Likes & Dislikes

Opinions


“Before I visited, I would never have imagined thinking of South Koreans as in any sense kindred spirits. What I found, however, was that like me, South Koreans find toilet humor funny, and in souvenir shops you’ll often find little poop-shaped toys – there’s even a whole museum dedicated to the subject. South Korean toilets conscientiously play a little tune when you flush, and conceal whatever noise you make doing your business, whether it’s a number one or a number two. The flush water is even dyed a soothing color.
The Mr. Toilet Museum in Suwon, not far from Seoul, gives a funny and gives a surprisingly tasteful – given the subject matter – overview of all things toilet related (both front and back), with sculptures, photographs and installations. You can count on the pictures you take here being a big hit on Facebook!’ (K. J., 2017)


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Korea has weird standards: a celebrity can go about with her butt and breasts out, but if you take the metro in a normal, loose summer dress, they stare at you as though you were clutching a bloody knife. Anyhow, Korean celebrities stare at you on every street, from every billboard, and although I barely know a quarter of them, I still recognize someone on every corner.

Hardly anyone speaks English, and even when they do they’re reluctant to use it: even at the airport the staff spoke to me in Korean (wtf), but those brave enough to speak to us were very friendly and helpful.

When it came to food and drink, I think I tried more or less all the most important things – soju (a rice-based spirit), sikhye (a sort of rice punch) makgeolli (rice wine), tteokbokki (rice noodles in spicy tomato sauce), mochi (rice sweets), jjajangmyeon (black bean paste) , japchae (vegetable noodles) and kimbab or onigiri, which is Korean barbecue. I could even have lived for a while on the offerings of the corner shop – all sorts of rice cakes, which I love, as well as ramen and tofu which I also liked, so all the essentials. Of course, they sell sweet pastries here too, but I love the way they always give you chopsticks and a spoon for everything, and never a knife and fork.

Their palaces and temples are very beautiful, and surrounded by nature.” (2018)


South Korea - Pusan - many domestic tourists like to wear traditional dresses

South Korea - Pusan - traditional dress - Krista photo

Practicals

Transport

“I’d recommend some mindfulness meditation before getting onto the metro, especially during the morning and evening rush hour, because otherwise, you won’t necessarily be able to keep your cool. Be prepared for the fact that the crowd waiting on the platform will not wait for passengers to first get off the subway when the doors open. Backpacks stay in place in all cases, even if it’s so crowded that you can't move, and this is equally true for smartphones, so don't be surprised if multiple screens appear inside your personal space. For example, I can’t count the number of times I’d had front-row seats for someone’s video game adventure or favorite tv series. However, there are also positives to the subway wars – for example, if you give your place to a senior citizen, don’t be surprised if they offer to hold your bag in return, for as long as you’re both going the same way.

+ Tip: Never sit on the three-person seats at the end of subway cars. These are reserved for the elderly, expectant mothers, the visually impaired, and the disabled, and Koreans adhere to this rule very strictly.”

South Korea - Seoul - metro - Krista photo

Food

“In Busan: We crossed busy Gudeok to explore one of Busan’s main attractions, the Jagalchi Fish Market (자갈치 시장). Famous as Korea’s largest fish market, the place stretches for nearly a mile, all the way to Yeongdo Bridge, and that’s without even mentioning the seven-story modern market building, each level of which is dedicated to a different type of sea scallop, fish, or crab.

You can get a life, freshly processed, dried, or frozen seafood here, while one level is full of restaurants specializing exclusively in raw fish – 186 of them in total. The range of seafood on offer is quite astounding, and with one or two exceptions, they all look delicious. One of the horrific exceptions, the name of which I’ve never been able to remember, looks so gross that I want to puke whenever I so much as see it. To put it diplomatically, it resembles a giant fat, naked worm, but if you asked my honest opinion, I’d say it most resembles a penis moving with the peristaltic contractions of a clenching bowel.

