Posted by: C. Cali Martin | March 15, 2010

Some More Shit I Have Learned in Korea…

Another two months have passed, making the grand-total of months-stayed-in-Korea to 7!  Yippee! I’ve lately been having some homesick I-just-want-to-go-home moments, but I think they may have passed (thankfully). The winter is thawing nicely, I have found a dance studio with English-speaking dance classes, and I have some group excursions planned for the next couple of months. Soon to come will be a recap of a cherry blossom festival in Gyeongju and a bull fighting/wine tasting adventure in Cheongdo. I am becoming increasingly unmotivated to complete assignments for my grad studies; however, I’m hoping all these activities will boost my love of Korea as well as my love for education.

Lunar New Year at Haeundae Beach, Busan

Here are some more fun and interesting tidbits about Korean culture I have managed to accumulate:

  • Koreans do not have the superstition of habitually saying “Bless you” after you sneeze, or any equivalent.
  • If you wish to use the restroom in a public location, make sure you grab toilet paper outside the stalls before heading in – otherwise, drip dry.
  • If you do remember to unroll some TP, never flush it. There will always be a small tin trashcan for all things paper near the toilet. Also, you may luck in to a heated seated complete with bidet (three different settings!), and who knows what else that thing does…
  • Of course, tipping is obsolete in Korea.
  • When going up and down the stairs at any location, signs on the stairs tell its steppers to go up on the right side, and down on the left, when in fact, no such organization exists. It is typically the other way around, which baffles my mind.
  • Westerners are indeed freak shows. Imagine walking down the street in America (or any Western country), pointing to some other ethnicity other than your own, and laughing hysterically while aggressively pointing and yelling “OMG foreigner!!!!” Yes, this happens in Korea. All you can do is laugh… although sometimes the kids will bow at you in the street signaling respect.
  • For such a group-oriented country (going back to Confucian roots here), Korean people appear quite cut-throat. They park anywhere along the street – it doesn’t matter if the street is in fact an alley and will allow a passing car with only half an inch to spare. Getting service at public establishments, i.e. the post office, bank, grocery store, etc., is merely a first-come-first-serve basis, although they do have tickets with numbers to be called orderly… confusing.
  • Along these same lines is the odd vision I had recently at the Korean National Museum (absolutely amazing, BTW). For a country that cannot queue to save their lives, their citizens were lined up along the exhibits inside the museum! Literally, queuing to pass glassed-in exhibits. I’d never see anything like it in my life. They can’t queue at the grocery store or get on the bus, but by God, they queue like lives depended on it to see a museum’s exhibits! Absolutely fascinating…. (The museum was incredible, although I was slightly disappointed by the lack of English (or Japanese) signage for a National Museum in the nation’s capital. We saw a traveling exhibit on the Incan culture, and then the history of Korea through artifacts. Some of the exhibits were truly unique. I found it so interesting that their traditional culture of artifacts and development of technology was so similar to America’s, only a little earlier….. something to think about!)
  • After my first experience at a Korean sauna (or jjimjilbang), I have learned even further that Westerners are indeed fascinating creatures for Korean women – and that Korean women’s preference for “hair down there” is drastically opposite from the Western perspective. Rather than neatly trimmed, we were abashed to notice afroes, bushes, knee-length locks dangling from the most secret of areas. Oh my.
  • Finally, Korea has no official religion that I can determine. According to statistics from 2005, only approximately 30% of Koreans are Christian, approximately 22% are Buddhist, with declining populations of Catholics and miscellaneous Protestants. As you can see the vast majority (approximately 48%) are of an undeclared – if any – faith. Contrary to this however, I have been bombarded by old church ladies at my home, in the street, and have seen Bible-beaters on the street corners (ever-present in Pensacola). It is interesting coming to a country that outwardly seems to irreligious, especially after growing up in the Bible belt in America.

All in all, my Korean experience has been one of wonderment and confusion muddled with behaviors in complete opposition to my own Western views. I have to say I delightfully participate in most of these activities myself now after being here for 7 months (although I admit, some of these I was doing since day…4?). I love being a part of a new culture that astounds me and confuses me daily – it is refreshing to conclude that I may never be bored here; a routine will never allow itself to manifest; and I will enjoy learning new things about this culture at every turn. I will be glad to return home after my 12 months here; however, for now, I can simply savor Korean culture and sometimes, its irrationality.

@ the Korean National Museum in Seoul


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