Korea is...

2/20/2011 20:22:01

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Well, it’s awesome but would you think so? If I told you it’s vibrant, advanced, exotic, dynamic, very affordable and has delicious cuisine. You’d be compelled and agree with me, especially when I use flashy words. But I don’t think it’s actually a place that everyone would actually like. My personality assimilates with the culture. Would yours?

 To understand what it is like in a place that can seem to be upside down you have to examine the inhabitants. Korean people are without doubt the most diligent and focused people I’ve ever known and yet they can be quirky. Every day from when they awaken (normally very early) to when they rest (normally very late) they are in a constant pursuit of a type of perfection. Perfection where the goal is not to be the best but something else, something that might not be defined in western culture but it does stem from pride.

You may know Korea as an economical success and with shops on every street, back alley, basement first and second floor I immediately seen why. Even homeless, few that is, are busy collecting recyclables. Although this economic powerhouse boosts that culture drives it always forward, there is a dark secret. Korea has no social welfare, the idea of money for nothing is like a bad joke to Korean people. They portray society as hard but fair which can give an impression of no grey area. I ask you, is it fair that an entire family commits suicide if the family’s only support was to lose their job? Or, is it fair that tax is being raised on the hard working because some people have no intention of ever working? Grey is not a colour that Korean’s want to know about, but we may know it all too well.

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In a socio-cultural environment that can reject individualism, your hobbies can become more part of who you are. There is evidence of this everywhere, especially with more PC rooms than pubs and almost all of the younger generation owning a “world of warcraft” account. These PC rooms are buzzing with activity, not only a social outlet but somewhere that you go to get away from the pressures of Korean society. Some more extreme players will often spark debates and even though I can’t tell what they are about I do know they are intense. Martial arts classes of every kind can be found in most districts, with some of these upholding the highest standard, I’ve experienced it first-hand.   

The fear of unemployment is met with some unique responses here. If you have something that you enjoy doing, you’d ideally make a living at it and self improvement is the only improvement. These are universal principles of life. In Korea, this is a well respected view with tea kwon do as a degree and pro gamers earning more than some pro soccer players and some of these pro gamers lift sandbags with their fingers and meditate to focus and play better. B-boys bounce and flip to a bizarre hip-hop in parks and in competition. People learn more and more languages. Taking up of classical instruments and archery just to improve co-ordination and running a marathon to improve your endurance are common occurrences.

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One thing Korea isn’t really known for, but should be, is food. I’m normally a picky eater but I had to expand that part of my routine to survive here. And from a friend’s recommendation I ordered Kimchi pancake my first day here (at 4.30am.) It looked disgusting. My western vision hadn’t yet adjusted, seeing only “a giant onion ring that had bits of squid and leek in it.” The woman who prepared it in front of me and with great effort seen the look of apprehension I projected it so violently. In broken English she encouraged, “Korean pizza!” I gulped some small part of it down. (I also swallowed my picky nature.) And she smiled, when she seen the look of realization that my face now portrayed. I can’t begin to explain the complex taste this simple dish gave me, it was amazing.

 Most housewives here, approach being a housewife the same way a great neurosurgeon approaches an aggressive disease. This tradition has given rise to some of the most delicious and well prepared food I’ve been lucky enough to savour. The rich spices and herbs are added in stages to the careful preparation of vegetables and meat. And each stage has a delicate and unique procedure. Any fatty oils are sure to have been dissipated away, producing healthy delicious food. As a westerner the strong and powerful flavours had eventually overpowered my unambiguous stomach and I’ve conceded defeat on occasion and eaten the from the American food selection here.

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If you judge Korea on cost of living alone it will surly win you over.The huge number of shops in this small area dictates that competition is high hence prices are low. Shopkeepers are more than friendly and some restaurants are often known to give extra food and drinks for free, this is known as “service.” Shop-owners will offer extra and put a lot of effort into making a sale. One thing I found odd at first but made more sense in time was that most shops are closed in the mornings but don’t normally close until 9pm or 10pm. Korea learned from their own property crash that they underwent in the early 90’s if you couple that with the fact most families are small, property is reasonably priced. Seoul (and the other major cities) has excellent subway systems allowing you to travel from any point in Seoul to another for less than 70 cent.

 Cost of living, transport and eating the most delicious food in the world is very cheap and life here is always moving. Sound good?




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