Five Things From Korea I Need In My Life

I knew before I came back that I would, inevitably, miss some things from Korea. I’ve pared these things down to five things that would improve my life here in SA. There are as follows:

1. Reliable public transport

One of the most extraordinary things about South Korea is, in my opinion, the public transport system. I did miss driving while I was there, but what I didn’t miss was the fact that, when I’m in SA, I have to drive. Despite the fact that I took the bus to university every day when I was studying, once I had a car, I didn’t think about taking the bus until I had to go into the city centre, where driving is just too much of a pain in the arse.

The key difference between the public transport system in SA and the public transport system in Korea is that the public transport in Korea is reliable, and it runs until about midnight. In SA, bus strikes left me stranded a couple of times while I was studying. Even when it was running, the last bus I could catch was at 17:20.

In Korea, the buses and trains can take you almost anywhere, and if neither of those is an option, then taxis are cheap, and willing to go the distance.

In addition, the T-money card makes everything so much easier – no fiddling around with cash, you just load money onto the card (or adorable little phone charm), and then you’re fine.

Now that I’m driving again, I have to worry about petrol prices, parking, and rush hour traffic – yes, I did end up sitting in traffic in Korea, but it’s an entirely different matter when you’re not the one behind the wheel. You can read, or take a nap, or play games on your phone… you’re not the one keeping your eye on the road.

Best of all, if you’re quiet evening out turns into an evening of heavy drinking, you don’t have to worry about getting home, or about sobering up. Grab a taxi! The driver is the one who has to stay sober – you’re just fine.

2. Restaurants

Yes… South Africa has restaurants. Some pretty fucking great ones, actually. But there are parts of the Korean restaurant experience that I think SA needs too.

In Korea, you don’t tip your waiter, so they don’t do that thing where they repeatedly ask you how your meal is. Instead, the tables usually come equipped with call buttons to summon the waiter to your table. You don’t have to try to get your waiter’s attention, and they don’t have to keep checking on you throughout the meal – just ring a bell when you need something. In the absence of buttons, it’s acceptable to call for them.

Side dishes. So. Many. Side. Dishes.

And then there’s food sharing. I admit to having mixed feelings about this one – I’ll write about that at some later point – but there are times when sharing is great. Koran barbecue for instance, is a perfect time for sharing, or when trying out a new restaurant and you want to try more than just one dish. I wasn’t always a fan of the sharing, but I do wish it was more acceptable to order something here and say “How about we get all these dishes, and try a bit of each?”

3. Connectivity

“Oh holy shit, the internet is so quick in Korea!”

Yes it is, but that’s not really what struck me about it. In Korea, the internet is everywhere. WiFi hotspots abound, and everything is wired in some way. There was an app for every part of life – from the bus and subway apps I couldn’t have survived without, to apps for ordering delivery – and internet shopping was quick and convenient. If an item I’d delivered took more than three days to arrive, it irritated me. I started to worry that something was wrong with my order.

Furthermore, the fact that the expat community is all over the internet meant that any question I had could probably be answered by simply searching for it online.

Now that I’m worried about how much data costs, and people don’t put as many answers to every day questions online, I have trouble finding answers to very specific questions.

4. Office Naps

The nap time thing is one of those Korea is so fucking weird moments at first. People takes naps at work? What the fuck?

I tried not to do it too much either, and certainly avoided it when I thought the students might catch me… but there are times during a long day when just being able to put your head on your desk for five minutes would make life so much easier. Now that I’m back in an office typing away, I realise that my brain isn’t always functioning as well as it should. I wish that I had the freedom now to put my head down and rest my poor, overworked, overwhelmed brain for just a couple of minutes.

5. Compliments

I don’t generally like commenting on people’s appearance – I know some people are terribly uncomfortable with it, even when you’re telling them something good – but I do like that it’s much more acceptable (if not expected) to tell someone they look good.

I… I kind of got used to it in Korea. The remedy to feeling really shit about life was to dress nicely. A day full of compliments was bound to cheer me up – even if only a little.

I like being able to tell people they look good too – let them know that the effort they’ve put in has been noticed. Here… that’s a little bit weird. People will read more into it than is intended – “Does she mean I looked bad yesterday?!” – looking for an insult tucked away in what is actually a harmless piece of (intended) kindness.

Mostly, though, I miss the fact that no one says anything about the days when I’ve put in a little more effort.

Is there anything I missed on the list? Feel free to leave comments below!

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