Thursday, January 29, 2009

Korea: Introduction

Korea, where do I even begin? It was easily one of the most action packed one-week trips of my life, one of those intense experiences where so much happens day by day that yesterday morning literally feels like a week ago.

Seeing Asia as a bona fide foreigner was also a new experience for me. In contrast to 4 years of studying Japanese, after one week in Korea, I only learned three words, "hello", "thank you", and "coffee". As a matter of fact, the first night in town, I bought some items at a convenience store and managed to mutter a tepid "kum sa ni da" to the clerk. She straight up laughed at me. "Silly foreigner," she must have been thinking. It was at that moment that I knew exactly what it must feel like to be a non-Japanese speaking Gaijin in Japan.

Seoul is a like a more realistic, working class version of Tokyo. Streets are dirtier, infrastructure is dodgy, and you immediately get the sense that people have less money. I think a tougher life means people have their priorities straight. Koreans are much more forward and animated than Japanese, which had great repercussions for me. Even not knowing a word of the language, people were inviting and easy to socialize with. Most groups of young people always had one or two English speakers. And if not, I would just point to myself and say "OOOBAMA!!" and all the Koreans would raise their glasses, cheer, and reply, "OOOOBAMA!!"

Their forward attitude and behavior can even get rugged. I saw quite a few couples screaming at each other in the streets and people yelling over their cell phones. Traffic laws and red lights are optional. I saw plenty of scooters and sometimes even cars drive up on the sidewalk for a shortcut. The streets were like a free-for-all version of Japan.

For me, the most hilarious aspect of Koreans' up front attitude is their spitting culture. Koreans spit everywhere. I kid you not, it's not uncommon to see a refined young beautiful woman huck the biggest loogie you've ever seen in your life.

Incidentally, the number one absolute coolest thing about Korea is most definitely KOREAN HOSPITALITY! I told my Korean friend whom I had barely corresponded with in five years that I would be coming to Seoul. A week later I had a place to stay, an itinerary, a social circle waiting to meet me, and plenty of traveling advice. Upon arriving in town, she picked me up at the airport and guided me into the city. During the week, she and her Korean boyfriend made sure to keep me well fed by taking me to hole-in-the-wall authentic Korean kitchens. And I should also mention here that Seoul is cheap. After the three of us had a so called "All You Can Meat" dinner, I offered to pay for everyone. My friend insisted on treating me. After all, the bill for the three of us stuffing our faces amounted to $6.


Sang said...

haha this is your impression of Koreans huh? I'm glad you're having a great time! Good luck!
-1st friend in college

Justin said...

Dude--you came to Seoul and didn't drop us a line? :-) --Justin & Nana