It’s Wednesday morning; pouring outside – currently, has been, and will be the rest of the day.
Despite this, I’m feeling oddly refreshed, a telling sign that spring is just around the corner, bringing with it more bearable temperatures and longer days. Now that the sun has decided to become a more frequent visitor in my life here on this little island, I’m beginning to remember what I love about living here. I started running outside and exploring this little area I call my home by running through trails and down windy roads riddled with too many construction workers who always look at me as if I’ve stumbled down the wrong path (people don’t really run outside here). I started taking Korean classes due to some much-needed structure, began a new book by an author pretentious people love, fell in love with drawing again, had a relatively quick battle with the flu that left me bed-ridden for days (though I might have been in bed for at least eleven years), yet, here I am – smiling, strangely energetic, and in the midst of binging another Korean drama. So bring on the mosquitos, the bugs, and the humidity Spring, I’m ready.
In the meantime, because my brain is fried from learning about forty new verbs today, I thought I’d take some time to talk about the things I miss about America, and the things I definitely don’t miss (politics aside). Mid-March marks my vacation back to the U.S. – the land of Tex Mex, avocados, and slow service – only a mere sixteen days away, but hey, who’s counting? (Me).
One thing I miss about America is the number of cuisine options and their accessibility. While my body has adapted to Korea in terms of diet (a relatively easy thing to do in all honesty because I love Korean food), there are still times where I wish I could simply go to a restaurant and order something so seemingly ridiculous now, like, an arugula salad with cranberries and walnuts. Or pork tenderloin. Or have a breakfast taco with salsa verde, on real corn tortillas. It’s the little things you know? Like, chocolate tastes different here, even the brand name stuff like Ghirardelli (which, I spent the equivalent of $9 on for a bag with about ten dark chocolate squares). Though bigger cities have many of these options available (to some degree), they are more expensive and honestly not always worth it, especially if you’re looking to compare it in its authenticity to what you might get in the United States (for instance, of course, Mexican food – you just can’t find the same types of spices and sauces here. It doesn’t exist in stores – like jalapños – or it’s simply way too expensive to import, therefore, too expensive to buy).
I do not miss tipping and restaurant service. Bruh. I’m legitimately concerned about this one. Like, concerned to the point where I kid you not I had a dream recently where I was out at a restaurant with one of my friends and our orders never came. Somehow, this stupid, insignificant thing has managed to slither its way into the back of my subconscious and give me anxiety. Even in Japan, where our orders sometimes took more than …say, eight minutes (ten minutes?), I found myself becoming impatient to the point where I wondered if it was even worth the wait. I just reread that sentence and realized how ridiculous eight minutes seems, I mean, the fact that I just complained about that. When I order here, food comes immediately. I think because side dishes are served before the main entree it doesn’t feel like I’m waiting at all to eat. My friend and I were laughing about this recently, the fact that once I sit down at a restaurant I will even have to wait to get water. Water. And tips? I used to be so stingy before, ensuring that the server gets at least an 18% tip, if not more, and now I can already see myself frowning at the idea of giving them 10%.
I miss cheap groceries. It took me six months before I placed my first order on iHerb, and honestly, I’m really surprised I lasted that long. Becoming a regular customer on iHerb I think is on the checklist to knowing you’re truly an expat in an Asian country. I don’t care how bougie it makes me sound that I order supplements, protein powder, nut butters, and coconut flakes off a website that prides itself on “all-natural organic foods” (because that idea doesn’t really exist here). Since sugary peanut butter (the JIF equivalent) is the only thing available here and it costs the same amount as almond butter, I’m just going to go with the healthier option. Let me break down what grocery shopping for me is like here. I wander down the aisles trying to decide what meals to make that week for the least amount of money that at least consist of maybe a couple different fruits and vegetables. The list of inexpensive produce here is pretty minimal, and I’ve yet to break down and decide that, yes, I’m willing to pay the equivalent of $8 for nine strawberries. I’m not sure what’s considered a good deal anymore. I just spent 3,800 won on zucchini and I can’t tell if that was a poor choice or not. I even miss kale. Kale. The most disgusting of all the leafy greens. I miss it.
I do not miss American guys and their fashion. Okay, I know this may sound ridiculous, but I promise there’s a point in here, and it may be a little stereotyped but this is a real thing. #WasteMyTime men are prominent in the States, and I don’t know if it’s simply due to my poor luck in making guy friends and dating men in general, or if it’s a symptom of the culture, but there are so many traits that these men hold that I’ve finally finally gotten away from. For instance, frat guys. Do you know how many frat guys I had to go to school with for four years? Greek life at my school (which consisted of 2,000 students total) took up 60% of those students lives. Backwards hats, button-up white shirts that don’t fit properly, camo button-ups, and oh my god, those horrible salmon colored pastel shorts – khakis (I don’t even know the last time I saw khaki shorts, I’ve truly been blessed) – I had to see it all on a daily basis. I feel like an entire post should be dedicated to this because there is a bit of a toxic culture surrounding masculinity in America compared to Korea (#BoycottNRA), and it’s been so refreshing to get away from it. Let me give you guys a couple of examples so you can understand. Before you judge, just give me a second… Okay, I find Tinder to be merely something used A) to work on practicing Korean/learning some texting slang, and B) to occasionally send stupid messages to dumb boys when I’m with one of my friends. Mostly A. So, there was one night where we were talking about dating decorum between American guys and Korean guys and our stupid experiment proved the difference perfectly. Send a message to a Korean guy saying you had a tough day at work at their response will always be something along the lines of; Oh that’s too bad, do you want to talk about it? I’ll listen if you need me to. Now, ask a Western guy, and they will reply with something like, Damn that sucks, want me to help you feel better ;). We laughed for so long, my friend (who is Korean) kept saying how Korean men just want to talk to you like a therapist. Anyway, to give another example, let’s just say there was an unscheduled fire drill recently and one of the heads at our school came down to our house very angry. It’s been a while since I’ve witnessed a white adult American man yell, and it startled all of us there. It’s a very intimidating and scary thing to see, and me along with all the other females there felt like he was angry at us too despite the fact that we didn’t do anything as it was a system glitch, not our personal error. Basically, he threw a tantrum. Something I’ve only witnessed from that particular caliber of man. I don’t know if this makes much sense, but the way men act here is different and it’s been a nice change for the time being. Is it respect? I’m not sure. But the fact that I went to a club and was asked by someone if he could dance with me instead of being immediately grinded on is telling.
