Wednesday, November 9, 2011


In my previous post, I listed the things I will miss when I leave Korea in February. I've thought of a few more things, like underfloor heating, aloe juice, Jajangmyeon and free bar snacks, but I've also contemplated my reasons for leaving. The time has come, according to the Walrus, to speak of the many things I will not miss, in no particular order! Let the bitching begin!

1) The job. Let's not lie and say we come here for job satisfaction or to advance our careers. We come here for the money, predominantly, and to experience adventure and another culture. That was the case for me, anyway. On the list of things I'd be sad to leave, you'll notice I didn't mention teaching. While I do enjoy the actual lessons, teaching is not my passion, and sitting at a desk doing nothing for much of the day drives me insane. I miss being a journalist, and I can't wait to get back to Cape Town and get my writer on! All that being said, my schools have been good to me and I don't regret the time I spent in the classrooms of Korea.

2) Hand-held showers. Permanently wet bathroom floors, which mean wet socks in the middle of the night if you get up to use the toilet and are too asleep to switch the light on/find the bathroom slippers! Also, could apartment builders please latch onto the idea of baths?! In winter, having a shower is almost the worst thing ever, especially when the pipes are a bit frozen so the water doesn't get very hot. At least with a bath I can heat it up with a few boils of the kettle. Also, thanks for the wet toilet seat/towel/clothes after showering, and the spray in the face if you forget to switch the shower back to regular tap! Also, a hand-held shower does not make for a relaxing experience, it just makes you more tired.

Porno hand soap.
3) Public toilets. Will there be toilet paper, or not? Will it be in the cubicle, or on a big roll outside? And if you forget to grab some from the big roll, do you have tissues on your person? If so, and you're using a squatter, can you reach your tissues in your bag hanging above your head without messing wee on your shoes? Though who cares about that, your shoes are probably covered in wee anyway, from the people before you who didn't know how to aim. Also covered in wee? The bottoms of your trouser legs. And those gross, kind of pervy, blue soap holders that you have to give a hand job to? Sexy.

Mekju chuseyo!
4) Crap beer. I have yet to find a Korean beer I like. They're all sweet, taste like chemicals and look like watered-down piss. If I have to choose, it'll be Max, because Hite ('Shite') and Cass ('Ass') are truly horrible. They're cheap, so I'll drink them if we're playing a drinking game or if someone buys be a draft, but if I have to spend a bit more to get a decent beer then I will. It still makes me sad to fork out 6000w/R36 for a bottle of Heineken though. The silver lining is that I drink less, because it's too expensive to drink bottles all night! I cannot wait to drink an ice cold Amstel!

5) Lack of greenery/grass in cities. For all the mountains and rivers in this country, it's pretty much a concrete jungle. There are so many people here that even small towns are a mass of apartment skyscrapers and cement block schools. Only small areas have trees lining the streets, and finding a patch of grass is nigh impossible. Even parks are patches of sand/gravel rather than lawns. Schools rarely have grass playgrounds/soccer pitches, though the wealthy ones will have plastic grass to make things look a bit brighter. One thing I love doing on a Sunday is taking a drive around Cape Town and looking at all the beautiful houses and gardens, and it's very rare to find anything like that here because there just isn't enough space for gardens. We;re very privileged in South Africa to have the space we do.

Gyeongju, my favourite Korean city.
6) Cookie-cutter towns. Following on from the above point, the lack of aesthetically pleasing architecture is very depressing and something we foreigners comment on quite often. I don't know why, but Korea does not seem to bother about this kind of thing. Perhaps it's a waste of time/money/labour? Considering apartment blocks are erected in mere weeks, it's not surprising that every town looks exactly the same. "Just get the thing built!" Every now and then you'll find an interesting-looking building, but they're mostly square and grey until the neon signs light up at night. The exception to this is Gyeongju, which is gorgeous and has lots to see.

7) Strong hierarchical structures and changing schedules. One thing that irritates me the most about working in Korea is the complete disrespect for someone else's time or opinions if they're younger/less experienced than you. We jokingly call it 'Dynamic Korea', meaning everything can change at a moment's notice, and nothing you say can change it. Classes are cancelled after you've prepared for them, a co-teacher asks to use your lesson period because they haven't finished their curriculum on time, you get told at the last minute about a function you have to attend, etc. Then, having to go through three people just to get permission for something small is beyond me. I can't ask the principal for anything, I have to ask my co-teacher, who must ask the head of department, who must ask the vice-principal, who then asks the head honcho. "Yes, you can leave for 10 minutes to go to the bank." Well thanks for the answer, two hours later! I know it's the culture, but it's something that annoys most of us no end.

8) Living with one foot in the closet. In my Pro Korea list I said that I could kiss The Lovely Gen on a street corner and no-one would bat an eyelid. While that may be true to a certain extent, I still live my life half in the closet, which is very difficult for someone as out and proud as I am. This is mainly the case when it comes to my working relationships. In the two schools I've worked at in two years, I've told exactly one person that I'm gay. It took me six months to tell her, and I only did so because she kept asking me what kind of man I liked and when I was going to get married. I knew her well enough to assume she'd be ok with the news, and she was, but it's not something I'd risk while working in a High School. Korean attitudes towards The Gays are not the most progressive, so at school I'm single and share an apartment with my 'room-mate'. As a result, I haven't really bonded with any of my co-workers because I can't speak honestly about who I am.

9) Being stared at for being foreign and/or having short hair. I've written about the reactions to my short hair before, and it really is one of my pet hates. This past weekend TLG and I were standing on the subway platform in Daegu and an old lady started gesturing and miming about my hair. Not to me, mind you, but to TLG! I can only imagine what she was saying, but it didn't look complimentary. Even after TLG told granny she didn't speak Korean, the barrage continued until we stepped onto the train. I've grown oblivious to the "Oh my god, a foreigner!" stares, but it annoys TLG no end, mainly because she's blonde so gets it a lot more. Get over it people, there are a lot of Westerners in Korea.

