What I have learned in one week in Korea


Living in another country will certainly open your eyes and spirit to different ways of thinking and believing. The majority of people live in a bubble of their own realities and simply refuse to look beyond that bubble for fear it might not be the same. Well of course it’s not, otherwise we’d all be in the same bubble.

bubblesGoing with the bubble analogy, there are various levels of bubbles. There is the world bubble, the country bubble, the regional bubble, the city bubble and then the personal bubble. Have you ever watched a soapy/bubbly water mixture? You’ve seen all the bubbles there, they get along just fine. When one bubble bursts, it is usually and calmly absorbed to make the next bubble bigger. That is what I see happening to our world. The problem is that so many people are afraid of becoming the next big bubble that it paralyzes them. They fear what they don’t know. If I were to meet an alien from another planet and he asks me to summarize human reactions, that’s the sentence I would use. “Humans fear what they don’t know.”

There are tons of friends who are surprised and maybe even a bit jealous, of the fact that I simply up and moved to another country. Many could not comprehend such a concept. Yet there it is, right in front of them. Someone they know just popped and joined a bigger bubble. It doesn’t make me any better or any less than they are, it is simply a shift in perspective in the world.

Getting back to Korea specifically, there are many things here that would confuse a lot of people from the West. Maybe so to the point of lashing out because they simply cannot understand the reasoning. I’ll admit, I have tons still to learn but it will be fun.

Let’s talk about the people in general. I have found that the Korean people in the service sectors (specifically retail and restaurants) are seriously polite. Even when they are telling you that you’re wrong, they are polite. A simple smile, a benign gesture and you feel like you can’t disobey because they seem to earnest and polite. It’s like saying no to a kiss from Grandma.

Respect. The Korean people have a huge amount of respect for ‘older’ people. On the subway it is a common occurrence to see someone get out of their seat to allow an ‘older’ person to have it. Being here you cannot help but appreciate such ideals. I find myself almost wanting to have such a chance. I did once and the gentleman, who by no means was incapable of standing for long periods of time, politely refused. It was after some insistence that he took the seat with gratitude and I felt good that I was able to show respect for not only an elder but also a Korean. The society even goes so far as to have seat reserved for older generations. So if you are in a subway in Korea, don’t sit on the red-coloured seats or I hear you will actually get yelled at or at least a stern Korean lecture. I suspect that regardless of your nationality, you’ll understand that you are not supposed to sit in those seats.

Transportation. It is simply amazing how well things work here. Their public transportation could teach North America a whole new perspective. They have so many buses. For example, the bus stop by our place has 6 different busses that stop there. I think the longest wait time is something like 6 minutes for any given bus. The buses are shorter than the ones back home and every single one of them is either diesel or Natural Gas, as well as being standard transmissions.

Snapshot_20101119Everyone uses a bus card. It’s a kind of pre-pay card with an RFID chip in it. You simply hold the card (or wallet if it`s in it) to a scanner, it beeps, shows you your balance, and you take a seat. When you leave, you must leave by the rear entrance (99% of the time, I think rush hours is the only exception) and you scan the car again. Costs are based on distance travelled and your balance is shown once again. This system works pretty damn well it seems. Pay-for-use makes a lot of sense. The fare itself isn’t expensive either. I went from our town (Uijeongbu) into downtown Seoul and back for a whopping $2.00. That is about 2hrs+ travelling time round trip between taking a bus to the subway station, the subway to downtown and the reverse back.

Automotive. There seems to be this odd `pecking order` when it comes to traffic. By that I mean who actually follows the exact rules of the road. Taxis can turn from any lane through any colour of light. That confused me for the longest time but it seems that if you are a paying customer, you get right of way regardless. Buses are next. For the most part they obey the majority of lights but the `yellow`is in no way a deterrent to making a turn to get to the next stop. Mopeds are this kind of snaky little transportation that goes anywhere and everywhere. They generally don`t try to take on big traffic but in smaller roads they will slip between cars and use sidewalks to turn if it suits them. That would be because the vast majority of them are deliveries of some sort, typically food. Cars would be next. They generally respect all signs and lights. Note I said generally. Signals tend to be optional and parking is `where ever it can fit`. Pedestrians seems to be at the bottom of this totem pole as I almost got run over from behind me while on a sidewalk! It was by this stupid little Daewoo Damus.


This thing is smaller than a VW Microbus, if you can believe it. It`s can fit almost anywhere and the one that almost ran me over was delivering newspapers/flyers in these holders on street posts. I was waiting to cross the street when I heard this noise behind me and I saw this van come up right where I was standing! He apologized, deposited the papers into the holder and continued off the sidewalk and onto the road.

Well, that is a brief summary for now. There is still lots to write about but I’ll save that for another post Smile