Walking down the old fish market across the street, however, was an incomparably better experience, especially since the retailers (generally elderly people) who couldn't afford a stall inside the big building can still come out here with their wares.”

South Korea - kimchi

South Korea - Pusan - our lunch in the seafood market - Krista photo

South Korea - Jeonju - Tteokkalbi - k.p. photo

Shopping


“Couple Culture. Anyone who says that Paris is a city of love has never been to Seoul. If you’re dating someone here, it’s unbelievably popular to dress the same way, get flowers, and continually make these gestures of affection. We've seen plenty of couples dressed the SAME way. There are clothing stores where you can get matching sets, and even matching underwear (!), especially for couples. There is a ‘couple deal’ in many restaurants, a couple of rides in the amusement park, flower shops everywhere, and you see plenty of girls carrying flowers. People are constantly hugging and kissing, and there are plenty of places in the city specifically for expressing romantic love. For example, locals confirm their bond with a ring every 100 days or celebrate the 14th of each month as Valentine's Day. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be single and see all these couples' offers, clothes, and couples in love everywhere. Anyhow, I have to admit that after a few days, we also began to get sucked into this atmosphere, so we got matching sweaters and left a love card in one of the love gardens.”

Public safety

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South Korea - someone played around with the police

Health

“In South Korea, smoking also has its own rules of etiquette, which are worth sticking to, not only to avoid reprimands but also because otherwise, you may end up with a hefty fine. The government is making a real effort to reduce the number of smokers: it is officially forbidden to smoke anywhere on the street that is not a designated smoking area, and you’re continually coming across ‘no smoking’ signs that can mean a smoking ban on that entire street – not just that particular area of the sidewalk. Besides getting fined, another reason to avoid breaking these rules is that smoking while walking is considered a huge disrespect to non-smokers, and Koreans are not generally fond of confrontation (see below). Instead, they tend to stop and move aside to smoke, but of course not only in the designated areas. On the contrary, women usually hide at this point so that no one can see them. If you’re a smoker, it’s advisable to follow these rules, but be prepared for some unpleasantness: in Korea, almost all smokers, both men, and women, hawk and spit. After every puff. Right in the ashtray. I leave the rest to your imagination…”

 


 

“Smart toilets. The people here are very demanding – I often saw women in the restrooms brushing their teeth during the day, fixing their make-up, and combing their hair. Maybe this is also connected to the fact that the toilets are specially equipped. It was very strange to me that there are smart toilets everywhere, and of course, everywhere you go the devices look different, so it was impossible for me to work out how they worked. In any case, experimenting at the hotel, we discovered that it was possible to make it wash, blow warm air, engage a two-step process to clean the seat and adjust the temperature. The other features remain a mystery.”

Background

South Korea - national flag

Destination in brief

South Korea in brief

South Korea (Republic of Korea) is in the Far East region of Asia.

Its only overland neighbor is North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). South Korea has coastlines on the East Sea (Sea of Japan) to the east, the East China Sea to the south, and the Yellow Sea to the west. It is separated to the southeast from the Japanese island of Tsushima by the Korea Strait.

Size: 98,500 km² (36,691 mi²)

Population: 51,2 million (2019), so the country has a very high population density (527 persons per km2 or 1,365 persons per mi2)

South Korea is the most ethnically homogenous country in the world after North Korea.

44% of South Koreans are religious: most of them Protestant, Buddhist or Catholic.

South Koreans have perhaps the longest working hours in the world. No wonder they developed an incredible ability to fall asleep anywhere outside their working places

Capital city: Seoul

South Korea is a highly developed country. About 85% of South Koreans are middle class.

Average net monthly salary: 2,200 USD (2019)

Official currency: won (KRW)

Most frequent surnames: Kim, Lee (Yi), Park and Choi. Strangely, it is not considered proper to get married to someone with the same surname (even when there are no family relations).

