Sunday, July 8, 2012

Unintended Side Effects of Living in Korea (Part II)

After a remarkable Saturday, I'll take Sunday to write a blog. This seems to be a trend of sorts on this peninsula. Last night turned into quite an epic adventure, so I apologize if my writing is in any way hindered by my hangover. In my estimation, all the great writers wrote with hangovers, so if anything, I'm in good company. In all honesty, it's a wonderful feeling to wake up after a long night out and settle down to do some writing. Well, I'm feeling especially creative on this fine afternoon. Therefore, I'm not going to chronologically recollect a past event, but rather write about my life in Korea more generally. Actually, I'm going to write a part two to my "Unintended Side-Effects of Living in Korea" post. I was blown away by how popular this post was to be honest. It's arguably one of the most viewed blog posts I've ever written, so it only seems natural that it should have a part two. I hope it lives up to its predecessor, and if it doesn't, then you're simply out of luck. If you're out of luck there's no cause for concern though. These days, I feel like I've got enough luck on my side for the both of us.

 

1) The Bountiful Belly 

 

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 When I first arrived in Korea, I was under the assumption that I would be eating healthier. I initially thought that Korean food was a metropolis of healthiness, but that's not entirely the case. I miss my mom's healthy deli turkey and the assortment of delightful organic products she purchases. In Korea, I am an abominable rice monster, and it's showing on my waistline. I'm not sure that anyone else would notice, but I've packed on a few pounds in Korea, and it's not muscle, I can assure you. I can positively assure you that it's not muscle because I haven't been working out and I have a little belly. In fact, I'm sitting in my boxers looking at my belly right now and I can't say that I'm fond of it. Alas, unintended side effect number one is the emergence of the belly. I've met innumerable individuals who have put on weight in Korea. I can't actually think of any foreigner I know who hasn't packed on a few. It's quite astonishing to be honest, and I blame it on a number of factors. Firstly, the snack food in Korea isn't healthy in the slightest. In Canada, you can purchase a nice bag of baked chips, but in Korea you're going to get a greasy bag of hefty chips. Secondly, sticky white rice has a way of quietly fattening you up like Hansel and Gretel. Thirdly, Tonkatsu (called "Tonkass" in Korea) is too delicious to avoid. The sum of all these parts is a belly - a bountiful belly. I think it's necessary for every man to have a belly at some point in their life, but I'm certainly looking forward to doing some serious hiking throughout Southeast Asia in about two months. You know, I'm an all around jollier person from the belly like any good Santa Claus should be. Although, I'm not Santa Claus, so it's time to get in top shape like Rudolph with his bright red nose.

2) Personal What? 

 

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Personal space. It just doesn't exist in Korea. If you're on the subway, then expect to elbowed, clawed, kicked, licked, and sneezed on (really; a man sneezed all over Bri's foot yesterday). It will likely be by a woman half your size, and you'll be terrified of her seemingly remarkable power. The bottom line is that Korea simply has too many people, and everywhere is crowded - all the time. Even when you go hiking you feel it's crowded, which is a bizarre phenomenon to say the least. You will line up for almost everything with a person one inch in front of you and one inch behind you. It's especially noticeable when you are from Canada. Canada is a country that is underpopulated, and full of land that is worthy of a good frolic all by yourself. If there is an unspoken bubble of personal space that exists in Canada, then Korea happily bursts it. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure that the concept of personal space has a place in this country, and here's why. Canada has a population density of about 3.5 people per kilometre squared, while Korea has a population density of 491 people per kilometre squared. I'm going to go ahead and say that speaks volumes more than my words can. Thus, unintended consequence number two is the disappearance of your personal space. You better believe that when I get back to Canada, I'm going to go to my cottage, find a place in the woods, and stretch my arms as wide as they can go.

3) Oh So Average

 

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 You'll arrive in Korea and taste their beer. You'll think, "Why, this is the most average beer I have ever tasted in my life." And then you'll learn to like it. The third unintended consequence, therefore, is the acceptance of average Korean beer. I used to think that Cass was tasteless, but now I consider it refreshing. If you're not a fan of Cass, then you've really got only two more options in Korea. You can drink Max which just tastes like Cass would if a skunk had its way with it, or you can drink Hite (pronounced Hite-uh in Korea) which tastes like beer mixed with water. I can't really stress how average these beers are. They aren't bad and they aren't good in any respect. There are few things I miss more about Canada than beer. At least the discount beer is discernibly bad and contains some character. Although, I applaud the cheapness of Korean beer, especially at respective bars. When I lived in Norway the beer was also quite terrible, but it was as expensive as it gets. That's probably what led us to brew our own and fondly call it "Westward Bound" in honour of the North American roots of Jon and myself. Perhaps I've just been spoiled with Canadian beer, but let me be clear that I'm not complaining. I've grown quite fond of Cass, but to me, it has always been oh so average. Korean beer will always maintain its position as the standard, norm, or median of average. I would give it a 70% on every test, and that would undoubtedly be the class average.