10) Spitting/hocking loogies. I'm retching just thinking about this. It's one of the most disgusting things Korean men (mostly) do. You know what I'm talking about. That long, deep hock back, followed by a huge gob on the street, which is normally reserved for the privacy of your bathroom if you have a cold. Even then, it's disgusting. It's impossible to walk more that 50m without stepping on a ball of phlegm. I always give the people who do it such a dirty look! Also, put your hand in front of your mouth when you cough/sneeze, children!

Rice cakes with red bean filling. *dry heave*
11) Rice cakes. In soup, in curry sauce, containing red bean paste, filled with nuts and raisins. All rice cakes must die a sticky, chewy, tasteless death!

12) Summer humidity and mosquitoes. I'm breaking into a sweat just remembering the hot, sticky summer. Inside is gorgeously air-conditioned, outside is a sauna that makes walking a few feet feel like torture. It's like walking through soup. Smelly, sewage/rotting garbage-scented soup. It would be ok if there were public outdoor pools, but those are so hard to find if they even exist. Water parks are all well and good but having to pay a fortune to wear a mandatory life jacket in two feet of water is not my idea of a good time. And don't get me started on the mozzies! They're huge and leave bites that itch to high heaven and look like welts! 

13) Kimchi and other pickled/spicy foods. Yeah... not going to miss most Korean food. Why must everything be covered in 'spicy red crap,' as I like to call it? It's just my personal preference, I know a lot of people who love Korean food, kimchi included. I'm looking forward to a variety of food choices, like sushi (Japanese style, with salmon, at Belugas in Greenpoint), Turkish, French, South African braai meat, and so on. No more pasta that contains clams AND pork! And no more sweet corn in EVERYTHING! Though I will miss the variety of sweet potato products!

14) The language barrier. I'm not going to miss speaking... slowly... and... using... my... hands... to... explain... things...! It's exhausting. I want to walk into a shop/restaurant/office and be able to speak to pretty much everyone there at a normal pace with my hands in my pockets. I never want to use the word 'delicious' every again! Hellohowareyouiamfine! Korean is a cool language, I like being able to read it and it sounds pretty, but Englishee puh-lee-juh!

15) Being shoved by old ladies. Hands up if you've been elbowed out the way by a granny! Wow, so many of you! Were you getting on a bus? Standing in line at the ATM? Walking down the street with an entire sidewak free on either side of you? And it's not just old ladies, it's a common thing. Apparently lining up in an orderly fashion is not something taught in schools. And god forbid someone apologises for bumping into you/standing on your foot/hitting you in the stomach with their giant polka-dotted handbag! No, it's ok, I have another foot, you rude imbecile!

Phew! I'm out of breath after that rant! So you see, while I'll miss mostly monetary things when I leave here, there are things on this list that cancel out more than one of those things. Living my life openly and proudly, being respected as a person, and not being eaten alive by bugs are more important than cheap electricity. To me, anyway. Disagree with my list? That's ok too:)


  1. Sushi with you and TLG when you get back! Look forward to it. We can even speak Engrish.

  2. I totally disagree about public toilets... yes the toilet roll situation is annoying, but the fact that there are public toilets (and usually clean!) everywhere is amazing to an English person. Because of various bomb threats in the 70s (IRA) bathrooms were removed everywhere in the cities. And they have never been replaced. So a free, convenient place to pee is like heaven... instead of trying to find a coffee shop you can duck into without them noticing you not buy anything. But many other things... :) especially being shoved by old ladies and called a prostitute by old men!!

  3. @Anonymous, you're quite right, coming from a UK perspective. I got really annoyed by the lack of public loos when I lived there, always had to pop into the pub to wee! But South Africa generally has pretty nice public toilets, especially at rest stops/petrol stations/shopping centres.

  4. Fantastic! I shall have to replicate something similar when I leave...
    I must say, Anonymous, I don't often find clean public toilets where I live and in the surrounding areas. But what you say about England is very true. I often had to run into a restaurant or pub and plead to use the restroom.

  5. Korean food is incredible, and super good for you. A shame you didn't try to adapt a bit more.

  6. I know I shouldn't reply to this, but it's been irritating me for days. Anonymous (at least put your name if you're going to criticise), I didn't say I hated ALL Korean food. I don't eat spicy stuff in any country, and I'm allergic to shellfish, which cuts out half the dishes here. If you don't know me personally, you cannot know how much I've 'adapted' otherwise. Also, I'm not the only waegook who doesn't like Korean food. I appreciate your opinion on the wonders of the food, I'm glad you enjoy it.

  7. "Korean food is incredible, and super good for you. A shame you didn't try to adapt a bit more."

    ...yawn...but can't resist...i will give you "incredible" (because food is a personal thing) even though i think 90% of the dishes are the same. however, most korean food isn't all that "super good for you" at all and your last comment on "(adapting) a bit more" is so typical that it is a cliché now...check your arrogance at the door next time.

  8. I know you wrote this ages ago, but I wanted to say GREAT post!

    A girl bumped into me when I was walking to work today. She actually apologized (in Korean, but still...). I was so shocked that I forgot to reply.

    I love Korean food! But I totally agree that it's not for everyone. And if I'm honest, of the 10 countries I've been too/lived in, I'd rate Korea as having the least varied, least engaging foods. Also, I hate how people say it's so good for you. Overall, it's not. Stomach cancer is the most common form of cancer in Korea! Too spicy and too salty. But I still love it :).