Kimchi is a national obsession in South Korea. Do not imagine some sophisticated food: kimchi is in fact nothing more than fermented cabbage. Eating kimchi goes back to ancient times and there are a thousand ways to prepare (ferment) it. It often tastes disgusting to foreigners at first.

Hygiene conditions in South Korea are basically flawless. No vaccination needed. Public safety is excellent. Male foreign tourists should not insist on visiting bars where non-Koreans are openly unwelcome. Some expatriates think that the bars’ clientele unnecessarily pressure the owners, but Koreans justify this (otherwise illegal) discrimination by saying that too many foreigners behave inappropriately in bars.

70% of South Korea is mountainous. The bulk of the population lives in the metropolitan area around Seoul.

DMZ, the demilitarized zone between South Korea and hardline Communist North Korea is only 50 kilometers away from Seoul. 

Most visited tourist attractions: the famous temples, palaces, shrines of Seoul, DMZ, Gyeongju (Jeonju) with Bulguksa Temple, Busan, Seoraksan National Park (“Yosemite of Korea”), Hallyeo Maritime National Park, Jeju volcanic island with popular beaches)

Optimal timing for a tourist visit: from the middle of April to May and from September to the end of October. The winter is really cold.

South Korea is the largest market for plastic surgery per capita in the world. Reportedly around 20-30% of Korean women undergo a cosmetic procedure at least once in their lifetime. Parents often gift their daughters “double eyelid surgery” (a popular procedure on the eyelids to appear more western) for their sweet sixteen.

History

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South Korea - Pusan - sculpture about the old times - Krista photo

Nowadays

“Contrary to popular belief, South Korea by no means lives in continual fear of their northern neighbor. On the contrary, in the vast majority of cases, people are not even aware of what is going on north of the border. What the Western media prefers to call a constant threat is, in fact, an over-visualized idea, and not present at all in everyday life in South Korea. Sure, whenever a serious incident occurs, the country is briefly in turmoil, but after a few days, everything returns to normal and life goes on.
 
Tourists visiting South Korea will see hardly any homeless people. Only at the train terminus known as Seoul Station did we see one large group, but these were rather well-dressed and respectable homeless people. ‘Oh, what a wonderful place,’ many sighs. A miraculous country where everyone lives well and no one mutters ‘if only I was rich…’ However, lest we end up with a distorted picture, it’s worth pointing out that the situation is not so idyllic. And you don’t have to go far to see it: even at the edge of in the world-famous Gangnam district, the shantytown of Gunyong shows that there are impoverished people here too.” (2018)

People

“One peculiarity about Korea is the average height of the people. Traveling in Asia, you tend to encounter mostly short people, but here, the population seems, on average, even taller than Europeans. Women dress stylishly and apply a lot of make-up (90% use lipstick), bob-style haircuts are common, and high heels are virtually mandatory. Korea is also where wearing facemasks in public began. Interestingly, the people here are just as white as ‘white’ people, so unlike in other Asian countries, skin bleaching doesn't play an important role in their beauty industry.”

“Most Koreans are not only quite personally vain, but they tend to think they have a right to an opinion about others’ appearance. This can often lead to awkward moments that no adult in the West is accustomed to. So don’t be surprised if you’re talking to a Korean and they remark, without batting an eyelid, that they think you’ve gained weight, even if you’re not good friends. If you habitually wear makeup, then meet acquaintances without it, for them to say that you look very unwell. Such comments are not intended as insults, and they do not understand why most foreigners consider them inappropriate. Of course, they do sometimes phrase their rebukes a little more obliquely. For example, if you think you dress a little too revealingly, you’ll be politely asked whether you aren’t cold (even in the summer!), or else they just giggle at how ‘sexy’ you look today. (It’s interesting to note that while it’s now completely acceptable for girls to wear hot pants, cleavage is still liable to provoke much prudish disgust.”

