Monday, November 7, 2011


Having been in Korea for two years, it was inevitable that I would come to love many things about living here. As the time draws near for The Lovely Gen and I to leave the Hermit Kingdom, I've started to get nostalgic and I've thought of some things I'll miss when I leave. Isn't that always the case? You always forget about the things that annoy or disgust you about a place when you're about to leave it. I cannot wait to get home to Cape Town, and there are a lot of things I won't miss about Korea, but I'm surprised to find that I'll miss more than I won't.

Annyeong chingus!
1) Having lived overseas before, I know that living in a transitory environment will always end in sadness when it comes to making friends. I've made some amazing mates, from all over the world, and I will miss them the most. Living in a very foreign country, you tend to open yourself up to people you might not befriend at home, and you become a better person for it. It opens you up to dispelling prejudices, being more open-minded and learning about people you might have dismissed in a more comfortable setting. You don't have a choice, or you'll be alone in a country that you don't understand and doesn't understand you. To leave them behind, or to have them leave you during the course of your stay, is devastating. For all the promises of keeping in touch, it's rare that you do, and the likelihood of seeing most people you meet again is very slim, unfortunately. But at least I have someone to call on for a couch to sleep on if I ever go to Glasgow/Wisconsin/Wellington/Manchester. To all my friends in Korea, past and present, Sarangheyo:)

2) One of the things I love most about living here, and something that could keep me here for another year all by itself, is the internet. It's the fastest in the world by a long way, and there are few places you can't get it. It's on phones, in airports, in shops, on the subway and in every single household. It costs practically nothing for unlimited broadband, and I will miss it insanely when I'm in South Africa. My dad, who uses the internet for his work, was telling me that it's not so bad in SA, the measurement is 10mb/s or whatever. I checked, and here it's 100mb/s upload speed. If you had to hypothetically download an hour-long tv show episode, it takes an entire day in SA. Here it takes 10 minutes max. Hypothetically.

3) Watching TV shows the day they air in the USA/UK/Australia. I have never watched this much TV in my life. I can't help it, the magic internet fairies deliver TV episodes to my computer every day! It will drive me positively insane to be a few episodes, if not seasons, behind in nearly all my shows when I go home. On top of that, I watch so many shows from countries not the USA, like Lost Girl and Rookie Blue from Canada and Masterchef Australia, that won't be on SA TV. What am I going to do?! What's that you say? Exercise and read books? Fine!

4) Cheap utilities. I've never paid more than 10 000 won for electricity in a month. That's not even R70. Usually it's closer to 5000. And we use lights, appliances and computers all day long. It's going to be a big adjustment turning all the lights off at home. And gas is so cheap, and we don't pay for water. It costs practically nothing to live here.

5) Living really close to all my friends, and being able to walk down the road to the pub. I love that I can call a mate and within five minutes we're sitting with a beer in hand. No drunk driving, and no trekking across the city just to have a cup of tea.

6) Being able to WALK places without fear of being mugged. At night. The feeling of safety is something I will really miss, not having to worry about my handbag or my life. To be fair, you can't walk around alone at night in pretty much any other country, so it's not an indictment of South Africa. Here we leave our handbags on a chair in the bars and go and do our thing, without anyone watching over them. It's just not a worry, and it's very liberating. We might be blase about safety, but so far nothing has proven us wrong. In fact, if you leave your phone on a train or in a taxi, someone will usually make an effort to get it back to you. Koreans don't generally keep things that do not belong to them.

Taxi driver reading and driving
7) Public transport. I can't wait to be able to drive again, but I really love that taxis, buses, trains and subways are so plentiful and cheap. We never have to worry about driving after a night out, or how we're going to get home. Taxis are super cheap, they all have GPS (even though the drivers are usually watching TV on them as they drive) and it's hard to find a place that isn't connected to a bus route. And yay for the KTX! Two hours and you're on the opposite end of the country in Seoul. But, as I said, I'm looking forward to being able to go on a drive in my own car.

8) Bowling alleys on every corner. I've gone bowling more often in Korea than in all 28 years of my life before living here, and it's one of my favourite things to do. I live in an area with four bowling alleys within walking distance, and it's super cheap. We played three games recently and it only cost us 6000 won each. R36 for 2 hours. Money for jam. In Cape town, if you go to Stadium-on-Main, you pay that much for a single game.

