On Being Brand New in Korea

I have been in Korea (Bucheon) for 6 days.

Strangely though, I don’t even realize that I’m in another country on the other side of the world. Life here isn’t that much different from what I’m used to. I’m still alone most of the time, and I’ve gotten quite good at being alone. Everything is just as expensive so I’ve pretty much shot all the hocus pocus about cheap cost of living out the window. One thing is for sure, if I could live solely off of soju and cigarettes, I could save loads and loads of money because both are under or just around 2,000 won ($2). And since it’s still summer here, it’s just as hot as Riverside, only a bit more humid, by comparison.

It is incredibly difficult to communicate with anyone outside of work because of the obvious language. This only makes the loneliness more endemic. All my coworkers seem to be living in their own bubbles that aren’t open to outside specimens. I really miss my friends. Even though I didn’t seem them all that often back home, I’m seriously longing for their ever present support. The odds that I’ll make friends here are slim to none. And it’s not that I’m being pessimistic, it’s just what I’m living. I digress.

Sleeveless shirt are a big no-no because Koreans consider the shoulders and armpits private body areas. Even when little girls raise their hands in class, they make sure to subtly cover their underarms. That being said, it’s totally inconvenient that 90% of my shirts & blouses don’t have sleeves. Go figure!

Despite the modernity that is quite apparent in Korea, some things are backwards. For example: there is no designated place to put trash. Down every street can be found one or two random trees surrounded by a mound of grocery bags killed with trash. I wonder how it doesn’t all topple over… As for bags, those aren’t easily accessible even though there’s tons of trash put into them. Bags must be bought when grocery shopping and there is a limit of two. So packing groceries turns into a mini game of Tetris to get everything into the bag/s. Going back to the topic of sanitation and/or disposal, public restrooms do not have toilet paper. People either have to bring their own or hope that the establishment they are visiting (restaurant, bar, office) has toilet paper available. Also, people don’t flush their used toilet paper down the toilet, but rather, leave it in a trash bin next to the toilet. I guess they think that the toilet paper will ruin the plumbing, but it won’t. Then again, that’s been argued time and time again, so I’ll leave it alone and continue to flush. Another thing: restrooms don’t have paper towels or anything to dry hands with after washing with the communal bar of soap at the sink. Pants dry it is!

When eating/drinking at an establishment, it is common to not leave tips for the servers and to not clean up after oneself. It’s definitely taken some adjustment to remember to not pick up my stuff after I’m done, but it’s like paradise to not have to tip. YESSSS, I’m cheap and rude, but I’ll live. Ironically enough though, Koreans think that Americans are a wasteful people, but get this, the packaging here is absurd. When ordering take out, everything comes in little tupperware containers, then double bagged with tape to top off. Sure, elaborate packaging is nice, but is it necessary, not at all.

Here, the living space is different in a few ways. First, mailboxes are out in the open and unlocked. Second, doors don’t have keys, but rather, are opened via a digital keypad at the knob that makes cool video game sounds. Third, bills are split communally, that is, utilities are shared amongst a handful of apartments and split equally. So even if I try hard to get my rates way down low by saving energy as much as possible, it wouldn’t even matter because my neighbors would have to be in cahoots for it to actually work.

Fashion: all the clothes is TINY. I visited the incredibly extravagant, insanely large, 12-story, Lotte Mall, and the biggest female size I could find at the Korean vendors was an American Medium. Oh right, malls have vendors rather than separate stores. Maybe that saves space? That’s my theory at least. Moving on, hiking and winter clothes are fashion statements. People do the whole nine when it comes to following a theme in their fashion. Image is paramount here. That brings up the makeup. WOW, the makeup. The makeup is not something that I’m fond of. It’s like the women (and men) are wearing masks even when they’re going for the nude look. It is far too shiny and heavy to look remotely natural. But hey, the same can be said about my eyebrows, so whatever. Most Koreans dye their hair brown or even lighter. Needless to say, the Western look is the target look. Another thing I noticed is that Koreans have indoor shoes and outdoor shoes. They don’t have outside dirt to get into the house (or school) so they take off or change their shoes when moving in and out of places. Speaking of shoes, women wear heels a majority of the time. I don’t know how they do it, I commend them on their tremendous efforts because I surely couldn’t do it.

Last things, I promise.

This: disabilities are neither recognized nor treated here, at least not in comparison to America. A colleague had to leave Korea because he suffered from muscular dystrophy and this place is not very handicap friendly. Ramps are few and far between, making it incredibly difficult for anyone who has trouble getting around on foot.

That: old women and men take care of cleaning up. That is, they go around picking up recyclables and clean up after the distribution of nightlife flyers (kind of like porno cards in Las Vegas). By morning, the neighborhood is spick and span and life moves around these wonderful, yet anonymous folk.

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