I miss the movies. This is a small one, but as someone who regularly went to the movies with friends or on my own when I felt like taking myself out, it’s been frustrating to adjust to suddenly not having that comfort anymore. My only options at the movies are whatever is playing in English, which means, a lot of blockbusters (which, if you know me, is not a genre I’m particularly keen about watching). At least Black Panther is playing here though, that’s exciting. I will say though, ticket prices in Korea are way cheaper, so that’s sometimes a plus.
I do not miss traffic. While I don’t drive here in Jeju, even when we (me and some friends) rent a car, the traffic here is nothing compared to what it’s like back home. Even during peak traffic time, it’s not awful like what I’m used to. While in the city (on the mainland), I have access to the subway, which is a completely different beast to deal with because it becomes less about the other cars and more about standing uncomfortably close to other people – but I’ll take the latter any day. While I miss driving to a certain extent just because of the convenience of it, when I’m in Seoul or Busan, I never think about driving just because the public transportation is so good that it’s not even necessary (especially if you’re just going to the more condensed and popular areas). Taxis are inexpensive, buses come frequently and are never late, and the subways are reliable. One of my friends just today (or, my yesterday? time differences?) sent a video of the traffic at 3 pm back in my hometown and I nearly forgot what that was like, just…sitting in that. Yikes.
I miss good, cheap, drip coffee. One of the most confusing things for me coming to Korea was how suddenly, drip coffee didn’t seem to exist in coffee shops. My only non-milk, sugarless option was an Americano, so I adjusted accordingly. Espressos are nice, but I like to sip on a big mug of coffee while reading or scrolling through social media on my phone, so an Americano was just about the only thing I could order. I like them now, but, man, what I wouldn’t give to just order a cheap drip coffee. There’s only a couple of cafes here I’ve come across that have that option, but the coffee is expensive. I miss my $3 coffee and free refill. Here, coffee is anywhere between 5,000 won (about $4.80) on the cheaper end, and 8,000 won on the more expensive side, and you know what? It’s not that great. Only occasionally am I really impressed with the quality of the coffee, and when that happens, it’s surprising enough for me to comment on it at least ten times and then make note of it so I can go back. My wallet hates me for it, but my caffeine addiction is still intact so I guess overall I’ve been okay. I regularly dream of my dad’s coffee that’s ready when I come downstairs to the kitchen in the morning though – sixteen days.
I don’t miss…I don’t know how to phrase this exactly, but loud people? I’ve always been sensitive to how loud people are and I think Korea managed to make that sensitivity worse. I just don’t particularly feel comfortable with people yelling nearby, whether it be on public transportation, out in a restaurant, or at a cafe. I remember at first I complained with one of my friends about this, saying how people here were too quiet and too reserved in public, but now, I’ve gotten used to it and prefer it that way. It’s not like people are censoring themselves, it’s just that they are taking others into consideration. Of course, I’m not including bars or the like when it comes to the whole loud factor. On one of the trains in Japan, I remember there was some American businessman talking to a couple other people, and I couldn’t believe how loud he was being. He was just generally talking to them about some of his favorite places to go in the area, nothing harmful, but I kept thinking how rude it was that he wasn’t taking anyone else into consideration while he was going on and on volumes above everyone else – I mean, his voice carried, I wasn’t even near him yet I heard everything he said. This is probably a strange thing to be bothered by, but it gets to me nevertheless.
I miss salads. Y’all. Salad is not a thing over here. It never has been, maybe it never will be, and the attempts that I’ve seen have been dismal at best. There is always the iceberg lettuce-based salad with a few slices of cucumber and cherry tomatoes, but spinach, kale, arugula, and the like as a base are absent when you are brought “a salad.” A salad has always been the easiest way for me to get all my basic vegetable needs out of the way when it comes to having a meal, even something I look forward to when I’m out at a restaurant. Dinner manages to feel incomplete when I don’t have a salad. I don’t know how my mother managed to ingrain that need in me, but if I don’t have a salad with dinner, is it even really considered dinner? It’s like how I feel that if I don’t have rice and kimchi with a meal. Same deal. Different food. I can’t wait to eat salads when I’m home. I’m going to eat so much salad you guys, you don’t even know. I’m going to have an arugula salad with strawberries and cheese with a basic vinegarette and it’s going to be so freaking delicious.
Okay, this isn’t necessarily something that I don’t miss about America because I don’t drive regularly in Jeju, but here in Korea, gas stations run like how they did in 50’s America (or whatever time they went up to, I’m not sure). You pull in and wait until one of the workers comes up to your window, normally some poor high school kid, and tell them how much to put in the car. They do it for you! Still! Like a relic from the past, it’s so nice. Why don’t we do this in America? I don’t want to get out of my car to put gas in it anymore. Just knowing that you don’t have to do it here, but I’ll have to do it there – unfair.