Public transport. I can't wait to be able to drive again, but I really love that taxis, buses, trains and subways are so plentiful and cheap. We never have to worry about driving after a night out, or how we're going to get home. Taxis are super cheap, they all have GPS (even though the drivers are usually watching TV on them as they drive) and it's hard to find a place that isn't connected to a bus route....

Aside from wanting to drive again, I couldn't agree more. Korea has excellent and reasonably priced public transportation and taxis. Some taxi drivers do watch TV, but in my experience most are just lead foots. Once I made it from Dongsong to Wasu in under 25 minutes. It ordinarily takes 35 minutes by car and at least 45 by bus.

9) Service! I've never been given so much free stuff as I have here. I went grocery shopping the other day and got a free 2 litre bottle of orange juice. If you buy washing powder you might get a free pack of noodles. We went for dinner last week and got a free dessert. A lot of places, like doctors' offices and sports venues have free coffee machines.

Yeah, free stuff's always good. All of us in Cheorwon can attest to these stories. We gotten plenty of alcohol service in bars and restaurants too. I like the customer service model here because stores and owners know about creating customer loyalty, which is something that seems lacking in the States.

10) Having my bank balance in the millions. And being able to save half my salary. This isn't the real world as far as work and money is concerned, and I will miss being so carefree about money and monthly costs....

Yep, I made the millionaire jokes too. We get paid well out here and I'm always thankful for that. I disagree with Korea not feeling like the "real world" when it comes to money because I don't like profligate spending. The money I (and others) are saving here will surely help down the road.

11) Being able to walk down the road holding TLG's hand without anyone batting an eyelid. Bizarrely, because Koreans in general don't have gaydar and don't even think people can be gay, we attract no attention....

Indeed, most Koreans I've met lack the gaydar of Western people. My students are always amused when I mention I've gay friends. They find it interesting because it's alien to their experiences.

Some of Kirsten's students actually play up their "gayness"--one kid jokes that he's the "Number 1 gay" in school, too.

12) Jimjilbangs and 'love motels'. I've never stayed in a jimjilbang (a kind of dormitory for travellers/drunks/old men, usually at spas, costs less than 10,000w) but I do frequent love motels when travelling. For those not in the know, a Love Motel is a place where people can meet up for a good time, if you know what I mean. Given that most people live at home until they're married, they need somewhere to canoodle, be it for an hour or a night. We tend to stay at the nicer places (60 000 for the room, still not expensive), because skimping on cost will result in bedspreads that glow purple under a black light. Gross! Also, love motels are often the only time I can have a bath, as Korean apartments rarely have them!

Ditto. I've always had an okay to good experience with love motels and have never seen anything that looked too funky in them.

13) Very cheap health care. As mentioned in a previous post, I've undergone surgery in Korea, stayed in hospital and seen many a doctor. A visit for a check up, provided you have insurance (all foreign teachers do) will cost you around 5000w.... Where would you pay that anywhere else? And these are fancy doctors' offices, not crappy clinics....

Indeed, it's true from what people have said. Having health and dental insurance played into taking this job here. I've never been to a hospital or clinic save for the mandatory health checks because I've never gotten sick enough to need to see a doctor. I've never felt healthier since arriving here.

Dental care's good and decently-priced here. The Boston Dental Clinic in Seoul does excellent work and they charge about 60,000won for a cleaning, by the way.

14) Koreans. The way they greet you so loudly when you walk into a store, and then everyone says bye and thank you when you leave. The way they're so willing to help you, and how excited they get when you speak even the most basic Korean. How well behaved the kids are, compared to other countries, and how they dress in identical clothing when they're part of a couple. Their quirky sense of fashion, their gorgeous black hair, and how they'll come up to you and say hi just to practice a bit of English, even if they've never met you before.

Yeah, she knows the score here.

15) Mandu, sachet coffee from Family Mart, iced tea for 1000w/R7, cocktails in a bag, drinking on the street being legal, beer pong and free pool in bars, ramen, japchae, bulgogi, free lunch at work, travelling on weekends, autumn in Korea is so gorgeous, snow, Korean babies/toddlers, hundreds of kids being excited to see me EVERY SINGLE DAY for two years.

While we do pay for our school lunches (it gets deducted from the paycheck automatically), the other stuff's true. Korean babies and toddlers are much mellowed than their American counterparts. They don't cry or act up nearly as much, though parents do seem to give them a lot freedom to move around on their own.

As for the snow? Screw it. 25 winters in Ohio and Wisconsin have withered away any love I may have fostered for snow. It does nice on the mountains though...

Check out her blog; it's got some good stuff on it. Stand by for more commentary on her site, for she's written a page detailing her complaints about Korea that will get posted here soon.

This one time...: I GOT ALL EMOTIONAL ABOUT LEAVING KOREA: Having been in Korea for two years, it was inevitable that I would come to love many things about living here. As the time draws near for T...

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