9) Service! I've never been given so much free stuff as I have here. I went grocery shopping the other day and got a free 2 litre bottle of orange juice. If you buy washing powder you might get a free pack of noodles. We went for dinner last week and got a free dessert. A lot of places, like doctors' offices and sports venues have free coffee machines. We went to a music concert and we all got free fleece blankets in case it got chilly. And we didn't have to give them back! I once got given a pack of kitchen paper because I posted some packages at the post office. If you buy cosmetics at Skin Food/Innisfree/Face Shop, you will walk away with a bag full of free samples/cotton wipes/hand cream. If you show loyalty to a shop/restaurant, you will be rewarded!

10) Having my bank balance in the millions. And being able to save half my salary. This isn't the real world as far as work and money is concerned, and I will miss being so carefree about money and monthly costs. It will be a bit of a shock to see a pay check in thousands rather than millions, it makes me so happy every month! When we first got our salaries, everyone made the obligatory 'I'm a millionaire!' joke. I fear I will never be a millionaire again, alas. Unless I win the lottery. I don't think I will have this much spendable money ever again, unless TLG has a vast fortune hidden away somewhere.

11) Being able to walk down the road holding TLG's hand without anyone batting an eyelid. Bizarrely, because Koreans in general don't have gaydar and don't even think people can be gay, we attract no attention. We're hidden in plain sight. Girls and women hold hands, as do males of all ages, and it means nothing more than friendship. I could kiss TLG for a full five minutes on a street corner and people would just think we're really good friends. So the irony of living in a country where they would freak out if they knew I was gay is that I can be as gay as I want in public because they don't know what they're looking at. It is a very strange situation indeed. But it will be nice to go back to Cape Town, so I don't have to travel to Seoul just to go to a rainbow bar!

12) Jimjilbangs and 'love motels'. I've never stayed in a jimjilbang (a kind of dormitory for travellers/drunks/old men, usually at spas, costs less than 10,000w) but I do frequent love motels when travelling. For those not in the know, a Love Motel is a place where people can meet up for a good time, if you know what I mean. Given that most people live at home until they're married, they need somewhere to canoodle, be it for an hour or a night. We tend to stay at the nicer places (60 000 for the room, still not expensive), because skimping on cost will result in bedspreads that glow purple under a black light. Gross! Also, love motels are often the only time I can have a bath, as Korean apartments rarely have them!

13) Very cheap health care. As mentioned in a previous post, I've undergone surgery in Korea, stayed in hospital and seen many a doctor. A visit for a check up, provided you have insurance (all foreign teachers do) will cost you around 5000w/R35. Seeing a gynaecologist, including ultrasound and a full exam, is only 30 000w. Where would you pay that anywhere else? And these are fancy doctors' offices, not crappy clinics. I went to a neurologist after my surgery and a consultation cost me 4000w/R25. My entire surgery, hospital and medication included, cost me literally a tenth of what it would have cost at home. Madness.

14) Koreans. The way they greet you so loudly when you walk into a store, and then everyone says bye and thank you when you leave. The way they're so willing to help you, and how excited they get when you speak even the most basic Korean. How well behaved the kids are, compared to other countries, and how they dress in identical clothing when they're part of a couple. Their quirky sense of fashion, their gorgeous black hair, and how they'll come up to you and say hi just to practice a bit of English, even if they've never met you before.

15) Mandu, sachet coffee from Family Mart, iced tea for 1000w/R7, cocktails in a bag, drinking on the street being legal, beer pong and free pool in bars, ramen, japchae, bulgogi, free lunch at work, travelling on weekends, autumn in Korea is so gorgeous, snow, Korean babies/toddlers, hundreds of kids being excited to see me EVERY SINGLE DAY for two years.

Remind me why I'm leaving again?


  1. Yes, why are we leaving??? Sigh... Korea has been good to us :)

  2. Rookie Blue and Master Chef Australia are on dstv haha

  3. Lol, oh! But I think Masterchef at least is a season behind what I've seen. I think Adam won the one that aired in SA, we've seen the entire next season already!