Not to sound like a total cultural rube, but they do things differently here in Korea. Some things seem incredibly backward, while others are surprisingly “forward thinking,” as they like to say here. So here is a list of the good, the bad and the just plain weird, which straddles both categories.
Good: Heated toilet seats that have the ability to blow hot air on your backside.
Bad: The fact that you are not supposed to flush toilet paper, so every bathroom – and I mean every – has a basket for used toilet paper. Ewww.
Also bad: School and other public bathroom sinks use only cold water and communal bar soap. And there is often no toilet paper or paper towels. Probably because people use the toilet paper AS paper towels.
Good: Korean fashions. The endless fashion parade here is fascinating. It’s been interesting to see the fashions move from slinky long T-shirt tunics, leggings and spike heeled shoes to bulky, oversized sweater tunics — and leggings and spike heeled boots.
Bad: How Korean fashions look on my very un-Korean body. Went sweater shopping Monday and the shop clerk piled on the layers till I looked like Yeti’s fatter, older sister. All the while she kept proclaiming “beautiful,” and “luxury.”
Weird: Most clothing shop are very small, veritable hole-in-the-walls. As such, there is no room for a separate dressing room. Often the clerks will just start peeling off your clothes right in the shop. In the awesome underground shopping mall, I was interested in trying on a dress, so the clerk just rolled a rack of clothes across the entrance and gestured for me to take off my clothes. O…K…. It was fine though, and I ended up buying the dress – it was an extra large and very stretchy.
Good: “Kkul cha,” (honey tea) a nectar-of-the-gods combination of honey and slivers of fruit such as pears or orange rinds. A heaping spoonful in a cup of hot water is the best thing ever for soothing sore throats. I am the only teacher who carries a mug of it around the school, but I don’t care.
Bad: As a foreigner surrounded by germy kids, every passing cold bug latches on to me. They really should tell incoming teachers to get their DPT shots updated.
Also bad: They like to give shots for everything. One teacher recently was so sick she went to the hospital, where they diagnosed bronchitis — and gave her a shot in the ass. Who knew — Korea has a cold vaccine!
Good: The streets here are amazingly neat and clean. There is, for the most part, no trash blowing down the streets or garbage cans overflowing. Order is the order of the day. It is kept this way by an army of old women, covered head to toe to keep off the damaging sun rays, who move along the streets and bus stops stooped over, sweeping with short brooms and a dustpan on a stick. Meticulously they sweep up every cigarette butt and candy wrapper.
Bad: Although it guarantees employment for this battalion of grannies, people do litter freely. I think it comes from knowing that someone will pick up after them.
Weird: Konglish; that odd and ever perplexing blend of wildly translated English and random use of letters and numbers. This week I saw a hoodie, probably meant for the teen girl market, boldly printed like a football jersey with “69.” Um. I really hope they don’t take that one to college in America.
Great: Floor heating. It’s awesome. It’s designed for a culture that lives on the floor, doing everything from cooking to sleeping within six inches of the ground. It heats up quickly and makes the whole room cozy. Sammy loves it.
Really bad: The temperature plunged this week, down to near zero with a fierce wind whipping up off the water. Snow fell on Mt. Halla, unseasonably early they said. But, the schools don’t like to turn on the heat this early, so both my schools were freezing!! The teachers suffered even worse than I did, maybe because they have no body fat. Hah. But the Korean motto is “endure,” which they did by shivering in their coats and sitting on heated seat pad – a great invention.
The standard school design is to have a long hallway running the length of the building along one wall of windows, with the classrooms off of that. With no heat the halls were literally freezing, while the classrooms were a few degrees warmer, mostly due to body heat. Maybe next week’s lesson will be “How cold is it?” Or maybe, “Can you feel your toes?”
Today at my little school, where the teachers are kind and the kids are cute, I was handed a cup of hot tea. When I looked at the cup I was enchanted to see this verse of tea cup wisdom scrolling down the side:
I wish to be big enough to hold the world in me.
It’s a wonder how much a small cup like this can hold.
I saw my face looking back at me, the moon in it when I was drinking at night by the window, the sky and the trees in it when I had tea under the alamo.
Alamo?? Yes, alamo. It was a beautiful, zen-like sentiment up until that typically bizarre, typically Korean, moment.