Updated: Sep 27, 2020
한국에서 온 안녕하세요
(Hello from Korea!)
I’ll pretend that I actually know how to speak and write in Korean, but in reality I don’t have the slightest idea. Before I moved, I read a blog that shared that, “Korean is one of the easiest languages to learn! Give yourself a couple days, and you’ll be reading signs and menus in no time.” Ha! It’s been almost 3 months and I know 3 words; thank you, hello, and cucumber (interesting word to know, yes, but it’s just “oi” so an easy 1 to pick up).
“Home” Since I arrived, I’ve been calling Cheonan, South Korea “home” since I’ve last been “home home.” Cheonan is a city of approximately 600,000 people, a 40 minute bullet train ride south of Seoul. Although our population seems a bit small, at least to me, the city appears to be a lot bigger! Unlike other cities I have been to where there is 1 central “busy” part, Cheonan instead has little “pockets” of busyness. For example, about 3 blocks from my house, where my school is located, is the “busy” area for my neighborhood. Just a half hour walk away, though, is another busy area which you would think would be the city center. Another hour away is a large strip of area dedicated to malls, markets, and food. It makes the population seem smaller since the city is so spread out, but yet there’s endless parts of town to discover.
As a whole, my apartment here is quite nice. Although it is a studio, it is plenty big for 1 person. I have a very small kitchen, that was completely empty when I moved in, but fortunately was left with a microwave and toaster. Ovens are unheard of in Korea, so I’m getting used to making my meals on the stove and in the microwave. That does mean though no cookie making for me. In Australia I use to make a batch weekly. When I was home for the couple weeks I made at least 1 batch of cookies, bars, or other dessert daily. I guess it’s my way of going on a diet… I was also fortunate enough to have my apartment come furnished. I have a twin bed, tv (that doesn’t work), and wardrobe. Since then my coworkers and I have gone dumpster diving to find a couch and chair. Dumpster diving? What?! No, we didn’t actually go in a dumpster or landfill. In Korea people place their trash on the curb, including endless furniture. We’ve found some great things, some almost new! One thing we are on the search of is a dryer. Since those are unheard of in Korea I don’t think we’ll luck out there unfortunately…
One of the weirdest parts of my house is the bathroom. Bathrooms in Asian countries tend to not have a shower. Before you jump to conclusions, yes I have showered in the last 3 months. Instead of having a shower stall or bathtub, they have a shower head and the whole bathroom turns into a shower. I was lucky and have a decent size bathroom with the shower head in 1 corner of the room. 1 of my coworkers isn’t as fortunate. She instead has a small shower head above her sink. Not only is it a bit different, it gets annoying if you want to go in your bathroom again after you shower. The lack of ventilation in the bathrooms means your floor stays wet for 8-12 hours. As a night time shower, this means if I need to brush my teeth after, I need to be sock free, or in the middle of the night I need to remember the floor is wet before I slip and fall. There have been a few close calls!
Food Like any country, one of the biggest cultural differences is their food and diet. South Korea is not an exception. Like other Asian countries, rice is a large staple. Infact, if they don’t eat rice at a meal- breakfast, lunch, or dinner- it isn’t seen as a meal, but rather just a snack. 90% of my students’ favorite food is rice. I can’t tell you the amount of stories I’ve read that have them share how they can’t live without it.
Apart from rice, other staple food in Korea include endless street food, fried chicken (it’s twice friend here), tteokbokki (ground rice formed into thick noodles in a spicy red sauce), ramen, seafood, and octopus. I can say I’ve tried it all, but can’t say I’ve enjoyed any of them. Beef if almost impossible to find here. Pork is fairly common, as well as chicken in terms of meat options. Along with spicy food, Korea enjoys putting sugar in everything as well. Garlic bread? Sweet. Chicken alfredo? Sweet. Corn dogs? You guessed it, covered in sugar and sweet. Maybe my tastebuds are just stuck in Western mode.
Grocery shopping also looks a lot different here. There’s just about every fruit and vegetable that you would find at home here, just a lot more expensive. Due to the only neighboring country being North Korea, South Korea is essentially an island so most of their food has to be imported. This means everything is quite expensive. Pack of strawberries? $20. Head of lettuce? $6.Four chicken breasts? $12. Half liter of milk? $4. Due to the price, it limits what I can, and do, buy. My coworkers and I have found that if you shop right before the grocery stores close, around 9pm, lots of produce goes on sale, sometimes 50% off. We can by a few things this way for the next day or two. Although their fresh food is expensive, their processed foods, such as noodles, crackers, and chips, are quite cheap. Cheap, and of course sweet.