By force of habit, I’ve been asleep for the past two hours while on the train to Busan. There’s something about moving vehicles that send me into a state veering on comatose, or something less dramatic than that. Thankfully, I don’t snore, nor drool (at least to my knowledge), so the only stares that I’ve been receiving since I sat down have been by the children next to me who may or may not have ever seen a foreigner before. Judging by their lingering eyes, I’m going to go ahead and guess, no. I don’t mind though. It’s strange how quickly one can adjust to being stared at wherever they go.
It’s been nearly a week since I landed in South Korea, and still I’m not really sure what to make of it. In my head I think I’ve managed to convince myself that this is a long-winded vacation, where I will be getting on a plane at the end of the month back home to America. As I’m sitting here on this train, occasionally glancing out the window past the man asleep next to me, I keep running through the series of event s that led me here – to be right here, in this spot, on this day, next to this snoring man, and these two children who are far more interested in me than their coloring books. Life I guess, how deep, how wild, how totally, completely predictable to expect the unpredictable. Does that make sense? No? Yeah, I haven’t written in a while and thought if I just spilled some words out onto this post maybe they would have a hint of poetic energy behind them. We can’t all be so lucky.
I could sit here and write through what the first week has been like, but I don’t think the “who”, “what”, “when”, and “where” facts are of particular interest to anybody, least of all you, whoever may be reading this.
Lists are quite fun, how about we play around with those for a little while, or for the remainder of this post: First Impressions/Things I’ve Noticed/I can’t come up with a better title for this list:
- The first thing that I noticed immediately (and am still adjusting to) is the air quality. Now, they tell you before you come to take note that the air isn’t the best – this isn’t America folks where the air is relatively clean (with the exception of some select cities). As I type this, there is an air pollution forecast playing on the news, a regular scheduled program fit into the weather update for the week – a slight chance of rain in the evening alongside a spike in air that will make your lungs hurt if you take in too deep a breath. Maybe I’m a baby with virgin lungs that have been spoiled by the wide-open spaces of the American south, but is it necessarily a bad thing to be used to having clean air regularly?
- Fun fact to anyone who has never been to a country with an older sewer system, but toilet paper does not go into the toilet here. There’s a trash can next to the seat, and you just stick whatever you’ve used in there. When I was in Itaewon, in a moment of poor judgement, I placed my phone on the trashcan lid next to me, and watched absolutely horrified as it slid into the used toilet paper abyss. I considered just leaving it there for a moment, but eventually had to dig my way down after creating a sleeve of unused toilet paper to retrieve it. I think I used….a full bottle of hand sanitizer to clean it off. There are also some places that require you to get toilet paper from the front to take with you when you go to the restroom – but that’s another story entirely. Restroom facts, hope you enjoyed all that.
- I already knew this before coming here, but the skincare game in South Korea is something else. There are two types of establishments that I see more than anything else walking around: 1) makeup stores (Etude House, Nature Republic, Innisfree, The Body Shop, Lohb, Tony Moly, Olive Young, etc.), and 2) coffee shops (but I’ll get to that in a second). When I was in Myeongdong, people were standing outside handing out free face masks just to get people to go inside stores. Do you know how much face masks are in America? They are an investment if you want a decent brand, but here, they are less than 1,000 won (which is less than $1) each. South Korea (especially Seoul) is the skin care mecca – and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been shopping around for new products that I can’t find in America.
- Aesthetic appeal is everything. This is most prevalent among the cafe culture here, but I see this in stores like Kakao Friends, Butter, and Artbox. I’ll touch more on the cafe’s here though, but they are honestly so extra. It makes sense though, because all the cafes are competing with one another for the most customers, so the more appealing the cafe when it comes to their presentation and atmosphere, the more traffic overall. Either way, America needs to step its game up, I’m tired of people thinking that something being “pretty” is too “feminine”, and therefore, needs to be looked down upon. Is having my coffee delivered on a tray with flowers too much to ask for?
- Fruit is expensive here. I knew this, but there’s a fundamental difference between thinking, Ah yes, the fruit is expensive isn’t it? and standing in line at the market to pay over six dollars for a handful of bananas (Peanut butter is well over nine dollars here as well – meaning my lazy snack of apples and peanut butter has turned into a luxury of sorts). Currently, I’m on the hunt to find granola bars, which are nonexistent as well. The good news is I managed to find tortillas!
- Eating out is a completely different experience here. There’s no waiting around for your waiter when you sit down to bring you drinks, and then wait another twenty minutes until you order. Nope. When you sit down, you better know what you want to eat because in approximately .5 seconds, someone is going to run over and ask you what you want and you need to answer or they are going to stand over you and wait until you make up your mind. Water is already on the table with little cups, and utensils are typically in a drawer underneath the table along with napkins. The food comes out really quickly, and if you’re at a place that has banchan/반찬, or side dishes, those are out before you even have time to pour your first cup of water. I don’t think I’ve had to wait longer than five minutes for food to be brought to the table. When they bring it out the food, they will either set the check down at the table alongside it, or you just go up to the front when you’re done where they have the check ready for you. You just pay, and you’re on your way. It’s efficient, and hey, no tips.
I’m sure this list will grow the longer I’m here, but as of right now these are the initial differences that I’ve picked up on during the last week. I feel like this post is a little bit everywhere as far as content since I’ve been slacking a bit on posting regularly (I know, I know), but I’m going to try to be a bit consistent from now on, especially since everything has died down quite a bit as far as the go, go, go! portion of traveling. I’m still in the process of editing footage from Seoul because there’s so much and it’s a bit everywhere (shocker), but I’ll try to have that up in the next few days.
Until next time!