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“To this day, there are some Koreans who are alarmed by the presence of foreigners. The primary reason for this is the language barrier: Koreans assume that basically, all foreigners do not speak their language, and they shut down in communication situations because they are afraid to speak English – even if they’re able to. In general, they still typically tense up in the presence of foreigners, but at the same time, Koreans’ interest in foreigners is growing every year, so there are more and more people trying. Don’t be surprised if total strangers stop you on the street to greet you in English or ask you a few questions. And if they find out you’re living in their country and you speak their language a bit, you’ll be the new superstar in their lives.”

South Korea - Pusan - pensioners - Krista photo

South Korea - dog owner - Elter photo

Seoul - metro scene - Krista photo

Tourist etiquette

“Although Koreans are quite touchy-feely, they find it very disturbing to have someone touch them before they feel comfortable enough in their company. This is good news for anyone who is also not a fan of being touched. On the other hand, the bad news is that if Koreans start to feel comfortable with you, they most likely won’t ask for permission to touch you. Get used to the idea that when everyone laughs you’ll probably be patted or slapped somewhere (mostly around your upper arms and knees), and they will often grab your arm while walking, sometimes as a greeting, and especially when saying goodbye, when your hand becomes common property. The whole business can take several long minutes.

+ Tip: Do not under any circumstances kiss or embrace a Korean as a greeting. Although this is a common form of greeting in the West, especially among girls, it is not considered normal by Koreans, in fact, it is a distinctly intrusive gesture unless it is between couples or relatives.

KNOW THE RULES: Korean etiquette covers all areas of life and plays an important role not only in business but also in everyday social situations. Sure, Koreans are much more tolerant towards foreigners than towards their own compatriots, but it’s still worth following the most basic rules to build good relations. The following tips apply to both travelers and those preparing to work in South Korea:

Bow when you say hello and goodbye. Depending on the seniority of the person in question, the angle of the bow may vary, but in general, people bend forward about 25 degrees and greet one another with lowered heads. This can often be accompanied by a handshake.

 If a Korean gives you something, always take it with both hands. Another way to do this is to support your outstretched hand with your other hand, wrist, or elbow.

Although the Koreans are a famously polite nation, there are plenty of situations in which this is not at all apparent. For example, don’t expect a Korean to hold the door or let you go first. Also make your peace with the fact that Koreans are able to suddenly stop walking in the most unexpected moments and places, just as soon as that important message hits their phone – whether in the middle of the street or at the top of the stairs, usually a foot in front of you, and without any prior indication.

DON’T PUT KOREANS IN CONFLICTED SITUATIONS: Koreans have a deathly fear of embarrassing situations, and will do everything they can to avoid them, from white lies to longwinded circumlocutions to simply ignoring the problem. This is because the Far-Eastern concept of ‘face’ (‘gibun’ in Korean), essentially meaning your honor or dignity, plays a very important role in the culture of the country. The main purpose of the principle is to avoid embarrassing oneself and others at all costs. However, in the event that none of the above methods work, the most common defense for Koreans is the awkward smile that foreigners often misunderstand. So, for example, if a Korean almost crashes into you on his bicycle and then just stares at you with a clumsy grin, it doesn’t mean he’s laughing at you - it’s that he wishes the earth would open and swallow him, and he has no idea what to do. On the other hand, the complete opposite of this concept is generally seen when the person in question is drunk.

+ Tip: Koreans confront others openly in only one circumstance: when they are drunk. This is because drunkenness always provides a proper explanation for their behavior after they return to the awkward smiles of common sense. It is by no means is to flip the bird at a drunken Korean, because if you’re not careful, the ensuing conversation could end up with the police getting involved, on account of a drunken quarrel over something you’d probably consider insignificant.”


Attractions

The DMZ

DMZ - Joint Security Area - the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone - k.p. photo

Jeonju

Jeonju - Tom's photo

Jeonju - k.p. photo

Jeju Island

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park - The Great Unification Buddha Tongil Daebul statue - k.p. photo

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