4) Travel...and Travel.  

 

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Transportation is excellent in Korea, but you better allot yourself quite a bit of time to ride it. You can literally get anywhere in the city via the metro, and that means that there are an insane number of stops. This also means that it will take you an eternity to get anywhere. I spend hours and hours riding that Seoul metro, but I can't say that I entirely mind it. I enjoy reading on the metro, a bus, or a train pretty much more than any other place. I think that's because I feel like I'm making use of time that could be easily wasted. Also, I appreciate it because of the encounters during my embarkation of Korean transportation. Bri and I are always a spectacle be it good or bad. Large white people happen to stand out in one of the most homogenous countries in the world. Anyway, unintended consequence number four is the fact that you will have to recalibrate your travel times. It simply becomes perfectly acceptable to ride the subway for an hour or two to get from one part of Seoul to another. In general, I'm more willing to make large treks. For example, on Thursday Bri and I went to Incheon to stay at our friends Graham and Stacy's apartment, which is about two hours away. We came back on Friday morning before work started at one in the afternoon. That's the equivalent of going to Kingston from Toronto without thinking twice about it. I've mentioned it before, but I've always been a fan of being in transit whether it be a train, plane, boat, or bus. As Alain De Botton says in his novel Art of Travel, which I read somewhat recently, "Few places are more conductive to internal conversations than moving places, ships or trains...introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape." So, while you may spend more time in transit, it might actually be for the best.


Incheon International Airport --> Kansai International Airport


5) Never-ending Nights


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There's a reason that a last call is in effect in North America. It's so you will go home at a reasonable hour and find yourself waking up at a decent time the following day. Well, Korea doesn't have last call, nor will they cut you off, and this tends to be very influential on the night. Last night might serve as a prime example of such a phenomenon. The fact of that matter is that when the bar is still serving alcohol when breakfast should be served instead, there is going to be trouble. There is nothing particularly unusual about making plans with a friend for Sunday, then consequently receiving a phone call the following day along the lines of "Sorry, I'm going to have to cancel. I stayed out until 6 in the morning again by accident." I'm not saying that I've ever made one of these calls, but I'm also not going to outright deny it. Let's be honest, it's a great place to be when you're twenty two years of age and happen to have a girlfriend who also delights in a beverage or two. I'm really going to miss the lack of last call as I've had some incredibly memorable nights here with some incredible individuals. It's nice to know that the clock isn't ticking on your night. Also, I find that people in North American bars will drink more with the understanding that they only have until two. You really can pace yourself here if you so choose. Overall, I'm an absolutely huge fan of these never-ending nights, and so is the rest of Korea as it turns out. Korea has an excellent nightlife, and especially Seoul. From Itaewon to Gangnam to Hongdae, or literally any place between, there's a lot of fun to be had for those who are looking for it. It's part of what has made this year so magical. And so, the fifth and final unintended consequence of living in Korea is the inception of nights that somehow turn into mornings on you.

Conclusion 

It is the unintended consequences of situations that make them wonderful and memorable. It's what stories are made of, which is why I wrote one for you. There's so much to be learned from the unexpected, as long as you expect to learn something from it.

6 comments:

  1. Cool blog post! I checked out Part 1 too. I love to read about other foreigner's experiences in both Korea & Japan.

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  2. Thanks a lot. It's much appreciated.

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  3. Nice one Chris, although I resent your comment about Max! You gotta beware of Cass (especially the big plastic ones) unless you enjoy salsa in the morning ;)

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  4. You bring up a good point Thomas. I'm happy you enjoyed the blog though. I agree, those big plastic Cass can cause all sorts of trouble.

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  5. Our family misses organic food too but I'm finding that it's becoming more wide spread now! We also came from Europe and the beer is sadly lacking. :( I just eat some Tonkatsu to make myself feel better about it. Then we're back at unintentional consequence #1! HAHA Enjoyed the blog, thanks for posting!

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  6. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Tonkatsu is simply delicious! You're right - it seems to go hand in hand with "the bountiful belly." Thanks for reading!

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