Preconceived and American Biased Thoughts on South Korea
If there is any traveling that I’ve experienced so far in my lifetime that has given me culture shock, it’s been in Asia. Living in South Korea is no exception.
I have been in Seoul about two weeks now and that is not nearly enough time to grasp the culture and daily routine that goes on in this city, hence why I title this “Preconceived and American Biased Thoughts on South Korea” because I am the ultimate amateur on the South Korean lifestyle (I also arrived with plenty of wrong expectations for many things from work to weather). I am the outsider, the unfamiliar. And what I have learned ultimately through traveling and experiencing life outside of high school and Parker, Colorado is that there is more than one normal lifestyle.
I will start with a topic easy enough to imagine for those of you who haven’t visited the country; food. Never has it been so difficult to grocery shop on a budget while trying to eat healthy and actually enjoy what I’m buying to eat. At first it was nearly impossible to find a supermarket bigger than the size of a large gas station around my apartment, and the few that were around us had very limited options. Thank goodness for eggs and milk and bacon because I have been able to consistently find those items. Otherwise a transition to living off of cabbage, tofu, and Korean beef might be something to consider. (Also much cheaper) Besides grocery shopping, food has surprisingly been a good experience. The area we live in called Gangnam-gu has an abundance of restaurants and cafes, and that’s even an understatement. I could probably go to a different cafe here for a month and still be able to find a new one within walking distance. So far I have had a mix of foreign food and Korean food and haven’t had anything disappointing, but I have stayed away from the live squid and cow intestine so, once again, preconceived thoughts.
As I started to familiarize myself with my neighborhood by walking around I noticed a few things while failing at searching for a big supermarket: plastic surgery clinics and Christmas decorations. First of all, let me repeat how difficult it is to find things like cauliflower or green beans but if you need any plastic surgery I could point you to at least four of them just minutes from my apartment. They are like the Colorado weed dispensaries of South Korea because there are just so many. From my research I’ve learned that Seoul by some is the “plastic surgery capital of the world” and an article in The New Yorker states “It has been estimated that between one-fifth and one-third of women in Seoul have gone under the knife…” This has really made me wonder while I walk down the street and pass some of the 10 million people in this city. And secondly, while unrelated, I just want to make sure I’m correct that it is now February. Because for some reason I still have the Christmas spirit while shopping amongst Christmas lights, Santa costumes, snowflakes, and Christmas trees. Still haven’t figured that one out…
Just a few other brief thoughts and questions I’ve had on my first few weeks of experience are things like “Hi, do you speak English?” I am very used to asking this question but so far the answer, or lack of answer, is a shake of a head. “Why is it so cold outside?!” Self explanatory. “This floor is heated… This seat is heated.. This is amazing.” Turns out Koreans are like the Kings of heated floors and everything else, including your metro seat, and I will miss this terribly when I leave. “How do you say that again?” When I’m abroad I try to learn a few phrases to get me by and to be more respectable to the people around me and so far Korean is hard. And so unfamiliar. I will get the hang of it eventually! And finally, “How beautiful is this and how lucky am I to experience this!” Looking beyond the culture difference, food extremes, and literally all of the industrial buildings in the city, there is so much beauty. I love traveling because I am truly fascinated by how other people in this huge world work and live and survive in their own corner of the planet.
Sometimes being in a place so unique and different from your normal is the most humbling feeling to realize how much there is to learn outside of your normal. Like I said before these are all just my own biased thoughts and experiences on my short time spent here so far, and I’m so excited to see what else is to learn with the rest of my time here. I really believe it’s all what you make of it and how you let yourself see it and effect you.
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson